Editor’s note: Recently, there was a media report which claimed that Oba of Lagos, Oba Rilwan Akiolu said that Lagos is not part of Yoruba land and that the Oba of Benin is the founder of Lagos.
In a message sent to NAIJ.com, NAIJ.com, a Facebook user, Dare Omomesh criticized the monarch for the comments, adding that the Oba distorted facts in his statement.
It is absurd and unfortunate that the present Oba of Lagos, Rilwan Akiolu does not know the history of the entity he presides upon. In his recent comments and arrant misinformation and distortion of facts, he ceded Lagos to the Oba of Benin as the founder of Lagos.
The Portuguese took over the town and renamed it Lagos, does that in anyway mean they founded Lagos? No.
The British took over the city from the Portuguese and imposed their hegemony on Dosumu, does that mean the British founded Lagos? The answer is no!
Lagos has been the major abode of the Ilaje people. Even before Western dating method began the Ilajes had populated the coastal areas of today’s south-west Nigeria till today.
The Ilaje people are mainly fisher men. They live on the sea/river coastal lines. These were the original settlers of Lagos. If you like call them the aborigines of Lagos state. The Ilajes are in today’s Ikorodu, Epe, Obun Eko, Makoko, Bariga, Apapa, Ebute Ero, Ebute meta, Iwaya, Yaba, Oyingbo, etc and some parts of Ondo state, Benin Republic, Togo and Ghana. They were dominant in the demolished Maroko of old.
The Ilajes began commerce in Lagos. They established Lagos as a commercial centre. They attracted customers from neighbouring villages and kingdoms. The Egbas, Aworis and Ijebus as well as the “Dahomeans” (Benin Republic) travelled to Lagos to buy fish and other items. The market where they traded was called Obun. Obun means “market” in Ilaje language. Soon, the fishing settlement was known as Obun.
The people who travelled to Obun to buy fish and other items also came with wares to sell. It should be noted that the means of trading was “trade by barter” which was exchanging wares. There were no money.
Obun’s popularity for cheap and quality fish and other items grew far and wide. In the hinterland traders travelled from Ibadan, Owo, Abeokuta, Ijebu settlements, Ile-Ife, Oyo, Ekiti, Benin, Ondo, Akure, Ilesha, etc, to Obun to buy and sell their items.
Some traders went with colanuts, spices, tobacco leaves, yam tubers, art works, bush meat, etc. The settlement was also popular for canoe-making. Canoe was the Mercedes Benz of that age. Many people bought quality canoes there or they booked and return to carry them home by their servants or via the rivers.
The Obun settlement was orderly. There was always a village head or a king who ruled. The first king of Obun had many wives. When he died his children rotated the kingship among themselves for many centuries.
The main king of Obun also appointed chiefs to rule in other areas like Makoko, Iwaya, etc. while he remained in the main Obun village where the palace of the oba of Lagos is situated today. He had supporting village elders and chiefs as well as security operatives who guard the market stalls and the palace of Obun.
With time, traders settled in Obun. Many relocated to the settlement. The migration trend was increasing by the hour. People were coming from all works of life to settle and never to return to where they came from originally.
Among the people that came to Obun market were the Ado people or the Benins of Nigeria. It soon became clear to all in the settlement that the Ado people were “angry people”. They flared up at the slightest opportunity either right or wrong.
They were totally different from the other traders in view of their inpatience and obvious hostile manners. Hence they earned the name “awon ara ile ibinu”, or “the people from a violent or angry land”.
Obun was very popular with their religion which is worshipping the goddess of the river and the sea. They celebrated with funfair. They danced in their canoes and feasted for days. People from other regions and villages also always joined them in their celebrations.
Prior to the annual celebrations, the king of Obun always sent special gifts to four kings namely the Ooni of Ile Ife and the kings of the three Ilaje kingdoms namely, Ugbo, Mahin and Aheri-Etikan as a kind of royalty and honour to his seniors. This tradition was in operation for centuries. In appreciation of the gifts, the Ooni of Ife always sent representatives to Obun whenever the festival took off.
Since most of the settlers were Yorubas, the Yoruba language became the means of communication. Each linguistic group gradually saw Obun as a home and their original dialects faded away. Many of the Ado (Benin) traders also settled in Obun enjoying their trade. Remember that Obun is an Ilaje word for market. The Benins call market eko in their language.
Hence we have Obun-Eko in Lagos Island today. Every trader was always happy because there was profit and progrogress.
The king of Obun appointed one of the Benin men in the settlement to be the chief of the quarter where he lived. All the Ado people appreciated the gesture. They danced and painted themselves with white chalks.
The Benin quarter chief returned to Benin city to greet his family. It was he who told the Oba of Benin how blessed Obun/Eko was. His report was in the affirmative. He also gave gifts to the oba of Benin.
The king became curious about the village of Obun and especially about how the returnee’s fortunes had improved. The oba therefore sent one of his princes to spy, observe the village and bring him news. The Benin prince was well received in Obun. Since he was said to be a prince the king of Obun accommodated him in the palace.
The new Benin prince now understudied the king of Obun. He told his host, the king of Obun that he was going home to bring his family. He returned to Benin city and related all that he saw to the oba of Benin especially how easy it was for the oba of Obun to be deposed. Next time the Benin prince went back to Obun he was well armed.
Warriors followed him from Benin to Obun where the unsuspecting king prepared a lavish food for him and his followers. The Benin prince deposed the incumbent Ilaje king of Obun and took over his palace but he spared his life. Immediately the prince announced the change of name from Obun to Eko village. There was no resistance or protest. The usurpation went smoothly for the Benin prince.
One of the direct decendants of an Ilaje king in Lagos was Oba Akinsemoyen whose ruling house is still respected among the ruling houses in Lagos today.
Eko as a commercial centre kept growing. Other items were added daily for exchange. Mats, palm oil, alcoholic drinks, etc were added. And then the Portuguese showed up from nowhere. This was a turning point in the history of Eko.
Christianity and Western education crept into the system. The Portugese changed the name of the fast growing city from Eko to Lagos. There was slave trade which remains a dark page in our history. Slave trade was abolished even though slavery continued for a while. The British took over the governance from the Portuguese and established a colonial entity with Lagos as the capital and the focal point.
Before the Nigerian independence in 1960, Lagos has become a big city and a no man’s land. All the tribes and nations of the world are represented in Lagos. Ibos, Hausas, Fulanis, Ghananians, Togolese, British, Germans, Americans, etc are all doing businesses in Lagos and the city provides equal opportunities to all residents. By today’s world standard, Lagos has become a mega city. She keeps growing. The best is yet to come out of Lagos. Golden days lie ahead.