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Modern And Traditional Elite, 1890-1920: The Coalition (2)



The presentation of the book, Modern and Traditional Elites in the Politics of Lagos holds on Tuesday, March 10, 2015 at the Institute of International Affairs, Kofo Abayomi Street, V.I., Lagos. Time is 10am prompt. The review of the book will be anchored by the Nobel laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka.

THE chiefs themselves had come to realize that the country was changing. Their authority had been weakened by the British presence and by the educated African. It was not in the interest of the government, MacGregor believed, to allow the authority of the chiefs to be completely corroded; instead ‘their active intervention as rulers is more required and needed now than it ever was before.’ The effect of this mild indirect rule policy, making McCallum’s advisory board and later MacGregor’s Central Native Council the main connection between colonial government and the Lagos community, was to give the Oba and traditional elite a constitutional monopoly of access to the colonial rulers. In effect this further encouraged the political coalescence of traditional and modern elites, by making it wise for the modern elites to work through the chiefs.

  The Bariba episode and the protest against the municipal board had vindicated the need for some institutional machinery where the Lagos indigenes could voice their fears and concerns and explanations could be given.

  The increase of governmental activities after 1897 met with a corresponding rise in political activities among the traditional elite, often expressed in obdurate opposition. During the 1880s the traditional elite, men like Dosunmu, Taiwo Ajasa, were fairly ready to collaborate since the Government did not interfere too much with the people’s way of life. When it did, it was usually in areas where the interest of the traditional elite was served, e.g. using some of them as political messengers. But when the government embarked on more unpopular measures – taxation, large-scale forest alienation, ill-treatment of hinterland chiefs – it had more difficulty finding collaborators, and those who agreed to collaborate needed greater courage. The more frequently the government pursued policies, which it thought necessary although unpopular, the greater its needs for collaborators became: collaboration had two advantages for the government, first it gave it some measure of legitimacy, second it divided the opposition.

  The function of government, as MacGregor himself acknowledged, gradually changed from that of policing to being the inspiration behind progress in every sphere. As the area of governmental penetration increased, so also did the need to legitimize its authority. MacGregor’s policy of ‘patient and painful education’ had been forced upon him because the attitude of the Lagosians, as McCallum had earlier testified, was one of ‘simple obstruction to anything and everything proposed.’ He abolished McCallum’s Advisory Board and substituted instead, in 1900, the Central Native Council; the council had twenty-three members – made up of all the then existing White Cap chiefs, the Giwas (head men of the wards and important market guilds), other market chiefs representing the environs of Lagos, and leaders of the Muslim community. It was representative only of the traditional elite. The Oba was the vice-president, the governor president of the Council. MacGregor also created a special department of native affairs, and appointed Henry Carr, one of the most outstanding men produced by Nigeria, as native secretary.

  MacGregor had noted that the power of the traditional elite had dwindled considerably by 1899. Oyekan, who succeeded his father, Dosunmu, in 1885, had even less character than his father. Oyekan wrote three petitions begging for a stipend from the Government. So precarious was the position of the tradition elite that the modern elite implored the government to give them grants and contract work to alleviate their hardship. Governor Denton felt, even after McCallum’s inauguration of the native advisory board that McCallum had over-rated the influence of Oyekan and his chiefs in Lagos affairs. That he had no control over his chiefs was admitted by Oyekan in 1898 when warned that his stipend (E400 p.a.) would be stopped if he again demonstrated against government measures, as he was alleged to have done over the municipal proposals.

  There were several reasons for the decline of traditional authority after the death of Dosunmu. First, the Obaship had to accept a drop in the income provided by the government from E1, 000 paid to Dosunmu to E200 (raised to E400 in 1898), which was scarcely sufficient to maintain its influence. Second, the treaty of 1861 had provided for Dosunmu to exercise certain legal powers with the consent of the contending parties; these powers lapsed with his death. Third, Oyekan, weak in character himself, had no powerful supporters, like Ajasa Apena, to support him. He became almost a forgotten entity in Lagos until 1897. The truth is not so much that the chiefs had lost power and influence but that their authority had not been exercised politically until the municipal proposals and the Bariba war. McCallum’s and MacGregor’s policy of consultation with the traditional elders raised the prestige both of the Lagos chiefs and of the government, for the hinterland elite were more willing to repose confidence in the latter. MacGregor was highly respected by the traditional elite. It was this added respect that enabled the government to sign the judicial treaty with Abeokuta, and to persuade the Owa of Ilesha to abolish all tolls; and in Oyo, the Alafin agreed to receive E100 per annum in lieu of tolls within his kingdom.

  Although the government acknowledged the necessity of legitimizing its increasing authority, the campaign launched by the modern elite on behalf of the traditional elite from 1896 onwards no doubt helped in forcing the Government towards more consultations with the indigenous population. In October 1896, The Record called for co-operation between the government and the traditional elite and lamented that this was lacking. The modern elite even went further in identification with the traditional elite. The press gave a greater prominence to native dances which became a vogue among the better known people of Lagos, e.g. Sapara Williams, a lawyer, and leader of the Ekitis in Lagos, sponsored an Egungun dance in October 1896; on 15 October 1896, the wedding of Mr. G.A. Savage and Miss Henrietta Arabella Benjamin was marked by several native dances; on 13 October 1896, Fante and Ekiti dances rocked Lagos. Many among the modern elite abandoned the European form of marriage for the native ceremonies. The traditional elites were delighted by such overtures.

  The strength of the coalition is indicated by the fact that even during MacGregor’s model governorship there was considerable agitation over the Forest Ordinance (1901 – 2). MacGregor was alarmed at the indiscriminate felling of timber and tapping of rubber in the hinterland. In order to check this, he proposed the Forest Ordinance which closely followed the 1899 report of Mr. Punch, conservator of forests. The main provisions of the Ordinance were the establishment of a forestry department, the creation of forest reserves and prohibition of timber collection or the tapping of rubber elsewhere. The Bill was opposed by both the traditional and modern elites in Lagos because they assumed it would eventually lead to large-scale land appropriation and to concessionaire plantation industries by the government. The Bill implied that the Government could control and alienate forest areas that were as yet not part of British territories. The opponents of the Bill enlisted the support of the Aborigines Protection Society in London. The people of Lagos, at a mass meeting at Enu Owa, deputed Dr. J.K. Randle, Mr. J.P. Jackson and Herbert Macaulay to protest against the Bill and drew up a petition, signed by 759 people, including all the White Cap chiefs, Muslim leaders, Giwas (headman of quarters and societies) and prominent black merchants. Mr. Kitoyi Ajasa did not sign the petition, nor did any white men. The canvassers of the signatures were: C.A. Sapara Williams (Ekiti), W.O. Griffin, J.N. John (Oyo), G.A. Williams, editor Lagos Standard, and Herbert Macaulay, whose list included the most prominent among the traditional elite of Lagos. Also among the petitioners were most of the other important people of Lagos and it is safe to conclude that opposition to the Bill, despite MacGregor’s assurances to the contrary, was widespread. Several hinterland people resident in Lagos also signed the petition: e.g. Jinadu Ibadan, Momodu Ilorin, Kuranga Ilorin, Momodu Ife, Momodu Oro, Obujeola Sumonu of Ife.

  After the annexation, what gave meaning to the indigenous institutional shell of traditional government was the ‘recognition’ and support given by the British administration. The central native council had no power – it was largely a consultative assembly, but had immense status: so great was its status that all measures passed in the council were accepted by the hinterland chiefs who were not members. The equation in traditional politics was simply that government recognition plus traditional status equaled increased status, influence and power.

  The equation was even more pertinent in Lagos where the traditional elite did not form part of the administration, as they did in other areas of Nigeria, because of the British system of administering the colony. Indirect rule meant that traditional status necessary implied Government recognition. The loss of government recognition meant the loss of traditional status; this loss was expressed dramatically by deposition and deportation. In Lagos the relationship between Government recognition and status was more delicate and subtle. The traditional elite had some status; the withdrawal of government recognition hurt the status of the chiefs, but did not have the dramatic consequences it had in the rest of the country.

  The government, for its part, expected support from the Central Native Council. This explains why, during Egerton’s governorship when the government received criticism and opposition rather than endorsement and support for its policies, it reacted angrily and labeled Lagos inherently disloyal. The Council had ceased to be a place of dialogue; instead it served as a forum for opposing the government.                          

The Central Native Council, dismissed by Dr. Tamuno as a mere anthropological society, is central in the development of traditional politics and its relationship to modern elite roles in politics of subsequent years. It is true that many of its deliberations, apart from those already discussed – Forestry Ordinance, Seditious Offences Ordinance and so on – were largely chieftancy issues – for example, what the status of the Elepe of Epe was, whether the Akarigbo of Shagamu had the right to wear a crown as one of the original descendants of the princes of Oduduwa. 


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