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N’ IGBA IWASE (IN THE BEGINNING)

In the beginning, it was usually an act of bravery and adventure for princes and other noble men to go out of Ile-Ife, the cradle of Yorubas to find new towns and establish their own settlements. Olofin came southwards with eight children and other members of his family and stopped at Isheri where he performed his ritual for starting a new settlement. From there, the children moved farther towards the coast and settled on lands allotted to them. Later, they gave parts of their land to other members of the family who joined them.

Among the children who first arrived and possessed lands were AROMIRE, OLOTO, ONIRU, OLUWA, OJORA, ONIKOYI, ONITANA, OLUMEGBON, ONITOLO, ELEGUSHI and ONISIWO. They are the ancestors of the Idejo chiefs, the oldest chieftaincy on the island and their rights over their land holdings were recognized by the Obas (kings) of Lagos, when that institution was created by the Oba of Benin. 

Soon after settling on the island, the Chiefs and their relatives took up farming, fishing, hunting and other occupations.

The Oniru family established their settlement along the Marina. They owned a vast stretch of land that covered the entire Marina and extended to Gbosere, Onikan, parts of Ikoyi, the entire Victoria Island stretching to Okun Alajapa.

 

WATERSIDE RULERS 

These Chiefs were the rulers of their territories until the Oba of Benin established a ruling authority over the Island of Lagos. From the beginning and the throughout the generations, the chiefs and their people saw themselves as one large family with common ancestry and tradition. They cherished and preserved their rich cultural heritage and lived together in peace and harmony.

They were comfortable and satisfied with their natural environment. The lagoon served as a means of communication and occupation. Their economic and social lives largely depended on it. Their occupations were mainly farming, fishing, hunting, weaving and inter-village trading. Coconut trees grew abundantly along the beaches of the lagoon and the seacoast and many families engaged in coconut cultivation.

 

THE ONIRU FAMILY AND THEIR LAND

 The Oniru family settlement was an extensive territory along the meandering lagoon. It took a lot of effort by the head of the family to administer several waterside villages under him. Some of the villages along the Marina and on Lagos Island were within reach but several other villages under the Oniru were far away; Places like Ikoyi, Oko Eletu, Igbokusu Olomi, Ilado creek, Isago creek and Magoko creek. There were other villages in present Victoria Island extending to the boundary with Ajiran. In each of these villages a representative, known as Baale, was appointed to oversee the territory.

The riverine nature of the villages and their proximity to the sea made fishing a natural occupation of the family members. This also meant they were the first people in this area to be exposed to European traders, especially the Portuguese and the Dutch who established trading depots along the Marina. The land flourished as a result of this.

The French and British set up even bigger depots. They needed land which they initially purchased from the land owners.

There was keen competition among the European merchants which bordered on national supremacy. The British who had a bigger presence of missionaries and traders entered into agreements with the natives to enable them establish military garrisons. For this reason, they acquired land in the strategic areas of the Lagos harbour; Most of which fell within the Oniru land.

This was the beginning of the Oniru’s loss of land.

 

 THE FIRST ACQUISITION OF ONIRU LAND

By the middle of the 18th century, the British had eliminated their competitors for the control of Lagos and established their authority as the only European power. As their activities increased, they suppressed the power and authority of the native rulers and imposed colonial rule over the entire land with Lagos as the seat of government.

At the first acquisition around 1850, the palace of the Oniru was along the Marina at the point where the Christ Church Cathedral now stands. It was a vantage point close to the harbor and the centre of trading activities.

The Oniru family was forced to move their palace further up along the marina to a location at the Lagos island end of the Five Cowry Creek Bridge. At that time, there was no bridge and some members of the family engaged in the business of ferrying people across from one side to the other, charging 5 cowries, which was the currency in those days. That was how the bridge got its name.

 

ANOTHER MOVE 

It was not long before the colonial government slammed another acquisition notice on the people. The whole stretch of the lagoon foreshore had been such a strategic area for business, shipping and leisure that the acquisitions became inevitable. Stage by stage, the colonial authority acquired all the land for missionaries, government offices, colonial officers’ residence and the General Hospital. In this respect, the new palace of the Oniru was even more strategic, not only for erecting a bridge between Lagos and Victoria Islands, but as an observatory for monitoring vessels entering Lagos harbour either from the sea or from the other side of the lagoon. Although the family was getting tired of being forced out of their land, they were not sufficiently enlightened to take legal steps; hence they took to violent resistance for which they were also ill equipped.

Still the land acquisitions continued unabated. As public administration and commercial activities expanded, so the need for more and more land became necessary. The claim for compensation on this land was the subject of litigation between the Oniru Chieftaincy Family and the government. 

In 1907, the government acquired the land known as Mekunwen. This is the land to the right immediately after the bridge on Victoria Island. It includes also the present site now used as Bonny Camp and this area of land was acquired at the time when Lawani Oduloye was Oniru of Iru and head of the Oniru Chieftaincy Family. Lawani Esubi was the head of the family when the area of land known as Osho-Ilu and now called Eleke Crescent (the land to the left immediately after the bridge) was acquired from the Oniru Chieftaincy Family. This is the land on which the buildings of major embassies and high commissions were located. 

During the reign of Lawani Oduloye as the Oniru of Iru, the government had taken over most of Victoria Island including Alamakun village (now the School of Oceanography). As a result, the Oniru family had to move their palace from Itinrin to Igbodu village, a remote area within the island.

In 1933, Lawani Oduloye died and was succeeded by Chief Yesufu Abiodun Oniru in 1934.  Chief Yesufu Abiodun Oniru challenged the government over the land acquisitions.

In 1952 the federal government compulsorily made the next acquisition from the Oniru family, which includes Ilabare, Oroke, Ikoya, Ipewu Magbon, Itinrin an Magbon Creek leaving only Maroko for the family.

The Oniru family had lost about 80 percent of their land to the government.