By Tope Templer Olaiya
THIS fact is indisputable in pre-amalgamation, pre-independence and post-independence era, that whenever Lagos sneezes, Nigeria catches cold.
Even after Lagos was ceded to the British in 1860 and declared a Crown Colony the following year, the system of governance along the West African coast was miles ahead of other colonies and protectorates. Lagos had its own governor, legislative and executive councils.
Attempts by Frederick Lugard to reduce the powers of the colony in 1906 by submerging Lagos into the Protectorate of Southern Nigeria, while operating from Calabar, did little to diminish the status of Lagos. Furthermore, what it lacked in quantity (size and landmass), it made up for in quality (enterprise of the mixed bag of population).
During the 1850s, there was a large influx into Lagos of educated Africans, who had earlier been sold as slaves, from Sierra Leone, Brazil and Cuba. Their return profoundly affected the history of Lagos. The Sierra Leoneans were known as Akus or Saros, the Brazilians and Cubans as Agudas.
The Agudas were mainly Catholics, skilled artisans and craftsmen, who had purchased their freedom and returned home to their “country” of origin. The Akus or Saros were slaves (or descendants of slaves) rescued by the British naval squadron that patrolled the high seas.
In the 1880s, there were four distinct groups in Lagos – the Europeans, the educated Africans (Saros), the Brazilians and the indigenes. The town was physically divided into four quarters corresponding to these groups. The Europeans lived on the Marina, the Saros mainly west of the Europeans in an area called Olowogbowo, the Brazilians behind the Europeans – their quarter was known as Portuguese Town or Popo Aguda – and the indigenes on the rest of the island – behind all three.
The composition of populations in Lagos in the 1880s was: Brazilians 3,220; Sierra Leoneans, 1,533; and Europeans 111, out of a population of 37,458. Of these, about 30 percent (11,049) were engaged in commerce as merchants, traders, agents, and clerks; 5,173 were tradesmen, mechanics, manufacturers and artisans; 1,414 were farmers and agricultural labourers.
Carter Bridge completed in 1901 and rebuilt in 1970. It is named after Sir Gilbert Thomas Carter, who was Governor and Commander-in-Chief of the Colony of Lagos from 1891-1897.
The top social class of Lagos of the 1880s was dominated by the Europeans – merchants, missionaries, and civil servants. The Saros tried to gain admission into this class. The criteria for membership were education and wealth. In this sense, the educated elite, both black and white, could be considered as members of the same social group.
They lived like Victorian gentlemen. Christmas was a season of Victorian festivities. As one newspaper editor enthused: “Balls are announced and concerts and athletic sports, dinners, with the accessories of plump turkeys, minced pies, plum puddings and Christmas trees. Fineries of all sorts and conditions. All the elite seemed to lack was snow. Their dressing and eating habits were predictably Victorian.”
Most of them were profuse in their loyalty to the queen. In 1881, the Lagos Times prayed for the success of British arms in Ashanti. It declared: “we are so jealous of the Power of British arms that we would not have it suffer the slightest reverse.” The Imperial Federation League found enthusiastic support in Lagos.
Lifestyles among the indigenes continued as before. They ate the normal Yoruba dishes of maize, cassava, yams and Yoruba sauces. They dressed in the same large flowing cloak, called Agbada, and baggy trousers. The Saro educated elite wore the late London fashions – stiff collars and heavy woolen suits. The traditional elite continued to dress as they had always done but had developed new drinking habits.
An observer described Oba of Lagos, Dosunmu as “a good tempered, easy going man, much given to pomp …(he) possessed a hundred wives and innumerable suits of apparel. Visitors are always regaled with Champagne whenever they go to see him and I have heard he kept a most luxurious table.”
The governors themselves testified to the high level of civilised society in Lagos. Governor Young in 1885 said Lagos was his first contact with civilisation since he left England. The administrators of Lagos found it impossible to keep up the high level of social entertainment Lagos demanded. And requests for increase in table allowances and salaries were frequent.
One-time Governor of the colony, Griffith described Lagos as “the Queen of West African settlements”. He went on: “no single settlement on the West coast can compare with Lagos in public expenditure, imports, and exports, in population or in activity, enterprise, and wealth of her mercantile community.
“Her merchants are unbounded in their hospitality. They entertain liberally and place the choicest and most expensive services on their tables. Even the natives will offer champagne to visitors. They keep open house and everywhere a cordial welcome awaits a stranger.”
Griffith asked for horses and a carriage because both the white and black merchants had them. The Colonial Office, in one of those priceless minutes, thought mules and a carriage would suit the deputy governor best.
Since the ages, Lagos has therefore been predominantly a commercial city. The city of Lagos grew from Lagos Island. The Marina was the “posh” part of the city. The British lived on the Marina and it was also the center of government. Walking down Marina today, relics of post-amalgamation still exist in the old secretariat, Cathedral Church of Christ, State House Marina, Lagos House Marina, among others.
Of these historic edifices, the Cathedral Church of Christ, which is the oldest Anglican Cathedral in the Church of Nigeria Anglican Communion and also one of the finest of cathedrals in Africa, towers above the rest in the preservation of the pre-amalgamation legacy. The famous church, with its imposing grey-coloured cathedral, had long celebrated its centenary, specifically in 1967.
The foundation stone of the cathedral was laid on Friday, March 29, 1867 by the then Administrator of Lagos Colony and its dependencies for Queen Victoria, John Hawley Glover. The church was later dedicated for use in 1869. Before then, the place of worship was only mud and thatch. The church revolutionalise brick building in Lagos.
According to available facts gleaned from church library, the estimated cost of building was 1,100 Pounds, which was contributed from both England and Lagos. At the church’s opening service, James Lamb, the first minister, was assisted by two churchwardens, Henry Doherty and John Ogunbunmi.
Members of the congregation, comprising elites in Lagos and school children sand to the hymn The Stone To Thee In Faith We Lay, paving the way for the inaugural sermon preached by Bishop Ajayi Crowther, known in history books as the man who translated the Bible from English to Yoruba language.