On the twentieth of November 1920, Mr Henry Carr, Resident of the Colony, on behalf of the Governor of Nigeria, Sir Hugh Charles Clifford, wrote a letter to the monarch of Lagos, Eshugbayi Eleko. ‘My good friend,’ he began, in an unfriendly tone, ‘…I am … instructed to inform you…Your statement that the absurd allegations made by Mr Herbert Macaulay while acting as your staff-bearer … were made without your authority or sanction is duly noted, but I am directed to point out to you that you have compromised yourself …seriously by entrusting your staff to a person capable of giving publicity to … deliberate misstatements, and that you have not mended matters by the attempts… to defend the individual who has placed you in this unfortunate situation.’
The tone got even more unfriendly.
‘…Unless… you take steps forthwith to repudiate fully and publicly the pretensions which have been made in your name, His Excellency… will have to consider depriving you of …allowance … and …declining … to allow you to receive any recognition from government…
Your Good Friend
The story of how Mr Carr, a Lagosian and the first indigenous Nigerian to become administrative head of the colonial Civil Service of Nigeria came to write such a rude letter to his traditional ruler began earlier in the year.
A white-cap Idejo chief, Amodu Tijani Oluwa, went to court to challenge the authority of the colonial government to take his land in Apapa without compensation. The matter was taken to the Lagos Courts, which found in favour of the government. Dissatisfied, Tijani decided to take his case to the Privy council in London, the highest adjudicating body in the British Empire.
Sir William Findlay, KC, a reputable British barrister, was retained to represent him.
In May 1920 Tijani embarked on the long sea-journey from Apapa quays to London. He was accompanied by Herbert Macaulay, who was serving as his Secretary and Interpreter. In Macaulay’s hands as he travelled was the staff of the office of the Eleko.
How the Eleko’s staff came to be in the possession of Herbert Macaulay has been the subject of some controversy.
In his own explanation later, the monarch stated that he gave the staff to Chief Oluwa as a symbol of his support for his legal battle.
Another version has a cloak and dagger element in which the staff was retrieved from the burial site of a sometime pretender to the throne, at the behest of Macaulay, and secretly ferried by an attorney to rendezvous with the travelling team during a stopover in Accra in order to evade the attentions of the British.
In London, Chief Oluwa and Herbert Macaulay were approached by a reporter from The Daily Mail, a major British newspaper, for an interview. The reporter accompanied them from the Privy Council buildings to their residence nearby to conclude the lengthy interview.
Soon after, the Daily Mail published an article that castigated the government of Nigeria for its handling of the affairs of Lagos indigenes. Certain of its policies, it was reported, was ‘empire-breaking rather than empire-making’. It reported that the ‘seventeen million population’ of Nigeria were not happy and that the Eleko, ‘the Chief Negro in a possession three times the size of the United Kingdom’ was rudely put down by a former Lieutenant Governor and told to ‘stand up when you are talking to me’.
The ‘allowance’ of three hundred pounds received by Eleko from the government was considerably less than his due because King Docemo who ceded Lagos to the British crown in 1861 was promised a sum ‘equal to the net revenue’, which now stood at four million pounds sterling.
Macaulay gleefully procured a copy of the Daily Mail publication and sent it to Governor Clifford in Lagos.
And Macaulay, always a man who socialized easily in the best circles, and who had, during his student days, been presented to the Prince of Wales after a musical concert in which he masterfully played the violin in Plymouth Guildhall, was observed at various events in London, including, it was said, a garden party at Buckingham Palace, carrying the staff of the office of the Eleko.
The colonial government in Lagos was incandescent with rage.
On the twenty-fourth of November 1920, Mr Carr wrote again, this time to demand that the Eleko should send a town crier around the length and breadth of Lagos to denounce Macaulay and disclaim everything written in the Daily Mail.
When the monarch politely refused, he was immediately informed that the government would cease to recognize him as the head of the Docemo family.
The story of the Eleko’s staff of office moved forward apace.
Judgement in the case filed by Amodu Tijani Oluwa was delivered by the Privy Council in June 1921. Tijani Oluwa won.
There was much jubilation among the indigenes of Lagos, and much chagrin in government circles.
Soon after the return of the Lagos contingent from London, the staff of office was returned to Eleko at Iga Idunganran.
Such was the bile generated by this series of events and other grouses the colonial government had against the king of Lagos that in 1925, Eshugbayi Eleko was officially, and controversially, deposed from the throne, and exiled to Oyo.
Two kings followed – Ibikunle Akitoye, and Sanusi Olusi.
Eshugbayi Eleko battled for reinstatement, aided by Macaulay, who even fired off a petition to Downing Street.
Eventually, the Privy Council, from London, adjudged that the government had to find a political solution to settle the soul of Lagos. The implication was clear.
In 1931, in a step redolent with humiliation for the government and a now-retired Henry Carr, the government of Nigeria reversed itself and facilitated the reinstatement of Eshugbayi Eleko.
Lagos rejoiced. True to type, songs of victory and celebration were composed and sung on the streets by young and old.
The staff of the office would travel on through time, whether physically or symbolically, to chosen successors.
After Eshugbayi’s death in 1932 came Oba Fallout. And then Oba Adeniji Adele. And Oba Adeyinka Oyekan II. And, from 2003, Oba Rilwan Babatunde Osuolale Aremu Akiolu.
By Femi Olugbile