IN MEMORY OF THE LATE SIXTUS ALEXANDER PEDRO FERNANDEZ – FOUNDER OF THE FIRST ACTIVE PHOTOGRAPHIC STUDIO IN NIGERIA
History is not only the study of the past, our narratives and the true stories of events, it also entails the stories of people and their actions as well as the impact these stories have on many communities around the world.
For many centuries, oral tradition had not only taken centre stage as a source of history from our past, it had also become the norm in very many West African settings as the way we shared our stories and our experiences.
Unfortunately, the drawback sometimes of Oral tradition is that it is not always recorded and there are still countless stories within the Nigerian context which are not only inspirational, but they also do not make it into our precious history books.
One of such stories is the legacy of THE LATE SIXTUS ALEXANDER PEDRO FERNANDEZ – FOUNDER OF THE FIRST ACTIVE PHOTOGRAPHIC STUDIO IN NIGERIA AND A LEADING PHILANTHROPIST that played a prominent role in many peoples lives.
The studio was first set up in the year 1924 at Egerton Street, Henshaw Town, Calabar.
He not only focused on photography as a key area, but also the provision of sports and camera equipment’s.
It is no surprise that members of The Fernandez Family in Nigeria are still absorbed with fond memories of this great philanthropist who shaped the lives of many Efik and Yoruba people in Nigeria and inspired many with a unique sense of leadership, integrity and vision.
It is also no surprise also that his warmth, hospitality, people’s skills and interest for the community still runs in the family of the older and younger generation. This is not only reflected by the fact that he spoke English, Portuguese, Efik and Yoruba fluently but he also engaged in promoting the essence of community cohesion and social well-being among various communities in the present day South South Nigeria.
My Father, Mr S.O Fernandez still has fond memories of my late Grandfather as an inspirational icon with a warm heart and also the regional leader of the Yoruba people in Calabar. He recalls how members of the Yoruba community in Calabar will gather in Grandfathers home for regular meetings and how he promoted and encouraged the positive cohesion of local leaders within the vicinity.
He was a strict practicing Catholic and would wake up at 5am every Sunday for mass no matter how much it rained.
It would probably not be wrong to assume that he was not only very punctual but quite particular and so on several occasions would arrive at Church before it opened and even wake up the priest by hitting his front door with a heavy wooden stick.
In the year 1963, The late Chief Obafemi Awolowo (A prominent leading Nigerian nationalist and strong advocate for Nigerian independence) was imprisoned for plotting to other throw the former Nigerian Federal government.
The prison sentence was to last for ten years but Chief Obafemi Awolowo was released from Calabar prison in August 1966. This was not only a historical turning point in the crucial developments of a great nation but it was also a strong indicator of other major events to unfold.
My Father also recalls of how Chief Obafemi Awolowo stayed in our home in Calabar with our late Grandfather for a few days, before returning back to the West.
My Mother, Mrs P Fernandez also worked with Port Health, Lagos in the seventies. She proudly recalls how she attended to VIP Patients in a special room one morning and came across Justice Candidi Johnson and family.
When she had finished attending to them, he was curious to know which of the Fernandez family my mother belonged to.
My Mother told him that her husband was the son of the late Sixtus Pedro Fernandez who lived in Calabar. She recalls how Justice Johnsons eyes immediately lit up and he began to tell her stories of the late Sixtus Pedro Fernandez and how his home was haven for people and visitors from all works of life.
My senior Aunty, Aunty Georgina Fernandez also has very fond memories of the late Sixtus Pedro Fernandez as an amazing humanitarian who always went the extra mile to ensure that the welfare of local citizens was a priority. She recalls of how he not only made sure that all his children were educated, but also paid the school fees of many Efik indigenes who could not afford their fees as the time.
According to Aunty Georgina, the late Sixtus Pedro Fernandez was a strict catholic with a methodical approach to life. She also remembers that he had a senior sister who lived in the same house as him called Mrs. Victoria Harding. Mrs Harding was also referred to as “Big Mama”.
Late Sixtus Pedro Fernandez was the son of an enterprising entrepreneur from Brazil who married a Nigerian woman.
The late Sixtus Pedro Fernandez also had a cousin in Brazil who he used to visit frequently.
He also had relations that lived in The Campus square (A vicinity of Lagos island that still maintains a historical reputation as a melting pot of Brazilian descendants but also an area deeply associated with a Portuguese influence of architecture and names (Just like many parts of Lagos.)
In my view, the legacy of the late Sixtus Alexander Pedro Fernandez truly represents the essence and impact of community cohesion, social wellbeing, positive collaboration, value systems and the importance of working together as part the spirit of nation building.
Nigeria is not only a thriving and colorful melting pot of culture, belief systems, traditions and a people with a wide range of diversity, it is a nation of incredibly complex and diverse regional families with so many differences.
The legacy and example of the late Sixtus Alexander Pedro Fernandez also represents the need to rise above our differences as a nation and embrace the spirit of working together and appreciating our differences.
There are so many other success stories that cannot be found in history books, but the best part of history is when we are able to embrace each moment and quietly inspire our communities with a raw sense of leadership, humility and example.
Tony Tokunbo Eteka Fernandez
FERNANDEZ HISTORICAL SOCIETY