I AM going to engage you in a conversation about Lagos in 1861 and matter arising therefrom as the history of Lagos continued to be in many respects the history of Nigeria. I cannot do justice to such a huge subject in this conversation. I would therefore lightly skip over most of the history concentrating on problems we foresaw in 1967 at the beginning of the creation of Lagos State and 1976 as we moved towards a return to civilian rule.

Problems such as how to maintain the indigenous peculiarity of Lagos while acknowledging its modern cosmopolitan nature: Lagos has the problem of urban renewal which will be in sync with its tradition; how do millions of Nigerians who have come to Lagos and regard it as home reconcile themselves to the original settlers of Lagos, for example, the Hausas in Agege, Oshodi, Obalende, etc. , the Ibo, Ijaw, Urhobo in Ajegunle, I hope that this discussion would tease some of these problem and challenges.

To understand and enjoy history you need imagination. You need to transport yourself to the historical setting, choose the various parts you want to play and act it out. So let me take you on an imaginary journey back to 1851 – 1861 in Lagos. You may decide that you want to play the part of the British Consul and captain of the ship who bombed Lagos. Or you may decide you want to put yourself as a war chief or spiritual chief or even the Oba of Lagos. What would you do?

When radicalized mad jihadists bomb restaurants in Paris and mow down people in Nice, without any warning I wonder how the French would feel. Or if you were a Libyan and the combined forces of 65 nations with their airpower suddenly without provocation unleashed terror on your country? Or you were at the receiving end of attacks in Syria?

Definitely the French and the people of Lagos would have the same feelings when mayhem was suddenly released upon them, without warning, as they sat in restaurants or walked on the promenade in Nice or were sleeping at 3 am in Lagos when the bombs started to fall in 1861.

It is 3am in Lagos in 1851. The Oba and his chiefs are asleep. Suddenly a loud noise and deafening fire bombs and canon are flying in the air and landing at the palace or at the houses of chiefs, markets, village square. The Oba wakes up completely disoriented. He thinks it is the god of thunder who is angry at some infraction he committed. The spiritual chiefs are equally alarmed and are running helter-skelter to save their families or to run to the aid of the Oba. The war chiefs are also awake but what to do? They prepare for war, carry their knives, bows and arrows, muskets etc. ready to defend their kingdom, their king. They try to find their comrade chiefs and body guards and soldiers. Other fiery balls fall on their houses, setting them on fire. They do not know where these fiery canons are coming from, they try to assemble their men and send some of them to the outskirt of town, and others follow the war chiefs’ en route to the Oba’s palace.

There is utter shock and awe, desperation, fear, panic. They run to the sea shore to find British frigates and other war ships firing the canons at them, volley after volley. Half of Lagos is on fire. So it was not the god of thunder or of iron – maybe the god of fire. The volleys continue till early morning light. Then they cease while the Lagosians try their best to put out the fires, rally themselves into battle positions.

At 10 am a few small boats leave the frigates for the Island, carrying some white men, all well dressed and resplendent in their uniforms to see the Oba and the chiefs who gather in some place to receive the visitors. According to the journal of the British Commanding Officer, he speaks to the Oba and the chiefs about his representing his Queen Victoria who is displeased that the Oba, despite earlier warnings, was continuing slave trade, instead of trade in produce – oil, ivory, etc. As a consequence the Oba had been fined, he could remain Oba but Lagos was now a crown colony and belonged to the Queen of England. A similar attack had taken place 10 years earlier 1851 but the King had not changed his ways. Now the British were taking over.

Your guess is as good as mine what the Oba and the Chiefs would make of these strange men and their messenger. There are concepts which the King, Chiefs and people can understand – they had been beaten in a war by an unknown and unseen enemy who can hurl fire balls at them. They could understand that a victor in war takes the spoils.

They had fought wars, before and have client Chiefs. But that Lagos was now a colony! What was that? What did the conqueror want? How many slaves, and other precious materials did he want? No, he does not want slaves but the Oba and the chiefs can no longer sell slaves. The Oba would remain Oba but has to tell his people that the trade in slaves had stopped. Henceforth, he would take orders from the British but those orders would be few as the Oba and chiefs retain their positions, their wives, and their houses. The Oba would also retain the port dues he used to collect before the attack.

How all this can be intelligible to the Oba and his Chiefs must be an interesting subject for Nollywood. But the Whiteman, however, brings out papers which he had prepared earlier and asks the Oba to sign the treaty of cession by making his mark, a cross at a place shown to him. A few other Chiefs put their marks(x) below the Oba’s. He, Beecroft, the Commander, signs and burns some red wax on the paper to which he applies his ring. So a new dawn is in Lagos. The Consul takes nothing; he demands nothing, turns around and leaves.

The document has areas of a map marked out which is the colony of Lagos – from 1851 to 1861 the British had been sending cartographers to map out Lagos: cartographers had been coming to Lagos, representations of Lagos since 1493 when the Portuguese first came and throughout the period from then till 1861 maps had been drawn by various countries which came to trade in slaves – Portuguese, French, Dutch, British, etc. These maps would have meant nothing to the Inhabitants even when they were asked to show them various parts of Lagos, who owned them and the extent of that ownership. Again a new conundrum. What does land ownership mean in 1861? How was all this translated and communicated to the Chiefs and people of Lagos?

Port Harcourt had a similar problem in 1914 when it was acquired as a port to ship out coal from Enugu. The British signed papers; the indigenes gave consent and put their mark on the papers only to repudiate these later. Do we have the concept of sale of land in Nigeria or in Africa?

There is the concept of land grants for specific purposes. The land reverts back to the owners at the end of such use. 1861 Lagos became a Crown colony with a Governor, and an advisory legislative council. 1866, Lagos became part of the West African colonies with capital in Freetown. 1872 West African colonies were divided into 2 colonies, Sierra Leone and Gold Coast colonies. Lagos was placed under the Gold Coast colony. In 1886 Lagos regained its status as a separate colony. In 1906, Lagos became part of Colony and Protectorate of Southern Nigeria and its capital remained in Lagos. 1914 the Northern and Southern Protectorate of Nigeria was created while Lagos remained its capital. In 1960, Lagos was chosen as Federal capital. However, from as early as the 1950’s agitation for a separate Lagos state had begun and this was granted in 1967, when General Gowon granted in a 12 state structure of Nigeria.

In 1976, the Federal Government made Nigeria 19 States country. In the same exercise of this creation of States, Lagos, Kaduna, Enugu, Port Harcourt were made special areas, although no Government has done anything for these towns to warrant such appellation. But that should not stop us from holding the Government to account for its promises.

1967, the 12 States structure was aimed at isolating the Ibo. Could they have worked on restructuring them and perhaps avoid the war? Gowon after years in the office, after the great debate of diarchy, in 1974 declared that the politicians had not learnt their lessons and therefore the military and himself would not honor the promise to hand over to civilians in 1976. He was deposed in 1975 having rejected a Nine-point Political programme that was provided. Taking over General Mohammed Murtala who announced the programme which included the creation of states, the building of a new Federal capital, setting up political parties, electoral reform, forming a new constitution, Local Government reform etc. I was secretary of the creation of states panel, chaired by Justice Ayo Irekefe and therefore somewhat responsible for the special status on Lagos. Port Harcourt, Kaduna and Enugu. What does it mean?

Lagos State was created in 1967 but it continued to serve as the Federal Capital. It was clear to us that this dual capacity had to be compensated somewhat, as the Federal Government poised to choose a new capital. If so more responsibility would devolve on Lagos which would continue to remain the commercial capital of Nigeria: therefore more responsibility would be demanded of Lagos. Kaduna and Enugu were former regional capitals of the North and the East respectively. These cities would also bear considerable burdens with the exodus of goods, personnel and services to other newly created state capitals. Port Harcourt had suffered considerably during the civil war and needed a special status to meet its anticipated special needs. The panel did not think that Ibadan needed any special status as it was in fact more advanced than all the other towns mentioned in the special category list.

Lagos culture had to revitalize its culture which is now cosmopolitan. Old Lagos should also be revitalized as had been done in Bahia in Brazil, draining the whole of the area round the National Theatre, and the swamp behind the National Stadium, Brickfield road – into the lagoon and thus reclaiming acres of land for public recreation, entertainment and sports and urban renewal.

Lagos Ports and Airports should belong to all three levels of Government – Federal, State and Local Government with requisite funding and ability to raise funds through bonds etc. This might well encourage greater transparency and less Government control in the form of the dozen or so Government organizations and agencies whose activities in these areas have been synonymous with inefficiency and graft. On the airports, before anything is done, a full inquiry should be undertaken to ascertain just what remains in Government hands and what had been sold, stolen or encroached upon over the years: what is owed to the Chinese etc. The approach roads to the airports to be beautified and widened and should lead to the airport and nowhere else. The travesty of having toll gates from local to international flights would have to be reviewed. The same structure should be applied to Port Harcourt, Kaduna and Enugu. Other recreational activities and beautification schemes would also be undertaken.

Lagos, Port Harcourt, Kaduna and Enugu could do with urban renewal schemes, better management of open spaces, gardens, swimming pools and the building of iconic buildings and monuments in these cities. Incidentally, Abuja should be developed along the same lines – not something entirely left to the Federal Government to do. Admittedly one is advocating a rather cumbersome administrative set up where facilities are jointly owned and operated by the Federal State and Local Governments. As mentioned earlier this is not unique. New York, Baltimore, Washington D.C, Seoul, Tokyo, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Rotterdam are run along similar lines.

I am certain that if Lagos State, Apapa and Ikeja councils had a hand in the running of the Ports and Airports, they would be able to solve many menaces especially the congestion of trailers and petrol tankers that choke the airport and Sea port to death today.




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