Chief William A. A. Sagay

Peter Oye Sagay

August 07, 2022

Introducing Dad - His Children Did Not Call Him Dad. They Called Him Shésha (pronounced Shaysha).

My father was Chief William A. A. Sagay (1900±1 - Feb, 1972). He had twenty-six children (fourteen sons and twelve daughters). Iam the eleventh son and the twenty-first child. He was the son of Pa Amone Sagay who was the seventh child of the ancestor we call the First Sagay. I have no detailed information about my father's mother. I do know that she came from Obagie an Edo village of the ancient Benin Kingdom and that she was a young wife of the first Sagay. Upon the death of the First Sagay, his son, Pa Amone Sagay married her. She had five children for Pa Amone Sagay. The two oldest (a son and a daughter) I never met. The remaining three (my father and his younger brothers Dadson Sagay and Gabriel Sagay) I met and knew very well. Her daughter was the mother of Queen's Counsel Chief M.E.R Okorodudu. The father of Clinton Sagay (a former director of Nigerian customs) was her son. Pa Esanjumi Sagay (father of Pa Andrew A. E. Sagay, the Principal) was also a son of my father's mother. She had him for the First Sagay. My father had many other paternal siblings who were also children of Pa Amone Sagay.

The first Sagay was from the Benin Kingdom before the kingdom was sacked in 1898 by the British in the so called Punitive Expedition (such an expedition can not succeed in modern times because the knowledge gap that existed then has been closed by descendants of the kingdom). The father of the first Sagay was Oghoo a powerful medicine man in Eme-Ora. Oghoo's father was Ekhai. Oghoo and Ekhai like many Oras, were descendants of Oba Ozolua of the ancient Benin Kingdom. Oba Ozolua was the banished Prince Okpame when he founded Ora. Prince Okpame was a favorite third son of his father Oba Ewuare I. Oba Ezoti (reigned for 7 days) and Oba Olua (reigned for 7 years and was father of Prince Ginuwa who established the Warri Kingdom) were Prince Okpame older brothers. Young Prince Okpame's warrior genes and thirst for the throne got him into trouble many times in the ancient Benin Kingdom. He was eventually banished when he murdered a young Benin boy. Prince Okpame sojourn in exile brought about the founding of the Ora Community. The Oras were revered in ancient Benin Kingdom because they possessed supernatural powers with respect to the clouds and the earth and were descendants of Oba Ozolua. So, it was often the case in ancient Benin that the Oba's Chief geologists and weather scientists were from Ora. After Prince Okpame's brothers died, he was brought back to Benin and he ascended the throne as Oba Ozolua. His reign was eventful.

The mother of the first Sagay was one of the daughters of Oba Osemwende of the ancient Benin Kingdom. She was barren for a significant part of her life. In ancient Africa (even now), barrenness brought a lot of pressure. So, she was determined to be a mother. Her quest took her from ancient Benin City to Ora and in Ora, her prayers were answered when she and the powerful Oghoo gave birth to her only child Osagienugue (one who God sent to the world). In jubilation and fanfare, she brought her only child to ancient Benin City. She would later send young Osagie into self exile because of palace intrigues, in order to save his life. That was how young Osagie left the ancient Benin Kingdom to settle in the Itsekiri domain where he became Sagay and a protege of Chief Olomu who was then the governor of Itsekiri domain during the interregnum of the Warri kingdom. The first Sagay became one of Chief Olomu's top war general and helped him to victory in several regional wars. Chief Eriomala Nana Olomu was one of the children of Chief Olomu. He succeeded his father as governor of the Itsekiri domain during the interregnum and is known to history as Nana of Ebrohimi who fought the British for control of the Benin River.

The first Sagay prospered in Itsekiri domain. As an only child of his mother, he strived to have as many children as he could. He succeeded in having twenty-three children. His children heralded the modern Sagay phenomenon.

Dad - A Self-Made Businessman.

My father was a self-made businessman. His formal education was limited but his mind was unlimited. He was born in the Sagay Village (Aja-Sagay) that his grandfather (the first Sagay) established in Amukpe (an outskirt of Sapele). The first generation Sagays and CMS missionaries were able to establish St John's Primary School and St John's Anglican Church in Sagay Village. So, my father and many second generation Sagays got their primary school education there. However, formal secondary school education was unavailable in the entire Midwestern Nigeria until Edo college was established in Benin City in 1937. By this time, he had chosen the path of self-learning and was on his way to becoming a self-made millionaire from the hardware store he had established in Sapele where he imported and sold bicycle parts, travel accessories such as suitcases and school supplies. His new found wealth enabled him to offer support to brilliant younger members of his generation who went out of the region to attend secondary schools where they excelled. Pa Andrew A. E. Sagay went to Government College Ibadan (established in 1929). He was the pioneering secretary of the Government College Old Boys Association (established in 1946). Pa Gabriel Sagay, went to Igbobi College Lagos (established in 1932). In later years, he sent his first son to Hussey College Warri (established in 1947), to support the Itsekiri initiative of having their own secondary school. He sent his second son to Kings College Lagos (established in 1909). He also sent his daughters to various secondary schools. This focus on education and support for family members continued through out his healthy life.

My father's wealth increased when he added cash crop export to his business (specifically rubber and palm kernel). He bought a water front property on Palmer road next to Sapele's abattoir. The water front property became his primary depot where his lighters carried export cargoes to ships docked off-shore on the River Ethiope.

My father was the owner of the first two storey hotel with large adjoining dance floor in Sapele called Silver Triangle on Market Road (the busiest street in town at that time). Silver Triangle was the most popular hotel in Sapele in its heydays. It was the venue for notable national, regional, local musicians, and other festivities. The single floor Grand Hotel owned by the Hammond family was the second popular hotel. All Sapele youths who were guyish in the sixties, rocked at least once in these two hotels. Sailors who came ashore, many guys from Warri, Benin, Lagos and Portharcourt also came to rock in Silver Triangle and Grand Hotel in Sapele in the sixties. In fact in its heydays Sapele was the most guyish city in all of Nigeria and the capital of Pidgin English. The population was heterogeneous: residents span almost all tribes in Nigeria. There was also European population and sailors who came ashore. Many residents were from other parts of West Africa (primarily Ghanians and Sierra Leonians). This heterogeneity made the youth culture very vibrant and linguistically creative.

The crown-jewel of my father's property was his farmland near Obagie (his mother's village). The family called it Camp. My father took me there when I was about seven years old. We spent the week-end there. At that time I was too young to fully understand the importance and extent of the land. The land was about twelve miles square. My father bought it from the British about mid-1950s. It was the first time in that region an indigene bought such an expansive land from the British. The Great Oba Akenzua II came, planted a tree on the land and said he was happy that one of his sons has bought back the land.

My father planted his cash crops on the land and conducted other farming activities there. When he took me there when I was about seven years old, I saw several tractors there. The death of my father and the stupid Nigeria's Land Act set the stage for the neglect of the land. In July 2011, three of my father's grandsons visited me when I was in Sapele. They were concerned that the land had been neglected for too long. They wanted my father's children to pay serious attention to the land. I had not been to the land since my father took me there when I was seven years old. So, I assembled an entourage and we visited the land. We drove for miles in a rainy day within the land before we arrived at the living quarters in the land which consisted of eight bungalows built with beautiful bricks and French windows (even in their abject state of disrepair, still looked impressive), an helicopter take-off and landing pad (I later learned that some British World War II helicopters took off and landed there and that some war planning occurred there), a dispensary, a large water tower, and a warehouse. The British as is usually the case in their colonies, had set up a beautiful dwelling space. As I walked around looking near and afar with an adult and knowledgeable eyes and at the beautiful calm stream that flow through the land, chills of sadness flowed through me. We had let a great man down I thought. The pictures shown here are some of the pictures of the land taken by my wife Kimberlee who was part of the entourage.

On my return, I visited my father's second son (a barrister and former magistrate) who at this time was the oldest living son and requested that he call a meeting of my fathers children in Nigeria to discuss his assets. He agreed to call the meeting and asked me to draft the letter. I did and after reviewing it he signed and I mailed the letter (at my expense) to all my father's children in Nigeria. In June 2012, Six of the eight remaining sons (including the two oldest, the third oldest was absent) assembled at my father's residence in Sapele where he lived and died. One of his son was in the UK and could not attend. Five of the remaining nine daughters were also there (including the first child and first daughter and three of the oldest daughters). That is, eleven of the remaining 17 children of my father as at 2012 (seven have died since then) were present at the meeting. The agenda was simple: improve the assets or liquidate them. In the final analysis, it was agreed that the assets be improved. I was appointed by the two oldest sons to come up with a quantitative report of the assets. I prepared the report and the minutes of the meeting (at my expense) and presented the report and the minutes to the oldest sons. I also mailed copies to all my father's children in Nigeria before I departed for the US in August. By the time I returned the following year, my father's second son was on his dying bed. He died several weeks later.

In brief, various intrigues prevented the implementation of the improvements envisioned. A vision that would have befitted an exceptional visionary who with limited formal education and in colonial times in a small town, became a multimillionaire by any global standard. My father Chief William A. Sagay was the second Sagay to achieve that millionaire status. The first was his uncle Chief Olumaro Sagay who also was self-taught and a larger than life personality in the Sapele of his time. Chief Olumaro Sagay built the first three storey building in Sapele. His house on Market Road is a Sapele architectural classic.

Shésha And Me.

My father's immediate family, especially his children, called him Shésha. There is no precise account of the origin of this nickname that stuck throughout his life. The account that made some sense is that a toddler in the family (children, nieces, nephews) originated the nickname when in an attempt to call him teacher, the toddler called him Shésha. He embraced the nickname, the rest as they say, is history. This was essentially reverse christening where a child names his or her parents.

My father's residence was about fifteen minutes walk from my mother's residence where I lived. So, it was easy to visit him as often as I wanted. His house was one of the four architecturally similar buildings in Sapele. Only the very rich at that time built such houses. Mr I.T Palmer initiated the architecture on Decima road (near the river) in Sapele. Chief Olumaro Sagay and Prince Etuwewe followed suit and built theirs on Market Road almost opposite each other. My father followed suit and built his on Itsekiri Road. The houses were characterized by granite stone fences and cemented courtyards. Chief Olumaro Sagay's house is three storeys. The other three houses are two storeys. The advent of oil and political money has enabled many individuals to build larger impressive houses in Sapele. However, these four houses remain unique in Sapele and are symbols of a great past.

My relationship with my father was pure in the sense that it revolved entirely on happy discussions devoid of financial requests and disciplinary actions. My father's non-participation in my financial needs was neither because he was poor (he was already one of the richest men in town by the time I was five), nor unwilling. There was a quiet understanding that my mother was a woman of means able to meet my needs. That understanding was correct. However, there were three instances (all while I was in elementary school) when my father spent money to benefit me. The first instance was a result of direct request. The second and third instances were expressions of fatherly love.

First Instance: I was six years old and in St Luke's elementary school. One day, the school asked the children to tell their parents to make some donations up to a maximum of three British Schillings for some purpose which I can not remember. This type of requests occurred about twice a year. Parents who could afford the amount contributed. When I got home, I informed my mother about the school's request. This time she sent me to my father to get the money from him. On arrival at my father's residence, I climbed upstairs to meet him. He was in his study. After greetings and pleasantries, I delivered my mother's message. My father gave me the three British Shillings (this was the only cash that my father directly gave me throughout our relationship).

Second Instance: There were only four spaces my father and I interacted: his residence (mostly his study) where most of our interactions occurred; his water front depot which was behind my mother's residence where I lived; the Sagay Village in Amukpe when the family went for harvest festivities; and his farmland where we spent a three-day week-end. During one of my visits in his study, I was coughing. The cough was persistent. So, my father sent his driver to go buy a cough medicine (Liquifruta) from the chemist (pharmacy). When the driver brought the cough medicine, my father gave me some to drink. The coughing stopped after several minutes.

Third Instance: I was about seven years old. On arriving at the front of our house after school, I noticed my father's car was packed there. His car was a very distinctive silver gray high-end Chevrolet of the early sixties. So, I ran into the house hoping he was there. He was not. Disappointed, I asked my mother why his car was parked outside. My mother told me that my father had sent his driver to pick me up and that both of us were going to Camp (his farmland) to spend the weekend. Elated, I quickly got ready and followed the driver. My father was waiting for us when we got to his residence. He got into the vehicle and sat down in the owners corner and his driver drove off. We traveled to a village called Sakpoba near Abraka. On arrival at Sakpoba, several children in the village ran after the car waving and singing. We waved backed. The driver drove into a compound near the stream that flow through his farmland and parked. We came out surrounded by the children. My father greeted them and gave them some money before entering the compound. Shortly thereafter, he came out with a young man and beckoned me to follow him. We walked down to the stream and got into a canoe. My father told me that canoeing down the stream was the fastest and most convenient way to get to the farmland since there were no paved roads to the land. Soon after the canoe was in motion in the water, it became evident that the paddler was inexperienced. He was struggling with controlling the canoe. He turned out that he was a substitute because the regular paddler was away. My father asked for the paddle and paddled the canoe to his farmland. The journey was about fifteen minutes. When we got to his farmland, his cook, and several of his workers were waiting by the stream. They helped to carry the few belongings and we walked a few yards to the bungalow where he resides anytime he visited his farmland. In his bungalow we spent the week-end; sleeping on the same bed, eating the same food, carrying-out happy discussions and periodically walking on the grounds of his land. Just him and me. He was relaxed and devoid of the stresses that usually accompany ownership of a large business and headship of a large family. His cook and house help were usually around since they lived in a bungalow close by and periodically, his supervisors popped in to talk with him. My father was consistent in the type of food he ate: starch, yam, plantain, banga, egusi and bitter leaf soups, dried and fresh fish. After three days, our happy visit to my fathers farmland ended and we returned to Sapele, the way we came. The picture in the middle below is his bungalow in which we spent the week-end. The picture is one of many we took in July of 2011 when we visited his farmland. The picture of the stream with a canoe was where we landed when we accessed his land via the stream. The picture also showed the water tower that supplied the water we used. My father last visited his farmland no later than 1967. He was sick for about 5 years before he died in 1972. Despite the neglect of the bungalow, its serene presence was still evident when we visited in 2011, about fifty-one years after I first visited the land with my father.

Many happy visits continued with my father until he stroked. After he stroked, his smile that characterized my visit each time he saw me remained. However, he was never able to speak. Our happy discussions had ended even though he was still alive. My relationship with my father from the time I was five to the time he stroked spanned ten years. A brief snapshot of time in the context of a father-son relationship. However, it was a snapshot of time filled with happiness. Happiness for him and happiness for me. Pure happy relationship between a father and a son, free of worldly worries.

Dad's Legacy.

In Africa, one's greatest legacy are his or her children. This belief has been ingrained in the psyche of all Africans since the beginning of the first African family and is reflected in various African names. Consequently, there is usually persistent family pressure on one who attains childbearing age but remains childless. The first Sagay, the first and second generations of Sagays were very productive. The production started dwindling with the third generation as they spread out across the globe. However, there are exceptions. For example, one of the primary desires of my father's first son was to have more children than his father. He succeeded in realizing that desire. By the time he died at the age of seventy-eight, he had produced thirty known children, outperforming his father by four. My father's third son is a distant second with seventeen children. No other child of my father got into the double-digit zone. I doubt if any other Sagays of the third and fourth generation have ten or more children. The Sagay children are not just quantity. They are also quality and it is in this quality lies my father's legacy with respect to his children.

My father's children were not able to take his business vision to a greater height for various reasons. In this sense, his children let him down. However, they made him proud in their individual successes, particularly their intellectual successes. Among my father's children are two professors of national and international repute (a professor of economics who taught at Virginia Commonwealth University before going back to Nigeria to help in nation building and a professor of medicine and former dean of a school of medicine); a lawyer and magistrate; a female military officer who attained the rank of major before her sudden death; a principal of a prestigious female secondary school; a geologist who became second in command in a national oil company; agriculturists (one lectured in the university); a zoologist who became a director in the Federal Department of Fishery; a pharmacist; several bank managers and two former bank directors; several business persons; and a world-class mathematician/actuary/software programmer/composer who discovered the universal knowledge code. In their various capacities, my father's children impacted knowledge in their respective spaces, regionally, nationally and globally. My father's support for education was not restricted to his children. He also helped in the education of younger members of his generations and their children, among them were educators, physicians, lawyers, engineers, diplomats, artists, authors and business persons of regional, national and international repute.

My father's legacy in the region he lived (Sapele, Benin, Warri) are fundamental. He provided employment for many Sapele residents (he was one of the town's largest non-corporate employer in his time); he made sure that bicycles which were the primary mode of transportation (other than walking) were supplied with bicycle parts his hardware store imported. The suitcases and school supplies he sold in his store prepared students for school. Silver Triangle (the hotel my father owned) was the first of its kind. It provided enjoyment space for youths in Sapele and beyond. As a quartermaster of Sapele market, he helped in the establishment of organized commerce in Sapele.

Many people in great countries of the West are unaware that much of the good life they cherish were established because of access to raw materials from Africa. Industries based on cash crops like rubber, palm oil and palm kernel prospered because of raw materials from Africa. My father as a primary exporter of these cash crops in his time contributed to that prosperity. The extensive land he purchased from the British in order to efficiently implement his export business was trail blazing and the first of its kind in the Benin Kingdom.

The Sagays in general are not politicians. They are mostly pure intellectuals. So, you rarely find them seeking political positions. However, my father was part of the politics of the Warri Kingdom (several years before and after Nigerian's political independence from Britain) where he was a prominent chief in the court of Olu Erejuwa II and one of the major contributors to the purse of the Warri Kingdom. The extent of my father's involvement in the palace intrigue that dethroned Olu Erejuwa II in 1964, is unknown to me. I do know that after the dethronement, he was one of the seven chiefs the government appointed to oversee the affairs of the kingdom in tandem with the four appointed regents until Prince Moju Igbene was crowned Olu in December, 1965. After the Nigerian Military Coup of January 1966, Olu Erejuwa II was re-enthroned. Uneasy is the head that wears a crown, especially a revered crown. Queen's Counsel Chief M.E.R Okorodudu, a nephew of my father (he was the son of my father's older sister) was another Sagay who was very involved in the politics of Nigeria prior to its independence. He was the first agent of Western Nigeria in London; a primary legal advisor to Chief Awolowo and the Action Group political party of the Western Region of Nigeria; and a dedicated legal champion of legal cases involving the Warri Kingdom; Chief M.E.R Okorodudu, Chief T. A. Braithwaite and Chief S.L.Edu founded the Premier Nigerian Insurance Company, African Alliance Insurance Plc.

It is often the case that when power shifts, new power develops dislike of past good deeds that do not include or favor them, or out of pure jealousy. In many instances, they do not wait to bury the past good deeds with the bones of the doers. They deny, suppress and if possible obliterate them while the doers are still alive in order to signify their new found power. Good deeds never die permanently. Someday somewhere, they resurrect to remind us of their continuous presence in the fabric of Time. Chief William A. A. Sagay, my father Shésha, a Sagay icon, I bow Sir. Pictures of driving miles within Chief William A. Sagay's Land.

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