The Ogalade were the chief traditional, religious worshippers, spiritual and traditional custodians of the oracles who consult and ensure the continuation of local gods. Their knowledge of curses, taboos and anecdotes was traditionally invaluable in times of succession and war. The Ogalade still regarded as Obanikoro as leader of these chiefs.
The Abagbon represents the defence, war craft and military might of the kingdom. The maintenance of law and order and the leadership during times of conflict or hostilities is the responsibility of these war chiefs of which Abagbon is their leader.
The above background serves as the preface to the actual customary operation of these institution by the office holders over time in distinction to their legitimate and legal limits, as well as the understanding of the community with respect to those powers, but problems arose and lingered. In other words, were there legally recognised limits to these institutions? What did law and custom place by way of restriction and delimitation on these office holders in the exercise of authority?
THE APENA, THE TRADITIONAL CHIEF JUSTICE
The Apena title was conferred by the king to serve in a magisterial capacity deciding delicate and sensitive disputes of political or even criminal dimensions. The Apena was also the spokesperson of cults that carried significant power and influence.
Much like the disputes between the king and his people with the colonial government of Lagos and some disputes between the people themselves, all material aspects of controversy discussed in this book actually originated from the period of Colony of Lagos, specifically pre-1906. In fact it is apparent that a good portion of the institutional or structural conflict occurred because of the colony’s creation. However, due to the festering nature of conflicts and their drawn out resolution by government political decision or by court judgements, often final determination would not come until well into the twentieth century and the period of creation of Nigeria.
Nevertheless, these reports and decision provide a valuable insight into the questions put in this chapter as they reflect over the legal history of the political offices in the kingdom of Lagos, placing them well within our purview. One such record is the quasi-judicial Ward-Price proceedings in 1933 into the ancient law and customs of the old kingdom.
THE WARD-PRICE ENQUIRY
The nationalistic and resistant occupier of the old seat of Eko Kingdom in the early part of the 1900s was Eshugbayi. The colonialist would regard him as stubborn and intransigent and he endured deep conflict between his office and the colonial government. The conflict was brought about by his mistaken the delayed assertion of might by the colonial government as confirmation of a mutual overlapping authority in the community. The traditional elite, the Eleko inclusive, may have assumed a state of affairs in the then kingdom of Lagos that was far from reality; namely that his traditional authority was alive.
This untested limit of authority arose directly from the cession of Lagos and the false perception, if not misunderstanding , of the status of the old kingdom under a colonial government, with the added confusion of the people apparently serving, as it were, two masters in the ‘king’ and ‘the government’.
Under the 1861 treaty its ceding effect on land rights was immediately understood, the notion of lost sovereignty and freedom of the foreign occupiers to deal in domestic affairs was yet to be fully appreciated by the traditional institutions. But when it came to imperial authority it took Eleko Eshugbayi’s travails to elicit the response of ‘clarity’ from the colonial government authorities as to who was in charge.
As we will see, Eleko Eshugbayi was eventually deposed from office as Oba for his failure to recognise the authority of government to issue binding instructions to him and against his hitherto perceived ‘sovereign’ power. The refusal of the Oba to publicly albeit symbolically, acknowledge the authority of government led to his removal and deportation from his domain.
Following the deposition of Eshugbayi as Eleko, Ibikunle Akitoye (the black prince) and then Sanusi Olusi were appointed by the government and served as Oba; the latter served from 1928-1931. After the protracted legal and political tussle that attended the dispute and the passage of six years, Eshugbayi was returned to Lagos. Olusi’s position was no longer tenable in the eyes of the imperial authorities, he was pensioned and asked to step down. Even though Eshugbayi could not be returned as Eleko he was influential enough to garner future support for the appointment of Falolu as Oba-designate. The opposition to this designation and its alleged irregularity pitched some of the chiefs against each other and this brought the discord that required yet another intervention from the government.
Several chiefs and prominent leaders in society petitioned the government of Lagos against the Oba-designate and the decision to appoint an Oba for the people. This led to the appointment of a commission of enquiry presided over by Henry Lewis Ward-Price.
Henry Lewis Ward-Price was an Englishman, colonial officer and a well-travelled man. He received his first appointment to the Southern Protectorate in 1912 and spent two years in the Oyo province Secretariat. He had also studied Yoruba and passed the higher standard examination for Yoruba. Ward-Price had given evidence in person for the government at the Eshugbayi court trial. Whereas in that case, the Eleko had challenged his deportation from Lagos; seeking his production from detention to court, Ward-Price gave evidence as an expert on Yoruba law and custom in the 1929 trial. Price understood Yoruba language with some proficiency but subscribed to the simplistic belief that all the inhabitants of the West Coast of the southern area of the Niger, including Lagos were a common homogeneous ‘Yoruba’ genealogy and heritage; he was known to hold the erroneous but common view that Lagos is part of Yoruba country. The Ward-Price commission had evidence from the beginning of may 1933 to June 1933 and then rendered a report to the government.