Tuesday, 28 January 2020 05:02

[OPINION] Who Owns Lagos? A Useless Question Without Answers - Benjamin Aduba

Pots of ink have been wasted posing and trying to find out who owns Lagos. Some of the answers have been: Nobody owns Lagos; Lagos is owned by the Yoruba; The Igbo own Lagos, The Benin Kingdom and therefore the Beni own Lagos; all Nigerians own Lagos; etc. And recently two “Lagosians” held court on the ownership of Lagos. They are Alhaji Olufemi Okunnu and Chief Layi Ajayi Bembe at Punch Newspapers. Each had his own views.
 
The question is useless because there are no possible answers. The ownership of Lagos would require additional sentences/clauses before it can be determined. Such additional sentences could be “who are the original owners of Lagos; who owned Lagos from 1960-1999; who owns Lagos now etc.” The answers will vary with each additional sentence.
 
To make clear what this author is saying. Let’s assume that Obi was the original owner of an estate. Obi sold the land to Benji. There are two possible answers Obi and Benji, depending on how the question is posed. If currently the answer is Benji and if it is the original owner, the answer is Obi. When Obi sold the property to Benji he ceased to own the property.
 
Now let’s come back to Lagos. We begin by pointing out that landownership initially belonged to individuals and then moved on to kings who appropriated individual lands by treachery, purchases and or by force. And letter lands belonged to government which acquired the land by decrees, by laws or by use of the law of eminent domain.
 
Secondly, let’s point out that the subject is not clear to all. What is Lagos? When I lived in Surulere in the 60’s we used to say “I am going to Lagos if we were going to Lagos Island.” We acknowledged that the mainland was not Lagos. The Oba lived/lives on the island and that was Lagos. Even though in the 60’s there was a municipal government which recognized Lagos as both the island and the mainland. Today there is no more municipal government for the city but local governments that have carved the old Lagos into smaller municipalities. Meanwhile “Lagos” which was limited to Ikeja/Palm Grove now extends to Ikorodu.
 
So which Lagos are we talking about?
 
If I own Ajegunle and you own all the rest of “Lagos” who owns Lagos? This is another reason why the question is useless and have no definite answers. What if Ola owns Yaba, Obi owns Ajegunle and Ishaka ownes Ikeja, and Bola owns the Island, assuming each bought their pieces in a fair trade? Who owns Lagos?
 
Most often when people talk of the ownership of Lagos what they actually mean is what the history of Lagos is. Even here there seems to be two different stories. One says that the first settlers on Lagos were the Yoruba from the hinterland. And another posits that the first settlers were the Bini Kingdom as it expanded westwards. I am not sure which story has dominance now.
 
While this is important from getting the history right perspective, we can do this while doing the next important thing which is how do we make Lagos better. Making Lagos better will benefit all the residents of the city no matter who ownership belongs to.
All people born in Lagos, all people who live in Lagos, all people who do business in Lagos, etc. have stake in the city and should contribute their resources to make Lagos better for all.
 
It is not just the Yoruba.
 
Benjamin Obiajulu Aduba
Boston, Massachusetts,
January 27, 2020
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