The Mobolaji Bank-Anthony Way is one of Lagos’s better known roads.The multi-lane motor route goes through the southern end of Ikeja, the city’s capital district, and links some of the metropolis’s key neighbourhoods and commercial hubs. And of course, its name slides off the lips of numerous Lagosians on a daily basis, without a thought being spared for its origins.
This road is in fact named after Mobolaji Bank-Anthony, one of the earliest Nigerians who could be properly described as a business mogul. His accomplishments secured him a place in the history of Lagos, and of the country in general. It’s hard to tell a comprehensive story of Nigeria’s commerce and industry which doesn’t have a reference to Mr. Bank-Anthony, the serial entrepreneur and one time council president of the Lagos Stock Exchange.
Mobolaji was born in Kinshasa in 1907, to the Bank-Anthonys, who were originally from the Brazilian Quarters in Lagos. His father, Alfred Bank Anthony, ran a funeral management business, A. Bank Anthony and Sons Limited. It’s also reported that his mother was an entrepreneur. This background may have disposed him to his later entrepreneurial drift, as it did for many other pioneering businesspeople in Nigeria’s early days.
After getting formal education from schools located in Lagos and Ijebu Ode, Mobolaji Bank Anthony joined the postal and telegraph services as a clerk. But he soon turned his sights towards doing his own thing, and by 1931, he had departed Nigeria for Europe, where he learnt to produce palm oil. He went on to set up a palm oil trading company, M. De Bank brothers.
Unfortunately, this first business pursuit floundered. Undeterred, Mobolaji ditched the unsuccessful palm oil trade, and decided to import German wristwatches and fountain pens. This was the start of a business breakthrough; in time, he became the third largest distributor of fountain pens in Nigeria, just behind the industrial giants UAC (United Africa Company) and UTC (United Trading Company). His business gained immensely from the sharp rise in product prices triggered by World War II.
By the 1950s, Mobolaji was helping major European companies establish a presence in Nigeria. He held stakes in some of these companies, and was fairly well known by members of the European business community who wanted to do business in West Africa. He eventually became chairman of Italian construction firm Borini Prono- the first Nigerian to head a European business establishment.
Recognition for Mobolaji Bank Anthony’s successes in business didn’t stay restricted to businesspeople. He was knighted by the United Kingdom in 1957, the same year in which he was conferred with an Order of Merit by the Republic of Italy. And in 1965, his name appeared in a Time Magazine article, which described him as one of Nigeria’s richest men. That article also noted that he either chaired or had a stake in about 10 companies.
However, the applause from beyond Nigeria’s borders was pale in comparison with the respect Mobolaji was accorded back home. It was partly because of this that he was able to assume the position of council president at the Lagos Stock Exchange. Besides this post, he was also chairman at Aero Contractors, a local air transport company; he was consultant with the United Bank for Africa, Director at Mobil Exploration Nigeria Limited, and a shareholder at Weide Company, a dealer in knocked down electrical parts.
There’s more to the memory of Mobolaji Bank-Anthony than his high flying millionaire businessman status. Philanthropy was a strong point of his, as the historians of Lagos’s health care sector testify. Mobolaji built the Ayinke House, which is home to the Ikeja General Hospital, and also provided a ward to the National Orthopedic Jospital in Igbobi, also in Lagos.
By the time of his death in 1991, Mobolaji Bank Anthony had etched his name in the annals of Nigerian history. The country wasn’t at its best, but it did have evidence of its people’s potential to build great things out of seemingly simple opportunities- evidence such as the many firsts struck by Mr.Bank-Anthony.
The Mobolaji Bank Anthony road is probably one of a few obvious reminders of this businessman’s life. But the trail he blazed with his entrepreneurial feats has been followed by numerous others in the decades after his passing, and is certainly much broader and has a more far reaching impact than any of Lagos’s motor ways can boast.