Much Ado about Founders of Lagos

Much Ado about Founders of Lagos

A passing remark by the Oba of Benin, Oba Ewuare II, that Lagos was founded by the Binis, a position that was earlier canvassed by the Oba of Lagos, Oba Rilwan Akiolu, has again sparked unnecessary reactions. Ejiofor  Alike  writes that for a country like Nigeria that is plagued by insecurity and serious economic crisis, efforts should be channelled towards rescuing the nation instead of dissipating energy on unhelpful debates

It is only in a country where issues of national importance are relegated to the background, and ethnic supremacy, sectional interest and religious bigotry are promoted that a passing comment by the Oba of Benin, Oba Ewuare II, that the Binis founded Lagos State, would spark a serious debate.

During a visit to the Lagos State Governor, Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu, last Sunday, the monarch said, “It is in the history books that the Binis founded Lagos. When some people will hear it now, they will go haywire, what is the Oba saying there again?  But it is true. Go and check the records. Maybe not all over Lagos as we know it now but certain areas in Lagos; maybe the nucleus of Lagos, was founded by my ancestors. The Oba of Lagos will say so.”

The Benin monarch was not the first to make this claim.

Apart from history books, the Oba of Lagos, Oba Rilwan Akiolu, had also corroborated this claim when he once declared that “modern-day Lagos was founded by Prince Ado, the son of the Oba of Benin.”

In a statement issued in 2017 from Iga Idugaran, Palace of the Lagos King, Oba Akiolu had reportedly said: “I was told by my late paternal grandmother, who was a descendant of Oba Ovonranwen Nogbaisi, and with facts from historical books, let me share this knowledge with you all on Eko or Lagos, as it is popularly called.

“Modern-day Lagos was founded by Prince Ado, the son of the Oba of Benin. Prince Ado was the first Oba of Lagos, and it was he that named the town Eko, until the Portuguese explorer, Ruy de Segueira, changed the maritime town to Lagos, which at that time from 1942 was the Portuguese expedition centre down the African Coast.

“It was a major centre of slave trade, until 1851. Lagos was annexed by Britain via the Lagos treaty of cession in 1861, ending the consular period and starting the British colonial period. The remainder of modern-day Nigeria was seized in 1886, when the Colony and Protectorate of Nigeria was established in 1914, Lagos was declared its capital, due to the struggle of the Bini King.

“Lagos experienced growth prior to the British Colonial rule, but even more rapid growth during the colonial rule throughout the 90s till date. Thanks to the Aworis, Binis, Yorubas and migrants across the nation and the world at large, as no particular group of people can take the glory alone.

“Lagos is made up of lagoons and creeks. These are the Lagos Lagoon, Lagos Harbour, Five cowrie creeks, New Canal, Badagry creeks, Kuramo waters and Lighthouse Creeks.

“The Aworis and Binis are known to be the first settlers of the Eko land. The Aworis are speakers of a distinct dialect close to that of Yoruba language with a rich Bini mixture. Traditionally, Aworis were found in Ile-ife; they were known to be the Binis, who followed their self-exiled prince, the first son of the Ogiso (now called Oba) of Benin Kingdom, whose stepmother was after his head.

“The exiled Benin Prince Izoduwa, known to Yoruba as Ooduwa (Oduduwa), was made ruler of the Ife people due to his powers and followers from the great Benin Kingdom.

“Izoduwa (Ooduwa) was made the first king of Ile-Ife in 1230 AD. His followers from his father’s Kingdom in Benin are today’s Awori people, who settled in Eko now called Lagos.

“In the 1300s, the King of Benin Empire heard from one of his traders, who were settlers in Eko, of how the Binis were treated by the Aworis who lived in their areas. Upon hearing this, the King of Benin commanded the assembly of a war expedition, led by his son, Prince Ado, which headed (for) the settlement of the Aworis and demanded explanation

“On arriving Eko, Prince Ado and his army were more than welcomed. The Aworis asked the Bini Prince to stay and become their leader. Ado agreed on the condition that they surrender their sovereignty to the Oba of Benin, to which the people agreed. On hearing this, the King of Benin gave his permission for Prince Ado and the expedition to remain in Eko.

“The Oba of Benin sent some of his chiefs, including the Eletu, Odibo, Obanikoro and others to assist his son, Oba Ado in the running of Eko.

Oba Akiolu added: “The name Eko was given to it first by the king of Lagos, Oba Ado, the young and vibrant prince from Benin. Eko was the land now known as Lagos Island, where the king’s palace was built.

“The palace is called Idugaran, which means “palace built on a pepper farm.” Oba Ado and the warriors from Benin, together with the early Bini settlers in Eko and the Awori people settled in the southern part of Eko, called “Isale Eko.” “Isale literally means downtown (as in downtown Lagos)

“Until the coming in of the Benin in 1300 AD, Lagos’ geographical boundary was Lagos mainland. Lagos Island, the seat of the Oba of Lagos, then consisted of a pepper farm and fishing post. No one was living there.”

Nobody had challenged Oba Akiolu’s claim.

A prominent Lagos Prince, Alhaji Tajudeen Olusi, had also in 2019 stated that the Binis were the first settlers in Lagos, adding that Lagos was part of the Bini Empire.

But following Oba Ewuare’s comment, notable personalities went haywire as predicted by the Benin monarch.

Prominent among these personalities was the Balogun of Eko, Abisoye Oshodi, who faulted the claim by the Oba of Benin, insisting that Lagos was not founded by Binis.

Oshodi, had in a video, debunked the claim, saying the Binis ‘never created Lagos’, stressing that there were other tribes in Lagos before the state was formed in May 1967.

Mungo Park was credited with being the first European to explore the full length of the River Niger and this claim has not diminished the status of the river.

With the level of hardships in Nigeria, it is surprising that many Nigerians are more interested in the unhelpful debate over who built or founded Lagos, which can neither diminish the status of the Centre of Excellence nor confer any advantage to the supposed founders.  

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