Ownership of Lagos: Between distortion and obvious facts

Rasheed Ojikutu

The recent interviews granted by two prominent indigenes of Lagos, namely, Alhaji Olufemi Okunnu and Chief Layi Ajayi Bembe, to one of the main newspapers in Nigeria on the question of “Who owns Lagos?” should have been restricted to the plethora of injustices and unfairness done to the indigenous people of Lagos rather than on landlord-ship.

For avoidance of doubt, Alhaji Okunnu, an Isale Eko indigene, was the former Nigerian Commissioner for Works and the husband of Alhaja Lateefa Okunnu (Née Oyekan), a former Deputy Governor of Lagos State. He is Awori. Chief  Bembe on the other hand is of the Obanikoro family whose ancestral root  is undoubtedly Benin with its tinge of Awori lineage.. Readers would then understand the reason for the position of each of these men on one of the most vexed issues of our time.

Ordinarily, in such a tricky situation, one should have allowed each person to hold on to the advantages secured from the argument knowing that those who require more information and knowledge can have unhindered access to history books that would place the facts in perspective. Unfortunately, such a compendium is a luxury in our environment and therefore, people stand history on its head for personal convenience and ego boosting. Every human being is a sculptor of history and people who have advantage are those who could place their documents within the arm’s reach of the world and humanity. However, prosperity will frown upon us if we look on while facts are slaughtered or remodelled into a shape that may mislead the generations of Nigerians yet unborn.

“Who owns Lagos?.” The question is “Which Lagos?” because the ownership of Eko has never been in contention. It is very clear that none of these men was talking about Lagos State but it is also abundantly clear that there is some muddling in their presentations with respect to the clear distinction between Eko, Lagos and Lagos State. An indigene of Lagos should not be found in this shaky ground anytime the issue of our state is placed on the podium for discourse.  Therefore, the starting point is to resort to spatial delineation of these territories on the map of Lagos State for the clear comprehension of the reader.

In nomenclature, non-indigenes are usually unable to know the difference between Eko, Lagos and Lagos State. For comprehension, Eko, the domain in which Oba Rilwan Aremu Akiolu is the traditional head belongs to Aromire. It is the space from Obalende to Idumota (that is Lagos Island). This is different from Lagos which starts from Victoria Island, Lagos Island (Eko), Lagos Mainland up to Jibowu, Apapa, Surulere up to Akangba. This was the Federal Capital Territory of Nigeria. Lagos State, on the other hand, consists of the entire Lagos and its colonies of Badagry, Epe, Ikeja and Ikorodu. From the interviews, it seems the concentration of Alhaji Okunnu and Chief Bembe are on Lagos Island, that is, Eko, to the exclusion of other parts of Lagos State.

Chief Layi Ajayi-Bembe

There is hardly anyone who is conversant with the history of Lagos Island that would feign ignorance on the fact that Lagos Island belongs to Aromire, who is one of the children of Olofin Ogunfunminire, the progenitor of the Awori nation. The Yoruba say, “Bi omode k oba Itan, yiobaaroba. Aroba de ni baba Itan”, therefore, anyone trying to reconstruct history must also bear in mind that beyond the textbooks are the oral history handed over to us by our forefathers. In the regard, one may want to listen to the musical records of Salami Balogun of Gbara Village, that is, Lefty. He says,

“Aromire loniile Eko o -2ce

A be’jaro mi re       2ce

Awonni baba awa o

Aromire lo niile Eko o.

Attempts in contemporary times to reconstruct the history of the Yoruba and the Benin Empires have led to a series of distortions most of which contradict empirical evidences that lay bare in front of our generation. The only point of agreement in the hot debates over the years is that the two nations have the same root but whether the fruit was planted in Benin or Ife has been contentious. Irrespective of the position taken, there are some facts that are sacrosanct and should be linearly preserved. It is obvious and clear that one major reason for conquering people is to take their land and properties. If truly the Bini conquered Eko, how come there is no land in the entire Eko that belongs to the Bini? This issue was settled in 1920 when Chief Amodu Tijani, the Oluwa of Lagos, took the British colonialists to the Privy Council in London. Hence, today, there is no contest on who the landlord is on the land in Lagos (not Lagos State). The legitimate ownership of Lagos Land is vested in the Idejo who are the offspring of Olofin Ogunfunminire and not the Bini. Anyone who cares, can read the landmark judgement delivered at the Privy Council in London in 1921.

History revealed that Olofin Ogunfunminire, the progenitor of the Awori and the father of the Idejo, came from Ile Ife to settle in Isheri Olofin (a small town along the Lagos Ibadan Expressway) with his two wives, Akesan and Ajayi. While Akesan was procreating, Ajayi was barren.  On consultation, Ifa advised Olofin to move with Ajayi to the edge of a river. The couple consequently settled in Oto (at the back of the Ido Railway Terminus)

One day, the Bini invaded Oto and took Olofin to Benin. On arrival in the palace  in Bini, it was discovered that Olofin was a Prince of Ife and was consequently released to come back to Lagos with a retinue of Bini Chiefs which included Obanikoro (Chief Ajayi Bembe’s Lineage); Bajulaiye, Ashogbon and others as clearly outlined in Alhaji Okunnu’s interview.

History had it that the guests of Olofinwere, on arrival, settled on the pepper farm of the Aromire . Hence, the name “Idungaran”

While one may not want to get too entrenched in the controversy of the explosive discourse, it won’t be out of place to also mention that the word “Idu” may not necessarily be of Benin origin because apart from shared vocabulary between the Yoruba and the Bini, the settlement or any place in which a Yoruba community settles is called “Iduro, Idu or Ido” depending on the tongue.

To conclude that Awori are of Bini origin is far too incorrect to be ignored because the Awori are in umbilicus and plasma of the Yoruba lineage and therefore migrated from Ile Ife. I have addressed some of this issues in the book titled, “The Ojikutu family of Lagos”. The painstaking and comprehensive research traced the movement of the first Prince Obayomi from Isheri Olofin in 1790 to Lagos Island and how the great grandchild of Obayomi, namely, Amodu Rufai Ibikunle, acquired the appellate Ojikutu

Because of his entrepreneurial acumen, wealth and influence.

There is of course no variation in our positions on the annihilation and suppression of the right of the indigenous people of Lagos State. The sad part of it is that governments upon governments in Lagos State with the connivance of some indigenes and pseudo indigenes have employed the style of cracking the walls of the homes of the indigenes rather than fence-mending the obvious disaffection that is created every day.  In this regard, I do not see the difference in the style of the governors towards the rights of the indigenes in the state, irrespective of whether the administrator is the “Son of the soil’ or not. The attitude is the same. The most disappointing of all of them was Babatunde Raji Fashola, a young man who by virtue of his intellectual endowment should have done better but whose love for his people was beclouded by pecuniary considerations. I still hold him in high regard in view of his contributions to the development of Lagos but I do not think many of us will forgive him for failing us in view of our high aspiration.

  • Prof Ojikutu wrote in from University of Lagos, Akoka

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