Photo credit: Vanguard
Lagos city shares similar history with two other major Yoruba cities, Ilorin and Ibadan, which were created or became transformed in the wake of the almost 100 years Yoruba Civil Wars of the 19th Century.
Ilorin was the trigger of the Yoruba Wars. Ilorin was an outpost of the old Oyo Empire where the last Oyo ruler, Afonja, the Are Ona-Kakanfo, commander of the elite Calvary forces, was resident. Afonja, with the aid of Malam Alimi, a Fulani Islamic cleric, later revolted against his suzerain, the Alaafin. Soon, the followers of Alimi, tired of Afonja’s high-handedness, staged a bloody coup and had Afonja assassinated and put his regime to a sorry end.
All attempts by the Alaafin to regain Ilorin met with disaster until Oyo itself was destroyed and the people forced to evacuate under the leadership of Prince Atiba, an outstanding soldier-statesman, who led his people to build the present modern city of Oyo. Ilorin people had created an attractive ideology that was difficult to resist. All members of the Muslim laity, known as the Jamaa, were free men and they were all equal (at least in theory). Under this ideology, no Muslim could enslave another Muslim or put him in any form of bondage. These attracted young men, especially indenture slaves, to escape from their masters and take refuge in Ilorin. The conditions for acceptance were simple: accept the new faith, join the Ilorin army and grow a beard.
Therefore, by the end of the Yoruba Wars in 1886, every Yoruba town has one person or the other in Ilorin. Though most of them settled in Ilorin permanently, many of them or their descendants also took advantage of the peace brought about by the British colonial regime to preach Islam in many parts of the Yoruba country. Therefore, Islam spread more rapidly among the Yoruba during peace time than when the Islamists of Ilorin were waging wars to expand their faith and defend their outpost.
Ibadan was to have a similar history. Ibadan was one of the numerous settlements in the Egba forest which suffered greatly after the collapse of Oyo Empire. A band of soldiers led by Lagelu, a general from Ile-Ife, was the first to impose his rule on the settlement, forcing the Egba owners to move south deeper into the forest. Lagelu’s successors were soldiers, mostly veterans of the Ilorin offensives. The new rulers, which included such men as Oluyole and Osunkunle, soon created an ideology that was similar to that of Ilorin. Ibadan became a bye-word for meritocracy where anyone from any part of Yoruba land could make a career.
Photo Credit: Osun Defender
Ibadan, like Ilorin, believed in merit. Each of the two towns developed a unique Yoruba dialect that is a variation of Oyo dialect but with its own distinction. Both towns are robust in their understanding of their unique position in the Yoruba milieu and there is no doubt they have continued to play good roles in Nigerian politics, economics and social development till this day.
We can say the same about Lagos. With the collapse of old Oyo, Eko, as Lagos was known, acquired new prominence as the most important port in the Yoruba country sharing distinction with Badagry and Port-Novo (Ajase). Its deep harbour attracted British seafarers who soon pitched their tent there and imposed their rule by force of arms. By the end of the Yoruba Wars in 1886, Lagos had acquired special importance for it was also in the city that many of the missionary groups had their headquarters. The returnees from the Slave Trade had also formed a substantial section of the Lagos society. Thus the Ekitiparapo Society of Lagos, led by Haastrup (from Ilesha) and Doherty (from Ijero-Ekiti), was based in Lagos. Haastrup was later to become Kabiyesi Ajimoko, the Owa-Obokun of Ijeshaland.
Since the amalgamation of Nigeria in 1914, Eko has been transformed from the island and the few islets like Ikoyi that the British originally settled in. Like Ibadan and Ilorin, Lagos continues to attract hordes of immigrants seeking good fortunes and hoping to find gold on its dusty streets. It also served as the capital of Nigeria from 1914 until when the capital was moved to Abuja by General Ibrahim Babangida in 1991.
Such was the greatness of Lagos that everyone could call it home. Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe was elected from Lagos in 1951 to represent the Colony Province in the Western House of Assembly in Ibadan. When some people were confusing Lagos expansive multi-culturalism with something else in 1973, Brigadier Mobolaji Johnson, the first military governor of Lagos State declared: “Lagos is not a No-Man’s Land!”
Culled from Herdsmen of the City by Dare Babarinsa, co-founder of Tell Magazine and pioneering member of Newswatch