The old Lagos Kingdom as a state had a clearly identifiable structure of government. Its revenue was tax exacted by or on behalf of the king, therefore the wealth and gravitas of the king was synonymous with that of the state. Though the authority of the state covered beyond the island of Lagos at some point extending to Badagry in the west and the Epe – Lekki region to the east, governing did not appear to require regional authority. The concentration of central authority at Lagos provided for effective control, sometimes through the use of chiefs and other appointees of the king.
The kingdom did not have an observable clan or caste system, but was not structured on representative government either. Slavery, internal servitude and indentured employment was a fact of life just as nobility and royalty were acquisitions at birth. Inheritance and succession were recurrent themes in traditional life in the kingdom. Trade was central to the economy and the king saw the excise and duty at the port as a birth right of his office.
The king and his lineage occupied the top echelon of his society; his noblemen were made up of persons entitled to occupy the chieftainces in the groups and functions ascribed to them. Therefore the custodial, political and quasi-judicial state functions of government in pre-colonial Lagos were loosely held by different categories of officeholders. The structure of traditional government in the kingdom was as hierarchical as it was based on defined roles and functions Starting from the king to his chiefs and personal appointees, the inequity and inequality inherent in any monarchy were evident in old traditional Lagos society.
THE KING OF LAGOS:
The system of government established under the royal court meant that the king was undoubtedly the supreme overlord of his people. He appeared to have authority for final sanction and custody of tributaries within the territory and presided over a council that sat every nine days, With increasing wealth and importance arising from duty charges as foreign trade increased to the Lagos port, his power became absolute and sometimes tyrannical.
There is no evidence that he was considered a deity or god, however the selection and ascension to office was considered divinely ordained.
The office of a chief within the traditional political structure was occupied by certain individuals selected merely by circumstance of birth, meaning that in most cases only a certain parentage entitled one to be considered for the position and title. The appointment was typically a life term in some circumstances to be inherited by others only on the possession of peculiar skills and attributes.
According to the court adopted definition, ‘chief’ means ‘any native whose authority and control are recognised by a native community’ and in turn meaning that the local law and custom was always the determining factor in the recognition of chiefs.
Individual chief were titled persons loosely representative of the aristocracy. In the Lagos Kingdom due to intermarriage, a chief would in likelihood be connected to the king but he would not occupy the office of chief by mere reason of that connection. The title chief carried with it both privilege and responsibility. The responsibility differed from title to title ranging from religion to politics and everything in between.
For example, the bearer of the title Onisiwo held that title personal to his office; but was in fact a chief at the king’s court. He personified the title and was referred to by that office as a matter of officialdom and pride. Therefore he was a chief but more appropriately the Onisiwo, for example Chief Fajimi, The Onisiwo of Lagos.
The groupings and functions of the chiefs were interwoven but are considered separately:
The Akarigbere are often reffered to as the political leadership of the community, enjoying a pride of place amongst the chiefs themselves. They are also the ‘kingmakers’ such that besides the king, the leading chief in this group is the Eletu Odibo, also known as installing officer of the Oba.
The Idejo are also known as Aladejo – a group or association of fishermen. The history of these chiefs is interwoven with the creation of the kingdom. They are descendants of some of the early land settlers in the traditional sense, and said to be children of the old Olofin, am ancient ruler at Iddo whose clan had migrated from the mainland country. The nature of the settlement and ownership of the Idejo chiefs is difficult to locate as the equivalent of land ownership under common law and modern property ownership, but a usufructuary interest in land that was capable of periodic but not absolute alienation. It is not unlikely that the claim of power of settlements was somewhat affected by the period of benin suzerainty. By definition, the Idejo have no genealogical relationship with the Oba of Lagos. Though intermarriage has now occurred. The Idejo chiefs are in a group that is in many respects unique – they are acclaimed to be owners of land and yet custodians of land for the family, further still, this does not appear to convey administrative rights over the land and as such these rights are reserved for the substantive Oba. In other words, there was only one Oba or King in Lagos, the Idejo tradition not withstanding. Further evidence of the king’s total rights to land is that Lagos was a united kingdom, not a confederacy of chiefdoms or smaller kingdom with Idejo chiefs as minor ‘Obas’ in their domain. Claims by chiefs of the king of Lagos to the status of monarch in different sections of Lagos based on the idea of ‘ownership’ of parts of the old territory are recent.