NIGERIA: Madam Efunroye Tinubu Biography And Profile
Efunporoye Osuntinubu Olumosa (often shortened to Efunroye Tinubu) was a shrewd and ambitious Nigerian business tycoon who wielded enormous economic power across Western Africa and political power in Abeokuta and Lagos. She was born around 1805 in the Yoruba town of Abeokuta in Western Nigeria. She married a man and had two sons with him, but he died soon thereafter. Newly a widow and single mother, she started trading tree bark and leaves to make a living. She had learned valuable market skills from her grandmother, Osunsola, who traded in tree bark, roots, herbs, and leaves. She also learned business skills from her mother, Nijeede, who had been a food seller.
She was the wealthiest woman in Yorubaland in the 19th century, controlling 360 slaves and trade routes with European merchants. She was a Queen who helped to instal kings. She fought against European domination of her people. And centuries after her death, Madam Efunporoye Tinubu remains a heroine as Correspondent, SEUN AKIOYE discovers
There are many variations of what happened that afternoon sometime in 1805 in Gbagura, when Efunporoye Osuntinubu Lumosa was born on the bank of Ogun River, then known as Odo ose. But historians agree that Nijede (her mother) gave birth to a baby girl around the river and on the eighth day, she was named Osun-ti-inu-ibu-wa (the child was given by Osun, goddess of the river).
Olumosa, the father of the new baby, was Nijeede’s second husband; the first Degolu had died early, leaving Nijede with a child named Sobowale. Olumosa, a wealthy Gbagura man from Ido, homestead had two other wives. So, Osuntinubu had two half-brothers, Okukan and Akinwumi and a brother, Sobowale.
Osuntinubu’s grandmother, Osunsola, an Owu woman was an affluent trader in her days. She traded in herbs, roots and animal skins; she did not however, pass the mantle of trade to her daughter Nijeede, that distinction went to her granddaughter Osuntinubu, otherwise known as Tinubu.
Tinubu grew up in the vast Lumosa compound in Ijokodo area of Gbagura in the midst of affluence and prosperity. At the age of 20, she married an Owu man and had two children for him. According to history, Tinubu was a woman of radiant beauty. She had an oval-shaped face – as depicted in her statues in Lagos and Abeokuta – she grew up a very fashionable woman.
Her charming existence came crashing during the war of dispersals in Yorubaland. By 1830, she was forced to move along with her young family from Gbagura to Ake (both in present day Abeokuta) under the leadership of Sodeke, thousands of Egba speaking people found refuge under the Olumo rock, which still stands in the city today.
Tinubu’s husband died at this time just few months after the death of her mother Nijede. Now, a widow with two sons, she immersed herself in the trade of her grandmother, Osunsola. She was supported financially by her father, Olumosa, who was a man of considerable means and she was making profit.
In 1833, a member of the royal family in Lagos, Prince Adele, who had recently lost out in the fight over the Obaship of Lagos came to Abeokuta on a goodwill visit to thank the people for their support and got attracted to Tinubu, proposing to make her his wife. The young widow accepted and moved to Agbadarigi (original name for Badagry), with her new husband, where she lost her two sons to malaria. In Badagry, Tinubu expanded her business activities to include arms and ammunition and slaves.
That same year, Prince Adele won the right to the throne and returned to Lagos with his new queen, Efunroye Tinubu. Her marriage to the Prince did not bear any children however, but the stage was set for one of the greatest amazons to grace Western Nigeria to flourish. Tinubu’s extra-ordinary life had begun.
Love for nation or lust for gold?
Was Tinubu a nationalist, who propelled by love for her country, fought against European domination of trade in Lagos and the hinterland? Or a self motivated individual driven by her lust for gold and land or merely an aggressive money maker?
European accounts of Madam Tinubu’s political and commercial influence in the 19th century, Nigeria had painted a horrid picture, describing her as an unrepentant slave trader who practiced extreme cruelty towards her slaves and domestic servants.
The European sentiments may be justified when considered in the light of Tinubu’s opposition to foreign domination of trade and politics in Lagos. When she returned with Prince Adele to Lagos, she continued her trade in arms, slaves and began to exert her influence as the queen.
Adele died early in 1837 and Tinubu married a war captain named Yesufu Bada. Fortune smiled on them and Tinubu began to expand her trading activities and her political profile began to rise during the reign of Oba Oluwole, who succeeded her husband, Adele. This continued during the reign of Akintoye, who succeeded Oluwole and when war broke out between the Oba and his nephew, Kosoko, Tinubu and her husband had to go into exile in Badagry. That was 1845.
Merchants didn’t come bigger than Tinubu. She bought slaves from the hinterland and sold to the Europeans at the coast at exorbitant prices, using her shrewd business acumen, she managed to monopolise the trade, preventing Europeans from dealing directly with the hinterland. Her slaves also ran her trade in palm-oil, cotton, elephant tusk, alcoholic drinks etc.
When Oba Akintoye sought refuge in Badagry, he became the personal responsibility of Tinubu and her husband. This hospitality paid off in 1852, when the couple returned with Akintoye to Lagos where Tinubu’s influence took on a new pedestal. She began to dabble into politics exerting tremendous influence over the affairs of Lagos, especially concerning trade with the British and the West Indians.
She also began to buy up properties in Lagos, apart from the land given to her in the heart of Lagos by Adele, she also used her wealth and position to buy up a considerable real estate all over Lagos. These properties became subject of bitter litigation after her death by her slaves and domestic servants.
“Give me more land”
In the middle of 19th century, Madam Tinubu’s trading empire extended beyond Lagos to other parts of Yorubaland. Aside her trading activities, she was reputed to have 360 slaves – a sizeable number in those days – who carried out her businesses on her behalf.
But one of her favourite acquisitions was land. In 1834, she bought a large expanse of land in Lagos mainland, some of which she used as her farm and warehouse. According to historical accounts, in 1834, Tinubu purchased a large expanse of land from the Oloto family. According to history, Oloto Pawu, who died in 1627, was the first and original settler on a piece of land which included Ewe Agbigbo and Iwaya farmlands around 1592.
It was the 6th Oloto, Baalo Oriagbaya, who reigned between 1816 to 1859, who ceded to Madam Tinubu with the aid of Prince Akintoye, Ewe Agbigbo and Iwaya farmland, on behalf of the Oloto Chieftaincy family under Native Law and Customs. Tinubu paid 200 bags of cowries, 200 pieces of kola nuts, ten slaves and a ram to the Oloto family. The land from Oto, all the way to present day, Maryland once belonged to the Oloto Chieftaincy Family and these were granted to Madam Tinubu.
According to documents made available to The Nation, the land so ceded measured about four and half miles radius from Abule Tinubu. In modern landmarks, the land extended from Otto/Iddo to include the areas of Ikorodu road, Ilupeju, Iwaya, Yaba, Maryland, Magodo, Ojodu Berger. It also includes Gbagada, Apapa, Ijesha, Ketu, Isolo (originally Aso-Olo), etc.
Many areas had Madam Tinubu’s impact, for instance, Odi-Olowo was said to have come into existence after the abolition of slave trade. It means fence of the rich person, literarily referring to the fence around Madam Tinubu’s property. Olowogbowo quarters in Lagos Island also reportedly came into existence through the trade exploits of the Amazon. Mushin was said to have been coined by Tinubu herself.
On the Lagos Island, she occupied the best land inside the town. Reported to have been granted her by Oba Akintoye. The area was known as Tinubu square and it extended to areas of Iga Kakawa, Tinubu Street, Tinubu Methodist Church and all the adjoining areas.
After securing for herself vast estates in Lagos to cater for her numerous business activities, Tinubu devoted her time to politics. In 1855, she led a revolt against powerful Brazilians and Sierra-Leoneans immigrant traders. She paid heavily for this insurgency by banishment from Lagos to Abeokuta, her homeland.
From that time, her business interests in Lagos became the responsibility of the head of her domestic servants called Eyisha. She granted her servants the authority to collect rents on her landed properties and look after her other business interest. She, however, gave orders that none of her properties must be sold without her express approval.
In Abeokuta, her trading and political influence continued and she used her vast resources to help prosecute several wars the Egbas were engaged in. She was honoured as the first Iyalode of Egbaland and was a strong pillar behind the enthronement of Alake of Egbaland. On December 1, 1887, Tinubu fell ill and on the afternoon of the following day she died. She was buried at her maternal compound in Ojokodo, Gbagura, according to her orders. But she remained childless throughout her lifetime.
After her death, relatives, friends, slaves and domestics scrambled for a share of her considerable properties, both in Abeokuta and Lagos. But the locations of her choice estates were known only to her domestic servants, who had been collecting rents on the land.
By 1912, Tinubu’s estate had become a matter of legal disputation between sections of the Eyisha family, who were her servants mandated to collect rents on her properties. The first and the most significant of these suits was Suit 124 of 1912, between Fafunmi and Osu Apena, Brima Misa, Sunmonu Ladejo (alias Oridedi), joined by order before Judge A. Willoughby Osborne. The plaintiff, Fafunmi was a great grandson of Eyisha.
In a Certified True Copy of the judgment seen by The Nation, Fafunmi confirmed that the land of Ewe Agbigbo cannot be sold without the consent of Tinubu or the Eyisha family. The judgment affirmed Tinubu’s ownership of the Ewe Agbigbo/Iwaya farmlands.
Another significant evidence thrown up by the Fafunmi vs. Osu Apena Suit was the emergence of a Plan Survey of the land prepared by Surveyor Herbert Macaulay in 1910 and admitted in evidence in the suit.
This fact has also been affirmed by various court judgments including: Suit No. IKJ/1999/65 between Fagoyimbo’s family and Kolawole James and Suit LD/183/66 between C. O. Dosunmu and Umo-Epe and others.
In search of Tinubu’s descendants
It was Friday and the Gbagura Central Mosque was filled to capacity. Located on Iddo hill, in Ojokodo, in Abeokuta North Local Government, it was a vintage location to view the rest of Gbagura homestead. Soon the service was over and thousands of faithful trooped into the narrow streets. Among them was Alhaji Adio Kassim, the head of the Lumosa family.
His living room at the Lumosa quarters, was sparsely furnished. A three-storey building which in the past had been a symbol of affluent and wealth. Prominent on the wall was a large picture of late business mogul, Chief Moshood M. K. O. Abiola. Strewn all over the room were documents relating to Madam Tinubu.
“Yes, Abiola was part of the Lumosa family. This is our father’s compound and Madam Tinubu was our daughter, she was born here and grew up here,” Kassim said. Around the building were several mud houses in different stages of collapse. The remnant of the building showed that Lumosa was a wealthy man, though that wealth has since passed into proverbs.
“If Madam Tinubu had any surviving children, what is happening to her properties now would not have happened. After her death, her estate was bastardised with many people claiming to be her family, that is why we have all these protracted litigation everywhere,” he said.
Apart from the Lumosa family members, descendants of Olumosa, the father of Madam Tinubu, the other family members of the icon are descendants of her half brother Sobowale. Many of them can be found in Tinubu compound (which originally belonged to Nijede), in Ojokodo, a few miles from her father’s compound, all in Gbagura. Unlike Lumosa compound, Sobowale’s compound had fewer buildings still standing even though the foundations of the wrecks were well preserved.
It was here that Tinubu’s mother Nijede was buried; it was here also that Madam Tinubu has her eternal resting place. The main building in the compound is an uncompleted storey house, in front of it is a well which contains the water from Osun goddess. In the days of Tinubu, the water was said to be very powerful with healing powers.
Today, most of the members of the family are Muslims but there are still those who are adherents of the Osun goddess. Every December 3, (the anniversary of Tinubu’s death), they gather to worship at the tomb of Tinubu and invoke the spirits of the well.
Nijede and Tinubu’s tomb were built besides the main building. Recently, the state government refurbished the building, housing the tomb. Inside the tomb itself, a magnificent temple has been built to the Osun goddess, a white clothe covered the deity while articles of sacrifice lay in front of it. In the extreme corner of the room was the tomb, separated by a small fence. It was a humble resting place for such a magnificent woman, without the building it would have passed unnoticed.
“We are very proud to be descendants of Madam Tinubu, she was a great woman who deserve national honours for what she did for this country,” Waliu Bakare, a member of the Sobowale family said. Sulaiman Sanni echoed this sentiment. He mentioned the fact that the tomb should be a tourist attraction where people can come and pay their respects. But, this may be a far-fetched idea until the government rightly declared the tomb a national monument. Presently, there are no motorable roads to the tomb making access difficult for tourists.
Since 1965, the descendants of Madam Tinubu had tried to form a common front in order to reposes her vast estates in Lagos and Abeokuta. This was no mean task as most of the properties then were considered lost, others being sold by the Eyisha family. That year, a High Court in Lagos mandated a Trustee of 20 members, comprising members of Sobowale and Lumosa families to superintend over the estate. Over the years, the family affairs were conducted by the Trustee headed by the eldest family member. That Trustee, however, soon ran into troubled waters and in 1999, the family approached the High Court of Lagos State, in Ikeja, before Justice S. A. Adebajo in Suit ID/920M/2000 and a new Trustee, this time reduced to four members was constituted.
The new members are: Alhaji Adio Kassim, Chief Shafiu Kassim, Chief G. O. Fasetire and Chief Adams Bilade Lahan. But hardly was this Trustee constituted that another ‘member of the family’ began a series of litigations challenging the legitimacy of the new Trustee.
The new challengers came from Sobowale side of the family, but Sulaiman Sanni said they are not real members of the family but domestics who have been integrated into the family over the years. At the centre of this epic battle, however, is the fight for the control of Madam Tinubu’s estates. Litigation became the order of the day as one injunction was being vacated, another was restored. There are also bitter disputes as who are the real family members of Madam Tinubu and those who are descendants of domestics integrated in to the family.
The Nation was able to trace the key members of both families and all the current members of Trustee in charge of the Tinubu family affairs. Many of them looked pained at the turn of events in the family and said they would rather have peace than war. Some other family members who spoke in confidence to The Nation blamed the situation on Madam Tinubu’s childlessness.
“A lot of people are saying they are also members of her family but if they are really members they should show us their family compound in Ojokodo. Even, if the house has been destroyed, we can still see the foundation (Alapa), as we have seen the others. These people are not from our family, they were integrated into our family,” one member said.
But Chief Shafiu Kassim said there are no debates about who represents the Tinubu family. “We will not be deterred by any trouble maker. We have the legal backings of the court as a Trustee and our job is to steer the affairs of this family and that is what we are doing,” he said.
Currently, the family has engaged the services of consultants to help manage the vast estates left by Tinubu. A spokesperson of the consulting firm, Adamakin Investments and Works Limited told The Nation in Lagos that its mandate is to create awareness about the Tinubu estate. Understandably, he chose to remain anonymous.
In the heart of Lagos Island, Tinubu square lay prominent with its newly renovated park and water fountain. It was a befitting memorial to the industry of the woman, who gave her all to the cause of Lagos. In Ita-Iyalode, Abeokuta, her homeland, a similar park has been constructed to her memorial. Donated by the Rotary Club in 1989, it was less glamorous than the square in Lagos. The statue too was remarkably different, whereas the Lagos statue had given Tinubu a formidable look, in the one in Abeokuta, she had a faraway look in those deep seated eyes and looked much younger. The Iyalode staff in her hand had a gold colour in contrast to the soot black statue.
Apart from the Europeans whom she fought for the control of trade in Lagos and Abeokuta, many Nigerians viewed Madam Tinubu as a strong and courageous woman, kind and accommodating. This was evident in the fanfare that accompanied her burial in Ojokodo, on Saturday December 3, 1887. Markets were shut and a mass rally was held to celebrate the woman, her burial ceremony lasted seven days. Only the Alake of Egbaland had that distinguished burial.
Tinubu was kind. This was evident around 1832, during the war of dispersal; she offered her child’s food to an old herbalist, who begged for food. The herbalist later gave her a portion that propelled her wealth, she was also very industrious. Despite being the wife of Prince Adele, she began to trade in the articles of the day in Badagry.
Yes, she traded in slaves and kept many for her use, but in her days, slavery was regarded as a legitimate business which had no impact on the moral consciousness of the practitioners. Her approach to treating slaves was different, unlike some of her contemporaries – Efunsetan Aniwura (Iyalode of Ibadan) – she treated her slaves well. They were in charge of many of her businesses; this is why her estate was despoiled after her death because her slaves were the only ones who knew the details of it.
She was the first Iyalode of Egba and occupied the position for 23 years and after her death no other woman of equal status was found to fill the post. Her successor, Madam Miniya Jojolola, was appointed only in the next century.
She also championed the cause of the oppressed, irrespective of the status of the victim. To her, justice must be served. When Oba Akint-oye was in exile, she supported him with all her material wealth until he was finally restored to the throne in Lagos. She was also the pillar behind Oba Dosunmu, guarding the Oba against the imposition of the British traders at the time.
But her greatest genius was in her political and commercial activities. She dealt shrewdly with the European and Jamaican merchants cutting off supply when necessary and blocking political support from the king. Her opposition to European interference in the affairs of Yorubaland set her on a collision course with them and it eventually led to her expulsion from Lagos.
In one of his dispatches to London, Benjamin Campbell, one of the representatives of the British government said of Madam Tinubu: “There is another mischievous person in Lagos, whose removal is very desirable but I fear difficult to effect. The woman (is) Tinaboo (Tinubu), the late Akintoye’s niece. She is heavily indebted to some merchants here and she will not pay them. Application by the King (Akintoye), on behalf of the merchants she treats with contempt, setting his authority at defiance; yet this woman is a protégé of Mr. Gollmer, because she is an Egba woman.”
Her opposition to the Westerners also had its effect. Because they were the only ones in possession of cameras, she refused to pose for many pictures, therefore, Madam Tinubu’s pictures are very rare. The only one that has been found and which The Nation possessed showed a remarkable feature of the Amazon.
She was rather sad looking, black as soot; she appeared to be a tall and big woman. She had a large shawl on her head, which went all the way to her back, she had enormous wrapper up to her chest and a single necklace hung on her neck. In her right hand she held a white handkerchief and had a sullen and sad look on her face.
It is incontrovertible that Madam Tinubu played an active role in the affairs of Yorubaland in 19th century and her place may not have been properly accorded in the historical annals of Western Nigeria. But her legacy stands and in the words of historian, Oladipo Yemitan, Tinubu was “an able politician, tactician, business woman, king-maker, philanthropist, a good manager of men and materials, arms and ammunition supplier, a slave dealer, war leader and a nationalist.”
– The Nation