From Lady Of Means to Centre Of Excellence, light shines on Lagos At 50 Package

Prof. JP Clark (middle), guest speaker, Solomo Asemota (third from left) with Team Nigeria at Freedom Park, Lagos.

Prof. JP Clark (middle), guest speaker, Solomo Asemota (third from left) with Team Nigeria at Freedom Park, Lagos.

The strategic status of Lagos as the commercial nerve of Nigeria is not in doubt. But what many Nigerians may not know is that its pre-eminence in the geographical configuration of Nigeria predated amalgamation in 1914.

The facts, however, have begun to emerge indicating that over 102 years ago, Lagos was then, the face of what is known today as southern Nigeria.

This is the thematic focus of the 4th Colloquium of Lagos at 50 celebration held recently at the Freedom Park, Broad Street, Lagos.

With Lagos: The Original Southern Lady of Means as title, the event had elder Solomon Asemota (SAN) as guest speaker. In attendance also were the renowned poet, Prof. J.P. Clark; Afenifere chieftain, Chief Ayo Adebanjo; media patron and Chairman, Board of Trustees, Diamond Awards for Media Excellence (DAME), Moses Ihonde; Michael Orobator; the anchorman of the second Colloquium last June at Lagos Airport Hotel, Dr. Wale Adeniran among others.

From the onset of the presentation, Asemota linked the title to the “speech at a colonial service dinner in 1913 by Lord Harcourt the then Secretary of State of the colonies, (after whom Port Harcourt was named). He summarized in a humorous metaphor, the dependence of Northern Nigeria on the British Treasury for sustenance, when he said: We have released Northern Nigeria from the leading strings of the Treasury. The promising and well-conducted youth is now on allowance ‘on his own’ and is about to effect an alliance with a southern lady of means. I have issued the special license and Sir Frederick Lugard will perform the ceremony. May the union be fruitful and the couple constant! The Nigerians are not designed to be a great ‘Trust’ but a great ‘Federation’.”

Over one century after that ‘wedlock’, what Asemota did on September 17, 2016 was to examine “whether, after 102 years of this marriage, Nigeria has been ‘fruitful’, ‘constant’ and above all, a great ‘trust’ or a great ‘federation’, while challenging the audience “to decide whether the marriage has failed in any or all the aspirations enunciated by Lord Harcourt.”

He dug deep into history, narrating sequence of events of how the city evolved. “Lagos existed Nigeria before Nigeria got its name,” Asemota said, adding,  “Lagos was a Yoruba settlement, conquered by the Benin, Edo people who gave it its name ‘Eko’ before the Portuguese came and named it Lagos which means ‘Lakes’ in Portuguese.

“Lagos, in addition to being a Yoruba settlement was also a slave centre and, when slavery was outlawed, attracted mass migration in that ‘in the whole of West Africa, only the island and coastal areas of Senegal, the town of Freetown and its environs (now in Sierra Leone), the southern parts of the Gold Coast (now Ghana), the coastal areas of Abidjan in Ivory Coast and Porto Novo in Dahomey (now Benin) and the island of Lagos (in what is now Nigeria) had come under the direct rule of Europeans.’

Citing General History of Africa, Asemota noted, “The agencies and methods that the British adopted to bring the whole of modern Nigerian under their control varied, as did the initiatives and reactions on the part of the Nigerians.

“Yorubaland was won by the missionaries and the Lagos government; the Oil Rivers by the missionaries and the consuls; and Northern Nigeria by both the National African Company (from 1886 the Royal Niger Company) and the British government.

“The main weapons used by the British were diplomacy and military confrontation. Nigerian reactions therefore, varied from open military confrontation to temporary alliances and submission.

“As a result of the activities of the missionaries, British influence and trade had penetrated from Lagos, occupied in 1851, to most parts of Yorubaland and a number of anti-slave trade and trade and protection treaties had been concluded between the British and many Yoruba rulers by 1884.

“In 1886, the British administration was also able to convince Ibadan and the Ekitiparapo (comprising the Ekiti, Ijesha and Egba), who had been at war since 1879, to sign a peace treaty.”

On what led to the epithet, lady of means as part-name of Lagos, he recalled, “Lagos was the first location where political party or parties were formed, the first in Nigeria where Non-Governmental Organisations (NGO) were formed, the first where strikes took place, the first where churches, schools, colleges were established, where the first executive council in Nigeria held its meetings.

“In 1906 and in preparation for amalgamation, the colony of Lagos and Southern Nigeria were merged and named the Colony and protectorate of Southern Nigeria. Thus, Lagos became the original ‘lady of means’.”

According to Asemota, two reasons could be advanced for the marriage between the ‘well-conducted youth of the North and the Southern lady of means’.
“The well-conducted youth relied on the British Treasury for subsistence and the affection the British colonialists had for the Fulani people (the Negroids) at a time when racism was an important factor in human history.”

He explained further, “The British knew that sooner than later, the British Treasury would stop augmenting the finances of Northern Nigeria. The negro South or Southern Lady of means, on the other hand, had surplus as a result of import duties collected at Lagos Port especially import duty on liquor which grew from 3s to 3/6p per gallon in 1901 to 5/6p in 1912 and by 1913, the revenue from Gin was #138,000. The grant of British tax payers to the well-conducted Youth averaged #314,500 for 11 years ending March 1912.

“Southern Nigeria on the other hand, helped to complete Northern railways from Baro to Kano, thus the need to have one treasury for the two countries Southern and Northern Nigerias became apparent. A common railway policy was preferred to two. These were the main factors responsible for amalgamation.

To this day, the South based on arbitrary latitude remains the lady of means as an oil producing Region with Lagos as the original.”

In a moving prose that evoked rapt attention, Asemota took the audience through several stages in the evolution of Lagos as well as the characters that plotted the graph and pulled the strings. He concluded thus:

“I have tried, in this presentation, to suggest that the marriage between the ‘well-conducted youth’ and ‘southern lady of means’ was contracted in the middle of the first World War (1914) and at a time just after slavery.

“As a matter of fact, the Southern Lady of means was not consulted by the British matchmaker. She was more or less, coerced into the marriage. The matchmaker was a brilliant and an unstable person who did not believe (though a Christian) in the sanctity of marriage. Thus, the marriage that was supposed to be one man one woman later became polygamous with the division of the south into East and West in 1939.

“There was an attempt to make land the property of the matchmaker, which the lady objected to. After the marriage, the well-conducted youth took all the land and made it property of governors as trustees of the people through the Land Use Act thereby turning the lady of means to a tenant of her own inheritance.

“One is able to establish that the Southern lady of means was used and abused.

“The point being made is that colonial Project Nigeria was a British imperial betrayal, perhaps the most objectionable aspect is the situation where income from the heritage of the lady of means was handed over to the well-conducted youth as a result of the marriage.

“Between the period of 1968 and 1981, the husband (youth) took all the income representing not less than 80 per cent of Budget, and did not give the Lady of means a dime even though this money was from her inheritance.

“After several quarrels and negotiations, the well-conducted youth now accuse her of squandering 13 per cent out of the 80 per cent of her contributions.

“Her question now is, how much does the well-conducted youth himself contribute to the coffers of the budget? She wants a family meeting on the subject because each time there was such a conversation, the well-conducted youth would plant agents, proxies with questionable character as deplorables to speak for her and deny her the right to use what she has (oil) to get what she wants– peace, happiness and prosperity…”

Expectedly, the concluding remarks provoked debate and the colloquium instantly became a ‘mini national conference’ and some of the national issues believed to have stunted Nigeria’s growth over the years became the subject matter.

The Team Nigeria anchored the entertainment segment of the colloquium with the performance of a snippet of its World’s Longest Marathon Theatre Performance to the delight of the members of the audience including, Prof. J.P. Clark and the guest speaker.

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