Is Lagos a No-Man’s Land?

Lagos was originally inhabited by the Awori subgroup of the Yoruba people in the 15th century, who called it “Oko” or farm in English language. Under the leadership of the Oloye Olofin, the Awori moved to an island now called Iddo and then to the larger Lagos Island.

The Awori were from Ile-Ife, the cradle of Yorubaland. Due to war, those from the hinterlands, like the Ekiti, ran towards Isheri, which at that time had more than one Olofin who were heads of settlements around the year 1410.

Image of Lagos
An aerial view of Lagos, 1929.

When the people fled from the hinterlands, most of them scattered again, some to Iro, to Otta, Ado, others to Ebute Metta i.e. three landing places – Oyingbo, Iddo Island and Lagos Island (Eko). With the full commencement of the war, about 2000 of them moved to Iddo Island, others to Otto Awori or Otto Ijanikin towards modern-day Badagry. Those from Ekiti Aramoko came to Ebute-Metta, Iddo and then Ijora.

Around the year 1570, the Oba (King) of the Benin Empire, Oba Orhogbua, heard from one of his traders complaints about being mistreated by the Awori. The Oba of Benin then sent a trade expedition by sea to engage with the Awori people, who nonetheless declined to engage and attacked the mission sent by Benin.

Upon hearing this, as the mission returned to Benin City, the Oba of Benin commanded the assembling of a war expedition, led by Ado, a prince of Benin, which headed to the settlement of the Awori in current-day Lagos, and demanded an explanation. It was Prince Ado who named the settlement “Eko”, a Bini word meaning “war camp”.

On getting there, Ado and his army were more than well received; the Awori from Lagos asked Prince Ado to stay there and become their leader. Ado agreed, on the condition that they surrendered their sovereignty to the Oba of Benin, to which the Awori people of Lagos gladly agreed. Then, the Oba of Benin gave his permission for Prince Ado and the expedition to remain in Eko with the Awori. The Oba of Benin later sent some of his chiefs, including the Eletu Odibo , Obanikoro and others, to assist Ado in the running of Eko. Eko is still the native name for Lagos.

When the Portuguese came in contact with Eko, in 1472, and saw that the area was made up of creeks and lagoons, they named it Lagos, which means “lakes”.

From the crowning of Ado as its first Oba, Lagos or Eko served as a major center for slave-trade, and it was ruled by the descendants of King Ado of Benin origin for around 211 years until 1841, when Oba Akitoye ascended to the throne of Lagos and attempted to ban slave-trading.

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Local merchants strongly opposed the intended move, and deposed and exiled the king, and installed Akitoye’s brother Kosoko as Oba. At exile in Europe, Akitoye met with British authorities, who had banned slave-trading in 1807, and who therefore decided to support the deposed Oba to regain his throne. With the success of the British intervention, in 1851 Akitoye was reinstalled as Oba of Lagos. In practical terms, however, British influence over the kingdom had become absolute, and ten years later, in 1861, Lagos was formally annexed as a British colony.

The remainder of modern-day Nigeria was seized in 1887, and when the Colony and Protectorate of Nigeria was established in 1914, Lagos was declared its capital, continuing as such after the country’s independence from Britain in 1960. Along with migrants from all over Nigeria and other West African nations were the returnee ex-slaves known as Creoles, who came from Freetown, Sierra Leone, Brazil and the West Indies to Lagos.

The Creoles contributed to Lagos’ modernisation and their knowledge of Portuguese architecture can still be seen from the architecture on Lagos Island. Electric street lighting was introduced in the city in 1898. Lagos experienced rapid growth throughout the 1960s and 1970s as a result of Nigeria’s economic boom.

Image of The National Theatre, Igando, Lagos.
The National Theatre, Igando, Lagos.

Lagos was therefore the capital city of Nigeria from 1914 until 1991, when it was replaced as Federal Capital Territory by planned city of Abuja, built specifically for such purpose.

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Ayomide Akinbode

Unbowed! Unbent! Unbroken! A Perfect Gentleman...

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