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Nigerians In History: Efunroye Tinubu


Madam Efunroye Tinubu cited to have been born in 1810 was named Efunporoye Osuntinubu at birth. She was a politically significant figure in Nigerian history because of her role as a powerful female aristocrat and slave trader in pre-colonial and colonial Nigeria. She was a major figure in Lagos during the reigns of Obas Adele, Oluwole, Akitoye, and Dosunmu.

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Life And Career:

Early life

Efunroye was born in the Ojokodo forest area of Egbaland. Her father’s name was Olumosa. She is described to be of Owu ancestry, either maternally or paternally. Madam Tinubu was reportedly married multiple times. Her first marriage was to an Owu man. It bore two sons. After her Owu husband died, she remarried the exiled Oba Adele Ajosun in 1833 who, while visiting Abeokuta, was charmed by Tinubu. She moved with the exiled Oba to Badagry, which was traditionally the place of refuge for Lagos monarchs. At Badagry, she exploited Adele’s connections to build a formidable business trading in tobacco, salt, and slaves.


The exiled Oba Adele was still in Badagry when his successor, Oba Idewu, died. Prince Kosoko, Oba Idewu Ojulari’s brother, was a major contender for the now vacant throne. Eletu Odibo, the chief kingmaker, thwarted Kosoko’s aspiration and Adele was invited by him to become Oba again. Tinubu accompanied Adele to Lagos, but the Oba died 2 years later. After Adele’s death in 1837, Tinubu reportedly supported Oluwole (her stepson) in his bid for the Obaship of Lagos over that of Kosoko’s.

Oba Oluwole had recurring conflicts with Kosoko, who felt that he was the true heir to the throne. Consequently, Kosoko was banished to Ouidah. During Oluwole’s reign, Madam Tinubu remarried one Yesufu Bada, alias Obadina, who was Oluwole’s war captain and with the support of Oluwole, Tinubu and Yesufu’s trading activities in Egbaland grew.

When Oluwole died in 1841, Tinubu supported Akitoye (her brother in law) in his bid for the Obaship over Kosoko’s. After Akitoye emerged Oba, he granted Tinubu favourable commercial concessions. Against the wish of his chiefs, Akitoye invited Kosoko back to Lagos and tried to placate him. Soon thereafter, Kosoko dislodged Akitoye from the throne. Considering Tinubu’s alliance with Akitoye, she and other Akitoye supporters fled to Badagry when Kosoko became Oba in 1845. As a wealthy woman, Madam Tinubu was able to influence economic and political decisions during her time in Badagry. She tried to rally Akitoye’s supporters to wage war against Kosoko.

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In December 1851 and under the pretext of abolishing slavery, the British bombarded Lagos, dislodged Kosoko from the throne, and installed a more amenable Akitoye as Oba of Lagos. Though Akitoye signed a treaty with Britain outlawing the slave trade, Tinubu subverted the 1852 treaty and secretly traded slaves for guns with Brazilians and Portuguese traders. Further, she obtained a tract of land from Akitoye which now constitutes part of the present-day Tinubu Square and Kakawa Street.

Later, a conflict developed between Tinubu and some slave traders including Possu, a Kosoko loyalist. Consequently, Possu, Ajenia, and other traders tried to instigate an uprising against Akitoye because of Madam Tinubu’s influence in Lagos. In the interest of peace, Benjamin Campbell, the British Consul in Lagos, asked Akitoye to exile Tinubu. After Akitoye died, Tinubu returned to Lagos and gave her support to his successor, Dosunmu.

Under Dosunmu’s reign, Tinubu had a massive security force composed of slaves and she sometimes executed orders usually given by the king. As a result, Dosunmu grew wary of her influence in Lagos. A new development was the colonial government’s support for the return of repatriated captives (mostly of Yoruba heritage) to settle in Lagos. Many of the returnees, also called Saro, were favoured by the British in commerce and soon began dominating legitimate trade in Lagos.

In 1855, when Campbell travelled to England, Tinubu tried to influence Dosunmu to limit the influence of the returnees. Dosunmu was noncommittal to her request and consequently, Tinubu was alleged to have played a part in an uprising against the returnees in which her husband, Yesufu Bada, was a major participant. When Campbell returned in 1856, he asked Dosunmu to banish Tinubu. In May 1856, Tinubu was banished to Abeokuta.


In Abeokuta, Madam Tinubu traded in arms and supplied Abeokuta with munitions in the war against Dahomey. Her activities in the war earned her the chieftaincy title of the Iyalode of Egbaland. While in Abeokuta, she allegedly opposed colonial policies in Lagos. In 1865, a fire engulfed the shops of some traders including some of her properties in Abeokuta. This didn’t appear to have weakened her financially. Tinubu became involved in Abeokuta king-making activities as well, supporting Prince Oyekan over Ademola for the Alake of Egbaland’s title in 1879

Death and legacy

Tinubu died in 1887. Tinubu Square on Lagos Island, a place previously known as Independence Square, is named after her. Ita Tinubu (Tinubu’s precinct or Tinubu Square) had long been known by that name before the country’s independence, but it was renamed Independence Square by the leaders of the First Republic.

She was buried at Ojokodo Quarters in Abeokuta.



Featured Image Source: Wikipedia

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Jeremiah Aluwong

Jeremiah is a scholar and a poet. He has a keen eye for studying the world and is passionate about people. He tweets at @jeremiahaluwong.

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  1. Pingback: Nigerians In History: Omu Okwei • Connect Nigeria

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