In a bittersweet moment, the passing of Bode Agusto, a stellar Nigerian economist at the age of 68 brings to mind his Afro-Brazilian Muslim heritage; a rich lineage as the grandson of the Imam Lawal Basil Agusto (1885-1971).
Imam Basil Agusto, a pioneer and founding member, Ahmadiyya Islamic sect in Nigeria, was a popular figure in the Afro-Brazilian Muslim community. Hailing from a lineage of Muslim Brazilian returnees, he carried with him the legacy of his family’s unwavering faith. Alongside other families like Salvador, Yahaya Tokunboh, Tiamiyu Savage, Jubril Martin, Gomez, Da Silva, and Pedro, they nurtured Islam on Nigerian soil.
Basil Agusto’s early journey led him to the corridors of St. Gregory’s College, where he embarked on a path that would leave an indelible mark on the history of Nigerian Islam. While his initial aspirations lay in pharmacy, he pivoted towards the study of law, becoming the first Muslim lawyer in the old British West Africa.
The Ahmadiyya connection
Imam Basil Agusto was more than a legal luminary; he was a bridge-builder. He played a pivotal role in founding the Muslim Literary Society, a platform for young Muslims to foster reform and advancement of their faith. His home on Bamgbose Street became the hub of their meetings, where ideas and convictions mingled.
In 1916, Imam Agusto embarked on another pioneering journey, becoming a founding member of the Ahmadiyya Islamic sect in Nigeria. Yet, his journey took an unexpected turn while in England, discovering a theological schism within the sect. He renounced his membership, guided by the belief that the Quran proclaimed the finality of the prophet and that Prophet Muhammed was the last of all prophets.
Lawyer Agusto as a jurist
Returning to Nigeria in 1924 as the first Muslim lawyer, Imam Basil Agusto shattered conventions. In a time when legal practitioners were primarily Christian, his qualification was nothing short of a landmark achievement. His journey from Lagos to the London School of Accountancy and co-founding the National Bank of Nigeria showcased his relentless pursuit of knowledge and progress.
Beyond the courtroom, Imam Agusto continued to be a source of inspiration. His house on Bamgbose Street was not just a home but a hub of learning and spiritual growth. He educated young Muslims on the ideals and values of Islam, touching the hearts of many with his devotion.
Imam Agusto wasn’t one to shy away from the theological battleground. In the late 1960s, he engaged in spirited debates with Christian leaders, challenging notions related to the concept of the God-head, the status of Muhammad, and other facets of faith. These debates stimulated profound theological discussions, proving his unwavering commitment to the defence of Islam.
Imam Agusto’s impact stretched beyond religious circles. He actively supported the creation of Lagos State and, in 1967, led a “Committee of Elders” that urged the Federal Military Government to establish the state promptly.
Imam Agusto’s Legacy
Imam Agusto was more than a legal expert; he was a beacon of hope, respect, and dignity for the Muslim community. His unique ability to combine Western education with a deep commitment to his faith left an indelible mark. His journey represents the harmonious coexistence of different cultures and religions.
The legacy of pioneering did not end with Imam Agusto. His grandson, Bode Agusto, followed in his footsteps as a pioneer. In 1992, he established Agusto & Co. Limited, Nigeria’s first credit rating agency, a milestone in the country’s financial history. This venture earned recognition from the Securities and Exchange Commission and left a mark on Nigeria’s financial landscape. During his 11-year tenure as the Managing Director of the company, Bode Agusto’s visionary leadership propelled Agusto & Co. Limited to new heights.