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History, the human anchor

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I have read the statement several times but I could not find where the highly esteemed king said Lagos is not part of Yorubaland. Indeed, Oba Akiolu is absolutely correct on the historical ties between Lagos and Benin.

How wonderful it would have been were history to be an exact science. History is derived from the experiences of people, relationships built either in peace or in war. Archeologists dig and write their reports. Stories are collated from old grandmothers under the moonlight trees. There are artifacts, there are carvings bearing witness to history. Researches are done from old writings, from scrolls from publications. It is said of journalism that it is history that is written in a hurry. Historians hardly agree on details of events which have taken place over a long period. They are like lawyers who don’t ever agree on the letters or spirit of the law!

Editors will be the first to admit that if 10 reporters are sent out on an assignment to cover the same event, there are usually variations, each reporter filing his report from his hearing capability, his perception, his grasp of the event, again all bordering on the capacity or deficiency of the brain. Over time technology has come to the rescue for the editors and their reporters. If I may recall, it was shorthand that first came to the aid of journalists and who was able to move slightly away from laborious long hand stood at an advantage. In journalism school, you would also be told to take mental note and as soon as an opportunity presented itself, you would rush out, perhaps to the convenience to pour down what had been stored in the memory. All this went on until 1971 when Tony Momoh imported what we called Tee-Line. It was in the interest of whoever was privileged to master this new art! Not too long after Tony Momoh efforts to get journalists closest to accurate reporting thus enhancing the credibility and integrity of stories filed for the editor we entered the technological age. Tape recorders came and with time in various sizes and varied sophistication, and they could be seen poking these gadgets to the mouth of the interviewees. This is not to misinterpret this column as disapproving of history. History is fascinating, it enthralls to the point of intoxication.

Is it not fascinating to read, for example, how Oduduwa the Yoruba eponymous ancestor gave a burnt clay plate to a prince called Olofin Ogunfunminire and instructed him to place it on a river, presumably Ogun River, and follow it until it sank? The plate stopped at various places and finally sank at present Idumota. Olofin and his followers were to settle where the plate sank. It first stopped at Olokomeji near present-day Abeokuta and after 17 days it started moving until it again stopped at Oko-Ata. When it moved it stopped once more at the southern fringes of Abeokuta. A group led by Osho-Aro- Ologbo-Egan decided they would go nowhere any more. But the plate had not given up and the rest of the crowd still led by Olofin followed it until they got to Isheri. They waited there for nearly one year. The plate gave them the impression that they had reached their destination having remained at Isheri for precisely 289 days and Olofin had asked his followers to begin to construct their settlements. This was how the Aworis got to settle at Isheri and all the places along the way. But then the plate would not still sink at Isheri. After the 289 days, it suddenly began to flow again until it finally reached Idumota and after swirling round for some time it sank and the Aworis from Ile-Ife derived their name from “Awo ti ri,” meaning the plate has sunk!

What I am getting at is that history is very fascinating indeed. It gives people a sense of self, a sense of belonging and confidence. I cannot agree more, therefore, with Professor Jide Osuntokun the renowned historian and diplomat when he said, “It is sad that most Nigerians know very little about their past and young people suffer from cultural disconnect, disorientation and disorder. Ironically, history still plays a big part in Yoruba modern politics. The struggle for pre-eminence among Yoruba Obas in recent times is a variant of how history is alive in Yorubaland.” Professor Osuntokun was speaking at a lecture titled “Yoruba People and Politics.” The lecture took place in November last year at Cocoa House as part of a series of Yoruba Historical Conversations organised by DAWN Commission.

Going memory lane, he said on the occasion: “In the 1950s and early 1960s, the government of Western Nigerian knew the importance of history in nation-building and therefore established the Yoruba historical scheme under the late Professor Saburi Biobaku who was sometimes Registrar of University of Ibadan, Secretary to the Government of Western Nigeria before becoming Vice-Chancellor of the University of Lagos. Those involved in the Yoruba historical scheme included the late Professor J. F. Ade Ajayi, Professor Adeagbo Akinjogbin and others.” The study of history was booted out of the curriculum by the military following their foray into governance. As Professor Osuntokun did say: “Unfortunately, the governments we have had since the military intervention in Nigeria in 1966 abandoned the study of history. It seems they were determined to build a future on the historical void.” This brings me to the controversy over Ife and Lagos which has been raging until last Thursday when the Oba of Lagos, His Highness Oba Rilwan Akiolu issued on the history and development of Lagos. The controversy would not have been necessary if the study of history had continued.

I have read the statement several times but I could not find where the highly esteemed king said Lagos is not part of Yorubaland. Indeed, Oba Akiolu is absolutely correct on the historical ties between Lagos and Benin. Oba Akiolu could not have said Lagos is not part of Yorubaland because there was never a time that there was no link between the coastal boundary abutted by lagoons and creeks and the hinterland which was and still is Yorubaland. The first thing any historian would tell an enquirer is that it is the Aworis who own Lagos and if the Aworis came from Ile-Ife, it follows that Lagos was Yorubaland. Oba Akiolu himself said, “The Aworis and Binis are known to be the first settlers of the Eko land.” On the Benin kingdom, the words of Dr. R.O. Ajetunmobi are apposite: “The need for areas of economic control, security, free flow of coastal trade, as result of the need to secure the base for harnessing goods from the inland made control of Lagos a necessity for Benin.” At the time, the Ilaje territory served as a passage to the far western coast in the area of modern Lagos. “Thus the areas between Lagos and Port Novo became the focus of Benin military activities till the 17th century.”

Dr. Ajetunmobi then wrote about the internal crisis in Benin during the reign of Oba Ehengbuda (C.1578-1606) which disintegrated the Benin’s powerful and well equipped army. That paved the way for the rise of Agaja Trudo of Dahomey (C.!704-1740) and his coastal military in Port Novo. This proved to be the decisive factors in the emergence of many Yoruba settlements, he said. Indeed, he argued that not all Yoruba settlements were actually founded by people of Benin origin. In his lucid paper at Ibadan last year, Prof. Osuntokun stated that everybody is aware of the historical ties between Idunganran and Benin but that dynasty should not be confused with the history of peoples.”…We all know that the current Hanoverian dynasty in England is from Germany yet this does not mean English people are descended from Germans.”

Prof. Banji Akintoye’s account of the history of Eko Kingdom was excerpted by Femi Orebe in his Facebook. Prof. Akintoye’s book is titled A History of The Yoruba People. It makes interesting reading and it goes thus, “The country of Awori lay along, and close to the coast, with an eastern boundary with the coastal Ijebu and a Western boundary with the coastal non-Yoruba Aja people of modern Benin republic. To the North of the Awori lived the group of small islands in the area of Eko—now Lagos—island and the low lying forests in its immediate hinterland. Three kingdoms sprang out in the Awori country: Eko on the coastal island, Otta in the hinterland forests and Badagry on the other extreme western end of the Awori coast. Many small Awori settlements existed before the emergence of these kingdoms. According to the Awori and other Yoruba traditions, Otta seems to have been the earliest kingdom created among the Awori. The traditions of Awori have it that the freedom of this kingdom, an immigrant Prince from Ife, came among Awori settlers and consolidated them into his kingdom, the Otta kingdom ruled by the Olota. Some Yoruba traditions have it that Otta was one of the earliest Yoruba kingdoms.

“According to the traditions of the Eko Kingdom, its people first settled at a place called Isheri, a small settlement of mostly hunters and fishermen on the lower bank of the Ogun River. To this place, a Prince called Ogunfunminire came from Ife and was accepted as king. Trade was beginning to grow in the coastal Lagos, trade eastwards with the coastal Ijebu and from there with the Ilaje, Ijo, Itsekiri and the Benin and westwards with the coastal Aja people. In order to capture more of the trade, most of the Isheri people led by their king undertook a series of relocations that brought them closer to the lagoons. The main body first relocated to Ebute Metta, then to the edge of the Lagoon at Iddo and finally to the biggest island in the area—Eko Island. Here incorporating into this community the scattering of other Awori settlers already living on the island, they established the permanent home of their kingdom, under their king who bore the title Olofin.”

From the foregoing it can be concluded that Lagos belongs to the Aworis. Dr. Patrick Dele Cole in his book , Modern and Traditional Elites in the Politics of Lagos, quotes Sir Richard Burton saying, “In 1863, Sir Richard Burton, the veteran traveller, wrote that “Lagos was native to the last degree and that it was a young and thriving place. Its position points it out as the natural key to this part of Africa and the future emporium of all Yoruba, between the Niger and the sea. Dr. Cole’s account traces how Olofin made Ashipa, another Yoruba man who had a Benin wife, mediator among Olofin’s quarrelling children. When Ashipa died, Cole’s account continues, Olofin invited Ado, the son of Ashipa, to return from and take up his father’s role, after the quarrel between Olofin and the Oba of Benin had been resolved. Addo was a good mediator and very rich and to crown it he was a peaceful envoy from Benin. The Idejos gave him land, a disused pepper farm on which he built his house (Iga Idunganran) and when the Europeans came they mistook the wealthy mediator for the king.

Of course the Benin version is expectedly different. An account says a wealthy woman who was into animal husbandry, Aina Elewure was molested by her neighbours who accused her of witchcraft and demanded she must leave town. The account says the accusation was out of envy. Aina rather than go to Oyo or Ife which were at the time also powerful ran to complain to the Oba of Benin. A fact-finding team sent by the Oba of Benin was maltreated. The emissaries returned to Benin to report to the Oba. They returned heavily armed. There was no fighting, but they demanded that the Aworis surrender their sovereignty to them and by extension to the Oba of Benin. Some of other Awori towns include Ado-Odo, Igbesa, Ijanikin and Iba. What has become indisputable according to Dr. Cole is that all versions of the Lagos History agree that Olofin the son of Oduduwa founded Lagos and his descendants are the Idejo landowning White Cap Chiefs up till this day. It is instructive that it is they who are the custodians of land in Lagos. The connection of the Obaship throne with Benin, even from their ceremonial dresses alone with White caps and copper sword as symbol of authority as obtains in Benin, is also established. Because of trade occasioned by the coming of Benin, the economic development of Lagos, as His Highness said grew rapidly although the aspect of Lagos being a major slave market was troubling. The Brazilians and returnees from Sierra Leone also made the trade to boom although this time the character of the trade had changed. The Ijebus had come in forcibly. The same as the Egbas who had had their own sovereign nation with a national anthem such that the Alake, Oba Gbadebo went on a state visit to England.

His Highness, Oba Akiolu was understandably driven by severe criticisms in social media that assailed him on the reception he was purported to have given to the new Ooni, Oba Ogunwusi, for whom a great deal of liking and admiration had developed across the length and breadth of Yorubaland. He should still have maintained his dignified and respectable silence. And if a response was to come at all it should have been issued by a low-ranking chief. His own office is too exalted to be enmeshed in controversies. Most of his admirers were also put off with the aspect of the statement that Oduduwa went from Benin. It was the story pushed hard by Benin intelligentsia led by the late Professor Omo Omoruyi. What was taught in schools in the 1940s and the 60s particularly in the early 50s following Justice Daddy Onyeama’s statement that Lagos was no man’s land was that it was his grandson, Oranmiyan who went to Benin on the request of the Benins. Professor Osuntokun said this much at the November lecture. ‘‘The story is well known,’’ he said “and it suffices to say that the Benin people sent to Ile-Ife for a ruler after having gotten rid of their Ogiso kings and finding republicanism unworkable. Ife obliged them and sent the youngest grandsons of Oduduwa. After a while, Oranmiyan fathered a son, Eweka, but left Benin disillusioned that his subjects were too difficult to control and returned to Ile-Ife. From Ile-Ife, he proceeded to Oyo to establish a new kingdom.”

Lagos has joined the Oodua Regional Integration. This could not have been done without the concurrence of the City Fathers. Nothing ought to be done to jeopardise this laudable initiative.



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