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Ikeja Club must remain beacon of hope for Nigeria and beyond

When Ikeja Club was founded in 1966, it was an epochal event. Strangely, when the year started it provided little hint of the cataclysmic events that would engulf not only Ikeja but our entire nation in a matter of days. It is of utmost importance to emphasise that the territory known as Ikeja had hitherto served as a sanctuary where serenity, tranquillity and peace were in vigorous competition for supremacy.

Decades earlier, my father Chief J.K. Randle and his older brother Chief R.A. Randle (the father of Chief Ayodeji Randle, President of Ikeja Club) had established themselves as probably the largest landowners in Ikeja. While Chief Romanes Adewale Randle was entirely engrossed in savouring the rustic delights of his Ikeja (also known as Isheri) farmland which provided food and fruits in ample quantities; fresh fish plucked from rivers and streams; plus palm wine in abundance together with men and women who genuinely adored him for his down to earth posture, my father had a different vision. Chief J.K. Randle who was then the Chairman of Lagos Race (Horse Racing) Club planned to build a huge sports complex dominated by horse and dog racing in Ikeja. It would be the first and the best in Africa. The first batch of greyhounds (dogs) arrived from Haringey, London, Britain in 1955.

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Unfortunately, he died on 17th December 1956 at the age of 47 years. He was the LISA (“Prime Minister”) of Lagos. Both my dad and my uncle perfected their title to the land, which was purchased directly from the Ashade family. Furthermore, my uncle and his entire family lived on his property in Ikeja (Isheri). He spared neither vigour nor time, regardless of risk of personal injury, in the defence of his proprietary rights. He and my father had engaged the services of a formidable lawyer, Mr. Victor Munis (an old boy of St. Gregory’s College) who opted to live in Ikeja even though he had to commute to Lagos on a daily basis to attend to court cases and also deal with clients in his office at Campos Square (in Central Lagos). Ikeja was an elixir and an escape from the grime and pollution of the festering slums of Lagos. Mr. Munis kept several dogs in his Ikeja home.

Indeed, the Chief Judge of Lagos, the redoubtable J.I.C. Taylor (ex-Cambridge University) dumped his family house on Victoria Street (now known as Nnamdi Azikiwe Street). He preferred to live in Ikeja. There he was after the court had closed for the day. He would don his “facing” cap and gloves; and drive at top speed in his immaculate MG sportscar with an open roof all the way to Ikeja – to catch up with civilization.

As for my uncle “Jack” (Romanes Adewale Randle), Ayodeji’s father, he took to living in Ikeja, which was somewhat desolate but rural, like a duck to water. His mother Mrs Victoria Matilda Randle (nee Davies) was the daughter of Sara Forbes Bonetta, whom Queen Victoria had adopted and groomed. Sara attended theexclusive girls’ school, Cheltenham Ladies College, England.

What was remarkable was that uncle “Jack” who was born in 1893 had grown up as a playmate of King Edward V (when he was Prince of Wales) was at peace with himselflooking after his large family on his expansiveland with several wives and numerous children. He died in 1977 and amongst his survivors is of course Ayodeji (insurance broker) as well as Wole (Chartered Accountant); Odunbaku (medical doctor); Adekunle (lawyer) and others who have distinguished themselves in various professions and other areas of human endeavour.

At a time when bustling and vibrant Lagos was considered the “Garden of Eden” by Lagosians, the folks in Ikeja kept their paradise a closely guarded secret!! What was even more amazing was that late Prince Babatunde Shadeko, a distinguished surveyor (an Awori Prince and old boy of King’s College, Lagos) was a dogged advocate for the creation of Awori/Ikeja State. He argued with considerable vigour that Ikeja State was viable – plenty of industries, agriculture, and most importantly its own airport (Ikeja Airport, which is now known as Murtala International Airport). In those days of BOAC (British Overseas Airways Corporation) the journey between Ikeja and London took three days by air with several refuelling stops (Kano, Tripoli, Adens etc.) en route. Hence, impatient passengers referred to “BOAC” as Better On A Camel!!

As Ikeja was sandwiched between Lagos and the Western Region, students whose origin was Ikeja had a choice of scholarships from Lagos State; Western Region and also the Federal Government.

We need not dwell too long on what the qualityof our lives was in 1966 be it in Ikeja specifically or Nigeria in general. A snapshot would readily provide evidence that Ikeja provided the exit route to the Western Region and beyond. The roads were in good condition and armed robbery was virtually unheard of. As for kidnapping, perish the thought. It was no big deal on Friday nights for us to do a quick round of nightclubs in Lagos – “Maharani”; “Gondola”, “Kakadu” and “Empire” before setting off for “Paradise Club” in Ibadan – a journey of over a hundred miles in the middle of the night !! We had the choice of spending the rest of the weekend in Ibadan or returning to Lagos at any time of day or night. There was nothing to fear.

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