Monday 20 September 2021

Madame Efunroye Tinubu

Eminent Nigerians of the Nineteenth Century by Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation (1960)

" Madame Tinubu, like many a genius, sprang from humble beginnings. She was born in the Egba [Forest] and it was said that her mother was a seller of breakfast maize porridge and her father probably an Owu man. After serving the customary apprenticeship with her mother, she went to seek her fortune on the coast at Badagry. 

She quickly made a mark there and built up a lucrative trade in salt and tobacco. There also she first came into contact with the slave trade and the Brazilian slave dealers for whom she acted as a middleman. So, by the time Akitoye, the displaced King of Lagos, reached Badagry via Abeokuta about 1846, Tinubu was firmly established there.

It will be remembered that Akitoye's mother was probably an Owu woman and Tinubu recognized this bond of kinship with the exiled King immediately; she espoused his cause and used her wealth and influence in Badagry to build up a faction dedicated to the support of Akitoye and his return to his lawful throne at Lagos.

Everywhere Tinubu became known as Akitoye's niece and his mainstay against the intrigues of his nephew and supplanter, Kosoko. Thus when after Consul Beecroft's intervention in Badagry in 1850 and the successful action taken against Kosoko in Lagos in 1851, Akitoye returned to Lagos, it was natural that Tinubu should follow him there.

At Lagos, Tinubu became the power behind Akitoye's throne; she transferred her trading establishment there and became a leading middleman between the European trades at Lagos and her own kinsmen and women in Abeokuta. People became jealous of her influence with the King and in 1853 two Chiefs of Lagos rose in rebellion, allegedly in opposition to her growing dominance over Akitoye.

When Dosunmu succeeded Akitoye, his father, in 1853, Tinubu's influence with the King grew even greater ; for Dosunmu was not a strong character and he came to rely more and more on the advice and support of his masterful 'Aunt'. Tinubu, however, met her match in the British Consul at Lagos, Benjamin Campbell. He accused her of acting as a middleman between the European and Brazilian slave dealers and the Egba vendors who were using the Oke-Odan route.

Whereas the Consul was anxious to encourage the Sierra Leone immigrants (the Lagos Saro) and the emancipados from Brazil and Cuba who had brought new skills into Lagos, Madam Tinubu found in these literate and enterprising people rivals not only in commerce and trade but also in domination over the weak-minded King.

Campbell advised Dosunmu to expel Tinubu from Lagos but the Egba authorities intervened and pleaded successfully for her and Campbell relaxed his pressure on the King. When Campbell was on furlough in the United Kingdom in 1855, opposition to the Sierra Leone and Brazilian immigrants flared up and Tinubu was again at its head. 

She and her supporters alleged that the immigrants were using their growing prosperity and influence against the authority of the King and they were introducing rank innovations which were subversive of the ancient traditions of the island.

On his return in 1856 Campbell was determined to deal with the situation. He coerced Dosunmu, who hitherto had professed neutrality, to imprison the leaders of the rising against the immigrants, and Madame Tinubu's husband was one of them.

Incensed at the outrage, Tinubu stalked into the Iga (the King's palace) and openly upbraided the King, charged him with weakness and demanded the release of her husband. She threatened to withhold her support from him and bring back his more kingly rival, Kosoko, from Epe.

Campbell came to the rescue of the King who was still reluctant to break with his formidable 'Aunt'; the Consul called in the [British] gunboats and Dosunmu was compelled to authorize Madame Tinubu's expulsion in May 1856.

King Dosunmu had good reason for his reluctance to let Madame Tinubu depart from Lagos. She was then the leading middleman in the interior trade at Lagos and many of her trade creditors attempted to shelter her. 

In the credit or trust trading system which obtained then as now, she was a debtor to the tune of over £5,000 advanced to her for palm oil by various merchants.  Her expulsion from Lagos therefore would mean certain financial loss to her creditors on the one hand, and loss of badly needed support for some influential citizens of Lagos, such as Turner, a Sierra Leone immigrant, on the other.

Tinubu's hope of Consul Campbell's relenting was however disappointed and after loitering around Lagos for a while she was escorted to Abeokuta at the Consul's expense.

Campbell congratulated himself for breaking a great middleman monopoly of trade at Lagos ; but in fact he had only unwittingly planted at Abeokuta an influential Lagosian émigré who could foment dissension between the Egba and the authorities at Lagos....

Madam Tinubu's claim to an honoured place in the annals of Nigeria was acknowledged by her contemporaries. Tinubu died childless and among the Yoruba, the sting of childlessness is most keenly felt in contemplating death; for one's children are most in evidence during funeral ceremonies.

When Madame Tinubu died, the Egba rose to a man to perform her filial duties and she was accordingly given a veritable state funeral. All the Egba mourned her death but also celebrated her fame as befitted a true heroine.

By Mr. Kehinde Thompson

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...