Kaduna, P/H, Enugu & Lagos variously served as Nigeria’s capital; why would Lagos be a “no man’s land” when others aren’t? – History Professor Akínjídé Ọ̀ṣúntókun

March 26, 2019


This timely essay shines informed light on the place of Lagos, the old capital of Nigeria, and still its economic and commercial capital.

The recent elections have led to idle talks of the city not really belonging to Yorubas – or anyone – as traducers whose utterances have no bearing on historical facts,would want the world to believe. While Lagos politics and politicians have contributed in no small measure to the erroneous belief now peddled as facts, Professor Ọ̀ṣuntókun has meticulously delved into the history of Nigeria and its colonization, the major difference between Africa’s concept of ethnicity and the Western World’s concept, AND explained how and why Lagos HAS NEVER BEEN AND CANNOT BE “a no-man’s land”.

It is an absurd idea borne of “nationalism” in a country that is not a nation once Lagos started having commissioners from East of the Niger, a not-bad idea in a country where such would be appreciated & reciprocated. Not even during the unitary military era were indigenes of other states appointed as commissioners in Lagos. Politicians who believed they could be “nationalists” in a country that has not grown into nationhood can see the result of their perhaps well-intentioned action.

Finally, Osuntokun’s essay shows that Enugu, Port Harcourt and Kaduna, at different points during Nigeria’s colonial past, were in the same position that Lagos (after having been tried and rejected),finally was when given a final nod by the British colonizers – and found best suitable as the capital of the amalgamation of different nationalities. It was the choice that contributed to Lagos’ rapid growth and development to the mega commercial African major city it has become.

It may be needless to add here – except for the readers from many countries who check out this blog daily and who may not be Nigerians in Diaspora – that none of the peoples of the real nations where Port Harcourt, Enugu and Kaduna are located would accept their cities being labeled as “NO MAN’S LAND”! While all Nigerians find welcoming environments for living and their businesses in all Yoruba communities, it is a situation that is not reciprocated in some parts of Nigeria, one of the issues that until resolved, will continue to haunt Nigeria.



Lagos, Port Harcourt, Kaduna and Enugu: A Tale of Four Cities – Akínjídé Ọ̀ṣúntókun


There has been so much controversy on who owns Lagos in recent times between the indigenes and the  non-indigenes, between “omo Eko” (indigenes ) and “ara Eko” ( residents), that a little knowledge of the history of Lagos may remove the blinkers from our eyes.The indigenes of Lagos have a saying “Àwòrì lo l’Èkó” meaning Lagos belongs to the Awori. The Awori were the original settlers of Lagos and their settlements still exist in various Awori settlements from Iddo, Iganmu, Apapa, Isheri,  and so on up to Otta.


These Awori settlements were founded around the 12th Century during the evolution of similar political entities in Yorubaland. It was not until the 15th Century that Oba Ewuare the Great sent an expedition to the island now known as Lagos for the purpose of making it a slave port for evacuating war captives to Europe through the Portuguese, the first Europeans to make contact with the Benin Empire.


The Bini settlement or camp (Eko) was separate from the Awori villages and settlements, and there was no attempt by the Bini camp to lord it over the Aworis. Waves of people from neighboring Ijebu, Remo and Egba territories came to Lagos virtually overwhelming the Awori and the Bini camp. But since they were all of the same culture there was no acrimonious contention about indigenous rights and the rights of newcomers. The Bini group hunkered down around their settlement at Igha Idugaran (pepper farm ).The prestige of the Benin Empire made the settlement to be respected and the place grew into a kingdom replicating in a small way the royalty of Benin and its palace chiefs on the island the Portuguese named Lagos, but which the Yorubas, appropriating the Bini word for camp, called Eko.

The independence of the Awori settlements on the mainland continued to be respected throughout the colonial period and even until today. The sister Empire of Oyo also put down a toehold at Ajase which the Portuguese called Porto Novo, west of Lagos, for the same purpose of the slave trade. Benin influence  on the island of Lagos is a historical fact, but this does not mean Lagos is not part of Yorubaland. The Benin influence extended to the dynasties of such places in eastern Yorubaland like Ado, Ikere, Ita-Ogbolu, Igbara Oke and Akure. This also does not make the people from these towns Bini. The fact, for example, that the ruling monarch in England is German does not make England part of Germany.


Also the Bini inspired monarchy in places like Onitsha and the western periphery of Igboland does not remove the fact that Onitsha and kingdoms west of Onitsha are part of Igboland. Neither does the replacement of the Ogisos in Bini by an Oduduwa Dynasty make Bini part of Yorubaland.


Lugard embarked on feverish development of Kaduna using the same tax on “trade gin” banned from the North, as well as revenue from custom levies and proceeds from palm kernel, palm oil and cocoa trade. The development of Kaduna continued during the Great War at a less frenetic speed as before. The whole idea of moving the capital to Kaduna was ended by Sir Hugh Clifford, a different kind of governor from Lugard. Sir Hugh Clifford, the successor of Sir Fredrick Lugard, said he was not prepared to administer Nigeria from a “specially fabricated isolated centre in the middle of the country.” Development of Kaduna was however never quite abandoned and its effect is the well planned Kaduna city, compared with the chaos of Lagos. Hugh Clifford tried to improve Lagos by developing the so called “Ikoyi plains” in the 1920s.


Contemporaneous with the Kaduna project were two other new towns built by Nigeria. Port Harcourt was conceived by Sir Fredrick Lugard as an alternative if not an outright replacement for Lagos. Lugard felt that the Lagos Port was too shallow and that its development was constituting a drain on Nigeria’s exchequer. The principal officers in the Colonial Office in London were not persuaded about Lugard’s project, and to outwit them, Lugard named the port after the Secretary of State for the Colonies, Sir Lewis Harcourt. Sir Lewis fell for it and action for the new port began in 1913. The city around the port was well planned by British architects which accounts for the town’s sobriquet as “garden city.” Any visitor to Port Harcourt, before the deluge of people from the hinterland, would have described it as “little Lagos.”


With the outbreak of the First World War, it became difficult to get British ships to bring coal from Newcastle to Nigeria. Coal was absolutely necessary to run the railways which crisscrossed the country from Lagos to Kano and from Port Harcourt to Jos. Coal was also needed to fire the generators to light up the European Government Reserved Areas ( GRAs). It was in this circumstance that the colliery in Enugu was developed. The native Wawa people were too “primitive” to work in the mines, so people were recruited from all over the country to work in the Enugu coal mines. Enugu owes its well-planned lay out to its colonial origin.

Read the whole of this very interesting and illuminating essay through the link below:


Akinjide Osuntokun, Emeritus Professor of History, OON, is Bapìtàn of Ọyọ-Aláàfin, capital of old Yoruba Kingdom; Ọyọ is an hour’s drive North of Ibadan, the socio-cultural capital of the Yorubas.

TUESDAY, MARCH 26, 2019. 5:40 P.M. [GMT]

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