By Olanrewaju Onigegewura
As you go from Iyana Ipaja to Egbeda in Alimosho, Lagos State, Raji Oba Street is to your left. It is one of the most popular streets in the area. It is the street that hosts the imposing complex of Bishop David Oyedepo’s Winner Chapel. There is a branch of Diamond Bank close to Moshalasi Bus Stop that leads to the street. It is a street that you can’t miss. Ha! You know the street? I told you it’s a street you can’t miss.
However in the 1970s when this true-life story began, there was no Raji Oba Street. There was no Winner Chapel building. There was no Diamond Bank. In fact, almost all of what is now one of the most densely populated areas in Lagos State was a forest. Except for some rural settlements scattered here and there, the entire Alimosho was a village.
So who was Raji Oba? Why was the street named after him? Is there a story behind the naming of the street after him? What happened that fateful night in 1975? You know you cannot make eba without garri? To tell you the story of Raji Oba, I must tell you the story of Ejigbadero.
Raji Oba’s story is Ejigbadero’s story. Ejigbade’s story is Raji Oba’s story. It was a story that shook the entire Lagos State to its foundation. My uncle who was then a young surveyor told me that for years, some people were scared of going to the area once it was nightfall. Today, Onigegewura brings you the story of Kiniun Baba Moradewun! Lion of Mushin! Jimoh Ishola Adeyemi! Ejigbadero! Gbadero! The Chairman!
Jimoh Ishola was arguably one of the famous people in Lagos of 1960s and 1970s. He was rich. He was streetwise. He was known. He was connected. He was the darling of musicians of the day. One of the surest ways to launch a musical career then was to sing about Ejigbadero. Yusuf Olatunji (Baba Legba) devoted substantial part of his Volume 19 to sing his praises. Baba Commander, Ebenezer Obey and his Inter Reformers Band, celebrated him in his 1974 album.
If Nigeria was not under military rule in 1970s, Jimoh Ishola could have contested and won an elective political position. He was that famous.
Though Ejigbadero was not born in Lagos, he became the unofficial Lord Mayor of Lagos metropolis. Jimoh hailed from Oja-Oba Quarters in Ibadan, Oyo State. He came with his uncle to Lagos as a young man to learn a vocation. On his arrival Lagos, he quickly graduated from an apprentice to a company owner.
When he incorporated his company, Jimsol Nigeria Limited, he was not satisfied with just being called the Managing Director. Everybody in Lagos was MD. Gbadero must be different. He styled himself the Chairman and Chief Executive of the nail manufacturing company. His office and factory were at Matori in Mushin Lagos. Yusuf Olatunji was the musician invited to the company’s opening. With his sákárà andmóló vibrating in the background, Baba Legba praised Gbadero to the high heavens. Overnight,Olatunji’s throaty “Gbadero Ishola di Chairman! Omo Adeyemi!” became the national anthem. Ejigbadero was the Chairman.
Nail manufacturing was however not Ishola’s only vocation. Over the years, Kiniun Baba Moradewun had acquired reputation as a dealer in landed properties. He bought land. He sold houses. If you needed someone to protect your landed interests, Ejigbadero was your man. If someone forcefully took over your land, Abibatu’s husband was your best bet. If your own interest was to take over someone’s land, Baba Gani was the person you needed to see.
Ejigbadero was known to the police. He was familiar to the judges as a perennial litigant. And one curious thing about his court appearances is that he was never a plaintiff. He was always the defendant. He was popular with lawyers. At a point, he was reputed to know the criminal code more than some lawyers. He used to ‘advise’ his lawyer to cite section 45 subsection 3 instead of section 33 subsection 1 that the lawyer wanted to cite. He had done enough cases to make him a Senior Advocate if he was called to the Bar.
In 1975, Ejigbadero went with his boys to clear his land in Alimosho Village. The land was full of cocoa and kolanut trees. Remember I told you that Alimosho was a village in 1970s. The land we are talking about is not one plot or two plots. It was a vast area of land. When the villagers saw their economic trees going down, they challenged Jimoh Ishola and his boys. The Lord Mayor informed the villagers that he had purchased the land in 1970s. Purchased? Which Land? From whom? For how much? Who witnessed the transaction? Who collected the money? These and more were the questions the villagers were throwing at Ejigbadero who was calmly leaning on his walking stick.
The villagers refused to allow Eji and his boys to continue to work on the land. The Boys looked at their Boss. They were waiting for the signal. The walking stick was the signal. This was not the first time they would be challenged over a parcel of land and they knew it wouldn’t be the last. They knew that once Ejigbadero stepped on any land, the land must become his. Eji was like a snail. Ìgbín tenu mo igi o gun! Any tree a snail touches must be climbed. Eji smiled at the crowd. It was not a friendly smile. The Boys looked expectant. Instead of Eji to raise the walking stick, he turned back. The Boys followed him, their disappointment was apparent.
The villagers shouted after the retreating figures. “We don win! We don win. You think you can just take our land like that. Never! Never!” Some of them were however not shouting. They knew that the retreat of Ejigbadero was not a surrender. They knew that he would be back. The Chairman was not the one to run away from a fight. The Boss was a vulture, a patient bird.
They remember what happened to Okuwobi in 1962. Ejigbadero had informed his boys that he was looking for a buyer for one of his properties. He promised them generous commission. The boys went to town. Okuwobi indicated interest in the building. It was a building under construction. Okuwobi paid part of the agreed purchase price. It was agreed that the balance would be paid upon completion.
Okuwobi collected receipt and began to dream of becoming a landlord in Lagos. He was considering whether to paint the house blue or grey. Or green, or cream. He finally decided on white. He had heard that the official residence of the American president was White House. It was then that a friend told him that the house, his house, had been sold to someone else. Okuwobi didn’t know whether he walked or flew to Mushin. He shouted. He threatened. Ejigbadero was unmoved. Okuwobi reported to the police. He was advised to go to court. He spent more than 10 years in court.
The villagers knew that they must act fast if they didn’t want to spend 10 years in court. At the time, the nearest police post was at Agege. They went to Agege Police Station to make a report of malicious damages to property against Ejigbadero. As they were writing their statements, the Chairman himself appeared with his boys. He had come to lodge a report of trespass against the villagers who entered his property without his permission. The police officers were confused. They attempted to broker a peaceful settlement. No way. Ejigbadero wanted his land. The villagers wanted their land. Who then was the owner of the land?
Police assured the warring parties that the case would be investigated. They were asked to go and maintain peace.
Raji Oba was one of the villagers. He was as brave as he was vocal. He was not afraid of Ejigbadero and he told him to his face. Even when Ejigbadero threatened to kill him, the threat was met with a sneer. “Igbá ni won n pa, enikan kii pa àwo” was his retort. He was confident that only calabash could be smashed with foot, no one would dare drop a plate.
Police investigation or no police investigation, Ejigbadero was not the one to keep away from the land. Raji Oba had finished work on the farm for the day. He was almost at home when he was informed that the Chairman was around with his thugs who he usually described as his workers. Raji turned back. Ma fi oko mi se ona, ojo kan ni a n dekun re. Raji was determined that he was going to stop the land grabber that day. He was followed by some of the villagers who had also heard the news.
They met Ejigbadero on the land. His boys were cutting cocoa trees with ruthless determination. Kolanut trees were not being spared either. Raji Oba flared up. A big fight erupted. Ejigbadero stood like a rock. He was commanding his boys to give it to the villagers like an army general. In the free-for-all that followed, Ejigbadero saw his chance as Raji Oba moved close to him. In a moment he had stabbed him. Raji didn’t see the dagger, but he felt the blood flowing from his eyebrow. It was clear that Jimoh Ishola was aiming for his eye. “Mo ku o!” The villagers heard the agony in the voice of their leader and rushed to his aid.
They took him to the hospital and from there to the police station. They made a report of criminal assault and attempted murder against Ishola. Police promised diligent investigation. But it appeared to the villagers that the police at Agege belonged to the Lion of Mushin.
Back at his base in Mushin, Ejigbadero was not happy. He had expected the villagers to put up the usual feeble resistance. He had planned how to subdue them. After all, ‘ibeji kii se akopa aje’. Killing twins is not a new thing to a witch. But he had not expected the stiff opposition he met in Alimosho. He knew the cause of the problem. It was Raji Oba. What type of Oba was he that he would stop Ejigbadero, Kiniun Baba Moradewun?
“Baba Fatai, your food is ready.” Ejigbadero looked up. It was his youngest wife, Ramota. Though he was not particularly hungry, he didn’t want to displease the pregnant woman. He told her to bring the food. At the sight of the expectant mother, an idea started to form in his mind. He smiled. Ramota thought her husband was enjoying the meal. She was pleased.
It was in the month of August 1975 that Lagos social circle heard the news it had been waiting. Ramota, Ejigbadero’s wife had put to bed. Socialites knew what to expect. It was going to be a grand occasion. It was going to be an assemblage of Lagos who’s who. It was going to be the party of the century. And it was a Friday! TGIF!
True to expectation, Ejigbadero didn’t spare any expenses for the naming ceremony. Food was in excess. Wines replaced water. Musicians were competing with themselves on the bandstand. The blind requested to be led to the occasion. The lame crawled. Ejigbadero and his four wives were dressed in a manner befitting a king and his Oloris. They were a spectacle to behold.
Sabitu Oba was Raji Oba’s wife. She was coming back from the market when she saw Ejigbadero and his boys. A woman was in their midst. She was shocked to see the Chairman. They had heard in the village that his wife had delivered a baby and that the day was the naming ceremony. She was wondering what type of man would leave his baby’s naming ceremony to come to the village. Well, that’s his business, she thought.
Sabitu quickened her pace. She needed to warn her husband of the presence of the chairman in the village. It was already dusk but the moon had appeared. It wouldn’t be nice for Raji to be roaming the village at such a time when Ejigbadero was around. She met her husband reclining in front of their house. She heaved a sigh of relief.
She informed her husband that Ejigbadero was in the village. Raji Oba was also surprised. He had heard that Ejigbadero was holding a lavish party that day in Mushin. So what was he doing in the village? And why did he choose to come to the village at dusk. “I hope he has not come to bury charms on the land!” His wife suggested.
She had hardly finished speaking when she heard an explosion. GBOAH! Raji Oba fell from his seat with a thud! Sabitu jumped in alarm! Raji had been shot in the head. The wounded man began to groan in pain. Blood was oozing from the wound.
Sabitu turned to the direction where the sound of the explosion had come from. Smoke from gunpowder was drifting up to the clear moonlight sky. She saw seven people running away towards a nearby bush. She distinctly recognized Ejigbadero. He was wearing a short sleeve shirt and trousers. He was holding a gun. He was at the rear of the fleeing people. Her temporary shock over, Sabitu shouted at the retreating figures: “Ejigbadero mo ri e o! Ara Abule! Ejigbadero ti pa mi loko o!”
Back in Mushin, the naming party was in full swing! Ejigbadero was moving from table to table, exchanging banters with his friends and well-wishers. Remember I told you that Ejigbadero was well connected in the society. His guests that night included magistrates, lawyers, police officers and leading journalists of the day. Camera bulbs were flashing as Ejigbadero posed for photographs with his guests. It was a party that Mushin would remember for a long time.
Police officers in Agege were already familiar with Alimosho villagers. There was hardly a week that they would not come to the station to report one incident or another. On the evening of August 22, 1975, the police officers on duty heard the crowd from a distance. Alimosho people have come again! What has happened again? The officers wondered.
“Ejigbadero ti pa Raji o!”
The officers knew that Yoruba language was full of hyperbolic expressions. A mere tap on the cheek could lead to a shout of ‘Mo ku o! O ti pa mi o!” They were however shocked when they realized that Raji had actually been killed. This was not a case of Mo gbe! Mo ku! Mo daran! The villagers were unanimous that it was Ejigbadero that killed Raji.
Ejigbadero was in company of late party guests in his house when the police came. He was informed that his attention was needed at their station. He was wanted in connection with the murder of Raji Oba. Ejigbadero’s visitors did not allow him to speak before they jumped to his defence! “When? Where? Ejigbadero who did not step out of this Mushin throughout yesterday!”
The Lion of Mushin was confident of himself. His defence was as solid as a rock. His alibi was incontrovertible. He had judges, lawyers, police officers and journalists as his witnesses. What more could he want? He retained Chief Sobo Sowemimo, a highly experienced advocate, as his counsel. His case was good. He knew. On the other side was the Lagos State Director of Public Prosecution, Mr. Omotunde Ilori.
As the prosecution began its case, Ejigbadero was becoming rather impatient. He knew the trial was going to be a waste of his time. Mr. Ilori called Sabitu Oba to the witness box. She narrated the event of the day. Ishola was smiling throughout her testimony. Who would believe the testimony of a village woman?
Mr. Ilori then called Nimota Kelani, Sabitu’s neighbour. Nimota’s evidence was straightforward. She informed the court that on hearing the alarm raised by Sabitu to the effect that Ejigbadero had killed Raji Oba, she dashed out of her house. She also saw Ejigbadero running away towards the bush. She saw him clearly in the moonlight. She also called on the accused telling him that she saw him and reminded him that he had kept his promise to kill Raji.
Rafiu Latifu was another witness called by the learned DPP. Latifu testified that on the evening of August 22, he was returning to the village when he saw a white Peugot 504 station wagon parked by the side of a mosque a distance of two minutes to the house of Raji Oba. He also saw Ejigbadero and six other persons, one of whom was a woman, run out of a nearby bush towards the parked car.
On arrival at the premises of Raji Oba he met people who told him that Ejigbadero had killed the deceased, who was still lying on the ground and bleeding from the head. Latifu then told the people that he had seen Ejigbadero and six other persons running out of the bush but did not know at the time that he had already killed Raji.
It was at this point that Ejigbadero began to doubt his defence. Awodi oke ko mo pe ara ile n wo ohun. Like the hawk he had assumed that he was invisible to the people below. If he had known how diligent the DPP, Mr. Omotunde Ilori was, perhaps he would not have been too confident with his alibi. Ha! You don’t know ‘alibi’? It’s a Latin word. It means ‘elsewhere’. It is a piece of evidence that one was elsewhere when an act, typically a criminal one, is alleged to have taken place. I hope you are following me.
There was a policeman who was riding a bike that night who also recognized him. Remember I told you that Ejigbadero was as popular as Iya Agba’s aso onisuga. Aso onisuga was very common in the 60s and 70s. The design on it was in the shape of a cube. Just like a cube of sugar, hence the name. Ilori found the police officer. Ilori also found two women who saw Ejigbadero when they were coming from the farm with firewood on their head. Immediately they saw him, they ran into the bush.
Ejigbadero’s defence was straightforward. He was in Mushin on August 22. He didn’t step out of his house. He had witnesses who were eminent people in the society. He called Bashiru Ajape, a police officer; Jacob Oyelakin, a Manager with Leventis Motors; and Emmanuel George, a lawyer. They all testified that they were with Baba Gani at his baby’s naming ceremony that day. The court considered the evidence of these eminent personalities and found each of them to be ‘miserably untruthful in the evidence they gave’.
Tried as much as he could, Gbadero could not disprove the testimonies of the prosecution witnesses. The best cross-examination failed to crack the witnesses. They were all adamant. It was Ejigbadero that they saw that night. It was Ejigbadero that killed Raji Oba.
The trial judge took his time to review the case for the prosecution as well as the case for the defence. A life was at stake and mistake must not be made. The judge found the evidence of a security guard in the employment of Ejigbadero helpful. Kehinde Yekinni was the security guard employed to guard Ishola’s factory. He testified that Ejigbadero came to the factory in the evening and later left for Alimosho with Modina, Osadebey, Isiaka, Bakare, Wahab Oduntan, and Lukman. The group later returned to meet him at the factory around 9pm. On their return, Ejigbadero drew out a gun from underneath his trousers and told Kehinde that he (Ishola) had killed the man that Kehinde refused to kill.
In the end, the judge found that Mr. Ilori had proved the case for prosecution beyond reasonable doubt. Jimoh Ishola was found guilty on the two counts: conspiracy to murder and murder.
He was sentenced to death. As the trial judge pronounced the sentence of death on him, Ejigbadero turned to his counsel and in his Ibadan accent asked, turning his nose to indicate His Lordship: “Emi ni n wi?” What was the Judge saying?
Jimoh Ishola appealed the judgment to the then Federal Court of Appeal. My Lords: Mamman Nasir, Adetunji Ogunkeye and Ijoma Aseme considered his appeal. His appeal in respect of Count One (conspiracy to murder) was allowed, meaning he was not guilty of that charge. His appeal in respect of the second count failed and the appellate court affirmed his conviction.
This time around, Ejigbadero did not bother to ask his counsel what their Lordships were saying. He had spent enough time in court to know the meaning of ‘Appeal is hereby dismissed.’
Off to the Supreme Court. His case was the 7thcase filed in the Supreme Court in 1977. On Thursday, October 26, 1978, a panel of the Supreme Court comprising My Lords: Alexander, Fatai-Williams, Irikefe, Bello and Idigbe affirmed his conviction and dismissed his appeal.
In 1979, four years after the gruesome murder of Raji Oba, Jimoh Ishola, alias Ejigbadero, alias the Chairman, alias Kininun Baba Moradewun, paid the supreme price.
What a price to pay for a piece of land!
Onigegewura is a legal practitioner and an amateur historian.
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