Notable Nigerians: Dr. Curtis Adeniyi-Jones

Mention “Adeniyi Jones” in a game of trivia and most will refer to a bustling street in Ikeja, Lagos named after renowned Dr. Curtis Adeniyi-Jones. A handful may shed light on his diverse contributions as political activist, legislator and economic reformist in 1920s and 30s, but fewer still will recall that Adeniyi Jones was in fact a Sierra Leonean of Aku (Yoruba) heritage. Born in 1876 at Waterloo – a small town 20 miles east of Freetown – he lived his early life here, attending the Sierra Leone Grammar School before venturing on to Durham University to study medicine. After further training at the University of Dublin and the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, he returned not to Sierra Leone but to Nigeria in 1904.

jonesAdeniyi-Jones was a highly conscious, articulate and principled man, whose education had given him a confidence and awareness of his potential influence. Frustrated by structural blockages within the colonial medical services, he resigned from his first post in Lagos and soon set up a private practice at his Priscilla Hall residence. By 1914, his clinic was a leading facility in Lagos, complete with separate wards for men and women and a well-equipped operating theatre. Despite his success, his early encounter with discriminatory policies in the public service stirred up nationalist and reformist sensibilities in him, prompting his move fruta que funciona como viagra from the medical profession into the political arena.

Like many foreign-trained West Africans at the time, he gravitated towards the Nationalist elite, and soon became was one of its core political activists agitating for the right of Africans to vote. Their ardent campaigning paid off in 1922, when Governor Clifford announced a new constitution giving Nigerians the right to vote for the first time. With elections fixed for September 1923, this was a significant triumph for Dr Adeniyi-Jones and other forerunners at the time – proof that several years of agitation had finally borne fruit.

The quartet of Herbert Macaulay, Egerton Shyngle, Eric Moore, and Adeniyi-Jones – all highly accomplished individuals – joined forces to prepare for the election. The first step was to put together a structure for the battle ahead; hence the decision to form a political party called the Nigerian National Democratic Party (NNDP). The party was launched on June 24, 1923 and Egerton Shyngle was elected President of the party with Adeniyi-Jones as Second President.

1 Even with its founder Herbert Macaulay barred from contest, the newly formed NNDP was in prime position to command followership. For the election in Lagos, the party fielded three of its most prominent members as candidates – unsurprisingly Shyngle, Moore and Adeniyi-Jones. Its opposition was a more conservative arm of the Lagos political scene, led by Dr John K Randle, who in 1908 had founded a political association (not a party) called the People’s Union. At the poll count on September 23 1923, NNDP swept up popular support decisively, with all three of its candidates winning the three available seats. In Calabar, Prince Kwamina Ata-Amonu, on the platform of the Calabar Improvement League, won the single contested seat convincingly, making up the full complement of four elected members.

If the colonial authorities believed the elected would be passive representatives, this assumption was trumped fairly quickly after the new Legislative Council was launched on October 31 1923. The mere rubber-stamping exercises practiced under the old Nigerian Council were quickly replaced with outspoken criticism and confident leadership on issues adversely affecting the indigenous community. From almost the very first sitting of the Legislative Council, Dr Adeniyi-Jones was a consistent and vocal critic of colonial high-handedness and racism, unrelenting in his barrage of questions on the conduct of colonial officials and policy issues detrimental to the interests of Nigerians. His questions covered everything from corruption by British Court Officials, to oppressive municipal regulations, to lack of Fire Services in neglected areas and a demand for an enquiry into the Aba Women’s riot of 1929. He developed a fearsome reputation, contributing up to 75 percent of debates in council, between 1923 and 1938. His output was such that the then Governor of Nigeria, Donald Cameron, referred to him as subjecting Parliament to “a tornado of questions”.

2On his retirement in 1938, Adeniyi-Jones redirected his energies to causes aligned with his other passions. His efforts to reshape the region’s economy uplifted West African businesses and supported the activities of the West African Cooperative Producers Limited and the Nigerian Mercantile Bank (NMB) where he served as chairman and president respectively. Although neither entity exists today, their centrality to the early evolution of the modern Nigerian economy and market relations in the region should not be overlooked. NMB was the second indigenous bank in Nigeria, established in 1933. Though short-lived, its presence helped pave the way for other African banks including the National Bank (Agbonmagbe Bank) in 1938, known today as Wema Bank. Similarly the Cooperative was the first attempt at an economic community panning the West Africa region, and thus a predecessor to ECOWAS. The more successful venture of the two, its objective was to position African farmers and exporters for better deals and bigger roles in the expatriate-dominated overseas trade.

Although best known for his political activities, Adeniyi-Jones’ contribution to the socio-economic and political development of Nigeria tells a wider and richer story than just his fiery presence at the Council. His death in 1957 marked the departure of one of the most socially-conscious and active legislators in Nigerian history. His political legacy was summed up by the political scientist, James Coleman: “He was the most militantly critical member of the council.…The debates of the Legislative Council during his tenure in office provide a good index to the growth of national and racial consciousness”. Coleman’s words sum up a true conviction politician, a relentless and uncompromising champion of the rights of his people. Nigeria quite simply has not seen many of his ilk ever since.

 

Further reading:

A preface to modern Nigeria: the “Sierra Leonians” in Yoruba, 1830-1890″- Jean Herskovits Kopytoff- (University of Wisconsin Press, 1965).

Nigeria: Background to Nationalism by James

Coleman (University of California Press, 1958)

Nigerian Political Parties: Power in an Emergent African Nation by Richard L. Sklar (Princeton University Press, 1963)

The Advance of African Capital: The growth of Nigerian private enterprise. Tom Forrest. (Edinburgh University Press for the International African Institute, 1994)

The London Gazette: October 1923 Edition

The Nigerian Gazette: Records of the Proceedings of the Legislative Council. Various volumes: 1923-1938

The Red Book of West Africa: Historical and Descriptive, Commercial and Industrial Facts. Compiled and Edited by Alistair Macmillan (Frank Cass, 1920).

 

About the Contributor

contributorEmeka ‘Ed’ Keazor is a lawyer, blogger and author of several books. His recent compilation “The 100 Greatest Nigerians We Never Knew” featured in Africa’s Social Media Week in 2014. In Nigeria and abroad, he works to unearth the many hidden gems in our nation’s history, using his uncanny ability to cull the lesser known highlights from the archives in his ongoing appraisal of Nigeria’s history and key personalities.

 

About the Series

For decades, Nigerians have made many valuable contributions to society at home and abroad. The Notable Nigerians series traces the journeys of some of the most remarkable Nigerians, from their formative years to their wide-reaching accomplishments, noting the societal pressures they faced along they way. Little known and thus uncelebrated, these handpicked personal histories equate to an unofficial Who’s Who spanning over the last 120 years in Nigeria. Without disregarding the presence of many naturalised ‘locals’, the Notable Nigerians cialis series presents a colourful array of key personalities and contributors in politics, foreign relations, religion, science and social relations.

One response to “Notable Nigerians: Dr. Curtis Adeniyi-Jones”

  1. Bami says:

    His story is inspiring and challenging to say the least. If he could face up to and challenge colonialism & its brother, racial injustice, then surely we can exterminate corruption from the corridors of power today.

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