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Academics, Olota, Lagos chief tackle Oba of Benin

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A recent comment by the Oba of Benin, Oba Ewuare II, who traced the origin of Lagos to the Binis, has elicited stiff opposition from a prominent Awori monarch, the Olota of Ota, Oba Adeyemi Obalanlege; some academics and a Lagos chief, GBENGA OLONINIRAN and SODIQ OJURONGBE write

The Oba of Benin, Oba Ewuare II, has sparked controversy among Nigerians especially on social media when the king said the Binis founded Lagos.

During a visit to the Lagos State Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, on Sunday, the monarch who was aware of the potential mixed reactions that would trail his comments, went ahead to grab the bull by the horn.

Oba Ewuare 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, were founded by my ancestors. The Oba of Lagos will say so.”

Over time, there had always been controversy on the real owners of Lagos, with some even positing that “Lagos is a no man’s land.”

Information on Wikipedia accessed on Tuesday says, “All Obas of Lagos trace their lineage to Ashipa, a war captain of the Oba of Benin. Ashipa was rewarded with the title of the Oloriogun (War leader) and he received the Oba of Benin’s sanction to govern Lagos on his behalf. Some Benin accounts of history have the Ashipa as son or grandson of the Oba of Benin.”

A 2017 report by The Guardian Nigeria also disclosed that the Oba of Lagos, Oba Rilwan Akiolu, traced his origin to Benin.

The media outlet quoted a statement from Iga Idugaran, Palace of the Lagos King, Oba Akiolu as partly saying, “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.”

But the Oba of Benin’s comments on Sunday  continue to stir controversy in some quarters.

The Balogun of Eko, Abisoye Oshodi, in a viral video, faulted the claim by the Oba Ewuare II that the Binis founded Lagos.

In a video shared online on Tuesday, the Lagos chief said, “With all due respect to the Oba of Benin, Oba N’Edo Uku Akpolokpolo Ewuare II; Sir, may you live long.

“Point of correction Sir, Lagos was never founded by the Binis. I am glad that you said some parts of Lagos, not the entire Lagos. You are right, your ancestors settled on a small Island that was called Eko then, before the creation of Lagos. On this very Island, they never created it.

“The Island had been there before the arrival of your ancestors. Your ancestors only came and forcefully imposed a taxation system on transit with the traders on the land called Idu Ighoran whatever that means in Benin I do not know, but there have been other tribes on the Island before the creation of Lagos, even before the creation of Eko.

 “We have the Aworis, we have the Isheris, we have the Olofins; so many tribes have been on Lagos, or the modern Lagos now before the creation of Lagos State.”

Comedian Oluwaseyitan Aletile popularly known as Seyi Law who joined the conversation on X said, “The distortion of our history in the South-West will never cease to amaze me.”

“The same way some Itsekiri warriors settled in Epe was the same way some Benin warriors settled in Isale Eko of Lagos Island. The journey of the Binis to Lagos was a joint war of the Binis and Itsekiris against my ancestor, the King of Mahin Kingdom, Oba Alagwe.

“When the history of Lagos is written today and the Ilajes are excluded, I just laugh. The Mahis (Mahin) who have alluded to in several books are Ilajes,” his post on X via @seyilaw1 partly read on Tuesday, adding “Let those revising history continue, but some of us will resist it with time.”

Meanwhile, some academics who waded in on the matter faulted the Oba of Benin’s comments, even though they agreed the Yoruba were one with the Binis.

A lecturer of History at the Adekunle Ajasin University, Akungba-Akoko, Dr. Paul Akanmidu, said the history of Lagos could be traced more to the Awori from Abeokuta, Ogun State.

According to information on Wikipedia about the Awori tribe, the Awori is a subgroup of the Yoruba people speaking a dialect of the Yoruba language. The Awori people are the original inhabitants of Lagos and some parts of Ogun, namely Ado-Odo/Ota Local Government Area of Ogun State. The Awori people are landowners, farmers, and fishermen.

Dr Akanmidu said, “Historically speaking, you cannot get a straight-jacketed analysis of such a historical development. There is going to be a divergent opinion. If somebody stands before you and you call out people to give comments about that individual, each individual is going to give his or her perspective. It would be a historical distortion for the Oba of Benin to claim that they founded Lagos, it is not true. If you go by historical analysis of the development of the Yoruba and the relationship of the Yoruba with Benin, it was even averred that if Benin was having a problem, they had to send to the Alaafin of Oyo at that time who sent somebody to them (the Oranmiyan) to help them.”

The lecturer said Lagos was developing as a Lagoon, noting that the Abeokuta people, the Awori, “when they hear such a comment made by the Oba of Benin, it’s like you’re giving a slap to historical development.”

“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.

“For the Oba now to claim such, it is a slap on the history of the Awori people who have been known to have been there several years before those people (Binis) came. They (the Binis) may come later and contribute to other aspects of Lagos, but to say that Lagos was founded by them is a historical distortion.”

In a final analysis, Akanmidu said he agreed that the Lagosians and Benin people like the Yoruba have a serious relationship.

“The earliest people who have been there are the Aworis. If there would be anybody who would claim that place, it would be the Awori. Some people also came from Liberia and Sierra Leone when they returned from America, being initial slaves. We call them the slave returnees, that’s why you hear different kinds of names in Lagos. The history of Lagos is woven in diversity,” he added.

On his part, a Professor of Political Science at the Ekiti State University, Akinsola Agagu, noted that history could be controversial.

“History itself is controversial, it’s not an exact science. The Oba of Benin gave room to his position. Lagos is a very large expanse of land. Even as big as Lagos is today, some can still occupy some outskirts of the town, and in the next 10 years when it grows, they can still lay claim that they founded it. So that’s what I think is the problem with the position of the Oba. Since Lagos has been a cosmopolitan place, it is easy for people to claim to have been the founders. The Binis; this is not the first time they would lay claim to such, they have at one time or the other, either this Oba or his predecessor, claimed they also founded Ile-Ife.

‘They have always been generating controversy about their relationship with some of these Yoruba towns and for him to have said this, one would say it is not the first time they would make such a claim. But as many people would say, it is far from being the truth. They can occupy a small portion, but to say they have founded Lagos, that limits their knowledge of history or of how places are founded,’’ the don said.

 Prof. Agagu noted that “Lagos is a home of the economy. It’s a place that has a pull effect, it has pulled so many people down there, and eventually, everybody has become a Lagosian. It is also possible for these people (the true inhabitants) to be swallowed up. It has been a place that pulls because of the potential to pull wealth.

“Everything has melted and everybody has become a Lagosian. And this has absorbed even the original inhabitants.”

Speaking on the connection between the Benin people and the Lagosians, he said, “For the core Yoruba people, they have always believed that they are one and that the Oba of Benin happens to be one of the children of Oduduwa (believed to be a Yoruba divine king and legendary founder of the Ife Empire).

“Even though in an attempt to contend that, they have not claimed that there is no relationship, that shows affinity. The second one is that the Western region, then, extended to Edo, and even Delta. So they had been together. We didn’t see ourselves as two different people, not until the Mid-Western region. They have been one people. The free education policy that the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo started was enjoyed from Oyo to Ogun to Delta.

The Olota of Ota, Oba Adeyemi Obalanlege, argued that the Benin monarch was being economical with the truth as regards the history of Lagos.

While describing the Oba of Benin as an attention seeker, Olota maintained that all historical records had proven that Lagos belonged to the Awori people.

Speaking exclusively with The PUNCH, Obalanlege, who is also the chairman of Awori Obas in Ogun State, insisted that the claim by the Benin monarch was untrue and unfounded.

He said, “When something is beautiful, a lot of people will want to lay claim to it. But Oba of Benin was being economical with the truth. He is only an attention seeker.

“We have discussed this several times, and as Awori people, we have made our point.

“Just go anywhere, even these Europeans that wrote so many books, wrote that the Awori are the ones that deflowered Lagos having lived in the state for quite a long time even before the coming of the Portuguese.

“It was the Benin people that came later and they only occupied a very small space in Lagos.

“So, we are still their landlords. They can lay claim to whatever, but to be truthful, the Oba of Benin was only being economical with the truth.

“This is my position as the chairman of Awori Oba in Ogun State and you know that Awori started from Ogun State. The movement of the Awori started from Ota here in Ogun State.”

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