MEET OBA AKITOYE

The British and other European traders made early contact with some indigenous kingdoms. The kingdoms were treated with diplomacy in recognition of their sovereignty. The Europeans included the Portuguese, Spanish, French, Italians and the British, who dealt with Benin, Lagos, Bonny, Opobo, Calabar, Onitsha, Asaba, Egba, Oyo, etc. in trade and missions even before colonialism.

Kosoko and his Dahomey counterpart, Gezo, did not want the British seed be planted and germinated on the soils of Yoruba nation due to their success in slave trade of the time. Before 1845, Kosoko, on his part, had had interest on the throne of Lagos which Akitoye was occupying. In fact, he saw Akitoye as a usurper, having thought the throne was his.

In Lagos, in spite of the ban imposed in 1841 by Oba Akitoye, slave merchants continued their business with little regard for the so called ban. They were openly trading, and no one could stop them. The traders relied so much on the powers of Kosoko who was egging them on, oasting that nmothin would happen to them while he was still alive.   It was the beginning of hostility between akitoye and his nephew, Kosoko.

The major area of external disagreement was that Kosoko supported slave trading while Akitoye professed hatred for the trade and had love for legitimate commerce and good relationship with the British government and its people.

In July 1845, Kosoko and his army of followers, with the aid of Gezo, declared war against Akitoye. And unfortunately for King, the Eletu who would have rallied soldiers to save him had relocated to Badagry in anger, since he strongly opposed the pardon granted Kosoko by this same Akitoye. Kosoko had between exiled before Akitoye became the King of Lagos, and he was living in Whydah. But when Akitoye mounted the throne, he said Kosoko was his nephew, and he could not allow him to leave outside his father’s domain. Then he pardoned and recalled him. This angered Eletu-Odibo, and to Badagry he went.

Akitoye immediately ordered the return of Eletu-Odibo, but ironically, the dramatic chain of events had, at that time turned full-scale against the King. First, the Eletu, as soon as he arrived, left again for Ikorodu, but was assassinated in cold blood without reaching his destination. The death of Eletu was like the last straw that broke the camels’ back as far as Akitoye’s survival was concerned. Thus, Akitoye’s next move was to escape to Abeokuta with a handful of his subjects. It was from Abeokuta, the present day Ogun State capital that he relocated to Badagry, from where he made several attempts to communicate with the British Consul in the area on the state of affairs in Lagos.

Thus, in 1851, Akintoye wrote British Consul John Beecroft who was in charge of the Bights of Benin and Biafra, to depose Kosoko and facilitate his reinstatement as king of Lagos. According to the contents of Akitoye’s letter to Consul Beecroft, he was “to enter into a treaty with England to abolish the slave trade of Lagos, and to establish and carry on lawful trade, especially with British merchants.”

Next, Akitoye also sought and secured the support of missionaries in Abeokuta and Badagry who in turn persistently mounted pressures on the British authorities to intervene in “the Lagos affairs on behalf of Akitoye”.

Apart from securing the help of the missionaries, the deposed king also sought the help of Damingo Jose, who was at that time, a highly influential slave-dealer. It was therefore expected that Beecroft yielded to pressures and he moved over to Lagos to broker truce between Kosoko and Akintoye. But by the time he arrived, the hostilities had gone beyond reconciliation and Kosoko, realising that he was the target of the consul’s “diplomatic shuttle”, ordered his ships stationed at the waterfronts to open fire on a British ship “which was advancing towards Lagos,” hoisting a flag of truce.

Infuriated, Beecroft mandated his naval team to capture Lagos, but the initial attack was promptly repelled by Kosoko’s fire-fighting power. Kosoko’s counter-attacks were disastrous for both sides of the divide. But on the December 28, 1851, Kosoko and his supporters were sacked by the British. This was a dramatic victory for Akitoye who was reinstalled immediately.

On January 1, 1852, King Akitoye of Lagos went on board the British ship, HMS Penelope, and signed a treaty with Commodore Henry W. Bruce and Mr. John Beecroft for the abolition of slave traffic, encouragement of legitimate trade and protection of missionaries.

It was from this day that the British government and its consuls realized it could deal with any native king with its guns, and that nothing could stop them once they had decided to take a town, a community, and a country. And it got to a stage when Akitoye was nmo longer confortable with the precedence he had set, but the deed was sealed, Lagos was taken over, and the children of Akitoye, even generations yet to be born then, suffered the rash decision to take back his throne through the guns of strangers.

Worst still, Akitoye did not last long, no one knew why he should die so young and shortly after he regained the coveted seat of power.  He died in August 1853, reigning for just 20 months. But if he had known, he might not have done it: inviting the British to fight his cause was the starting point of colonialism in the land, and King Akitoye plunged the Niger area into it. It was an abyss, and the nation remained there for another 100 years. Too bad for the people of the Niger area!

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