Origins of Lagos: From Johnson To Marwa: 30 Years Of Governance In Lagos State

Like all prominent metropolitan orbits which heave with the summative plurality and diverse riches of great societies, Lagos is a representative tableau of the Nigerian portrait.


It bears its dreams, its hopes, and despair. It stirs with the cadence of the possibilities of the Nigerian Union. It is signposted in the flourishes of industry, in the mercurial metaphors of power, in the ceaseless creative profundity of the Yoruba people, the ancestral indigenes.

Lagos is a restless place. It is defined in perpetual motion, articulated in endless search for fulfilment, pronounced in the crucibles of discovery, engaged in constant waves of daring, of adventure, unceasingly arbitrating the rhythm of the national pace. 

Though it covers 1,381 square miles of territorial land mass, Lagos has the most dominant population density in the whole of West Africa. A 1997 census figure puts its population at 7.3 million. It is an attractive melting pot, a dream factory which harbours 70 percent of the Nigerian industries, invariably prompting an eternal flow of dream-seekers, men and women from all corners of the world, pursuing various destinies.

Some are callow youths, launched on life’s virginal path. And some are old, challenged hordes, seeking renewal of a blighted beginning. Here, everyone reaches for the redeeming cornucopia.

But it is not always a successful story. Dreams are often shattered in the stern collision with the cudgel of reality. Hopes are dashed in the arbitrary fury of fate. But many keep coming, undissuaded by the failings of others. And now and then, in the grim perseverance of industry, in the unyielding resolve of hard work, and in the complementary content of mother-luck, some do achieve transformative nirvana. 


The clerk becomes a tycoon. The barefooted pupil attains the apogee of scholarship and 
authoritative relevance. Such is Lagos, the heritage of the Ekos and the Aworis, an important  constituent of the Yoruba nation, who sprung
from the progenitorial loins of Ogunfunminire, a scion of Oduduwa, that rallying ancestral fount of the Yoruba people. It was Ogunfunminire (the god of iron has given mesuccess) the prince from Ile-Ife who founded the first Yoruba settlement at Isheri-Mọle on the shores of Ogun river in 1450. 

The settlements later grew and spread into Ọtọ,   Ido and Ebute-Metta.Eventually Ogunfunminire’s children ferried across the Lagoon to Lagos Island in protective refuge from the fratricidal war which riven the Yoruba nation in the 16th century.  Here they settled at Isale-Eko, Ọffin,   Olowogbowo, Alakoro, Enu-Owa, Isalẹgangan, Ebute-Ero and Ehin-Gbẹti. Here they met a settlement already established by the aboriginal Ekos. 

A hunter of legendary prowess, Ogunfunminire welded his people together in firm paternalistic craftiness, ensured the peace of the widening community through monarchical equity, personal bravery and a quick discernment of impartial arbitrational temper. According to oral history, Ogunfunminire was given the title of Olofin Awogunjoye in a cultural sanctification of his ancestral distinction.A man of supernatural giantism, it was said of him that he complemented his warrior’s armour with an herbal pot filled with transformative enchantment.

This often transformed him into a boa-constrictor whenever he prowled the depths of the ancestral forest on hunting expeditions. On one of such occasions, Olofin’s children qhad poured away the contents of the pot in anger over their father’s transformative rituals. On returning, Olofin found an empty pot which propelled him to deliquesce into the 
forest in immortal farewell. Hence the ancestral praise song of his descendants: “Omo dere ni’le Isheri…” (the child of the one who lived long and turned himself into a boa-constrictor in the town of Isheri).Olofin had 32 sons. Olumegbon is the eldest. Some of the others are Aromire, Onitona, Onitolo, Oluwa, Oloto, Ojora, Oniru, Onikoyi, Onisiwo, Ojomu and Elegushi. 

They constitute the paramount assembly of the white cap chiefs or the Idejos, the traditional cabinet of the royal power. From here the monarchical coherence emerged, giving Eko (derived from Oko, the Yoruba word for farm) which two Portuguese explorers and traders, Ruy de Sequirera and Alfonso da Aveiro called Lagos, a primal administrative enlightenment which thrives on astute divisions of constitutional powers.For instance, the Eletu Odibo, the traditional Prime Minister who crowns the king of Lagos, serves as the head of the Akarighere, the Kingmakers. The members include Onilegbale, Eletu-Omo, Olorogun-Abebo, Eletu-lijebu, Olorogun-Agan, Eletu-Iwase, Erelu-Kutiq, Oloja and Ojon. They wield the Abẹrẹ (the sceptred blade) as the primordial instrument of restraining influence.


There is also the Abagbon or Olorogun, the military council led by Ashogbon. The other members are Suenu, Saba, Obadina, Oshodi, Salawe, Orisan, Ayeomosan, Kakawa, Osoun-Ejidun, Faji, Bajulu, Bashua, Sogunro, Etti, Bajulaiye, Iposu, Shasi, Okolo and Shashore. They bear the ancient Keremesi insignia, the primeval signification of war. And there is the Oshugbo, the traditional legislative body which articulates the constituents of order and the rule of law. Here, Apena and Oluwo preside in collegial, accountable representative equality. And there is yet the Parakoyi, the mercantile, consultative body mandated with the supervision of commerce. 

The Ogalade, a spiritual organ of men versed in ancestral wisdom complement the full constituents of the monarchical order with the necessary offerings of propitiating regimen. Led by Obanikoro, the Ogalade include Onimole, Modile, Onisemo, Opeluwa and Alagbeji. In this enlightened profile the Lagos of old reposed in traditional orderliness, where monarchical strayings were restrained by multifarious pillars of checks and balances. It was not a perfect democracy. 

But it was largely a benign order, accountable, representative of the will of the people. From his seat at Iga Idunganran, (Literally, a place where they grind pepper), the Oba, right from the legendary Ado who was the first to be crowned as Eleko of Eko in 1630, was often alert to the temperament of the Kingdom, sensitive to the active stirrings of his subjects. 

He knew the fisherman at Ajele. He knew the carpenter at Elegbata. He was counselled by the territorial chief at Oju-Olobun. He listened to the cloth weaver at Enu-Owa. Such was the collective underpinning of old Lagos until the British came and ruptured the ancestral serenity on December 25th, 1851 when they attacked Lagos from the waters of the Atlantic. It was annexed on August 6th, 1861 by an impositional treaty of cession forced upon Oba Dosunmu (Akamọ Ẹkun) by Commander Bedinfield and Acting Consul McCosky, on behalf of the British crown.

But that was yesterday! This book does not really dwell about that far-distant swell of time and age. And yet there is an importance in that provenance; there is a relevance in that illustration of a summative Yoruba identity. Time and power had conspired to strip Lagos of its cultural unity, desperately seeking to distort its values, to warp its customs, to neutralise the primordial content of its Yoruba character. From its various status as a colony, a federal territory, a capital, a satellite of the Western Region, and finally independent statehood on May 27, 1967, Lagos has borne the most significant burden of the Nigerian journey. 

Its industries continue to fuel the engines of national commerce. Its ports and freeways ceaselessly bustle with the tonnages of developmental signposts and riches which are diffused to the barren hinterland from the vast cornucopia. And yet Lagos remains orphaned, trampled, its wealth eroded by alien intrusions, its people flung upon the 
uncertainties of fate and the crass crudity of power.


This book is about 30 years of governance in Lagos State. From Johnson to Marwa, it is a testimony of the promptings of power. It is about leadership, good and bad. It is about power, responsive and unresponsive. It is about men who hindered hope, who destroyed dreams. And of course, it is about men who endeared, who rebuilt the broken places, whostrengthened the weak, who inspired hope, who graced the leadership journey with redemptive possibilities. May Oshugbo, Opa, Okala, the three spiritual pillars of Lagos continue to guard and protect our people from the ravages of alien order.

– The writer, Uthman Shodipe-Dosunmu, a Lagos Prince, first published this on October 4, 1997.

Disclaimer: This article is entirely the opinion of the writer and does not represent the views of The Whistler.


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