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Yaba… British influence in colonial Lagos reloaded

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British Influence: Footprints in the History of Yaba, Lagos, written by Segun Oshile, a doctor of veterinary medicine, is an expository book, which unearths the innominate and unique community named Yaba in the Lagos State of Nigeria.

Oshile captures in detail not only the history of Yaba but also delves in detail into the political, socio-economic and cultural life of the people of Lagos state in general.

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Published in 2021 by Connel Publications, Ibadan Oyo State, it is hard backed with 11 chapters, an introduction, the map of Yaba, 328 pages, index of 26 pages, pictures of five pages and Did You Know of three pages.

Professor Ayodeji Olukoju of the University of Lagos writes the foreword. According to the distinguished professor, the book is on aspects of the history of Yaba, an indigenous community in the Lagos mainland. The volume contributes to the History of Nigeria by documenting the perspectives of the indigenes of communities in the states.

A product of years of painstaking data collection and keen observation by the author, who grew up in Yaba, the book contains his reminiscences and insights into the obscure aspects of Yaba swamped by the megacity of Lagos.

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This book focuses on the transformation of Yaba from farmland, fishing and hunting ground to a fast-growing integral part of a megacity. Yaba is the community hosting the first tertiary institution in Nigeria, the Yaba College of Technology, formerly known as Yaba Higher College in 1932.

History isn’t the same as the past. We can never experience the past in as much as we can never know what Napoleon had in mind when he invaded Russia in 1912. What happened in the past is gone; history is our attempt to reconstruct the past from evidence, documents and oral sources available.

In pre-colonial Lagos, Yaba was known as Oke Odo; during the colonial period, it was known as the Garden City or Yaba Estate. It was called Garden City due to its sprawling ecosystem of beautiful and lush vegetation in the manner of British landscape gardening.

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Etymologically, the name Yaba had been in existence since 1895. Yaba in Lagos predates the Yaba of Ondo State. In the 18th century, people coming from the hinterland to buy goods from Lagos ports, usually indicate that when they get to the precincts of Lagos; they will branch to a rural settlement, translated in Yoruba, maa ya bara, was shortened ma ya baa. This was later further shortened to Ya ba, Yaba.

Chapter two contains the history of religious organisations at Yaba. The Portuguese brought Christianity by way of trading to Lagos in the 15th century. Portuguese principal trading objective was the slave trade.

Christian evangelism was secondary to trading in slaves. After the British abrogated the slave trade in 1833, liberated slaves were taken to Freetown, Sierra Leone. The majority of these liberated slaves had accepted Christianity before their liberation. Liberated slaves of Nigerian descent were settled in Lagos, Badagry and Abeokuta.

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One of the freed slaves was Samuel Ajayi Crowther. He had been abducted at age 12 by a Fulani slave merchant and sold to Portuguese slave brokers.

Ajayi Crowther regained freedom and was later ordained a bishop by the British Christian Missionary Society and translated the Bible into the Yoruba language. The Ajayi Crowther University, Oyo, built by the Church of Nigeria Anglican Communion was named for him. However, the advent of Islam in Nigeria took a different turn. Nigeria first had contacts with Islam via the North-Eastern areas of Kanem and Borno in the 9th century. By the 11th century, Islam had taken roots in Nigeria through trade and migration.

From then, Islam became the religion of court and trade with the Arabic language as the medium of communication. While Islam entered Nigeria firmly by the 15th century, Christianity got here in the 19th century. The Seventh Day Adventists came to Nigeria in 1914 led by Elder D. C. Babcock.

Their first church was built in Yaba in 1920. The activities of Reverend Babcock led the Seventh Day Adventists to name Babcock University, Ilishan Remo, Ogun State, after him.

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Chapters four, five and six of British Footprints explore the activities of markets and business premises of Yaba. The culture of installing market heads takes into account taxes and levies imposed by the colonial administration in Lagos Colony. Like in Europe and across the world, Yaba was consciously planned as a residential community, making available schools, grocery outlets, supermarkets, health centres and most importantly, recreational facilities to all and sundry.

Chapter six is particularly remarkable for accounts of the genealogy of the traditional rulers of Lagos whose lineage have been traced Benin Republic and Ketu kingdom in Ogun State. The Protectorate of Southern Nigeria was inaugurated in Lagos in 1906. After the amalgamation in 1914, Lagos became the location of the capital of Nigeria; schools were established, the Race Course located the Supreme Court the Old Secretariat. Since its creation in 1859, the Racecourse remained the central feature of British raj in Nigeria.

Classification of Nigerian cities started in 1921, with Lagos belonging to Class A. Ikoyi was a residential area reserved for Europeans. The commercial area in which Europeans lived, worked, traded and interacted with Africans was Lagos Island. Ikoyi the European Reservation Area was laid out in 1928. The First Governor of Lagos Colony, Sir Gilbert Thomas Carter (1891-97) pushed through the building of the railway.

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He opened the Iddo Railway Terminus in 1900 with rail linking Lagos to Ibadan. He also built the Carter Bridge carrying pedestrians and tram from the island to Ebute Metta. This gave the development of Lagos a tremendous boost. The impact of the footprints of the British and their architecture remains as edifices continue to litter the landscape.

The building master plan designed by the British for Yaba and environs partially subsists as the influx of immigrant population has altered the plan. The Third Mainland Bridge mortgaged the residential Yaba community to a beehive of commercial activities against the original plan.

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Other chapters attempt to capture ancient family structures in Yaba. The families discussed are those whose houses still exist or those who contributed to the development of Yaba. The last chapter covers the political class in Yaba who as political office holders contributed to the growth and development of the community.

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In his Did You Know segment, the first Baale of Yaba, Chief Folarin Oshile (1995_2013) is the father of Dr Segun Oshile, the author. Dr Oshile holds the Doctor of Veterinary Medicine and practises veterinary medicine in Lagos. he also authored other books including Rebuilding Your Academic Bridge. He is the Editor of Eminent Veterinarian magazine. A philanthropist and animal welfarist, Dr Oshile is a lover of history and is married to Wande and they have three wonderful children.

The book also gain a great reservation from Ooni of Ife, His Imperial Majesty, OONI ADEYEYE ENITAN OGUNWUSI (Ojaja II) commenting: “The content of the book is not just expository but has unearthed the innominate coordinates of a unique community. Dr Oshile maiden edition chronological illustrates one of the most organized communities in Nigeria”

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