One of Brymo’s songs is Alajo Somolu where he tried to capture and relive the inspiring story of Nigeria’s most celebrated thrift collector (indigenous banker) who lived in a world without a calculator, computer, or smartphone but had a memory that can complete with a modern smart calculator.
The Yorubas will often say “Ori e pe bi Alajo Somolu”, meaning you are smart like ‘Alajo Somolu’. This saying came from the smartness of Yoruba’s ‘first indigenous banker’.
For anyone’s name to become a witty saying or proverb in Yoruba land, it’s either negative notoriety or enviable positive contribution.
His real name was Late Pa. Alphaeus Taiwo Olunaike. He did thrift collection around Somolu area of Lagos and beyond. His sincerity, uprightness, smart customer relations, and deftness with calculations and ability to cram and recollect the contributions of many clients and hardly using a book was mind-blowing. It earned him a good reputation.
Many thought his story is one of those inexplicable myths or legends in Yorubaland but it’s as real as you are reading this article.
Born as triplet but lost one of his trios to the crass ignorance of his people who believed triplets were strange and bring bad omen – one of the three was buried alive and the second died at infancy. His name Tawio means – first of triplet to taste the world.
He learned thrift collection from a Cameroonian neighbour when he sought greener pasture in the neighbouring country.
In 1954, he started his own thrift collection business — Alajo Somolu.
He practised his trade at a period when there was no calculator nor computer to aid his calculations yet he could tell his clients exactly what their balance was without any reference to any documents. His mental alertness and photographic memory will shame the youth of today who can barely do any maths without pressing their phones.
He died on August 11, 2012 at 97 at his famed Shomolu residence in Lagos. The man who shook the Nigerian ‘mini-banking business was buried on September 22, at the Church of Nigeria Cathedral, Isonyin, Ijebu in Ogun State.
He went to Lagos in 1927 and was enrolled at the St. Johns School, Aroloya, thenceforth to Christ Church Cathedral School, Lagos, where he finished in 1934.
He then learned to tailor for 9 years before following his uncle to Cameroon in 1950 where he attempted many crafts and businesses.
Thrift collection popularly called ‘Ajo’ by Yorubas or ‘Esusu’ by the Igbos is one of the earliest form of banking operations in Africa.
It is a special kind of microfinance banking business currently practiced in most neighborhoods and marketplaces. This kind of savings and (sometimes) loan business is very popular among communal dwellers.
It is a business of trust and integrity and very few people have what it takes to be successful in the thrift collection business.
The business relies so much on number and it is extremely profitable. You contribute an amount daily and collects the total sum at the end of the month. The collector is entitled to a day’s money worth from your contributions.
You may also get loan from the collector if your integrity worths it. This business model has helped many retailers and small business owners in Nigeria and Africa.