Eighty-nine-old-year Angelica Oyediran, granddaughter of Candido Da Rocha, talks about her career and life experience with BAYO AKINLOYE
Tell us about your parents and siblings.
I was born on December 1, 1927 to a simple parentage. My father was an architect at the Lagos City Council. His name was Christopher Akinsola Thomas. He was barely seven years old when he lost his father and few months later, he lost his mother. It was his father’s close friend, Papa Vaughn, who took him up. He had just married and had no children at all. He made my father his ‘first child.’ Later on, he had his own children – three boys and one girl. My father died 50 years ago on October 27, at the age of 71. Candido Da Rocha objected to my parents’ relationship. He wanted all his daughters to be taken to Brazil and marry Brazilians and none of them accepted that offer. My parents’ first child died as a baby. The second one Cyril Akin Thomas was educated at CMS Grammar School. He grew up to become an architect like my father. Unfortunately, he died suddenly at the age of 41. Before his death, he married and had children. My third brother, Ademola Thomas, was a building engineer. He studied in England and during Shehu Shagari’s administration in the second republic, he was made a minister. He died about four years ago, at the age of 86. I was given birth to after him.
Was there anything that stood you out among your siblings?
I was the only child born by my mother unaided. My mother was alone in the house. My father had gone out to play lawn tennis at the Yoruba Tennis Club. My brothers were with my grandfather at Water House to spend some time with him. My mother was cooking when she discovered that she was feeling funny in the kitchen. She felt that the baby in her womb was about to arrive. She hurried up and arranged the food on the dining table. She went into her room to lie on the bed. The baby (myself) arrived shortly after that. Nobody helped her. It was a divine delivery. I was born strong and healthy. She told me that among her children, I was the only one who did not have convulsion and malaria.
Tell us about your education and occupation.
I attended Methodist Girls High School, kindergarten and primary; later I went to CMS Grammar School. I also attended Baptist Academy. I was part of the first HSC class at Queen’s College, Lagos. Unfortunately, I failed school certificate examination. In those days, if you failed English, you had failed everything. I did not answer the essay well and for that reason, I failed. But Dr. Whittaker was so fond of me that he asked me to repeat the examination. I repeated it and failed again. The second year I was to sit for the examination again at QC, there was Prof. Oladele Ajose, he was a son of one of the former Oba of Lagos – Ologun Kutere Ajose – and they came from Epe, Ibeshe. He married a British wife. He and his wife started the Nigeria branch of British Red Cross. She came to QC to recruit members for the organisation. Some of us showed interest. After some discussion and registration, the lady called me and said she was impressed by my contributions during the meeting. She was surprised to learn that I failed English judging by my English. Despite the failure, she recruited me to join the Red Cross. They sent me to England in 1951 to study some administrative roles. Upon my return to Nigeria, I was sent to the mid-west, eastern and northern Nigeria. I was employed and worked for the Red Cross for about 15 years before I got married.
How did you meet your husband?
I was married to an elderly person. We got married five years after he lost his wife. He was made the first liaison officer in Washington DC, US. We got married there. He was later redeployed to Sierra Leone to become the first Nigerian High Commissioner to that country. While we were in Sierra Leone, I became the head of diplomats’ wives and with my experience in social activities, I supported my husband to succeed in his duty.
Last year in April, when the Queen of England (Queen Elizabeth II) clocked 90, I wrote to her reminding her that while we were in Sierra Leone, she came on an official visit. I was introduced to her with my husband at a lunch, a dinner and also at the ballroom. My husband danced with the Queen and Prince Philip danced with me. She replied my letter and sent me a thank-you card.
What did you do after you left the Red Cross?
Following my husband’s death, the Nigerian government under (Gen. Yakubu) Gowon invited me to work for them. Before then, I had worked for the Christian Council – as a liaison officer (between Nigeria and foreign governments) during the civil war. I was the chairman of the advisory committee to the government on relief and rehabilitation who got aids from the British government. I was the one going to the war zones to bring people from the Biafra line liberated by the Federal Government’s troops to offer them assistance including relief materials.
The end of the war met me in Asaba, Delta State and I took aids from organisations like the United Nations Refugee, USAID, German Caritas and the Roman Caritas. The aids were under my control. I was responsible for over 5,000 children taken from the Biafra side to Côte d’Ivoire and Gabon. I went to the two countries to negotiate the repatriation of the kids to Nigeria. All of them were reunited with either their parents or guardians. Sometimes, I was in some villages in the East but God protected me during the period.
What was your most frightening moment during the war?
There were occasions that I would be outside with my Land Rover in a village while rapid exchanges of gunfire were going on. There was a crucial moment when Alao – the head of the Air Force – and I travelled on the same plane, DC6. There was no fastening of seat-belt. We were sitting over boxes of ammunition and the Biafra soldiers knew that Alao was on that plane. They tried to shoot it down but he flew the plane as high as he could. We arrived at our destination – Port Harcourt – safely on that day. At the next trip, I was not on the plane with him. His plane was shot at and he was killed. God saved my life on many of such trips.
There was an occasion when Archdeacon Kale and the late Steve Rhodes’ sister, Gloria Rose, were on an expedition with me. They said they wanted to assist me take care of the war-stricken people and we were in Calabar sector that was liberated. On morning at 6am, we were to go to the airfield to board a helicopter. I am a psychic person; I get spiritual messages. That morning, as we were having a cup of coffee, something told me: ‘You’re not going on this trip. If you go, it will be disastrous.’ I told the others that we were not going on the trip. They felt disappointed that they had come all the way from Lagos to be part of the trip. They also thought I was being funny when I told them about the warning I received. The helicopter flew past and it never returned – it crash-landed. Its pilot suffered life-threatening damages that he had to be flown to Canada. If I had gone with him (I might have died) but God wanted me to be 90 and even more.
What other touching experience would you like to share?
During the civil war, there was large-scale starvation – not only on the Biafra side but also on the Federal Government’s side. There was a child I adopted from the civil war brought to Lagos by the late Benjamin Adekunle (Black Scorpion). I was in a hospital to operate my left eye. While the Federal Government’s troops were attacking the Biafra side, his mother and father were killed and the boy was blinded in the attack. Nobody knew any other relative of the child. I adopted the child and enrolled him in a school for the blind, from there to King’s College boarding house and later, to the University of Jos. He became a lawyer, got married and has children who are progressing in life.
How are you related to the man said to be the first Nigerian millionaire, Candido Da Rocha?
My mother was the third daughter of my grandfather, Papa Candido Da Rocha. I am the second granddaughter of Da Rocha of Casa d’Agua – Water House. My grandfather’s father was Esan from Idifi, Ilesa (in Osun State). During Queen Victoria’s era when the British colonised Nigeria, years after they had founded it, Queen Victoria sent a representative to govern Nigeria. During that era, the British announced their programme of education for Nigerian children and appealed to parents in the country to bring their children to Lagos to study. My great-grandfather was one of the children brought from Ilesa to school in Lagos and history has it that during that period, children were brought to Lagos and sent to classes to be educated. Some of them were kidnapped either on their way to class or while returning home from school by Ijebu traders and sold as slaves to Portuguese sailors – who were capturing people on the West Coast of Africa in those days.
Esan was one of those abducted. Quite a few of the children abducted died on the way – from Lagos to Badagry. But God preserved my great-grandfather’s life. He arrived in Badagry some months later with others captured. Fortunately for him again, on arriving Brazil, Bahia, Salvador, he was employed by a merchant who dealt in textiles. There, he was given the name, Da Rocha. But he was quite uncomfortable to be living in captivity in a strange country. He was not alone; there were many people like him, abducted in Nigeria and sold into slavery in Brazil. But as they grew up in that country, they formed a group and hired a place which they made their secretariat. Following that, they made a strong approach to the then governor of Brazil demanding their freedom.
Were they granted the freedom they requested?
Eventually, they succeeded and finally returned to Nigeria, arriving in Lagos. It took them 13 months to get back home from Brazil. On arrival, Esan Da Rocha was one of the few returnees that approached the then Queen Victoria’s representative in Lagos requesting a place for their resettlement in their country and they were apportioned the area between the Central Bank of Nigeria on Broad Street up to Kam Salem, at Obalende.
The Water House was built by Esan Da Rocha on the land apportioned to him. He had two portions of land because he came back with his wife of Nigerian origin and four children – two males and two females. He was also given a portion of land at Tinubu Street.
When Esan built the house, he built it as a replica of the house he lived in Brazil. That is why there are Brazilian architectural designs in the building.
Where I stay now was not built by Esan and Candido did not live on this portion of the land. Candido died in 1959. His properties were shared by his surviving children – Alexander, Louisa Ebun Turton, Angelica Folashade Thomas (my mother), and Candida Adenike Afodu. But my mother inherited this portion and extended the building on it. When Esan first built the house, about 152 years ago, there wasn’t proper way of dispensing water for drinking and other use in Lagos. He had a big well and named the house, Water House – Casa d’Agua in Brazilian language. He sold some of the water and gave out some free.
After his demise, he willed this house to Candido and Josephina, the youngest daughter. The Number 4 Tinubu house Esan willed to Candido’s immediate younger brother, Dr. Moses Da Rocha – he was trained in Scotland in medicine. He was a journalist too. He and Aunty Joana lived there until they died – they died intestate and their property rolled on to Candido and Josephina. But, at one stage, Josephina and Candido decided to have the property re-assigned. So, Josephina had another property bought for her and Candido retained this house as his own property inherited from Esan.
Have you been to Brazil to see where your great-grandfather lived as a slave?
Yes. I was in Brazil in 1983 and I visited the house my great-grandfather lived at Tororo, in Salvador. I also visited Bahia and saw the secretariat used by my great-grandfather and other Nigerians. In that secretariat, there was a voluminous diary they recorded when they were abducted in Nigeria, their arrival in Brazil, the masters they served and so on. My great-grandfather also had some children with his Red Indian wife, who stayed back in Brazil. Esan died at the age of 88 and was buried at Ikoyi Cemetery. He was popular in Nigeria and was one of the foremost financiers. He traded by barter in textile, kola nut, alligator pepper, bitter kola, and so on. He had a small shop on the ground floor where he sold bags, gold dust, and textiles of different types.
How rich was your grandfather, Da Rocha?
Candido Da Rocha was quite close to the British and the western world then. He was highly respected and highly disciplined. He didn’t like dishonesty and lying. I stayed with him in this house for about three years when my mother moved in here to look after him. I was very close to him. He loved me and I was very fond of him. I learnt a lot from him. During the Second World War, Da Rocha offered one of his properties, Bonanza Hotel, to the British government to protect some Nigerian students at King’s College, who were initially in a boarding house at Race Course.
The school was run there until the war was over. Among his close friends was Herbert Macaulay. Da Rocha refused to be a politician. When he was nominated to contest an election and people approached him requesting money to support his electioneering, he said, ‘If you want Da Rocha you vote for him, and if you want Da Rocha’s money don’t vote for me.’ Twice, when Macaulay was arrested by the British colonial government for speaking out against them, Da Rocha paid (a fine) on his behalf to prevent Macaulay from going to jail and warned that he would not come to his rescue the third time. Da Rocha was a staunch catholic. He respected God. He was very rich – he was a millionaire in those days and very generous. The elite in those days sent their dirty clothes to Britain for laundry. The Da Rochas, Johnsons, Dohertys and the Olowus, were foremost wealthy people. They didn’t wash their clothes in Nigeria. They sent them abroad for laundry. Some of them had about five dozens shirts, five dozens vests, five dozens pants, and everything they could afford.