When the author of Usefulness of Useless Knowledge, Donald Jordan, said “history is an aggregate of half-truths, semi-truths, fables, myths, rumours, prejudices, personal
narratives, gossip and official prevarications,” he may have been frustrated by the historical contradictions of his time. And such inconsistencies have been the fate of history from time immemorial, making Karl Marx to observe that it first repeats itself as a tragedy, and later as farce.
While these observations rightly mirrored the status of past events, whether documented or oral, they nonetheless, didn’t dismiss the instructiveness of history. The latest debate on those who founded Lagos is yet another repetition of history, which gives room to distortion to suit interests and times.
Such a situation re-echoes the author of The War of the World: History’s Age of Hatred, Niall Ferguson, who said oral history is a recipe for complete misrepresentation.
The American scholar added that when it comes to oral history, almost no one tells the truth, even when they intend. That is a case of the Lagos question, which seems to have birthed many later-day historians, whose conceptions and interpretations contradicted generally accepted narratives on the subject. Since the storyline dates back centuries gone, the witnesses to that history are now history themselves, but there are those who qualified as custodians of that history. One of them is Her Royal Highness, Erelu Kuti IV of Lagos, Erelu Abiola Dosunmu, a direct descendant of the progenitors of Lagos kingship. Her bloodline alone makes her side on the origin of Lagos more authoritative than anyone else. In this interview, which was conducted when the same controversy came up a few years back, Erelu Dosunmu narrated the story of Lagos as handed down by her ancestors. The current debate was provoked by the Oba of Benin, Omo N’ Oba N’ Edo, Uku Akpolokpolo, Ewuare II, who restated what others had said in the past.
Oba Ewuare on a visit to Lagos said: “I cannot help but say that it is in history books that Benin founded Lagos. But when some people hear it now they go haywire that ‘what is the Oba saying?’ But it is true . Go and check the records. Maybe not all of Lagos as we know it now but certain areas in Lagos – maybe the nucleus -was founded by my ancestors. The Oba of Lagos will say so.”
Just as the monarch anticipated, the remark has reignited the controversy over who founded Lagos.