New Dawn Nigeria

‘The mystery of Ayinde Bakare’s death’

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Sunday, October 1, 1972 was the 12th anniversary of Nigeria’s independence. As usual, the Lagos city social circle was in frenzy for the celebration. The popular musicians of the period were fully booked for one engagement or another in various parts of the bustling city. One of such was the rave of that era in the Juju genre – Saibu Ayinde Bakare Ajikobi popularly known as Ayinde Bakare and his Meranda Orchestra.

Ayinde Bakare was booked to play at a wedding event at Isale-Gangan area of Lagos Island; it was a half-day show as Bakare was billed for another engagement on the evening of same day at Ijebu-Ode. Indeed, an advance party of his Band had gone ahead to Ijebu-Ode while the Lagos show was going on. Such was the high demand for Bakare’s ‘faaji’ music in the social circle of the era.

The Band had finished the first session of entertainment at the Isale-Gangan show and took a break as was the practice. Ayinde Bakare retreated to the backstage to catch some breath before the Band would reconvene for the second session; while he was there, some unknown persons reportedly invited him for some discussions away from his Band members.

When it was taken too long for him to return, the initial notion was that Bakare had gone with a female fan to a hideout for a tryst as was common among the Band Leaders of that era. The Deputy Band Leader, Ayanniyi Atanda took over and conducted the rest session of the performance and curiously superintended the sharing of the day’s proceeds among the rest of the band members without leaving anything for their missing leader, Bakare. Further searchlight was beamed towards Ijebu-Ode venue of the second show but Bakare was not there either.

Various search-parties (family, friends, fans and professional bodies) combed every corner (so it seemed) of Nigeria and the neighboring countries for Ayinde Bakare but the search yielded no positive result. Before that fateful day, Bakare had been a performing/recording artiste for 37 years having started his Juju band in 1935 and no such disappearance was ever known of him.

Meanwhile on Wednesday, 4th October 1972, the marine police had found a body of an adult male floating on the Lagos Lagoon near Bonny Camp in Victoria Island. Despite the wide publication of the missing Ayinde Bakare in the major newspapers of the era, the police authorities could not identify the body as that of Ayinde Bakare. The body was dumped among other unclaimed bodies and was given a mass burial by the Lagos City Council at the Atan Cemetery in Yaba (Lagos Mainland).

When the disappearance of Ayinde Bakare had become a reality, his first wife – Alhaja Amudat Lemomu sent a telegram (the forefather of SMS) to her son, Shina Ayinde Bakare who was plying his musical trade in Mubi (now Adamawa State) to return home to coordinate the search. The arrival of the then 29 years old Shina rejuvenated the search and the police was provided with further identification clues. One of such was that the missing Bakare had a tattoo on the inner part of his right hand with the inscription A.S. Bakare. The police officers who found the floating body suddenly recalled seeing such inscription on the body buried in the mass grave at Atan cemetery.

The body was ordered to be exhumed and it took few minutes of digging for Shina (Ayinde Bakare’s eldest son) to identify his father’s legs amidst other 41 bodies in one single grave. A further examination revealed the tattooed ‘A.S. Bakare’ on the inner side of the right hand to confirm the body as that of ‘Mr. Juju’ – Ayinde Saibu Bakare. Apparently, the police and the Lagos City Council never imagined the naked body they found and buried three weeks ago to be that of the popular Ayinde Saibu Bakare despite the prominent tattoo. Ayinla Omowura, the equally popular Apala crooner of that era (who would later be killed in similar circumstance less than 10 years) sang ‘Kikida Bakare lo ko s’Apa ni o je kon mo pe Bakare Ayinde l’oku’ (It was because he just tattooed A.S. Bakare that was why they did not know it was Ayinde Bakare that died).

The body was still intact, although badly bruised. Again, Ayinla Omowura sang ‘Ayinde mo l’aiye, o mo l’orun, Oku ogun’jo o mo j’era…’ meaning ‘Ayinde (Bakare) was pure both in life and in death; his twenty days old corpse was not decayed.’ The body was released to the family for a decent burial but not before an autopsy was carried out. The result, as announced by the Consultant Pathologist, Dr. Nasirudeen Olaseni Akinlade (RAO Hospital, Surulere) put the cause of his death as drowning.

The government also raised a Coroner’s inquest to unravel the circumstances of the death of Bakare; the Coroner, Mrs. Grace Akinboboye commenced her assignment on Monday, April 30th, 1973. One of Bakare’s wives, Risikat Dabiri told the Coroner that she suspected two members of Bakare’s Meranda Orchestra. She said she witnessed the quarrel between the two and her husband over the sharing of 60 naira engagement proceeds. She further buttressed this by claiming that the Band was still playing at social events while their leader was missing.

A former deputy leader of Bakare’s Band, Daniel Akinola and two serving band members (Ayanniyi Atanda – current Band deputy leader and Michael Gasper a drummer of the Band) were the principal suspects that appeared before the Coroner. Daniel Akinola claimed he saw Bakare last in May 1972 (5 months before his death); the Coroner however ordered him to be present daily until the Inquest gave its verdict. For Atanda who admitted that he directed the sharing of the Band’s Isale-Gangan engagement proceeds, he was ordered to be detained for perjury. In his own case, Gasper who was accused of wishing Bakare dead in previous utterances denied such wish to his ‘guardian’.

The coroner found that Ayinde Bakare died from drowning and cast suspicion on two members of his Band who had complained about being underpaid, but said there was no incontrovertible evidence as to their involvement. She was convinced that the principal suspects knew more than they revealed about the death of Bakare. ‘It is my confirmed opinion that both Atanda and Gasper knew more about the case than they revealed before the coroner and same goes for Daniel Akinola who testified before me with a smearing contemptuous face, telling nothing but lies.’ Mrs. Akinboboye ruled.

The above statement sealed any hope of getting those who murdered the 60 years old Ayinde Saibu Bakare in 1972. Born in 1912, his father Pa Bakare was a Nigerian First World War soldier (Trumpeter) from the Balogun Ajikobi family of Ilorin. Ayinde Bakare mentor was the legendary Tunde King together with whom he played at the front of the Second World War alongside Tunde Nightingale and Ambrose Campbell.

Courtesy: Itafa Olayemi Olaboye

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