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Folu Oyefeso

Salami Agbaje - Wealth, Politics and Age in colonial Yorubaland

If you haven't guessed by now, I have become obsessed with stories about standout Nigerians from the past. Stories that are buried under decades of dust and the whispers of the generations before me. One of those stories is that of Chief Salami Agbaje, a leading businessman who rose through the political ranks of Ibadan in what was an unconventional manner during the colonial era.

Money was his ladder and fortune had smiled on him in 1871. Rail had become an important mode of transportation, especially for bringing in manufactured goods and exporting raw materials. Being a sawyer, he was able to supply the timber needed to construct the Lagos-Ibadan rail line. This gave him some leverage and he pivoted into cocoa farming and became one of the wealthiest people in the city.

Political hierarchy at the time was such that a group of elders contributed their decades of experience to running the society. The arrival of people like Salami Agbaje and Sanusi Adebisi Giwa brought about a new type of elderhood - elderhood by funds!

It wouldn't always be smooth sailing for him however. Issues arose for two primary reasons - his accelerated rise to power caused conflict within the cabinet and his values around giving away money differed from the society's. Yoruba people believed in rich men being charitable but he had varying ideas. He was also quite younger than the elders and so charges were filed against him and this stopped him from being the Oba of Ibadan in 1949. He died with 10 wives and numerous children and is known for giving them the best education money could buy.

Anyway, I went to his house in Beere, Ibadan. It's an epic colonial style mansion that stands bold faced amongst the market hustle. Unfortunately, I didn't have time to go inside but I did however get to explore the neighborhood which I think should just be called Agbaje Estate. Here is an aerial view of the area from google maps:

The house is in great shape, it looked like renovations had been done quite recently. It felt good to see that not all our landmarks have been abandoned.

front view of the salami agbaje mansion in ibadan
Front View of the Agbaje Mansion

The rest of the estate is made up of market stretches, several adjoining courtyards, family residences, a mosque, a hospital, all named after him. He might not have been into giving out money and gifts, but his influence and story still stand as strong as his house.

I wanted to see what the inside of the house looks like but I decided against it because of time. The courtyard that adjoins the mansion felt like a dream space though. I started to picture what life would look like back in the day and if this style of housing could be viable today. I know I would love a space like this with trees in and around it.

ancient yoruba style housing showcasing a traditional courtyard
Adjoining courtyard
Exceprt from some research material showing Brazilian influence on Yoruba architecture
Exceprt from some research material

It also reminded me of the strong Brazilian influence on Nigerian culture, particularly in Lagos. My friend and I actually explored this, link to that HERE

The rest of the time was spent exploring the Agbaje market, which felt way calmer than you would imagine. Cars don't really reach this part of the market so there's room to navigate here and so I took these photo:

traders at agbaje market ibadan
Commerce at Agbaje Market

a woman selling palm oil akara in Ibadan
Akara Elepo

I started my YouTube journey again, so you can watch clips from the day. Don't forget to like, subscribe and share, I appreciate all the support.

These pictures are available to buy as NFT’s on my OpenSea, link to that HERE.

For further research on Salami Agbaje, you can click HERE.


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Very interesting write up. Nice to see places I was not familiar with growing up in Ibadan

Mar 20, 2022
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Thank you so much, the city has so many hidden gems and I can’t wait to talk about them!


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