Lagos: From British Colony to Federating State

Lagos State has just turned 50, and as the State celebrates its Golden Jubilee, Stephen Kola-Balogun x-rays the socio-political and economic development of Lagos State, from the status of a British Colony to its present status as a federating unit of the Federal Republic of Nigeria; the only State which has not been divided by the Federal Government, since its creation in 1967

Oba Dosumu and the British

On the 6th of August 1861, Lagos became a British Colony, following a seven-day standoff with the British Navy. Earlier, Oba Dosumu and his Chiefs had been invited aboard the British Naval Steamer, the Prometheus. While there, Acting Consul. William McCoskry, told him that Her Majesty’s government had decided to occupy Lagos and gave him 48 hours grace to discuss with his Chiefs and sign a Deed of Cession. On 1st August, McCoskry, Bedingfield (Commander of the Prometheus) and others visited the Oba for a response to their proposition. Dosumu refused to sign, and was less than nice to his visitors. He accused them of being impostors and they in turn, advised him to reconsider. Unknown to the Oba, the expatriate community and their African charges had been informed that he would cede Lagos. Upon his refusal, McCoskry and others adopted a ‘sign-or-we-destroy’ stance. Prometheus’ guns were pointed at Lagos Island, a forceful reminder of a bombardment that occurred much earlier in 1851, that caused panic amongst Lagos residents. Initially, the Oba stalled, but two days later, Dosumu signed the papers whereupon the Prometheus fired a gun salute and the British flag was hoisted. For about 40 years thereafter, the Colony of Lagos continued to evolve on its own and remained separate and insulated from other neighbouring territories.

Protectorate of Southern Nigeria

However, at the turn of the 20th Century, on the 1st of January, 1900 to be precise, the Protectorate of Southern Nigeria came into being. Its boundaries were defined by an Order in Council, which added the Southern portion of the territories of the Royal Niger Company to the Niger Coast Protectorate (NCP). The NCP enacted the Ordinance Extension Proclamation, which extended the reach of its law throughout the new territory. The new Protectorate had its headquarters in Calabar. Further north, more or less at the same time that the Protectorate of Southern Nigeria was being created, General Fredrick Lugard was reading the Queen’s proclamation to assembled units of the Royal Niger Constabulary and the West Africa Frontier Force North of the Niger. Thereafter, the Union Jack was raised as a sign of British authority, guns were fired in salute and the military band played the anthem. Thus, the Protectorate of Northern Nigeria, a territory stretching over 256,400square miles with an estimated population of 9,269,000 was born.

Colony of Lagos to Colony of Southern Nigeria

In the same vein, the turn of the 20th Century precipitated the end of the insulation that the Colony of Lagos had hitherto enjoyed from neighbouring British territories, and on 16th February, 1906, the amalgamation of the Colony of Lagos with the Protectorate of Southern Nigeria became official, with the renaming of Lagos as Colony of Southern Nigeria under Letters of Patent. An Order in Council of the same date, demarcated the borders of Southern Nigeria from the Atlantic Ocean to the South, French territory to the West, the Protectorate of Northern Nigeria to the North and Northeast and German territory to the East. In actual fact, the amalgamation process actually started two years earlier, with the appointment of Sir Walter Egerton as both Governor of Lagos and High Commissioner of the Protectorate of Southern Nigeria. The two administrations when fully amalgamated in 1906 became known as ‘the Colony and Protectorate of Southern Nigeria’ with headquarters in Lagos City. For administration purposes, the territory of the former Colony of Lagos was now designated Western or Lagos Province of the Protectorate of Southern Nigeria.

The Amalgamation of Northern and Southern Nigeria

The British however, were bent on having a single unified administration of the Southern and Northern Territories, and amongst the various submitted and well thought out memoranda for amalgamation, that of Fredrick J. D. Lugard appeared the most impressive and eventually it received the nod of approval of the British authorities and on Thursday 1st January 1914, Fredrick J. D. Lugard was called upon to conduct a ceremony that united the Protectorates of Northern and Southern Nigeria into one country. Lugard assumed the title of Governor-General and the country became known as the Colony and Protectorate of Nigeria. Nigeria was eventually divided into Northern and Southern Provinces, each governed by a Lieutenant- Governor appointed by His Majesty King George V, but subject to the control of the Governor-General. Significantly, Lagos became the seat of the central government and the authority of Lagos Colony’s Executive Council was extended across the country.

The Richards Constitution

Then a propitious occasion for a good start, after the problems of the Richards’ years and an opportunity to regain the ground lost during the Richards’ years of 1943 – 1947. Governor John Macpherson in 1948 promised that the Richards’ Constitution would be reviewed, and that Nigerians would be part of the process. A series of preliminary conferences took place at village, district, provincial and regional levels before a general gathering at Ibadan.

Nigeria’s First Constitutional Conference: Emergence of Macpherson Constitution

The Ibadan General Conference of 9th January, 1950, was Nigeria’s first Constitutional Conference. One of the most seminal issues they all agreed on, was an argument for true Federalism. They all agreed that the regional structure was to be maintained, but that each region should be allowed to develop at its own pace. The Nigerian Constitution which emerged from the proceedings of the General Conference of 9th January, 1950 was called the Macpherson Constitution (which came into effect in 1951). It recommended to the Secretary of State for the Colonies that there should be three regions- the Northern, Eastern and Western Regions, with the independent municipality of Lagos. This recommendation was however, varied by the Secretary of State for the Colonies on the advice of the Legislative Council of Nigeria by merging Lagos with the Western Region. As a consequence of this decision, Lagos for the first time, became subjugated under one of the regions in Nigeria.

There had been some difference of opinion about the treatment of Lagos, the capital of the country, which, with the immediate surrounding country areas, had hitherto been administered separately from the Western Region, of which it formed a geographical part.

Anomalies of the Macpherson Constitution

On the basis of the proposals put forward by the Western and Lagos Regional Conferences, it was first proposed that Lagos should be included in the Western Region, but the General Conference itself recommended by a majority that it should be administered as an independent municipality, not under the Western Region. The Select Committee of the Legislative Council had proposed by a majority that Lagos should form part of the Western Region, but with special safeguards to allow for its position as the capital. The three members of the Legislative Council representing Lagos submitted a minority report opposing this, in spite of the fact that the representatives of Lagos at the General Conference who were not members of the Legislative Council, had taken the opposite view.

Soon, the anomalies of the Macpherson Constitution with regard to Lagos became so serious that a Constitutional stalemate ensued. The continued merger of Lagos with the West was resented by citizens of Lagos, and violent demonstrations took place. It soon became obvious that the future of Lagos had become of paramount importance.

Action Group v NCNC

The Secretary of State at the time summoned a conference in London to review the situation, since there was a major difference in opinion between the Chief Obafemi Awolowo led Action Group and the Nnamdi Azikiwe led National Council for Nigeria and Cameroun (NCNC). Kola Balogun as General Secretary of the NCNC at the time, was selected to argue his party’s case for the separation of Lagos from the Western Region and he put their case as follows:

“Lagos has been known to be the capital of Nigeria since the amalgamation in 1914. Naturally, the Central Government of Nigeria has been sufficiently confident in maintaining this tradition, and has sunk a lot of money in developing the city. Central Government assets in Lagos amount to millions of pounds. Most importantly, however, is the tradition that has been built around Lagos as the capital of Nigeria. Certainly, a tradition of about half a century old ought not to be lightly thrown aside, if we are in search of order, progress and good government.

The Ibadan General Conference of 1950 was opposed to the merger of Lagos with the Western Region. This can be taken as the unmistakable feeling of the people of Nigeria. Ever since the merger, there has been a lot of unrest on the matter. One may recall that a demonstration of the people of Lagos on this issue early last year, almost turned into a riot when the demonstrators marched to the Government Lodge to demand the separation of Lagos from the West. His Excellency the Governor, I am sure, remembers this incident very clearly. Apart from tradition, there is the administrative inconvenience resulting from this merger. Lagos is sufficiently important, even as a commercial and cultural centre, to take orders from no other place but Lagos. The spectacle of Lagos taking orders from Ibadan, the administrative and political headquarters of the Western Region, is painful and inconvenient to the extreme. It is very well for simple townships like Oshogbo, Ogbomosho, Oyo, Ijebu-Ode and so on to have their files endorsed by Ibadan; but to treat Lagos in the same way, is psychologically frustrating and administratively circuitous.

At this stage it may be pertinent to consider what people live in Lagos. The majority of the population is Yoruba-speaking; but there is a large, very large, population of non-Yoruba speaking peoples from all over Nigeria. It may be interesting to turn up the statistics of Lagos; one may find that this non-Yoruba element amount to over 40%. No true consideration of the welfare of Lagos can be made without taking into account, the interest of these very important non- Yoruba elements.

It may be proposed that Nigeria should find another capital. Certainly, the outcome of this will be a new financial outlay of a considerable amount to be undertaken by the Central Government. This will be a wasteful duplication which the country can hardly afford to meet.

The suspicion we have in Nigeria today, can be removed to a large extent, if Westerners, Easterners and Northerners can come to Lagos and feel that they are on a politically neutral ground. It will have a healthy effect on our politics.

Lastly, I want to state that as a Yoruba, it is a great pride to me that Lagos has been and is so much desired by our people to be the capital of Nigeria. I implore that no Yoruba who is around this Conference table shall do anything which will harm the prestige and glory of Lagos. Let it not be regretted a decade from now: “The glory that was Lagos”. Let her glory be heightened from day to day from now by allowing this ancient city to continue to fulfil her historic destiny.

For our part, we of the NCNC, see immense usefulness in making Lagos a free and unfettered capital of our great country, Nigeria. God grant that better counsel prevails”.

Despite the strong stance taken by the NCNC with regard to Lagos, the Action Group refused to relent and insisted on keeping Lagos under the Western Region, presumably for political convenience, even though the people of Lagos were violently opposed to this. There was a serious deadlock and the conference finally agreed that the Secretary of the State, Mr. Oliver Lyttleton (later known as Lord Chandos) should arbitrate. After carefully weighing up the arguments, the Secretary of State finally declared as follows:

“Therefore, while Her Majesty’s Government understands very well the feelings of the Action Group delegation, they have nevertheless felt bound to decide that, in the wider interests of Nigeria as a whole, Lagos should become Federal Territory and should be directly under the Federal Government”.

Most accounts on the historical development of Lagos, appear to have deliberately left out the period when Lagos became subjugated under the Western Region. This is rather unfortunate, because by all accounts, this period has turned out to be a significant and important turning point in its evolution. Nevertheless, the question still remains why the cover-up? Could it be because Chief Obafemi Awolowo’s supporters and sympathisers, embarrassed by the role their leaders played in trying to keep Lagos submerged in the Western Region for political gain and purpose, do not want the truth to be told? How about those who fought to free Lagos from the administrative nightmare of having to take orders and instructions from Ibadan, have they ever been acknowledged or recognised for the role they played in removing these administrative shackles? History tells us that, the Federal Government eventually took steps to protect Lagos from the aspirations of politicians, by creating the portfolio of Minister for Lagos Affairs in the late 1950s. The first occupant of that portfolio was Muhammadu Ribadu, a grand-uncle of the wife of our current president Mrs. Aisha Buhari. Another occupant of this portfolio was Alhaji Yar’adua the father of the late President Umar Yar’adua and the late Shehu Musa Yar’adua. Significantly, all the occupants of this Ministerial position on Lagos Affairs were Northerners. This was perhaps, deliberate, to ensure that Southern politicians particularly the Yoruba, would never again take advantage of the City of Lagos for political gain or favour as was the case in the early 1950s.

Creation of Lagos State: May 27th, 1967

By the time the 1st Republic collapsed in 1966 culminating in the advent of Military Rule, Lagos was amongst the twelve newly created federating unit states that emerged on the 27th of May, 1967 from the four existing Regions of North, East, West and Mid-West. It was the smallest of all the States created and the population of the State at the time of creation was just over 700,000 compared with over 20,000,000 today. Ironically, in a complete U-turn, part of the territory of the old Western Region that administratively controlled Lagos such as Ikeja, Ikorodu, Epe and Badagry were added to the territory that made up the old Colony of Lagos to create modern day Lagos State. Brigadier General Mobolaji Johnson (Rtd.) has the singular honour and distinction of being the first Governor of Lagos State, while Chief J. A. Adeyemi- Bero, Mr. F. C. O. Coker, Mr. Arthur Howsen-Wright and Mr. Justice Idowu Agoro were the first new Executives of the State. The City of Lagos remained the Capital of the Federal Republic of Nigeria until the seat of Government was itself moved (as earlier predicted, at considerable expense) to Abuja on the 12th of December, 1991. Nevertheless, the remarkable growth of Lagos from British Colony to a Nigerian Federating Unit State in the course of just over a century, has itself resulted in fifty stable years of Lagos State evolving as a civil, democratic, prosperous and egalitarian society in modern contemporary Nigeria. This is without doubt worthy of celebration.

Itesiwaju Eko lo je wa logun. CONGRATULATIONS LAGOS STATE!!!

Stephen Kola-Balogun, Legal Practitioner, former Commissioner for Youth Development, Osun State

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