TAJUDEEN OLUSI:Lagos favours strangers more than indigenes (True or False)

Prominent Lagos prince and the Chairman of the Elders’ Forum of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) in the state, Alhaji Tajudeen Olusi, has said there is no such thing as Awori people in Lagos State while insisting that the place called Lagos today was a part of the old Bini Kingdom, contrary to claims in some quarters.

In this no holds barred exclusive encounter with Dare Odufowokan, Assistant Editor, Olusi, whose father was the late Oba Sanusi Matiku Olusi of Lagos, also lamented that Lagos State is being cheated by the federal government. He calls for some form of assistance for the state to enable it take care of other Nigerians living in the state. He also spoke on the factors that stopped Governor Akinwunmi Ambode’s re-election bid.

Excerpts.

WE just concluded elections across the country. Here in Lagos, one issue that was much debated during the polls is the opinion by some people that Lagos is a ‘no-man’s-land’. Now that the election is over and we can talk outside the competition of politics, what is your candid opinion about this issue?

First, let me tell you that conflict is part and parcel of democracy just as intrigues are integral parts of politics. To now say because elections are over, there is no competition again is wrong. It is not only elections that bring competition in politics. Many other issues too do. And once we conclude the process of one election, the process of the next one that may even still be a couple of years away, starts immediately. So, competition is continuous in politics.

Back to the real meat of your question, sometimes we all know the truth and for obvious reasons, we choose to uphold and promote that which is not the truth. A scholar said ‘dead is the man who has not said to himself; this is my home, this is my origin.’ Everybody must have a place he or she is attached to. So also, every place must have people who are attached to it.

Take the Nigerian federation for example, it is a British creation. But before the British came here, the Portuguese have been here. It is on record that in the 15th century, the Portuguese visited Lagos and interacted with its people. They liked the city so much that they named the area ‘Lagos du Kuramo,’ meaning a place of many Rivers. They even established a formal friendship with King Akinsemoyin.

They helped to build a palace called ‘Iga Opo Ide’. They imported the brass fittings used in building the palace from their home country, Portugal. These structures are still standing on the Island till today. They also brought canon guns into Lagos as gifts for the King, their friend. The relics of some of these things still abound as artefacts in Lagos and other parts of the country today.

Four Kings of Lagos sent Ambassadors to Portugal according to history. One of such Ambassadors was from the Seteolu Gomez family of Lagos and they still talk about that till today as a thing of pride. Also, Lagosians like Oshodi Tapa, Dada Anthonio and others, as young men, were sent to Portugal by a Lagos King to be trained in German and other languages back then. They returned to serve as interpreters of the King and others in trade with the white men.

It is also recorded that King Dosumu of Lagos signed a treaty with Queen Victoria of Britain and that was the beginning of Britain’s incursion into West Africa. Lagos became a colony of Britain and a survey of the city was carried out by Britain. At the time all these were happening, there was no country called Nigeria. In 1604, a German surgeon travelling all over the world visited Lagos and wrote about the city and its people.

In his account, he recalled that he visited a place called Lagos, which is a part of the Kingdom of Bini. He said he found people there and recalled that at a place, the people were ‘holding court.’ It means there were people and there was law and order under a recognized leadership which at the time was the Oba’s palace. That was where he saw people holding court. Was there a Nigeria at that time? So, Lagos existed long before we had Nigeria coming to be.

People have their own histories and tradition. Even Britain, we hear of the Anglos, the Saxons; then the English who claim the place today. But they will tell you England is for the English, not the whole of Europe. It is in the same vein that people must know that Lagos is our own home as people with over 600 years of ancestral claims to the place.

But in spite of all these historical claims and records, why is it difficult for some people to come to term with the nativity of Lagos as being explained by you?

Lagos is blessed. And the blessings of Lagos lies in its history and tradition dating all the way back to its very foundation according to the stories passed down to us by our ancestors. When they were about to found the city, our ancestors asked the divinity about the future of their new home and they were told in clear terms that the new city will attract people from all over the world and will flourish really well.

They were also told that strangers who will flock to the city will flourish more than the indigenes. They will succeed more. Alarmed, our fathers asked that what will now be the gains of the indigenes. They were told that the strangers must always respect the indigenes in spite of the success they will reap in the city; otherwise, they will leave the city the way they came without taking with them the fruits of their sweat.

The then Oba was asked to make sacrifices at the beach of the ocean with heaps of fruits; bananas, oranges, grapes, pineapples, name it, all sort of oranges were to be heaped on the beach and left there. It was these fruits that later attracted the Portuguese who were sailing across the ocean in their ships. When they saw the beach full of fruits, they sought to know more about the people of the area.

This bit of our history is contained in our traditional praise-songs but our elders do not like to recite it up to that point again. “Eko Akete, ile ogbo; aromisa legbelegbe; ilu to gbe alejo ju onile lo.’ Our people don’t like repeating this part of the praise songs again though. But it is important to say this so that you will understand why we have some things as they are today in Lagos. It also explains why Lagosians are so accommodating and peaceful with strangers.

However, with such an history attached to the city and a line of rulers from Oba Ado though many others till today; with chieftaincy houses, settlements, rules and regulations, our accommodating nature notwithstanding, it is wrong for anybody to say Lagos does not belong to us. Anybody can claim Lagos and I doubt if anybody will challenge that, but we must respect the real indigenes of Lagos. It is important.

I can even tell you that Islam has been in Lagos long before Uthman Dan Fodio introduced it in Sokoto. All these established who the indigenous people of Lagos are. Though they have rights to live in Lagos and even claim anything they like, other Nigerians have no choice than to respect the owners of Lagos and accept the fact that Lagos is the home of some people.

Somebody asked me that who is a Lagosian, and I replied that ‘anybody who takes Lagos as home is a Lagosian. But the difference between us and them is that one day that other Nigerian will announce that he is retiring to his other home in Osogbo, Ilorin, Kaduna or Enugu. And we have no other such place to go to because this is our origin and the only home we have.

So, it is okay for people to want a part of Lagos as their own in addition to the wealth, position and money they’ve made living in Lagos but like the oracle warned years back, they must respect the indigenes and accord them all the regards due to people who peacefully accommodated them in the city without rancour. All these ‘no man’s land’ issues are unnecessary.

Take the British Empire for example and the British Commonwealth. It is made up of several countries and peoples, including blacks. But we all know the British is at the head of it all while we are all partakers of the Empire and later Commonwealth. Does that take away the rights of the British as the owners of Britain? Like I said, we know the truth.

Does the Obaship (Kingship) system today in Lagos support your claims?

Numerous Obas of Lagos from Bini are recorded in history. I’ve seen the records of Isolo, Idimu, and it stated clearly that they came to Lagos with the Oba of Bini. And that Eletu is the chief overseer of those areas. Ejigbo too. We have Ojon of Lagos and we have Ojon of Ejigbo. At a time the Ojon of Lagos was the same as Ojon of Ejigbo. They have the same ancestors from Bini.  Sule Agoro, the then Ojon of Lagos, went to the House of Chiefs as Ojon of Ejigbo at a time.

A Bini King, according to records, lived at Iga Iduganran here in Lagos for a long time and didn’t go back until he was threatened that his son would be made King back home if he fails to return. When Oba Akenzua died, Oba Erediuwa who succeeded him sent a delegation to Lagos as required by tradition. I was invited by our late Oba to be part of those that received the delegation. The current Oba Akiolu was also there with us that day. That is to show you the link between Lagos and Bini kingdom. Lagos was a part of the Bini kingdom in those days.

Movement from the hinterland to Lagos will also explain some of the issues being raised as regards the real indigenes of Lagos as well as how we all got to be here and when. The Yoruba history is full of migrations occasioned by wars, famine, drought, power tussle etc. Take Oyo for example; the present location of the town should be about the sixth or seventh location historically. We had Oyo Ile, Oyo Ajaka, etc before the current location.

So, we must understand how pole moved to Lagos. Some people came in through Eti-Osa in the east. They are largely the people from Benin who probably passed through Ondo – Ijebu Waterside – Epe – Sangotedo – Idumagbo etc on their ways to Lagos, gathering people and culture as they come. It is called the Atijeere route and it is still being used till today by those dealing in charcoal and Ogogoro. Go to Idumagbo and check this fact.

Thus, the Bini settlements started from Idumagbo and that is why you find the homesteads of the Oloroguns in Idumagbo. Six Oloroguns came from Bini with Ado and their compounds and descendants are still very much there at Idumagbo till tomorrow. Their chieftaincies came with Ebe, the brass insignia also used in Bini by the Oba. We call it Abere here in Lagos.

The Eletus too are from Bini and they are still very recognized as such till date. It is now not possible to say these people, with obvious and traceable roots to Bini, are Aworis. That is not possible. The royalty in Lagos was established by people from Benin. Early writers made a lot of mistakes that are now contributing to the confusion being created in our history.

One of such is Rev. Lucas who wrote that Adamu Orisa, (Eyo Masquerade) is from Sudan. This is wrong and unacceptable. Major Lagos chieftaincies and families are from Bini. They are not Aworis or Ijebus. We must work hard to preserve history by ensuring that whatever we want to put into writing are well verified and remains verifiable.

So, how about claims that Aworis are the aborigines of Lagos?

I want to tell you that there are no Aworis in Yorubaland. We don’t have a tribe called Awori at all. These are just other people who came to Lagos through another route from the hinterland, like Ile-Ife. Awori is just a description of how they got to where they settled. They left Ile Ife over a dispute and consulted the oracle as was the practice of our forefathers whenever they are migrating.
They were told to put a plate (awo) on the river and follow it until it sinks. They were advices to settle anywhere the plate sinks. ‘Ibi awo ri’.

That is how they came about the term Awori, not that Awori is a tribe in Yorubaland, not to talk of being a tribe in Lagos. It was at Isheri the plate sank and that was where they settled. That is the story of how they migrated from Ife into Lagos.

People talk about people in settlements like Epetedo. These are who returned from Epe. But how did they go to Epe in the first place and from where? They had left Lagos with a Lagos Prince and later retuned back to settle at the place now known as Epetedo. But they were in Lagos before the crisis that led to their migration to Epe and return later.

Take even Isheri where the people from Ife settled, it was actually a location established by the Binis. It was called Ibi ise Erin (place where Elephant tusk was being sourced and processed). It was not uninhabited when they got there. The Binis of Lagos were there doing business. The Ife group joined them and the place flourished as a trade centre and expanded into areas like today’s Ikeja.

Check the people of Isolo. They are not Aworis. Their orikis will show you where they are from. The late Sikiru Ayinde Barrister in an album, praised Osolo Farounbi as ‘Omo Onikoyi.’ Onikoyi is from where? Oyo. So they are Lagos people from Oyo. Ikeja people are hailed as ‘Omo Onife Abure,’ showing they are from Ife. Professor Fagbohun’s father, who became a monarch in Akesan, was asked where he is from and he didn’t say he is Awori. He said Akesan is in Oyo and so, he is from Oyo.

What is the story behind how Lagos State was created by General Yakubu Gowon?

Before the coming of Gen. Gowon, some Lagosians have been agitating for the creation of a state for Lagos. One of such person was Prince Adelumola Ibikunle Akintoye, the son of Oba Ibikunle Akintoye, who reigned between 1925 and 1928 as Oba of Lagos. The Prince was a political ally of Nnamdi Azikiwe of the NCNC before they fell apart.

At that time, Lagos enjoyed the status of a City independent from the Western Region. It was seen as a federal territory with its own administrative organs. I was a councillor in the city council in 1962. That was the situation until the military struck in 1966 and Gowon emerged Head of State. Prince Adelumola and a lawyer, they were living in Aba then. They worked with the Lagos State Movement. These were the first set of people to agitate for state creation in Lagos.

Others followed after them. There was the Lagos Aborigine Society, Egbe Omo Eko, Lagos Citizens Protection group or something like that led by Senator Adebayo Doherty back then. I was also involved at a point with the likes of Femi Okunu and even Alhaji Lateef Jakande. So when Gowon came, the agitation grew and became a popular movement.

I will recall that when Alhaji Jakande was in prison, we have been talking about state creation for Lagos. Ganiu Dawodu and I were his errand boys then and we used to help him get documents and materials while he was developing a write up in defence of the agitation. It was in prison that he wrote ‘The Case for a Lagos State’. He used many documents and he acknowledged our roles in the publication of it.

And as members of the defunct Action Group led by Chief Obafemi Awolowo, we went further by discussing the issue with Baba. He asked us to convince him that a Lagos State, if created, will be viable. We collected records of the revenue of the Western Region and showed him that Lagos contributes 37% of the total. And he said, with 37%, Lagos can stand on its own.

So, when Brigadier-General Mobolaji Johnson as governor set up a conference of the people of Lagos to discuss the issue of creating a state, people were nominated. Okunnu was nominated by Johnson into the committee, Jakande was there and so were many other people. Sincerely, I cannot recall how it came about, but Dawodu and I were there too. We attended the conference and participated in the discourse. Maybe assistants were nominated for members and we attended as Jakande’s assistants, I can’t really say now.

My late egbon, Senator Sikiru Shitta-Bey, was another prominent player in the issue of state creation. He wrote a paper on the need for a state to be created for Lagos. He worked alongside others to push the need for Lagos State. Many other people were part of the agitation as well as the many processes that eventually led to the creation of Lagos State by the Gen. Gowon administration.

The ongoing agitation for special status for Lagos, do you think it is realizable?

I’ve said it publicly many times that I don’t think what Lagos needs should be termed Special Status. I think it should be assistance for other Nigerians living in Lagos. It is important that we draw these clarifications as we agitate. Lagosians need no special status or assistance to survive in Lagos but for the pressure being put on the state by other Nigerians flocking to the state everyday from the nooks and crannies of the country.

If we say special status, it can be misinterpreted to mean help meant to help Lagosians or some rights or authority over and above other states of the country. These can cause enmity or bad blood. What Senator Remi Tinubu is agitating for is quite right and necessary but we must put it in clear perspective to avoid misinterpretation of any kind.

Lagos is the state where people live, do business and visit the most in Nigeria. So, we are daily battling problems caused by the population and other related issues. I live in Sangotedo and I am thinking of relocating because it is overpopulated. And this is a place where the population of other Nigerians stand at above 70%. Federal Government should make special provision for these people thronging into Lagos.  This is the argument of Senator Tinubu and it is logical.

I strongly believe that it is realizable and it will be realized one day if we make more effort to explain it properly to people involved. We must explain that we are not seeking help or authority of any sort for Lagosians but for other Nigerians living in Lagos. Whatever is given to Lagos under the arrangement will benefit everybody, majority of which are other Nigerians living in Lagos. The funds can even be attached to specific projects or causes if need be.

Beyond all these too, I think Lagos is being cheated in the current arrangement. When I was a Councillor, the federal government was paying N1m to the Lagos Town Council in lieu of rent on its properties in Lagos. That was a lot of money at that time, 1962. But the military came and cancelled that arrangement and up till today, nothing is being given to Lagos in that regard. It is cheating.

Questions are still being asked about how Governor Akinwunmi Ambode lost the chance to seek re-election. As a leader of the APC in Lagos, can you shed some light on this?

This is part of the unnecessary poke-nosing into things that shouldn’t concern some people. Those who should know already know what happened. Chieftains and members of our party understand and appreciate what happened. So those poke-nosing should relax and mind their businesses. The election has come and gone and we have Babajide Sanwo-Olu as our next governor.

The system, not anybody, or any group, stopped Ambode from seeking re-election on the platform of APC. He is a governor and he is doing his best. But it is the system that says every four years, we will examine you to see whether you can continue or not. It is this provision by the system that encouraged others to vie for the same position. If he had a straight six-year term or eight-year term, nobody will think about stopping him.

It is not easy to remove a seating governor. Such has been tried before and those people were lucky to survive. Maybe Ambode wasn’t lucky enough. The system allowed others to flex their muscles and Ambode was stopped from being re-elected. That should not be blamed on anybody or group. It is simply democracy in action. It is the dictate of the system as provided for by our laws.

Then, I will say Ambode made a mistake of overweighing his achievements. He thought doing a lot in the area of infrastructure and all that is enough achievements to ensure that he gets a second term. But the people said no. His desire for achievements was placed above human development and interests. The two must always be managed parri-passu.

In every consideration, human interest is most paramount. The interest of the common man, the workers, the artisans, the party members, the traders, the labourers etc are more important than any other thing in governance.

That is the mistake Ambode made. He concentrated on building infrastructure but he didn’t build human beings. If he did, he would have been lucky no matter the threat against his re-election.

Alhaji Tajudeen Olusi.





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