PING LAGOS (EPISODE 5)

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One useful source that is closely connected to law and justice is John Augustus Otonba Payne, a Lagos African and colonial judicial officer of noted distinction. After 30 years in the judicial department serving in various capacities and finally as chief registrar, he produced a useful digest in 1893, The Table of Principal Events, a work that was described author himself as being for reference and use in practice before judges, district commissioners and others in relation to the examination of witness in the trial of civil and criminal cases and other procedures in the Colony of Lagos. He wrote, ‘The Benins and the Aworis were the original settlers at Lagos but with mass of people who were domestic slaves came from the interior countries and it is worthy of note that though they were of different tribes yet the spirit of jealousy and tribal distinctions now unhappily rampant was quite unknown amongst them previous to 1864.’

Finally in a landmark case the evidence accepted by the trial court in Lagos – which was upheld until its final decision(on appeal) in Amodu Tijani v The Secretary For Southern Nigeria is somewhat consistent with the essential features of the aforementioned settlement. The court found as follows,
– Around the beginning of the 18th century, a chief called Olofin controlled the island of Lagos. He parked the island and part of the adjacent mainland among some seventeen subordinate chiefs called the ‘white cap’ in recognition of their dominion over portions that had been parceled out to them. At 1790, Lagos was successfully invaded by the neighbouring Benins. They did not remain in occupation but left a representative as a ruler whose title was Eleko. The successive Elekos finally became the Kings of Lagos while for a long time they acknowledged the King of Benin ‘s sovereignty and paid homage to him. The Benins appear to have interfered but little in the customs and arrangements in the island. Tribute was rejected around the year 1850 and the King of Lagos declared his freedom.

This independence and sovereignty was difficult to challenge by any local authority due to the prominence and wealth Lagos had by this time Acquired in 1850. Britain, being a foreign power, was the only authority that could challenge and overcome this new independence of Lagos. Consequently Lagos was bombarded in late 1851 by British forces leading to war. It’s king, Moronf’olu Kosoko was caused to return to exile while Akitoye his uncle, was re-installed. This led to the first treaty of 1 January 1852 where the slave trade was allegedly proscribed and the British mission, styled the British Consulate at Lagos was established. King Akitoye died in 1853 and was succeeded by Dosunmu, generally regarded as the monarch to be held responsible for the concessions in the so called ‘cession’ treaty. It is alleged that much disorder and factionalism prevailed in Lagos at that time, so much so that the British met no real opposition (when in fact there was opposition and the accord was far from voluntary) from the king in entering the Treaty of August 1861 to cede the sovereignty of Lagos to the British Crown. In truth, there was opposition to the cession, albeit not outright military resistance but the king and the people were clearly threatened and coerced into ceding the territory. In fact, the reference to ‘ceding Lagos’ – an otherwise voluntary or yeilding grant – is a misnomer; if anything, the entire process was a proven act of armed and forced seizure by the British Crown.

By an instrument under the seal of government dated 1 March 1862, the territories were erected into a separate government with a legislative and executive council under the title, the Lagos Colony. The Badagry and Epe regions to the West and East respectively were added subsequently. By another commission dated 19 February 1886, Lagos became part of the government of West African Settlements, having a separate legislative council and governor but under the general authority of the Governor-General-in-Chief at Sierra Leone. On 24 July 1874, the Gold Coast Colony and Lagos were separated administratively from the other West African settlements under the styling of the Gold Coast Colony; Lagos being the Eastern province. This was in place until 1886 when Lagos returned to being a separately administered Crown Colony of Lagos. On and from 1 May 1906, though still separately administered, its administration was merged in the first forced amalgamation under the governor of the new Southern protectorate. Thereafter 1 January 1914 amalgamation brought about Nigeria, albeit still with a separate administrator at Lagos till 1932.

Throughout these political changes the office of the King of Lagos, the Eleko survived in various forms of influence and relevance but subject to statutory and government control given the overwhelming authority of the British Crown.

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