John Randle

Dr. J.K. Randle at his garden
John Randle. Photo: National Archives, UI

John Randle was a 19th Century Nigerian physician and co-founder of Nigeria’s first political party, called the People’s Union. He was a contemporary of Dr. Obadaih Johnson at Sierra Leone College and Edinburg University. Randle was a specialist in Yellow Fever, benefactor of Fourah Bay College, and temporary member of Legislative Council under Sir William Macgregor. Randle was born in 1855 at Regent, a village located at the foot of the Sugar Loaf Mountains of Sierra Leone. His father, Thomas, who was an Oyo man had been liberated from slavery and brought to Freetown by the British squadron.

Success as medic

From a humble beginning Randle rose to become one of the most financially successful doctors of his era, and by 1890 he had become respected enough to be accepted as groom to Victoria Davies, daughter of the highly aristocratic Capt. JPL Davies and Sarah Bonetta who was the English Queen’s goddaughter. Randle, as a student in the Grammar School in Freetown enrolled as a dispenser in the colonial hospital till 1877 afterwhich he left for Gold Coast where he was involved in many public health programs. With the support of his superiors in the public health scheme, and by his own savings, Randle had commenced his medical studies at Edinburg University, graduating in 1888 with a gold medal in Material Medica.

On his return to Nigeria Randle was appointed Assistant Medical Surgeon in the colonial medical service. Due to his increasing radicalism, he was transferred to Ijebu Ode in September, 1893 to care for the British troops on a peace-keeping mission in the newly annexed kingdom, a move he interpreted as an attempt to suppress his personality. Randle’s resistance against continued engagement in Ijebu led to his dismissal. Consequently, he devoted himself to private practice and found time to play around medical theories in his busy life. The principles of guineaworm treatment which he expounded had stood the test of time. Sierra Weekly News records he became very successful within a few years, a man of affluence, and one of the largest land proprietors in Lagos.

Politics & Public Health

In 1899 Randle was co-opted by Governor William Macgregor as member of the Legislative Council and he co-founded the People’s Union in 1908, a pressure group regarded by some as Nigeria’s first political party. Randle provided leadership with his party during the water rate agitation in Lagos. The party after a decade went under after losing favour with the Lagos elite. The party never becoming a match for Herbert Macaulay’s more radical Nigerian National Democratic Party (NNDP), which was formed in 1922. Randle’s efforts at reviving the People’s Union dented his own political image. Among Randle’s legacies in the medical field was his publication in 1910 in which he contested Sierra Leonean doctor, Dr. W. Renner’s view on the incidence of cancer among African Creoles. Randle posited that the reluctance to come to the hospital, rather than the abandonment of traditional living contributed to the seeming rise in cases of malignant growth at the turn of the century.


Twelve years after his death in 1928 Randle was symbolically recognized by the re-positioning of his remains to the front of Ikoyi Cemetery. He was known in life for austerity and harsh discipline. He never owned a car but rode on bicycles till his seventies, yet his Will established him as an important philanthropist.

Tope Apoola
Profession: Writer