Yoruba or Benin? Oldest History Books Reveal Who Founded Lagos
The controversial debates over the founding of Lagos between the Yoruba and Benin, sparked by Oba Ewuare II’s claim, have continued unabated
A newspaper columnist, Lasisi Olagunju, examined historical records and cited authoritative history books to argue that Lagos was founded by the Yoruba
Olagunju debunked Oba Ewuare II’s claim, citing instances of historical evidence and scholars supporting the notion that Yoruba, not Benin, founded Lagos, with Benin later taking control of some areas through conquest
Lagos, Nigeria – The Nigerian media space has recently been awash with controversies over who founded Lagos between the Yoruba and the Benin.
The Oba of Benin, Oba Ewuare II, started the controversial debates after saying that Benin founded Lagos during his recent visit to Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu at the Lagos House, Marina.
“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, were founded by my ancestors,” the Benin monarch said.
Founder of Lagos: What oldest history books say
As the Oba of Benin cited history books as his reference, a foremost newspaper columnist, Lasisi Olagunju, examined the position of the oldest history books on Lagos.
Olagunju noted that the history of the Yoruba people is well-documented; hence, there is no room for the distortion of historical facts.
Having examined some authoritative history books, he established that Lagos was not founded by Benin but by the Yoruba.
The books Olagunju drew from include Iwe Itan Eko by John B. Losi (1913) with its English translation History of Lagos (1914), A History of Lagos, Nigeria: The Shaping of an African City by Takiu Folami, published in 1982 and described as “most authoritative” in its foreword by the late Oba of Lagos, Adeyinka Oyekan, and other academic writings.
Founding of Lagos: What Iwe Itan Eko said
Citing Losi’s Iwe Itan Eko, Olagunju stated that Lagos started from Isheri and “the first man that built Isheri and settled there…was a hunter, named Ogunfunminire, meaning ‘the god of iron has given me success.’ He was of the royal family of Ile-Ife…”
According to him, the first book on Benin history, Jacob Egharevba’s Ekhere vb Itan Edo (Short History of Benin), was published in 1933, twenty years after Iwe Itan Eko had been published.
“The fact of the Benin-Lagos history is that the Awori inhabited a land they called Oko under their leader, Olofin. Their Oko includes today’s Iddo and the general Lagos Island area.
“In 1603, the more powerful kingdom of Benin came on an armada of war boats, overran them (the Awori), turned their Oko to a war camp (Eko), gave them a king and started collecting tributes from them.
“War historians will describe what happened as seizure by conquest. That is a relationship that does not align with Oba of Benin’s claim of founding Lagos and of Benin being its source. You don’t wage a war against non-existent people. The fact of Lagos’s existence provoked the attack and subjugation from Benin forces.”
“Robert Smith in his The Lagos Consulate, 1851–1861 published in 1978 cites an instance in 1860 when the Oba of Benin asked Oba Dosumu to allow exiled ex-King Kosoko (to) return to Lagos. Oba Dosunmu turned down the request from the Benin palace declaring that things were ‘not as in former times when Lagos was under the King of Benin to whom annually a tribute was paid.’”
“So, how could the ancestors of the Oba of Benin have been the ones who brought into existence a settlement that they waged war against in 1603 but which received the Portuguese explorer, Rui de Sequeira, in 1472?”
Founding of Lagos: Oba of Benin’s claim historically incorrect
Insisting that Oba Ewuare II’s claims are historically incorrect, Olagunju said:
“I read G.A. Akinola’s ‘The Origin of the Eweka Dynasty of Benin: A Study in the Use and Abuse of Oral Traditions (1976)’. In April 1973, the researcher was in the palace of the Oba of Benin, Akenzua II, on an interview appointment but the Oba changed his mind when he arrived. The Oba refused to speak with the man while he ‘wondered why a Yoruba should be interested in Benin history.’
“The researcher reported that his session with the king ended ‘with the Oba and his courtiers reminiscing about how Eko (that is Lagos) belongs to Benin by right of conquest long ago.’ I see a divergence here between the position of the current Oba of Benin and that of his ancestor, Akenzua II. The ancestor claimed Lagos as a war booty; the incumbent claims Lagos as a creation of his ancestors.”
The newspaper columnist also quoted Professor Ayodeji Olukoju to back up his position.
Topnewstv.com.ng gathers that Professor Olukoju wrote in his 2017 seminal paper entitled ‘Which Lagos, Whose (Hi)story?’:
“We may conclude that Awori-Yoruba communities in Lagos, as we now know them, played host to, and absorbed, a series of newcomers.
“Among these were military invaders and settlers from Benin of Edo State; fugitives, refugees and adventurers from the hinterland Yoruba kingdoms, ranging from those displaced by nineteenth-century Yoruba inter-state wars and the Ifole in Abeokuta (October 13, 1867); retainers of chiefly families of Nupe origins; returnees and deportees from the Atlantic and West African diaspora; descendants of British colonial-era ‘Hausa’ constabulary and Royal West African Frontier Force (RWAFF) personnel; and individuals who were absorbed as retainers and guests of notable Lagos ruling families.”
The cited books indicate that Yoruba, not Benin, founded Lagos and that Benin took control of some parts of Lagos as a result of conquest.
Who founded Lagos? Lecturer disagrees with Oba of Benin
Similarly, a History lecturer at the Adekunle Ajasin University, Akungba-Akoko, Dr Paul Akanmidu, has tackled the Oba of Benin for claiming his ancestors founded Lagos. In an interview, the university lecturer said it’s a historical distortion for the Oba of Benin to claim that they founded Lagos.
“What we know in history is that Lagos was founded by the Aworis from Abeokuta. Look at the historical proximity of their place to that place; they were fishermen who were there at that time doing their fishing. I’m not disputing the fact that the Benin people must have come there because the Ilaje people also came, but people were coming from different places to tap into the benefits of that particular location,” he said. “Lagos was never founded by the Benin”: Balogun Eko Meanwhile, Topnewstv.com.ng also previously reported that the Balogun of Eko Abisoye Oyeyemi Oshodi gave his account of the history of Lagos.