Agege — Today, the tenor of daily life in parts of Zangon Agege in Lagos state, closely resembles the far north, and the story behind the name 'Agege' tells much about ties between the Hausa and Yoruba.
It's a sunny June morning, and the fairly busy railway line cuts through the Hausa community, popularly known as Zangon Agege. The community is made up of five parts and each part has a Ward Head. There is an Imam, countless Mosques, endless alleys as well as a big market, many houses and a huge population.
This multilingual population can be found on both sides of the railway line. Some planes pass from time to time, releasing a loud roar as they make their way either to or from the Ikeja airport.The planes fly quite low ,and it's soon clear that they are going in to land. It is said that the train lines were already in place a hundred years ago.
The trains brought cattle from the North, and conveyed Kola nuts up north from the South- West .Here, there is a huge trading population, and it is difficult walking along the path which runs by the side of the railway line. People trade right up to the edge of the busy path, and customers stand within this same place to make purchases. Hausa is the common tongue here, and you think you are somewhere in the north, but you aren't.
The feeling lingers, however. There are some Yoruba accents also emerging from the pyramid of dialects that abound. The smiling women dress as Muslim women should, and their Hijabs and radiant gowns look nice under the sunlight.
The men, who sell Tea, Onions, shoes, pepper, meat, perfumes, caps, kaftans and countless other items, move about in their nice white or blue gowns. This is Lagos, but it's also north. There is some mud in the area, a clear sign of the morning rain, and so you must step carefully, lest you fall.
The Hausa community of Agege is altogether an unforgettable place. A popular account states that the Hausa community of Agege produced the 200 men who formed the nucleus of what later became the Nigerian Army.The palace of Sarkin Hausawa, or Leader of the community, is also just there by the railway line, and it is encircled by countless traders. It was necessary to cross the road a few meters away to get to the palace. On the other side of the road is a storey building with the words Kaura boldly painted on it.
I am told that the owner is from Zamfara State and was given the title, which means warrior. It also conveys the sense of Chief Warrior for the Sarki. The house, set at the end of a brief alley, impresses with its simple architecture, as well as the title which it prominently displays. Sarki's amiable guard or Dogari, who is in traditional attire, moves through the office putting things in order, as we wait for Sarki's arrival. The guard later turns out to be a very theatrical person.
Alhaji Mohammed Dogon Kadai is the seventh Sarkin Hausawa of Agege, and very soon he arrives. Then Shuaibu Sarki, who usually speaks on such occasions, open up on the life and history of Hausas in Agege. He says 'We Hausas are traders, not only in Agege, but throughout the south.Hausas are many and we go anywhere in the world.' He speaks of 450 years of contact between members of Hausa communities in the north and the south west.
His words 'There are 450 years of contact between Hausas and the communities of the south west. Some of our fathers went up to Ghana, Togo, Benin Republic, Cameroon, Burkina Faso ,and other African countries.'It is mentioned that Agege has always been a stopover point for Hausa traders who are journeying onwards to places such as Ghana. He adds 'Agege has always been a kind of stop over point, where our people will stay and rest before continuing on the trip.' Thus Agege began to function like a Zango, for Hausa traders who journeyed up to Ghana to buy Kola nuts and return with same to the North.
After a while the Hausa traders saw that the weather at Gonja, the Kolanut producing area of Ghana, was similar to that of Lagos, and so Kola nuts were brought and planted in the Agege area. This was meant as a simple test, but then all of a sudden the Kola crop began to flourish. According to Shuaibu "The Hausa traders then decided not to be travelling further, saying if the species of Kola nuts can be planted here, there would be no need to travel to Gonja.
Thus, instead of going to Gonja to buy Kola nuts, they now stopped at Orile Agege to buy same, and this new Kola nut was now named Obi-Gonja or Gonja Kola nut .This is how Hausas formally began to settle in the Agege area, much unlike the past when they were simply passing through on trading missions to other parts of West Africa." Thus, the journey to Ghana reduced drastically as a result of the new Kola plantations in the Agege area, and the latter also attracted huge settlements in Agege.
Again, Shuaibu Sarki says "The new Kola nut plantations generated many settlements around Agege, which became a new powerful centre of the Kola nut trade.The town now experienced rapid development. The Kola plantation brought Aworis to Orile Agege, and the settlement attracted different people of different backgrounds and interests, as labourers, and most of these were Hausa. Whenever the Yoruba needed labourers to work on their farms, they would come to engage our people.They engaged our people to cut the trees. Because of this work they now named the immediate area where the Hausas lived 'Ilu Awon Ageigi' which translates as 'Town (Ilu) of the tree cutters'.
The name Agege was thus formed out of the word Ageigi." Shuaibu Sarki says that their Hausa forebears could not pronounce 'Ageigi', and so they simply shortened it to 'Agege'. Therefore, migrant Hausa workers played a role in naming the area which finally came to be known as 'Zangon Agege'. The palace of Sarki in which we sat for the interview was built in 1947, and the first Sarki was Malam Mohammadu Mai Biri (1863-1910). Next in the line was Mallam Halliru Mai Gemu (1910-1920), while the third in the line was Malam Halliru Mai Ruwa (1923-1934).
In the Hausa settlement in Agege you can come across a Yoruba man who speaks very fluent Hausa, as well as a Hausa man who is eloquent in Yoruba.This is Nigeria in microcosm. It's a very interesting community. Sarkin Hausawa says Agege is now home for his people, and they have nowhere to flee to. Here, he was responding to a question on Boko Haram .The younger generation also have nowhere to flee to.They ,as well as their grandparents, were born in Agege. Sarkin Hausawa says "Zangon Agege is a Hausa town in the South-West. There are people here who have never been to the north among us.
They were born here, schooled here, and spent their entire lives in Agege." He adds that Alausa is another Hausa community in the South-West. According to him the place known as Alausa was first called 'Abule Hausa' which in translation simply means a Hausa village. With the passage of time, it came to be known as Alausa. Abdulwahab Tijani seems to confirm this where he writes "Ago Awusa (Hausa camp) was located between Epe and Itokin in Lagos State.
The place is now referred to as Alausa in Ikeja, Lagos. However, the Hausa people had settled in Lagos since the eighteenth century or even much earlier." Agege is home, in every sense of the word, to many Hausa sons and daughters, who were either born there, or came visiting at some point and joyfully chose to stay.