In “Eko Akete,” Ayinde Bakare (1912-1972), one of the pioneers of juju music, sings of the accommodative character of Lagos: “Eko Gba Eru, Eko Gba Omo, Eko Gba Ajoji, O Gba Onile” (Lagos contains the slave, free-born, stranger, and the land-owner). Bakare’s song speaks to the heterogeneous character of people, who have shaped the social, political, cultural, and economic character of the city. Modern Lagos evolved from Lagos Island or Eko, a two square miles settlement, which was the pepper farm of Aromire (literally: lover of water), one of the sons of the Awori first settlers. The Aworis are said to have dispersed from Isheri, which is about twelve miles from Lagos and they first settled in Ebute Metta (Three Wharfs) on the mainland, before fleeing to Iddo Island due to the “war of worlds”. The first settler distributed the land in Iddo as well as its adjoining areas to his sons, who became known as Idejos or land-owning chiefs.
Starting from the late eighteenth century, the slave trade transformed Lagos into a major node for commerce in the Atlantic World and in turn shaped new waves of migration. There were influx of enslaved peoples who were bounded for transport across the Atlantic Ocean, in the city and some were retained as domestic workers. After the British bombardment of Lagos in 1851, former enslaved peoples from Sierra-Leone, Brazil, Cuba as well as from Nigerian hinterland and West Africa began to settle in Lagos. The 1880s census counted 3,221 Afro Brazilians and Cubans, 1,533 Sierra-Leoneans, 111 Europeans, and 37, 458 freed and enslaved peoples in the city. The population of Lagos increased to 98,303 in 1921, and to 126,474 in 1931. By 1950, there were 9 230,256 and 655,246 in 1963. The commercial status of Lagos as a port-city, a colonial, and post-colonial capital of Nigeria until the 1990s has continued to attract many migrants from across the Atlantic as well as within Nigeria.
Even though migration of peoples has molded the make-up of the city, its inhabitants have debated the extent to which settlers have been integrated into Lagos society. There have been claims and counter-claims on the identities of the original founders of Lagos, its owners, the indigenes and settlers in the socio-political history of the city. For instance, during the early twentieth century, members of the Central Native Council (CNC), an advisory board of Chiefs, Oba, and leaders in the Islamic community, confronted colonial administrators about the individuals chosen to represent Lagosians at the Legislative Council. Colonial officials nominated Africans of diasporic origins, whose ancestors settled in Lagos from 1850s onwards into the Legislative Council, which was responsible for enacting the laws of the colony. A member of the CNC asserted that the African members on the Legislative Council “are not representatives of Lagos; they are not the Chiefs of Lagos. The Chiefs are here” (Cole 1975: 88). While the CNC retained influence in deliberation over chieftaincy affairs, its members viewed the Legislative Council as more authoritative than the CNC in the administration of the colony.
On the other hand, during the 1950s, the question of how Lagos should be represented within Nigeria’s regional structure divided opinions in the city. There were deliberations over the administration of the city in the Western Region or as Nigeria’s federal capital city. This period sparked the creation of slogans such as “Lagos Belongs to the West” “Lagos Stands Alone,” which reflected the diverse imaginations of Lagos’ position within Nigeria’s political structure. Kunle Lawal’s “In Search of a Lagosian,” which is included in this section, discusses how the conversations over the status of Lagos influenced the meanings of a Lagosian identity. In contemporary Lagos, the debates over belonging continue especially over if the Benin people or Awori founded and owned Lagos in the newspapers and on the Internet. The primary documents and secondary literature on this website illuminate how Lagosians have engaged the meanings of citizenship in the history of the city.
Cole Patrick. Modern and Traditional Elites in the Politics of Lagos. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1975.
Mann Kristin. Slavery and the Birth of an African City: Lagos, 1760-1900. Bloomington/Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2007
Olukoju Ayodeji. "Population Pressure, Housing and Sanitation in West Africa's Premier Port-City: Lagos, 1900-1939." The Great Circle 15, no. 2 (1993): 91-106.