The evolution of the titles of the Obaship and chieftaincy system in Lagos provide an entry point into understanding the dynamic history of the chieftaincy institution. In the second half of the sixteenth century, the Benin Empire established a military camp on Lagos Island, which became a strategic spot for the Oba and his large forces to defend the Empire’s interests. Oba (king) Orhogbua of Benin (c. 1550-1578) installed a ruler who replicated the monarchial system of Benin, and whose descendants have maintained the position of the Obaship until today (Agiri and Barnes 1987: 19).
Four classes of chiefs administered the town alongside the Oba in Lagos before the creation of Lagos state in 1967. The Akarigberes are the administrative chiefs, some of whom originated from Benin. The head of this class, the Eletu Odibo, is described as the prime minister and crowns the Oba. Even though the Ogalade are often said to migrate from Benin, the progenitor of the head of this class, Obanikoro, traced his ancestry to Idulowo, near Lagos. Ogalade works as the healers for the town and Obanikoro is the Oba’s traditional physician and priest.
The third classes of chiefs are the Idejos, who claim ownership of all lands in Lagos and fishing rights in the lagoon. They administered over their communities and served as the custodians of lands. Olumegbon is the head of this class. The Abagbons or war chiefs formed the fourth class of chiefs, whose head is the Ashogbon. They are responsible for defending Lagos during political strifes. Some of these chiefs came from Benin while others were formerly Ibigas (household enslaved persons), who were later promoted to chiefs. During Kosoko's reign from 1845 to 1851, Oshodi Tapa, Iperu Possu and Ajenia were the most influential chiefs in Lagos (Cole 1975: 16-19)
In 1861, Oba Donsumu ceded Lagos to the Queen and her successors under duress. He attempted to maintain some authority by insisting in the treaty of cession that his stamp should be included in the documents, which involved the provision and transfer of land (Mann 2007: 101-102). Although the chiefs lost their administrative functions, they continued to retain their social and cultural roles. The tenure of Eleko Eshugbayi remains one of the highly discussed and tumultuous moments in the colonial history of Lagos. Esugbayi clashed with the Colonial Government, especially after he supported the popular opposition to the water rate tax in 1908. Later, Governor Hugh Clifford deposed Eleko Eshugbayi and forced him to exile in Oyo Kingdom in 1925. As a result of campaigns by his supporters such as the Ilu (town) Committee, an organization of prominent Lagosians, Eshugbayi was reinstalled as Oba in 1931, but died shortly after in 1932.
Since the creation of Lagos State in 1967, some chiefs such as Ojora have been promoted to Oba and are recognized by the Lagos State government. They continue to control territories across local governments and local council development areas in Lagos state. Oba Rilwan Akiolu is the paramount ruler and the chairman of the Lagos State Council of Obas and Chiefs.
These sources in this section expand on moments that have shaped the history of the chieftaincy and Obaship system in Lagos. Hon. Adekunle Alli’s Centenary of The Legend: Chief Alli Idosu (1906-1912) discusses the evolution of the Eletu Odibo title and the career of Alli Idosu as Eletu. Hon. Alli’s coronation magazine features the crowning of the current Oba Rilwan Akiolu in 2003 and the development of the Obaship position in Lagos. Other records include newspaper clippings on coronation of other chiefs and report on the Salawe Chieftaincy.
Agiri, Babatunde A., and Sandra Barnes. "Lagos before 1603." In History of the Peoples of Lagos State, edited by Ade Adefuye, Babatunde Agiri, and Jide Osuntokun, 18-32. Lagos, Nigeria: Lantern Books, 1987.
Cole Patrick. Modern and Traditional Elites in the Politics of Lagos. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1975.
Lawal Olakunle. “The Role of The Ilu Committee in the Politics of Lagos, 1900-1950.” ODU, no. 35 (1989): 188–207.
Mann Kristin. Slavery and the Birth of an African City: Lagos, 1760-1900. Bloomington/Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2007