bombardment of lagos

Oba Kosoko: His military strength and the struggle for Lagos kingship

Oba Kosoko was a member of the Ologun Kutere Lagos Royal Family and was Oba of Lagos from 1845 to 1851.

His father was Oba Esinlokun, and his siblings included Idewu Ojulari, who served as Oba from 1829 to 1834-1935, and Opo Olu (a wealthy and influential female slave owner), Odunsi, Akinmosa, lgbaluwon, Ogunloye, Adeniyi, Akinsanya, lbiyemi, Ogunbambi, Olufunmi, Oresanya, Matimoju, Adebajo, lsiyemi and Ladega.

The death of Oba Esinlokun in 1829 saw the coming to power of Kosoko’s brother, Idewu Ojulari who reigned from 1829 to around 1834–35. His reign however was unpopular as it was under the command of the then Oba of Benin.

Kosoko and Eletu Odibo’s feud

Kosoko was said to have gotten on the bad side of Eletu Odibo by marrying a woman betrothed to Chief Eletu Odibo, Lagos’ powerful prime minister (the head of the Akarigbere class of chiefs). He was the kingmaker vested with the authority to oversee the selection and installation of Obas and the arrogance from Kosoko’s side would be the reason Eletu Odibo blocked him from getting to the throne more than once.

The feud between both men altered the Obaship succession many times and set the stage for British intervention in Lagos later in 1851.

After Idewu Ojulari’s death, the kingmakers invited Adele back from exile to rule over Lagos for a second term since Kosoko was unacceptable to Eletu Odibo. Even upon Adele’s death in 1837, Eletu Odibo was said to have blocked Kosoko’s ascension to the throne again and installed Oluwole, Adele’s son.

Eletu Odibo was said to have stretched the bad blood between himself and Kosoko to Opo Olu (Kosoko’s sister) accusing her of witchcraft. Opo Olu was said to have been banished from Lagos by Oba Oluwole even after diviners found her innocent. This would lead to Kosoko and his followers pursuing a failed armed rising known as Ogun Ewe Koko (Leaves of the Cocoyam War) which resulted to Kosoko and his followers fleeing to Epe. Eletu Odibo made things worse by digging up the remains of Kosoko’s mother and throwing her corpse in the Lagos Lagoon.

Oba Akitoye’s mistake

After Oba Oluwole was killed in 1841 when a fire torched the explosives kept in the palace, the kingmakers installed Akitoye (Kosoko’s uncle, younger brother to Esinlokun and Adele, and son of Ologun Kutere). It was argued that Kosoko would have been invited but his whereabouts were unknown at the time. In a goodwill attempt at reconciliation, a move warned against by most chiefs, Oba Akitoye naively called Kosoko back to Lagos.

He was said to have returned to Lagos aboard the ship of the famous slave trader Jose Domingo Martinez with Oba Akintoye bestowing him with gifts and honoring him with the title of Oloja Ereko (Owner of Ereko).

Eletu Odibo seeing that Kosoko was quickly building support among many war chiefs and the Muslim community, departed for Badagry. Oba Akintoye however decided to call him back leading Kosoko to declare that if Eletu Odibo returned to Lagos, he would “make himself king”. This led to a war of words between Kosoko and Oba Akintoye, Kosoko sending his crier around Lagos singing “Tell that little child at court yonder to be careful; for if he is not careful he will be punished” and Oba Akitoye’s crier replying with “I am like a pin firmly driven into the ground, which is always hard to root out but ever remains firm” then Kosoko’s “I am the digger who always roots out a pin”.

Kosoko ousted Akitoye, killed Eletu Odibo, and became king

This tension led to the rising Ogun Olomiro (Salt Water War) by the Kosoko faction in July 1845. The Kosoko faction laid siege to the Oba’s Palace for three weeks. Akitoye eventually accepted defeat, escaped up the lagoon to the North, and was granted safe passage through the Agboyi Creek by Oshodi Tapa, Kosoko’s war captain.

Oshodi Tapa explained Akitoye’s escape to Kosoko by saying that Akitoye put his enemies in a trance. Akitoye thereafter arrived in Abeokuta in his mother’s hometown where he was granted asylum. Importantly, Eletu Odibo was captured in the battle and Kosoko avenged the scattering of his mother’s bones by placing Eletu Odibo in an empty oil barrel, sealing it, setting it alight, and dumping it in the Lagos Lagoon.

Recognizing Akitoye’s escape as a threat, Kosoko demanded Akitoye’s head from the Egbas who refused Kosoko’s demands.

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In March 1845, the Egbas provided the then deposed Akitoye with an escort to Badagry, the traditional town of refuge for Lagosians where he rallied his followers and built a partnership with European missionaries and with the British through their Consul John Beecroft.

Akitoye’s attempts to take Lagos back

A confluence of interests in Lagos from the now-deposed Akitoye who allied himself with the anti-slavery cause in order to get British support, the Anglican missionaries in Badagry who were in contact with Akitoye, and Egba and European traders who wanted the freer movement of goods ratcheted up British intervention in Lagos. Akitoye’s anti-slavery position appears born of self-interest considering his connection with the well-known slave trader Domingo Martinez who backed Akitoyes’s unsuccessful attack on Lagos in 1846. In November 1851 a British party met with Oba Kosoko to present a proposal of British friendly relations along with giving up the Trans Atlantic Slave Trade. The proposal was rejected by Kosoko.

On December 26, 1851, in what is now known as the Bombardment of Lagos or Reduction of Lagos, HMS Bloodhound, HMS Teazer, and a flotilla of boats mounted an attack on the Oba’s palace. Kosoko put up a spirited defense but by December 28, 1851, the battle known locally as Ogun Ahoyaya or Ogun Agidingbi (After Boiling Cannons) was over with Kosoko and his followers fleeing to Ijebu. Akitoye was installed Oba of Lagos with British support.

On January 1, 1852, Akitoye signed the Treaty between Great Britain and Lagos abolishing the slave trade.

Kosoko’s attempted takeover

Kosoko eventually settled in Epe with the permission of the Awujale of Ijebu. Epe was the place where about 15 years earlier, a number of his followers such as his chiefs Adamo Arole, Alias Dada Antonio, and Osho Akanbi had taken refuge. By 1852, Kosoko had built up an independent base with about 400 warriors including Oshodi Tapa to mount his opposition to Akitoye.

In 1853 Kosoko mounted two attacks on Lagos; one on August 5, 1853, and another on August 11, 1853, which came dangerously close to the Oba’s palace but was rebuffed just in time by a burst of fire from the British naval force under Commander Phillips of HMS Polyphemus.

Kosoko eventually signed The Treaty of Epe on September 28, 1854, with Consul Benjamin Campbell, agreeing not to make any claims to Lagos or to endanger commerce in Lagos. The treaty was a tactical success for Kosoko who got the British to recognize his state in Epe. In the big picture, however, the Lagos throne remained out of reach with Akitoye and Dosunmu’s descendants firmly rooted.

After Britain annexed Lagos via the Treaty of 1861, Kosoko was allowed to return to Lagos with the title of Oloja of Ereko, receiving a pension of £400 annually and Oshodi Tapa settling with other Kosoko followers in Epetedo.

Kosoko died in 1872 and was buried at Iga Ereko in Lagos. The colonial government estimated that his economic faction was the more powerful one with at least 20,000 followers.

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