The Wealth Of Lagos And Pre-colonial Obas Were Built On Slavery |RN

by Demiji Ajibogunsoro

Yoruba-King                                 Lagos Monarch: Oba Akintoye:

The wealth of Lagos and its pre-colonial Obas was built on slavery. It rose to a commerce city in the 1700’s and positioned itself to benefit from the fall of Oyo empire in the early 1800’s and invasion of many Yoruba kingdoms for two sides, one from Ilorin by the Mohammedans (many of them ambitious Yoruba migrants under the new confederate kingdom of Ilorin) and from King Gezo of Dahomey who invaded from the west into Yoruba kingdoms( Sarah Forbes Bonita, an Egba princess and future wife of John Davies was captured as a slave when Dahomean armies raided Oke Adan in present day Ogun State) which led to the first mass enslavement of Yoruba people across the Atlantic.

Oba Akinsemoyin (1760 to 1775).
He was the fifth monarch of Lagos (counting from Ogunfunminire) and slave trade pioneer. He grew up in Badagry and was exposed to the profitable trade by the ports west of Lagos. After the death of his brother, he was invited to take the throne of Lagos. He brought with him Portuguese slave merchants and built the first slave port off the coast of Lagos. One of his Portuguese friends who opened the first trade ports was Joao de Oliveira. From then up until 1861 when the slave trade was abolished, Lagos remained a hub for slave trade and source of wealth for the majority of the blue blood of Lagos. Another important Irish trader to cash in on Lagos slave trade at the time was Richmond Brew, a notorious trader with controlling interest in slave trade on the West African ports. Akinsemoyin gave the Portuguese traders land at Isale Eko called ‘Portugese Town’ at the time. The Portuguese, in return for the special privileges from trade alliance, rebuilt his palace at Iga Idungaran with roofs of clay tiles and iron, (quite different from other palaces roofed with leaves. After the Portuguese, came the French and the British with their slave vessels.

Oba Osinlokun (the 1820’s)
Osinlokun was the father of another notorious future oba ( Kososko). He was introduced to the trade at a young age by his father ( Ologun Kuture ). He set up and prospered in the slave trading business so much that when his father died, he was reluctant to take the throne due to the conflict of interest that might arise with him being saddled with affairs of state at the expense of his thriving slave business. He stepped down for his younger brother (Oba Adele). As Oba, Adele also traded in slave and expanded the business to a near monopoly status using his powers as a monarch, so much that it threatened Osinlokun’s stake in the business. He planned a coup against his brother and drove him from the throne to protect his business interest in slave trading. Adele escaped into exile at Badagry and expanded his own slave trade from there, having as a partner, one of the most notorious Portuguese traders of the time called ‘Francisco Felix De Souza’. Osunlokun reigned at the time of the Mohammedan invasion of Oyo from Ilorin, providing a fresh source of slaves in large numbers. He placed a tax on all ships loading slaves from Lagos Ports and made a fortune from the large supply at the time. Both Samuel Ajayi Crowther and Joseph Wright were shipped into slavery at the Lagos ports but were lucky to have the ships intercepted, ensuring their freedom and migration to Sierra Leone. Osinlokun’s daughter ( and Kosoko’s sibling), princess Opo Olu bought many of the slaves for personal use and farm hands. She was said to have over 1,000 slaves.

Oba Akintoye. (1841 – 1845: 1851 – 1853)
Akintoye was also a part of the institution and had a thriving slave trading business. One very prominent Portuguese who made his fortune as a slave trade business associate of Akintoye was Domingo Fernadez Martinez. They would later grow to be lifelong friends. In the 50’s when some of the power-brokers including Akinpelu and Ajeniya who turned against him in favour of the ousted monarch stocked weapons at Ebute Metta and sent secret letters to Kosoko in preparation for another coup, he sent for help from Egba warriors and Domingo.

Oba Kosoko (1845 – 1851)
Kosokos was the son of Osinlokun, and like his ancestors was both a slave trader and an ambitious prince. Not only did he thrive in the slave business, he trusted slaves more than free men in all his campaigns and reign as a king, elevating them sometimes to positions of the title. As monarch, he took power from the prominent chiefs and appointed slaves who managed his trading business as chiefs in a clever attempt to consolidate power and absolute loyalty for himself. One of such privileged slaves was Oshodi Tapa. A warrior and shrewd businessman who grew up as a privileged slave boy in the household of Osinlokun. He showed promise from a young age and prospects of loyalty to the house of Osinlokun, so much that he was trusted with the welfare of the King’s wives. A strange paradox though, was that even though he himself was once a slave who managed to wiggle his way into class, even to a point where an Abagbon title was granted to him, he was totally unsympathetic to the institution and even traded in slaves after his return from Brazil on slave trading business. He was also a powerful war chief in Kosoko’s army. He played an active role in the coup that brought Kosoko to power in the coup against Akintoye and played a central role in the defence of the palace against British naval force determined to oust Kosoko and return Akintoye to power. he fled with him back to exile in Epe and was a part of the negotiation between the British and Kosoko for compensation in exchange for a promise by Kosoko never to invade Lagos again. Another war chief in his inner circle was a wealthy man called Dada Antonio. The Rift between Kosoko and the British was his defiance against the thriving slave trade business.

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