Founder Of Lagos: When We Major In Minor

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Kazeem Akintunde

The Oba of Benin, Oba Ewuare II, was in Lagos last week, and took time out to pay a courtesy call on the Governor of the state, Babajide Sanwo-Olu. During the visit, he told his host that his forefathers were the founders of Lagos.

Even before he made his mind known, the revered Oba knew that his comment would generate another round of controversies as the issue has been one that majority ofLagosiansfind distasteful, even as the motive behind the Oba’s rhetoric is still unclear to many.

This is what the monarch told his host: “It is in the history books that the Binis founded Lagos. When some people will hear it now, they will go haywire, what is the Oba saying there again?  But it is true. Go and check the records. Maybe not all over Lagos as we know it now, but certain areas in Lagos, maybe the nucleus of Lagos, was founded by my ancestors”.

Coming few months after the 2023 general elections which threw up series of issues which the regionis still battling its outcomes, what the Oba aims to achieve with his ‘revelation’remains to be seen. Perhaps, Lagos should start paying taxes and Ishakoles to the Binis.

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It is on record that the Lagos beinga ‘no-man’s land’mantra that came to the fore during the elections is yet to die down six months after the polls. Again, the ongoing demolition of property without the necessary building approval in the state is also generating ethnic tension, as the Igbos in the state are alleging that the state government is targeting their property and businesses for demolition due to their political choice during the poll.

Already, the Ohanaeze Ndigbo has called on the Lagos State Government to compensate all Igbos whose properties are demolished while its leadership is planning of have a meeting with President Bola Tinubu on the matter.

The submission by the state government that there was no ethnic colouration in the demolition exercise, and that 80 percent of those affected are not from the eastern part of the country does not appear to gel with many from that extraction. Apart from that, the state is insisting that any resident who has approved titles and whose property is marked for demolition should come out with their claims.

With ethnic tension yet to die down, it was indecorous for the Oba at this point in time to raise the issue of ownership of Lagos at this time. The Oba of Benin remains one of the most revered Obas in Nigeria, and I find it difficult to comprehend why he would dabble into such a controversial issue that is likely to stain his white garment.

Though the Oba could have made the comment on a lighter note, he noted, and rightly too, that many Lagosians would not find his comment funny and hisprediction was right as there has been series of robust responses from various quarters within and outside the state.

The Balogun of Eko, Abisoye Oshodi, set the ball rolling when he faulted the claim by the Oba. Oshodi, in a video shared on social media which has now gone viral, emphatically refuted the monarch’s comment as untrue.

Hear him: “With all due respect to the Oba of Benin, Oba N’Edo Uku Akpolokpolo Ewuare II, Sir, may you live long. Point of correction Sir, Lagos was never founded by the Binis.  I am glad that you said some parts of Lagos, not the entire Lagos. You are right, your ancestors settled on a small island that was called Eko then, before the creation of Lagos. On this very island, they never created it. The island had been there before the arrival of your ancestors. Your ancestors only came and forcefully imposed a taxation system on transit with the traders on the land called IduIghoran, whatever that means in Benin, I do not know, but there have been other tribes on the Island before the creation of Lagos. Even before the creation of Eko, we have the Aworis, we have the Isheris, we have the Olofins, so many tribes have been on Lagos, or the modern Lagos now before the creation of Lagos State”.

The Olofin of Isheri and Adimula of Awori Kingdom, Oba Sulaimon Bamgbade has also come out to say that the Aworis were the first settlers in Lagos. Oba Bamgbade urged the Oba of Benin to retrace the origin of Benin Kingdom to Ile Ife, like the Aworis have always done.

This is his own aspect of the history: “OlofinOgunfuminire left Ile-Ife to settle at Isheri before migrating with his wife, Ajaiye, to present-day Iddo, in the heart of Lagos. It was at Iddo that Ajaiye was blessed with the fruits of the womb. Her offspring are the Idejo, who are the actual traditional landowners of Lagos. The spatial region of the land owned by theIdejo spans from Lagos Mainland (Iddo) to Lagos Island and up to Eti-Osa, which he allocated absolutely to his children and other descendants.

“In this regard, he assigned Iru to the Oniru, Ikate to the Elegushi, Lagos Island to Aromire, Iganmu to Ojora, Otto, and mainland to the Oloto (up to Odo–Iya Alaro). Isheri was the dispersal point where other Olofin Ogunfunminire descendants left to found other Awori towns. For instance, Akeredun left Isheri to establish Igbesa, Odoyi left Isheri to find Agboyi, Osolo and EleidiAtalabi left Isheri to find Ota. These facts are firmly established and supported by extant literature written by foreign authors and researchers such as Kristin Mann, who in his book titled ‘Slavery and Birth of an African City: Lagos 1760- 1900’, wrote and I quote: “Migrant fishing people first settled in Lagos and from the beginning, water and canoes had a prominent role in the lives of its inhabitants. Prior to the sixteenth century, Aworis, the southernmost of the Yoruba-speaking people, dispersed from Isheri, a village twelve miles up the Ogun River. A group of them settled at what is now Ebute Metta, on the mainland.

“Until the need for greater security drove the community to a smaller Island in the lagoon opposite Lagos Island. There, they established two settlements, Otto and Iddo, and soon attracted fresh immigrants. In time, people from Iddo moved to the northwestern corner of the larger Island opposite, which eventually became known as Lagos, looking for land to farm. The settlers recognised the paramount ruler called the Olofin, based in the more populous community of Iddo but tracing mythical descent from Isheri and via the founder of that village to Ile-ife, the cradle of Yoruba civilisation”.

Olofin added:“The Benin who later came to Lagos as mere traders met Olofin and his descendants on the Island of Iddo and its neighbourhood where they, Benin settled down and were well received and hosted by the community. As time went by, a feud broke out between the Benin and their hosts. Facing imminent defeat, they called for reinforcements and assistance from the Oba of Benin”.

Former Aviation Minister, Femi Fani-Kayode, the Olota of Ota, Oba Kabiru Obalanlegeand even an Ijaw man, Asari Dokubohave also commented on the issue with the triorefuting the claim by the Oba of Benin that they founded Lagos.

What the visit of the Oba of Benin to Lagos has thrown up is that we are still a nation that major in minor. We dwell too much on mundane issues that are not likely to add value to our lives. As stated above, unless the Oba is now asking the Lagos state government to start paying taxes orIshakole to the Binis, the entirecontroversy thrown up by his utterance about the ownership of Lagos is needless.

I was born and raised in Lagos Island and I can safely say that the whole of Lagos Island has degenerated. The quality of life that I experienced in the 70s and 80s growing up in Lagos Island, particularly inIsale Eko, is nothing to write home about in the present day. Environmental degradation and the influx of people to the area has turned the whole Islandinto a modern-day slum. Houses are built without regard to aesthetics, ventilation and modern-day planning laws. There are rooms in Isale Eko with gutter passing through the bedrooms

Most of the young boys and girl growing up in the area are into drugs, prostitution, and cult-related killings, which are now rampant on the Island. There are streets on the Island now that no sane human being would attempt to freely pass once it is 8pm without the person being robbed or molested. Whenever it rains, the whole of the Island is submerged in flood and the flood water won’t disappear for several weeks after. It is so bad now that the entire Pelewura, Jankara, and environs have now attracted the attention of Governor Sanwo-Olu, who has promised to demolish many houses in order to free the area of flood water and make the road motorable again.

Except for the fact that the entire Island has been turned into a commercial entity in which million-naira deals are done on a daily basis, the entire stretch of the area where the Binis settled when they came to Eko is now a slum that calls for immediate government attention. It is a known fact that the Binis were among the first settlers in Isale Eko but for them to lay claim to being the founder of Lagos State would be stretching the argument.

Now, there is even a call for the Lagos State House of Assembly to consider the possibility of changing the name of the state from Lagos to Isheri or Oduduwa State to align with the history and tradition of the true owners of the land. A group known as ApapoO’odua Koya, (Aokoya), a coalition of several Yoruba and Itsekiri self-determination groups, in a statement signed by Captain Kunle Odeyemi, believe that the change of name was necessary to protect, defend and uphold the heritage of Oduduwa.The group said Lagos was a name given by the Portuguese, some 500 years after Lagos had existed and thrived in commerce, art, philosophy and trade.

AOKOYA said it was time to do away with the colonial mind set to ensure that the territories reclaim their ancient values and norms, while believing that the name change will also put a stop to the ‘arrogant claims by some anti-Yoruba people on the civilisation of Lagos as a foremost Yoruba city.’ Again, the group called on the Oba of Benin to spend his time improving the lot of his people and build Bini to the status of Lagos instead of seeking empires that never and will never belong to him.

There are pressing national issues that should occupy our attention as a nation and not whose forefathers settled first in one part of the country or the other.

The Oba of Benin could explore trade, culture and the proximity of the two states for the benefits of both parties. After all, he is a royal father and should look out for the development of his constituency and subjects. Issues that could further polarise us should not be canvassed by a royal father.

By Kazeem Akintunde