Vigil [“Surara”] at J.K. Randle Memorial Hall

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J. K. Randle

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|  Bashorun J.K. Randle, OFR, FCA  |

ON Saturday 24th September 2016, I was savouring a collection of epigrams by Charles Maurice de Talleyrand (sample: …………… “Treason is only a matter of dates”) when I was alerted on the phone that the government had commenced the demolition of the iconic Chief J.K. Randle Memorial Hall, at Onikan, Lagos (named after my late father who died on 17th December, 1956) as well as the adjacent Dr. J.K. Randle Swimming Pool, which was bequeathed by my grandfather Dr. J.K. Randle to Lagos Town Council following his death on 27th February, 1928 to: “The people of Lagos for their peaceful enjoyment and recreation”. He extended his generosity to the adjoining property “The Love Garden” which was also his personal property.

There was no notice of imminent demolition of the memorial hall or the swimming pool. Neither were they marked with “X” to signal the kiss of death or imminent extinction.

It was like a military-style artillery attack but instead of tanks and howitzers, bulldozers and caterpillars were the weapons of choice while armed policemen and soldiers cordoned off the entire Onikan. The invasion and trespass paralysed the traffic while heralding “The Politics of Fear and Intimidation”.

History was about to repeat itself. It was the Italian essayist, poet, novelist and philosopher George Santayana who summed up matters rather succinctly and poignantly: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”.

Apart from being recognised as the advocate and icon of pragmatism, he spawned variants and paraphrases of the robust (and enduring) lessons of history:

  • “Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”
  • “Those who do not remember their past are condemned to repeat their mistakes.”
  • “Those who do not read history are doomed to repeat it.”
  • “Those who fail to learn from the mistakes of their predecessors are destined to repeat them.”
  • “Those who do not know history’s mistakes are doomed to repeat them.”

In “Revolution in France”, the Irish philosopher, orator, political theorist and author Edmund Burke delivered a gem to match the incisiveness of Santayama:

“People will not look forward to posterity, who never look backward to their ancestors.

It was not mere co-incidence that fifty years earlier, on 15th January 1966 the same Onikan (just a few metres away from Chief J.K. Randle Memorial Hall which was then merely vacant “Crown Land”) was the arena of the opening salvo of Nigeria’s first military coup d’état. Both the Prime Minister, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa and his neighbour, Chief Festus Okotie-Eboh, the Minister of Finance were abducted and summarily executed by soldiers who went on the air to broadcast to the nation that they were fighting corruption, impunity and lawlessness!!

For several decades, the memorial hall, the swimming pool and the Love Garden had dutifully served the purpose for which they were built – our link with civilization and peaceful enjoyment of the limitless mercies as well as abundant blessings of the Almighty by the rich and the poor without discrimination.

This time around, the government had chosen to take its cue from the political economist, Francis Fukuyama who in his books “The Origins of Political Order” and “Political Order and Political Decay” expanded on the thesis he had vigorously espoused in his seminal work – “The End of History And The Last Man”. His conclusion and argument converged on the theme:

“The advent of Western liberal democracy may signal the end point of humanity’s socio-cultural evolution and the final form of government. What we may be witnessing is not just the end of the Cold War or the passing of a particular period of post-war history (no specific reference to Nigeria’s civil war which lasted from 1967 to 1970), but the end of history as such: that is the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalization of western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.”

Pause for Boko Haram.

Here we are on the threshold of history as our nation reels from one crisis to another simultaneously – political, economic, financial, sociological and most damning of all, judges are being hauled into detention “for money laundering, bribery and corruption”!!!

Let us confine ourselves strictly to grasping context, the government clearly does not want to share history with us. Government and only government knows the truth. Knowledge, honour and virtue are the exclusive preserve of government anchored on and abetted by bulldozers, diggers, and caterpillars.

Whatever is true will remain as truth eternally unblemished. The temptation to make up history has been with us forever. Whether history is true or partly true (even partial) is our own choice to make.

For ages, bold minds unfettered by fear or humiliated by power have stubbornly insisted :  History is about our ancestors.

As events unfolded, I was compelled to come to terms with the awesomeness of the power of social media.  Within a matter of minutes the pictures of the demolition of sacred monuments were all over the world even before those living within a short distance from the war zone had been able to replace spontaneous panic over totally unfounded rumours of military operations which some with overdose of wild imagination proceeded to interpret  as military intervention !!  History was about to repeat itself.

Thankfully, sober minds were able to provide eye-witness account of what was actually going on supported with streaming photographs from their smart phones.  The damage was as colossal as the rubble pile was an act of both provocation and subjugation.  The onlookers dubbed it an act of war against the J.K. Randle family.

An enterprising soul even sent out photographs with the caption:  “Aleppo At Onikan” !!.

Thankfully, there were no accompanying photographs of refugees from the fire power of the government and the suffocating inferno.  The late Israeli Prime Minister Yitzak Rabin got it right when he declared:

“You do not make peace with your friends.”

The whole day was spent dealing with anxious enquiries, lamentations, anguish, shock and disbelief from family members and well-wishers from various parts of the world.  The most aggressive were from the United States of America who wasted little time in contacting lawyers who specialize in civil suits against government for invasion and trespass of private property.  They were ready to file papers first thing Monday morning.  Others insisted on alerting CNN; CBS; SKY News; Al Jazeera; BBC; Reuters; News Agency of Nigeria; AFP etc.  KPMG was also added to the list !!

That was when damage control went into overdrive before matters got completely out of hand.  It turned that the Governor was in New York.  He had accompanied the President to the United Nations.  When General Muhammadu Buhari was military President (1983-1985), contrary to common perception he was not inaccessible.  The then Colonel Dotun Gbadebo (now His Royal Highness The Alake of Egbaland) was the Personal Assistant to Major-General Tunde Idiagbon (Buhari’s deputy and Chief of Staff Supreme Headquarters) and he did a fantastic job in providing access to his bosses  provided the issues involved were serious and of grave national interest.  He studied history at University of Ibadan before joining the Army.  That is a story for another day.

Anyway, we partially succeeded in calming frayed nerves and unsavoury interference from those who were adamant in alleging ulterior motives and malfeasance by the government.  They seemed determined to poison the air with fanciful insinuations and totally irrational conclusions based on unfounded speculation.  Out of what was already a perplexing situation, they were bent on creating mischief.

The rest of the day was consumed by frustration, anger, turmoil and confusion as well as agony and despair.  Then news filtered through that an impromptu vigil had commenced at the arena of the despoliation.   By the time I reached the venue, there was no need to climb the rostrum or grab the microphone in order to appeal for peace and calm. I was there incognito. What was in full swing was “Suraya” which is the last resort and refuge for Lagosians when they are confronted by grave tragedy.  I have since learnt that what had hitherto been considered a peculiarity of those whose origin is in Lagos Island, is actually thriving all over Yorubaland and the diaspora.

Its essential ingredients are anchored on invocation of the spirit of ancestors to come to our rescue in moments of distress.  The ancestors would in turn demand answers to the following questions / cannons:

  • Have you been upright?
  • Have you done anything to soil the reputation of the family or blemish its integrity?
  • Have you veered from humility to arrogance contrary to the tradition of the family?
  • Have you been disrespectful to your elders?
  • Have you abused public trust or short-changed the government?

It is the answers to these questions that would entitle the “Surara” to proceed  with the incitation of the family’s cognomen (“Oriki”) followed by recitation of the family’s history – principally the valour and glorious achievements of our illustrious ancestors and the sanctity of the obligation of their successors to follow their footsteps, their footprints and even surpass them.  Otherwise, from their graves the ancestors would impose maximum penalties which are known only to family members.  They are not for public consumption.

All the same, there is a lesson for all of Nigeria (and all Nigerians) – especially Lagosians in all this demolition of not just monuments but values and history.  The main reason our nation is in a mess is that we have deviated from the values of our ancestors and mortgaged the moral compass which they entrusted to us.

When dawn crashed the vigil, our ancestors asked only one question – what had the J.K. Randle family done to deserve such a raw deal from government or incur its wrath?  The swift response from government was to immediately clear the site and cart away all the debris of history.  The evidence had been destroyed !!

All that is left is for Bashorun J.K. Randle, (former President of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria) to carry out the forensic audit – not just of the family property but of the entire nation, our much beloved Nigeria.

Our nation is not amused.  Neither are the advocates of “The Fierce Urgency Of Now” who have reminded us that the Nigerian Constitution is seemingly derived from the American Constitution.

“When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American falls heir.  This note was a promise that all men (and women) would be guaranteed the inalienable rights of life, liberty, (property) and the pursuit of happiness.”

Is the government willing to accept a Promissory Note from J.K. Randle family in exchange for a truce that would grant us immunity from demolition or confiscation of our property?

Bashorun J.K. Randle is a former President of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria (ICAN) and former Chairman of KPMG Nigeria and Africa Region.  He is currently the Chairman, JK Randle Professional Services.

Email: jkrandleintuk@gmail.com

—  Oct 31, 2016 @ 01:00 GMT

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