In the early 1900s, to drive a car in Nigeria was such a big deal. What you would rather see were motorcycles, bicycles, and carriages, driven by the elite.
As a matter of fact, you could take count of the number of vehicles across the country. Yeah, cars were that scarce, it wasn’t abnormal for children and adults to stop short in awe at the sight of a 1900 St. Louis Gasoline Buggy or a 1901 Ford.
However, after the First World War, the number of vehicles in production soared, due to the dire need of vehicles to support the war effort, there was a lot of innovation in the production of vehicles. On the back of this, many more cars were produced and procured into Nigeria.
At the time, wealthy people bought cars for pleasure, status, and comfort. Not Nigerians though. During the colonial rule, a Nigerian won’t dare drive a car. It seemed so out of place, like crossing a line. This article is going to help you meet the first Nigerians to drive cars during the colonial era.
Cars in Colonial Lagos
Nigerians who dared to ride cars during the colonial rule
1. Sir Thomas Jones
Although there is no available record of the first person to drive a car in Nigeria, one of the first Nigerians on the record to have driven a car was a man called Thomas Jones, a wealthy Lagosian who is believed to drive a car before 1913. (Of course, when we say first to drive a car, we mean to drive a car you own- not a chauffeur, sorry that doesn’t count, dear first Nigerian chauffer).
With the absence of detailed history, we can only guess the kind of car Thomas Jones drove at the time. It could have been the Ford Model T, owing to the fact that he was rich enough to donate a library to the Lagos colony at the time; alsoc the Ford car was sturdy and practical for the Nigerian dirt roads.
We wouldn’t be too presuming; however, it could easily have been any other available vehicles at the time, Caddilac, Winton Bullet, and any other models available before 1913. A popular street on the Lagos Island is named in memory of Thomas Jones.
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2. Sir Herbert Macaulay
Sir Herbert Macaulay is also reported as the first Nigerian to own a car.
To picture Macaulay, imagine a dark man with a thick mustache overflowing into a curl at the side and a tobacco wood pipe in hand reclined in a chair with an air of importance, speaking with exuberance. His grandfather Samuel Ajayi Crowther was the first African Anglican bishop in Nigeria.
Sir Macaulay was quite distasteful to the British colonial rule even as he enjoyed their sponsorship and was trained as an architect in the royal institute of British architects. Macaulay was one of the first Nigerian nationalists.
In 1908, he exposed European corruption in handling railway finances. He was also in opposition to the colonial government on the issues of bordering water rate, selection of the Oba of Lagos, and the mosque Imamate in Lagos. He died in 1946 in Lagos.
Sir Herbert Macaulay is also reported as the first Nigerian to own a car
3. Chief Candido Joao Da Rocha
Candido Da Rocha, a Nigerian born in Brazil is also reported to have imported the first car to Nigeria. Chief Candido Joao Da Rocha was born in the Brazilian region of Baha and upon his return to Nigeria, he built the Lagos water house with his father, Esan Da Rocha.
Chief Candido Joao Da Rocha, a former serviceman would then become so wealthy that he could afford to send dozens of his clothes to the dry cleaner in the UK.
He was a contemporary of the aforementioned Sir Herbert Macaulay. His daughter now in her 90s confirms he was so rich that he supported so many people with financial aid. He was one of the founding members of the Lagos Race Club.
In his time, we are sure he would have owned a Rolls-Royce or Limousine if they were in existence.
Da Rocha made use of what he had at the time, cruising around in his gold-plated horse-drawn carriage. He would later go on to import the first vehicle to Lagos.
Da Rocha died in 1959, aged 95. He held the chieftaincy title of the Lodifi of Ilesha, a founding member of the Anti-slavery and Aborigines' rights society. He is commemorated in a novel, The Water House by Antonio Olinto.
Chief Candido Joao Da Rocha was a proud but generous Ilesha man
Candido Da Rocha famous Waterhouse in Lagos
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4. Sir Mobolaji Bank Anthony
Sir Mobolaji Bank Anthony is another name you’ve probably never heard of.
You’re also probably wondering why he has ‘Bank’ in his name. When you consider his achievements, the name isn’t at all out of place. He had enough cash to be called a bank.
Being a businessman and philanthropist, he was an investor in aero contractors and at the time had distribution rights to cars manufactured by Roots Group. As a result of this partnership, Sir Mobolaji must have driven a Hillman Minx Magnificent (1937), a Sunbeam Talbot 90 in the 60s, and the Hillman Avenger in the 70s and 80s.
Sir Mobolaji Bank Anthony
5. Chief Funmilayo Ransome Kuti
The last name on our list, definitely not the least, is a name you probably know, Chief Funmilayo Ransome Kuti.
She was a Nigerian educator, political campaigner, suffragist and women’s rights activist, and the mother of renowned musician Fela Kuti. She was the first female to attend Abeokuta Grammar School. She is the first woman to be documented to drive a car not just in Nigeria, but Africa as a whole.
She wasn’t just the first woman to drive a car; many also report her to be the first woman to drive a bike. She was a traveled woman, visiting many countries before she passed.
Today, the number of women driving cars on Nigerian roads is uncountable, but it hasn’t always been so. Chief Funmilayo was audacious, the way she was in her fight for women's rights and Nigerian independence. She died on the 13th of April 1978.
Chief Funmilayo Ransome Kuti and her famous son Fela
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So you see, there are very few first Nigerians to drive cars during the colonial era. I'm certain only a handful of us had any idea who Candido Da Rocha was before this article. Hope you learned one or two things from us, please do well to check out our news page for more exciting and insightful articles.
Let's end this article with this 1970s event in Lagos.....A bit sobering though
Bar Beach, Lagos | April 1972