CHIEF SALAMI AGBAJE (Died 1953)

               Balogun of Ibadan

Chief Salami Agbaje was one of Africa's leading businessmen during Nigeria's colonial era. He was a successful indigenous entrepreneur who found a way to adapt and transform his ambitions into reality within an emerging foreign Western milieu. He was also Ibadan's richest citizen during his time and used his wealth to open doors to new ventures never before established in the city.

Chief Agbaje was born in Lagos, Nigeria to the family of Durowoju, a religious teacher originally from Iseyin and Mrs. Sinatu from Ibadan. He had four other siblings, two boys and two girls. He later apprenticed under a tailor and learned the art of tailoring. Towards the end of the nineteenth century, he left for Ibadan to find better opportunities.

He recorded his first commercial success as a timber contractor. The economy of the colonial era was largely dependent on the combination of importation of manufactured goods for local consumption and the export of agricultural commodities and raw materials. The major merchants involved were mostly expatriates as little credit was extended to indigenous Africans.

Railways soon emerged as an important system for the transportation of raw materials from one Nigerian location to another for export. Chief Agbaje cashed in on the new economy by supplying most of the timber needed for construction of the Lagos-Ibadan railway in 1871.

The timber business soon became his launching pad for greener investment opportunities.  He collated the profit from timber contracting and set out to meet with farmers to seek avenues for produce buying in the Yoruba hinterland. He became a merchant who succeeded in linking and buying goods from the local farmers and selling them to expatriate firms for export.

He was also notable for using advertising as a business strategy. His name and business could be seen splashed inside the pages of the Yoruba news in the 1920s. From the produce buying venture, he diversified into transportation and import and export.

He imported cotton, gin and rum, building materials, hats, umbrellas and sewing machines. He was not only a success as an importer but was actually one of the few indigenous importers of his time. He had also risen to the top in Ibadan's social and political circles and pioneered new industries in the city.

Chief Agbaje was a pioneer in all facets of business. He established the first truly indigenous owned diversified company, comprising of the first and largest commercial transportation and automotive company which served the government, hiring both European foreigners and indigenous individuals, the first printing press; the first soft drinks manufacturing company; the first cinema/theater; cow horn exporting for bone china; the first private world class hospital known as Alafia Hospital operated by his first son, the first medical doctor in Ibadan, trained in England.

He owned most of the real estate in Ibadan including thousands of acres of farmland. He had a hotel and a beach house in Lagos, Nigeria. He built a tuition free primary school, and is reputed to be one of the first providers of free primary education in Western Nigeria.

He was also a judge and became the President of Ibadan Native Court. He built a courtroom in his palatial home which was built by the finest European builders of the time and resembles any American city hall.  He owned the finest Rolls Royce automobile of the time, amongst other luxury automobiles.

He was known worldwide as AGBAJE OF AFRICA. As a wealthy Ibadan businessman, he rose rapidly among the rank of Ibadan Chiefs, becoming the Balogun (Chief Warrior) of Ibadan and was next in line to be the King of Ibadan before his death in 1953. At the time of his death, he had ten wives and numerous children.

He was known to have spent a great deal in giving his children the best education money can buy. According to him, a man's wealth is measured by the achievements of his children. His children include Chief Dr. Anthony S. Agbaje, the first indigenous medical doctor in Ibadan; Chief Mojeed Agbaje, the first indigenous Ibadan lawyer; Hon Justice A.G.O. Agbaje, retired Justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria; Lawyer Y.A. Agbaje, S.A.N, Mrs. Anozie, businesswoman and school proprietor; and others of notable achievement.

   CHIEF MOJEED AGBAJE (1920-1978)

            Otun Maye of Ibadan   

Chief Mojeed Agbaje was a Lawyer, public servant and politician in Nigeria. He was the first person from Ibadan, the largest city in West Africa and the third largest city in all of Africa, to become a lawyer.

Chief Mojeed Agbaje was born in Ibadan, Nigeria on January 23, 1920. His father was Chief Salami Agbaje who was one of Africa’s wealthiest and most successful businessmen during the British colonial period.  Chief Mojeed Agbaje was the fifth of twenty children.

 Chief Mojeed Agbaje attended high school at King’s College in Lagos, Nigeria. This was the premier secondary school in the British colonies at the time. His father sent him to Ireland to study law at Trinity College, Dublin. He became a barrister (lawyer) in London in 1945. He practiced law briefly in London, and then returned home to Nigeria.

Chief Agbaje was one of a very few people, black or white, who were lawyers in the entire country of Nigeria and more importantly one of the few black lawyers in the world at the time. He had a great love for the people. He set up his law firm in Ibadan, Nigeria. He provided free legal services to many poor people. He also became a city councilman, and the Chairman of the Ibadan Municipal Government, which is like being the Mayor of New York City, or Los Angeles. Later, Chief became the head of the government agency, Minister of Information for Western Region of Nigeria.

Chief Agbaje was a member of a group of Nigerian statesmen who fought for Nigeria's independence from Great Britain known as the Constitutional Conference. This group went to London in 1958 to obtain Nigeria’s independence from Great Britain. On his return from Great Britain, he was made a High Chief in recognition of his enormous contribution to Nigeria particularly his role in the demand for Nigeria's independence from Great Britain.

The entire Ibadan people, from all walks of life, thronged Ibadan's own city hall, Mapo Hall to welcome him home and to celebrate his role in the agitation for Nigeria's independence.  Two years later, in 1960, Nigeria became an independent country.  

Chief Agbaje provided free legal services to hundreds of people. He was a big charitable giver. He fed the poor every Friday religiously at his family compound until his death. He personally paid for the education of hundreds of his people, some of whom later became lawyers, doctors, judges, educators, and other professionals. His younger brother later became a Supreme Court Justice of Nigeria, Late Justice A.G.O. Agbaje. His nephew, Pius Aderemi, also became a Judge of the Supreme Court of Nigeria. A rare feat!

Chief fought aggressively for human rights in Nigeria beginning from the first Military intervention in Nigeria. He won the right for people to not be detained unlawfully. Before that, the Nigerian Police and the Military arrested anybody at will.  His case, Chief Mojeed Agbaje v. Commissioner of Police,  is the precedent case still used by lawyers in Nigeria when they want the release of an illegally detained person from jail, using the Writ of Habeas Corpus.

Chief Agbaje loved the good life. He enjoyed great food, merriment and good music. He had his own personal music band made up of drummers, singers, and other praise singers who customarily sang his praise daily amidst pomp and pageantry. Often times, his drummers would wake him up with the talking drum and send him to bed with the talking drum. The talking drum reminded him of his pedigree, his greatness, and his glorious roots. Chief Mojeed Agbaje died in November 19, 1978.

The House of Chiefs salutes Chiefs Salami &  Mojeed Agbaje and other Chiefs known and unknown who continue to make us proud of our heritage.

O.A. Adeboye,  Salami Agbaje, The life and Times of An Entrepreneur in Colonial Nigeria, Lagos Historical Review, Vol 1, (2001)

 A. Aguda, Judicial protection of some fundamental  rights in Nigeria and in the Sudan before and during Military Rule, JSTOR: Journal of African Law, Vol. 16, No. 2 (1972) pages 130 -144

D.O. Aihe, Fundamental Human Rights and the Military Regime in Nigeria: What Did the Courts say? JSTOR: Journal of African Law, Vol 15, No. 2 (1971) pages 213 -224

 Henry Bienen, Political Conflict and Economic Change  in Nigeria, Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Routledge, 1985

 Layi Ogunsola,  Chief Agbaje Lived for his people, Daily Sketch of Nigeria newspaper Article November 22, 1978

 Muyiwa Oyinlola,  Law is so dynamic that Several Judges will give different judgments, Sunnewsonline.com article June 24, 2009

 K.W.J. Post, The Nigerian Federal Election of 1959: Politics and Administration in a Developing political system, Oxford University Press, 1963

 Olufemi Vaughan, Nigerian Chiefs: Traditional Power in Modern Politics, 1890’s-1990’s, Boydell & Brewer, 2006

 Lekan Yussuf, Mojeed Agbaje is Dead- Daily Times of Nigeria Newspaper report November 22, 1978.