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ThrowBack Thursday: When Oba Eshugbayi Fought Colonial Masters To Defend His Subjects

Though the British did not witness any other violent resistance from Lagos after the British forces bombardment in 1851. Oba Eshugbayi Eleko, however, constituted one of the fiercest resistance to the effective running of Lagos and the whole of Nigeria by the colonialists.

Oba Eshugbayi, born in the 19th Century to Oba Dosumu who ceded a part of Lagos’ land to the invading Britons, reigned as Oba of Lagos from 1901 to 1925 and from 1931 to 1932. In the constitution of his being a clog in the wheel of British colonialist rule, he had particular help from other major British oppositional forces such as Herbert Macaulay, Alimotu Pelewura and other early activists in constituting a pain to the British crown.


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A major part of the struggle between Oba Eshugbayi Eleko and the colonial government started in 1908 when the government proposed that the cost of the public pipe-borne water scheme which was estimated at about ₤130,000 would be borne by residents of Lagos. The colonial government merely gave the excuse that the project was for the benefit of the resident’s health. Clearly, as the people could not bear this heavy cost, it naturally behoves the Oba – who is the traditional head of the city – and other progressive elite/activists to speak on behalf of the largely voiceless population. Eshugbayi Eleko, therefore, began a string of objections centring on the fact that his Council and the general populace had not been informed earlier about the scheme. The popular response from the townsfolk was that if the Europeans wanted pipe-borne water they should pay for it themselves and also stating that Lagosians are still okay with their old well water.

Another time which the Eshugbayi troubles with the colonial government manifested was in 1919 when the Oba approved the appointment of four Muslims clerics and chiefs to bear the titles of Bashorun, Balogun, Seriki Musillimi and Bey. Scratching on the surface of the already building tension between the palace and the colonial government, the British crown surmised that the Oba had overstepped his bounds and powers once more. They argued that the appointment should just have been a religious affair which the government should have sanctioned to go ahead.

Of course, if the colonial government is being distracted at the capital city, it would greatly affect how other old provinces and protectorates in the newly formed Nigeria is administered. All of these antics infuriated and unsettled the British and the colonial government. In retaliation of the scuttled pipe-borne water scheme which riots instigated by the Oba and a few other elite leaders within the city, the colonial government decided it has had enough. The government subsequently withdrew Oba Eshugbayi’s recognition and also suspended the stipend which he enjoys from the government. However, rather than all of the government’s antagonism towards Eshugbayi silencing him, it instead increased his popularity with the people of Lagos. More and more Lagosians became politically aware and ready to halt the colonial government from blossoming.


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This vivid example of a king’s fight to defend his people is a rare trait seen in traditional circles even lately. Partly due to the suppression of traditional institutions, offices and titles by westernization, many kings are now just a little lesser than toothless dogs who can only bark but cannot bite.

As history and particularly colonial government records show, it is safe to say that Oba Eshugbayi of Lagos stood up to defend his people even when it was the least convenient thing for him to do. 

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Macaddy Gad

Macaddy is mostly a farmer in the day who also dabbles into technology at night, in search of other cutting edge intersections. He's on Twitter @i_fix_you

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