History of Lagos

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Lagos was originally inhabited by the Awori subgroup of the Yoruba people in the 15th century. The Awori moved to an island now called Iddo and then to the larger Lagos Island. The Aworis who were predominantly fishermen and hunters, called it Oko. Because the area was dominated by the then-expansive Oyo Empire, they called it Eko, from the late 16th century to the mid-19th century. The name Eko was given to it by its first Awori traditional settlers, Oba Ado. Eko is still the native name for Lagos to date.

Lagos (Portuguese for “lakes”) was a name given to the settlement by the Portuguese. Throughout history, it was home to several warring ethnic Yoruba groups who had settled in the area. Following its early settlement by the Awori nobility, the state first came to the attention of the Portuguese in the 15th century.

Portuguese explorer Rui de Sequeira visited the area in 1472, naming the area around the city Lago de Curamo, which means Lake of Curamo.

In Britain’s early 19th century fight against the transatlantic slave trade, its West Africa Squadron or Preventative Squadron as it was also known, continued to pursue Portuguese, American, French and Cuban slave ships and to impose anti-slavery treaties with West African coastal chiefs with so much doggedness that they created a strong presence along the West African coast from Sierra Leone to the Niger Delta (today’s Nigeria) and as far south as Congo. In 1849, Britain appointed John Beecroft Consul of the Bights of Benin and Biafra, a position he held (along with his governorship of Fernando Po) until he died in 1854. John Duncan was appointed Vice Consul and was located at Wydah.

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At the time of Beecroft’s appointment, the Kingdom of Lagos (under Oba Kosoko) was in the western part of the Consulate of the Bights of Benin and Biafra and was a key slave trading port. In 1851 and with pressure from liberated slaves who now wielded political and business influence, Britain intervened in Lagos in what is now known as the Bombardment of Lagos or Capture of Lagos resulting in the installation of Oba Akitoye and the ouster of Oba Kosoko. Oba Akitoye then signed the Treaty between Great Britain and Lagos abolishing slavery. The signing of the 1852 treaty ushered in the Consular Period in Lagos’ history wherein Britain provided military protection for Lagos.

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Following threats from Kosoko and the French who were positioned at Wydah, a decision was made by Lord Palmerston (British Prime Minister) who noted in 1861, “the expediency of losing no time in assuming the formal Protectorate of Lagos”. William McCoskry, the Acting Consul in Lagos with Commander Bedingfield convened a meeting with Oba Dosunmu on 30 July 1861 aboard HMS Prometheus where Britain’s intent was explained and a response to the terms was required by August 1861. Dosunmu resisted the terms of the treaty but under the threat to unleash a bombardment on Lagos by Commander Bedingfield, Dosunmu relented and signed the Lagos Treaty of Cession on 6 August 1861.

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Lagos was declared a colony on 5 March 1862. The remainder of modern-day Nigeria was seized in 1887, and when the Colony and Protectorate of Nigeria was established in 1914, Lagos became its capital, continuing as such after the country’s independence from Britain in 1960. Along with migrants from all over Nigeria and other West African nations were the returnee ex-slaves known as Creoles, who came from Freetown, Sierra Leone, Brazil and the West Indies to Lagos.

The Creoles contributed to Lagos’ modernisation and their knowledge of Portuguese architecture can still be seen from the architecture on Lagos Island. Since the 19th century, Lagos gradually transformed into a melting pot of Africans and Europeans. Railway links and telephone cables connecting Lagos to London had been established by 1886. Electric street lighting was introduced in the city in 1898. 6Lagos experienced rapid growth throughout the 1960s and 1970s as a result of Nigeria’s economic boom.

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Before the creation of Lagos State on 27 May 1967, Lagos, which was the country’s capital had been administered directly by the Federal Government as a Federal Territory through the Federal Ministry of Lagos Affairs, while the Lagos City Council (LCC) governed the city.  Lagos, along with the towns from the then Western region (Ikeja, Agege, Mushin, Ikorodu, Epe and Badagry), were eventually captured to create Lagos State.

Lagos city was split into the present-day seven Local Government Areas (LGAs), while the other towns now make up 13 LGAs in the state. Lagos played the dual role of being the State and Federal Capital until 1976 when the state capital was moved to Ikeja. Lagos was adversely affected during Nigeria’s military rule. Also, on 12 December 1991, the seat of the Federal Government was formally relocated to Abuja. However, Lagos remains the financial center of the country and also grew to become the most populous conurbation in the country.

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