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Madam Efunroye Tinubu: The Indomitable Iyalode

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EFUNPOROYE Osuntinubu Olumosa, later known as Madam Efunroye Tinubu, was an astute businesswoman, kingmaker and the first woman to kick against British rule in Nigeria during the colonial era. She was a major figure in Lagos and Abeokuta (Egba) politics.

Born in 1810 in Ojokodo, currently in Ogun State, Tinubu remarried to Oba Adele Ajosun in 1833 after the death of her first husband. She moved with the exiled Oba to Badagry, which was the traditional place of refuge for Lagos monarchs.

At Badagry, she leveraged Adele’s connections and built a formidable business, dealing in tobacco, salt and slaves. Oba Adele was reinstated in 1835, but died two years after. Before his death, Tinubu had strengthened her trade with the expatriate community, the indigenous population of Lagos and Abeokuta, as well as other communities in Yoruba land.She later remarried Yesufu Bada, alias Obadina, who was Oba Oluwole’s war captain.

Tinubu had a great influence in the palace and contributed in making Akitoye, her brother-in-law, king after Oba Oluwole. In 1851, when Oba Akitoye was fully in charge of the throne, he granted Tinubu favourable commercial concessions, which made her to still trade in slaves for guns with Brazilians and Portuguese traders. She also obtained a tract of land from him, which now makes up part of the current Tinubu Square and Kakawa Street. Tinubu had so much influence over Akitoye that in 1853, two Lagos chiefs — Possu and Ajenia — rose in rebellion against him for giving Tinuba so much privilege.

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With the ban on slave trade in the country, Tinubu put more efforts into internal trade, dealing in palm oil, salt, pepper and tobacco. By 1850, she was the leading middleman in the interior of Lagos.

Tinubu played prominent roles in installing and removing kings. She, however, supported Dosunmu, the son of Akitoye to ascend the throne in 1853. Under Dosunmu’s reign, Tinubu had a massive security force, composed of slaves and she sometimes executed orders usually given by the king.

In 1855, she led a campaign against the Brazilian and Sierra Leonean immigrants in Lagos for using their wealth and power against Dosunmu, and for subverting the customs of Lagos. The British Consul, Benjamin Campbell, felt threatened by Tinubus’s nationalistic acts and in 1856, instigated Dosunmu to expel Tinubu and her followers from Lagos to Abeokuta.

In Abeokuta, Tinubu identified with the United Board Management Government and expanded her business activities to include a wide range of wares, such as arms and ammunition. Her influence began to be felt in Abeokuta politics, when she contributed to the successful defence of the Egba town during the Dahomey invasion of 1863. For her support, she was given the title of Iyalode (first lady) in 1864. The title placed her in a position of power, which enabled her to boldly participate in Egba affairs.

Tinubu opposed colonial policies in Lagos. She was the first woman to play a proactive part in the resistance to British rule during the colonial period.
She died in 1887. Tinubu Square on Lagos Island, a place previously known as Independence Square, is named after her.  She was buried at Ojokodo Quarters in Abeokuta.

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Efunroye Tinubu
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