WRITING on the Ilaje situation in Lagos, Ajose Kudehinbu, former Head of Service of Ondo State and prince of the Ilaje Aheri kingdom who spent his early childhood in Lagos, recalled that one of the several places Ilaje had occupied and which he visited with his father, growing up then, in the city was ‘Agege-Odo’, now Akoka and present site of the University of Lagos from where the original Ilaje occupants were evacuated to establish the University.
He remembered how his father who died years ago at 96, and a Baale in a Lagos suburb stated that “when he got to Lagos, the whole of Ebute Meta to Apapa was water, with the Ebute Meta end notorious or famous for its many crocodiles that the Ilaje like to bait and hunt down, then and elsewhere, even today.
He lamented in conclusion, ‘’the decision of the Ilaje to concentrate all attention on their fishing occupation along the coast, rather than move upland and take ownership, must remain their greatest undoing in socio-political life of Lagos”.
Evidently, in none of these areas do you find any community traceable to Benin establishment and no family requires the consent of the Oba of Benin in land alienation as obtained in Benin customary land tenure system.
European Powers and British colonialism.
At the inception of European contact with West Africa first through the Portuguese, Professor Babs Fafunwa in his book ‘History of Education in Nigeria’ page 74, noted that the Mahin lagoon of which much has been said here, served as the route to other parts of the West African sub region.
Traditional trading activities in aso oke cloths existed between the Ilaje and other hinterland Yorubas particularly the Ijesha and Akure, the latter which till today has strong population presence in Ilaje only next to the Ijebu. The Ilaje in turn supplied fish and salt made from mangrove trees and sea water. Of course, the Ilaje relied absolutely on Ikale Ijebu and to some extent on the Apoi for the supply of farm produces particularly garrri and pupuru both cassava products serving as Ilaje staples. In paragraph 3 of the Ilaje Intelligence Report 1936, British author, RJM Curwen wrote that the Ilaje ‘occupied themselves in making salt from the sea and a savoury form of potash from the small white mangrove trees which grow near the coast. With the proceeds of these two crafts, an extensive slave trade was carried on with the Yoruba people inland. The potash industry still continues, in the hands of the Jekiris (Itsekiri) who obtained from Ilaje concessions to cut the mangrove trees. The salt trade, however, was killed when the importation of European salt increased”.
Of course, Intelligence Reports prepared by colonial officers have received judicial approval by the Supreme Court of Nigeria as ‘not only a source of local history, social, economic and political-but also materials of useful information to which reference may be made as and when necessary” ( Oju v Adejobi (1978) 11 N.S.C.C. 147 at 160.
British Colonialism and The Treaties: King Dosumu of Lagos, Olugbo of Ugbo and the Amapetu of Mahin.
At the beginning of what the historians call the scramble for Africa, according to Curwen (supra), the British in December 1884, led by Mr WAG Young, Governor and Commander in Chief of the Gold Coast Colony arrived the coast of Erunna in Her Majesty Ship Alecto and signed a Treaty with the Ilaje Ugbo kingdom. This treaty, arguably, is perhaps next in date in Nigeria, only to that signed by King Dosumu of Lagos in 1861.
In quick successions, on 29th January and 11th March 1885, the German Emperor, Dr.Natchtigal signed Treaty of Protection with the Amapetu of Mahin. However, following the declaration at the Berlin Conference of 26th February 1885, a British Protectorate was on the 5th of June 1885, proclaimed over Nigeria from Lagos to the right bank of the Rio dey Rey (bordering present day Cameroon). To give effect to the proclamation, there was the need for the British legal occupation of the Ilaje country contiguous with Lagos which already was a British colony. Thus, on the 24th October 1885 at the Mahin town of Aboto a Treaty of Friendship and Protection was signed between CW Griffiths as envoy of Queen Victoria of England and the Amapetu of Mahin Oba OGUNSEMOYIN (compare with Oba AKINSEMOYIN of Lagos). One of the highlights of this Treaty was the abolition of slave trade necessitating the hoisting of the British flag in several parts of the riverine areas of present Ondo State.
Ilaje as part of Lagos Colony 1895.
By the Act of the Legislative Council of the 12th November 1895, signed by George C Denton, Acting Governor and pursuant to Ordinance No.5 of 1890, Ilaje territory earlier described up to the estuary of the Benin River in the east and the junction of the Kokotoro and Adabrassa creeks (consequently named ‘Lagos Junction’), effectively became part of the Lagos Colony.
Ilaje was only excised from Lagos and joined with the others to create the Ondo Province in 1915 (after the amalgamation of Nigeria in 1914), forming the present Ondo and Ekiti states.
Ilaje and Lagos Politics
The aboriginal evidence of Ilaje settlement is so incontrovertible that the present Governor of Lagos state, Akinwunmi Ambode of Ilaje ancestry is, unarguably, the most indigenous of the Governors to have ever ruled Lagos. Of all the indigenous tribes of Lagos state – Awori, Ilaje, Ijebu and Egun, Ilaje is the singular most ubiquitous group found significantly in all Lagos administrative territorial divisions and spreading even to the Ogun state Awori towns of Ado-Odo where I was born and spent a great part of my childhood and still remains, over a hundred years, home to the larger part of my grandfather’s large descendants. The Ilaje for centuries are also found among indigenous Awori and Anago along the Yewa River up to Isalu, Ijako, Isagbo, Owo and Ajilete on the Lagos-Idiroko Benin Republic border.
- Ebiseni, a former Commissioner for Environment in Ondo State, is a legal practitioner