PING LAGOS (EPISODE 3)

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Indeed how could the British Crown refer to the office of the king of Lagos as a sovereign for the making of treaties on the one hand and not as a king, an equal to the crown, but only in the usual African signification the other. Modern political scientists will tell us that when government, albeit a government of occupation, acts inconsistently or without legal justification in a manner difficult to explain with logic and law its actions will shape public perception. This could explain why the nineteenth and early twentieth century Lagos had a reputation for dissent and resistance even if conferred by a dubious source that already had an avowed dislike for Lagos resistance:
Tribute was rejected around the year 1850 and the King of Lagos declared his freedom. It is practically certain that they are at the bottom of this Yoruba trouble and the people have been mislead by specious lies with the results 50 have been killed in the fighting while their Lagos instigators sit safe here and laugh over it. It is really pathetic and troubles one badly. These people here are seditious and rotten to the core. We are masters of covert diplomacy and have actively plotted against the government. They produced riot among the ignorant the other day in Lagos… I have no time to go into details but i could show you that Lagos has for 20 years past opposed every governor and has fomented strife and bloodshed in the hinterland… I have spent the best part of my life in Africa, may aim has been the betterment of the natives for whom I have been ready to give my life. But after some 29 years and after nearly 12 years as governor here, I am free to say that the people of Lagos are lowest, the most prompted by purely self seeking money motives of any people I have met.

And yet the resilience of Lagos was consistently put to the test, through a discriminatory application of the law; the administration of segregation, maltreatment and increasing non-representatives taxes, rates and charges on the people to fund imperial activities in other colonies.

To their credit, the leading figures in both the traditional and educated elite categories largely kept faith with the law and process of government in resistance and with a demand for change, only rarely employing violence but certainly not on the scale parts of East or Southern Africa.

The new order that occupation of the Lagos territory brought, led to disobedience, lawlessness and dissent. This lead the colonialists to introduce a new administration of justice system with new powers acquired on a gradual and incremental basis. From the appointment of chief magistrate for the police magistrate’s court in 1862 and the passage of rules of courts in 1870, to the training and enrolment of personnel, English justice was to be a gift used in civilising the native Africans of Lagos. Lagos Africans continued to venture into the world of exclusive European life, for instance, Christopher Sapara Williams, often referred to as the first Nigerian lawyer. We know however and should recognise that when he was enrolled in 1888, there was no Nigeria, he would have referred to himself simply as an African. There was then a Crown Colony of Lagos, of which he was a resident a fact whose significance cannot be wished away. Similarly, the first judge of the Supreme Court of the Colony of Lagos, appointed 7 June 1887, was Justice John Smalman Smith, until the colony was effectively brought to an end by the first forced amalgamation policy of 1906 implemented by its last Governor Walter Egerton, the Lagos Africans never produced a judge before the end of the colony; they fought bitterly for a jury system for the courts that their Victorian contemporaries were entitled to in Great Britain.

Legal sources show that although the people of Lagos often faced monumental odds they stood firm and resolute through the slave trade to invasion, bombardment and war. They endured the affronts to both freedom and justice that did sometimes engender fear, freely dispensed only to favour colonial ambitions.

 

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