There is a popular song in Lagos.
‘B’oju o t’Ehingbeti, oju o le t’Eko’
It roughly translates as Lagos will stand tall, as long as Ehingbeti is there for us.
Ehingbeti is the stretch of land and water that goes from the Apongbon area in the east up the Marina to Iru creek and Onikan, opening up the island to the world with Porto Norvo a few nautical miles to the west, and reaching out eastwardly to a Lekki corridor that used to be wooded jungle.
Anyone with any sense of history will understand why Ehingbeti is so important to the pride, identity and even the survival of Lagos.
It is worthwhile recalling an incident described in British history books, with self-serving understatement, as ‘the Reduction of Lagos’. In November 1861, after a failed attempt to reach a trading and anti-slavery deal with the feisty, popular King of Lagos, Oba Kosoko, an armada of British warships descended on Lagos, determined to bring it to heel, by whatever means necessary, and to depose Oba Kosoko.
But Kosoko was not about to take anything lying down. His war-chief, Oshodi Tapa had deployed his soldiers along the shoreline and in inland positions, to resist the invaders. They were armed with muskets.
On the 23rd of November 1851, the British Commander received the go-ahead from London. HMS Bloodhound entered the eastern side of the Marina. But when the British attempted to land, they were met with a relentless fusillade from Oshodi Tapa’s men, who knew the terrain of the area now named Ehingbeti like the back of their hands. A number of British soldiers were killed. The remainder beat a hasty retreat.
It was to be a short-lived victory for Eko and her monarch.
On the 26th of December 1851, the British force returned ‘in full force’, with HMS Bloodhound surrounded by twenty-three gunboats. The big guns deployed on the warships made the muskets of Oshodi-Tapa’s five thousand soldiers look, and sound, like toy guns. Over five days, a frightful slaughter ensued. The British canons were so loud they could be heard in Badagry.
It was the success of Lagos, and the even greater potential of it, that made the concept of Nigeria plausible
With the Yoruba penchant for creating language out of everyday life, the onomatopoeia ‘Agidingbi’, which now describes a location near the seat of government in Alausa, was born.
Lagos lay in ruins.
Out of a population of 22,000 souls, only 5000, mostly children and the elderly were left in the town.
But it was both a tragedy and the beginning of a new life for Lagos. Some locals had actually supported the rout of Kosoko, even if not the carnage that achieved it. Ajayi Crowther and other Christian missionaries moved in, bringing not only Christianity but Education. The returnee ‘Saros’, from being a group who feared they might be ‘re-enslaved by their fellow Lagosians, became the local gentry. Trade flourished so dramatically Lagos quickly outshone its contenders to become the primary node for international commerce on the West African coast. The many ‘firsts’ achieved by Lagos would follow. Colonial Englishmen built their elegant homes and offices along the Marina and were soon joined by wealthy locals. A central business district took shape, snaking down Broad Street to Apongbon. ‘Apongbon incidentally is another Yoruba neologism derived playfully from a description of the ‘red’ beard of popular Scots trader William McCoskry who plied his commerce in the area.
It was the success of Lagos, and the even greater potential of it, that made the concept of Nigeria plausible.
Ehingbeti Summit has been taking place since 2000. Intentionally, it is a periodic, aspirational, direction-setting exercise for the Eko Project. But Eko did not just start being pushing to be an outlier in 2000. Lagos had Carter Bridge, the first modern bridge in Nigeria, in 1901. It had an intracity tram service providing mass transit in 1902. It was the starting point of a train service that ran across the length and breadth of Nigeria more than one hundred years ago. Lateef Jakande, a man in the tradition of visionary Lagosians, was going to build the first metroline in this part of Africa until it was rudely aborted by soldiers.
For 2021, the theme of EHINGBETI is ‘For a greater Lagos – setting the tone for the next decade’.
As usual, big names were on parade. Mo Ibrahim. Okonjo-Iweala. Akin Adeshina. The talk of Lagos becoming a great megacity has been around for several years. Of course, beyond conquering the cyberworld and building iconic roads and bridges, everyone knew it was necessary that the people be reasonably happy and healthy, and that their city be truly liveable, which it was not, yet. In 2013, Babatunde Fashola actually organized an international ‘Lagos – Liveable City’ conference, where a roadmap was drawn up to take Lagos from the bottom of the international pile in ‘liveability’ to an ambitious high.
Lagos, by 2030, according to its present Governor, at EHINGBETI, would have a functional light rail system, taking Lagosians from Alagbado to Iddo, and from Badagry to CMS. They would connect with bus systems and ferries on the waterways. Thirty-five million Lagosians would be efficiently transported daily, cutting travel time by 250%. The fourth mainland bridge would be a done deed. Thousands of kilometres of fibre optic cable would carry broadband internet all across the megacity. Smart cameras everywhere would help with security, traffic control and data collation. Agriculture would focus on value addition. The Imota Rice Mill would be one of the largest in the world. Lagos would be a centre for Medical Tourism.
It is a beautiful, compelling vision in a land where all the current talk is about herdsmen who boast they own all the country, kidnappings all over the land, mutual distrust, suspicion of government, and bric-a-brac hurled daily across ever-expanding lines of fissure in the national fabric.
But this is Lagos, and, you know, it is all possible, if only…