What you must know about Transport Interchange and the origin of “Oshodi”

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Oshodi Transport Interchange, the new face of Oshodi

Oshodi Transport Interchange, the new face of Oshodi

By Ademola Adegbamigbe

Today, Oshodi, Lagos, is in the news, not for the rowdiness and crimes that used to characterise the place. The President of Nigeria, Muhammadu Buhari came to commission what the Lagos State Government said is the largest transport interchange in Africa.

Tapes have been cut and speeches have been rendered. However, not many Nigerians know the origin (etymology) of the word, “Oshodi”. It is actually the name of a man of Nupe, Niger State extraction, Antonio Oshodi -Tapa, who grew up in Lagos and became a slave merchant. There are actually two versions to that story.

The first is according to the family of the Oshodi patriarch: “Chief Oshodi-Tapa, a prince by his own right migrated from Bida in the present day Niger State of Nigeria. On arrival in Lagos, Chief Fagbemi, who reported to the then King Eshilokun, announced him. After consultation with the Ifa Oracle, the king asked Oshodi to stay with Fagbemi. He later moved to the Oba’s Palace and was placed in charge of the inner section to oversee security.”

However, Damola Awoyokun, a UK-based writer, historian and civil engineer, in a piece, which was a reply to the family’s position, published in TheNEWS website on Thursday, 24 December 2015, argued that the problem with legends like this is that they corrupt truth and like myth, they are careless with details.

Rather, Awoyokun narrated: “Little Oshodi was a boy slave who outsmarted his tribulations. About to be loaded onto a transatlantic slave ship in Lagos, he fled in search of the town’s palace for refuge. This presented Oba Eshilokun with a conundrum. He was a major player in the slave trade who even numbered children amongst his merchandise. However, the religious algorithm that entrenched slavery asserted that one’s destiny as a slave was far more superior to one’s capacity to feel pain. And here was a little boy, an ajoji (foreigner) asking the king to consider his pain over the weight of his chains. The call was too tough for Eshilokun that he sought guidance from Ifa divination.

“Ifa introduced another dimension: ‘There is only one home to the life of a river mussel; there is only one home to the life of a tortoise; there is only one truth to the soul of man: if a child cannot call on an elder to help who else can he call on? The cycle of being must not be reversed; it is destiny too.’

“Eshilokun raised Oshodi like one of his own children. Singling him out as a foreigner, he was called Tapa (the Yoruba designation for Nupe people) yet he enjoyed greater entitlements than a native. He was called Oshodi meaning – the royal chamberlain – tasked with the wellbeing of the king’s wives. A great position of trust and kindliness it was.”

However, Awoyokun asked that if being concerned about the pain of others and imagining what it is to be someone other than oneself is the essence of compassion and the beginning of morality, why did Oshodi who knew about the horrors of being a slave invert to be one of the biggest slave brokers of his time? How come he was indifferent to the anguish of slaves and the pain of separation and loss he was inflicting on the slaves’ families? Awoyonkun added that one would expect from him an outbreak of antislavery consciousness just like Ajayi Crowther who refused to be inverted but grew up to be militantly antislavery thus becoming Nigeria’s Founding Father.

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Well, Awoyokun argued that part of the reason may be due to the improbable kindness shown to Oshodi by the royal household; “it radicalised his loyalty to the family business just like the restoration of Crowther’s freedom and dignity by the Royal Navy and British missionaries increased his devotion to Queen Victoria and the British culture.”

Awoyokun added: “When a Portuguese business partner asked Eshilokun for one of his sons to receive structured training in international slave valuation and management, contract enforcement, credit protection, shipping and diplomatic relations at a slave business school in Bahia, Eshilokun not totally trusting his business partner, hedged his bets by sending Oshodi Tapa instead of his own sons, Idewu Ojulari or Kosoko. It later paid off. Oshodi Tapa acquired the name Antonio in Brazil which was then a Portuguese colony.”

Lagos, Oshodi Tapa and inverted slaves

By Damola Awoyokun

My attention has been drawn to the press statement issued by the Oshodi Tapa family titled, “Oshodi Tapa wasn’t a slave of Oba Kosoko, says family” (The Guardian 6th May 2015) which is a response to my review of Prof Adeyemo Elebute’s magnificent biography: The life and Times of James Pinson Labulo Davies: A Colossus of Victorian Lagos. The review was published as “Lagos, Slave Trade and the Founding Fathers” in The News, 9th December 2014. Read that story here: http://thenewsnigeria.com.ng/2014/12/lagos-slave-trade-and-the-founding-fathers/.

Black slaves

According to the family, when I said: “Prince Kosoko, who was Oba Eshilokun’s son, did not wait to be King before becoming a major slave trader. Princess Opo Olu, Kosoko’s sister owned 1400 slaves. Oshodi Tapa, Dada Antonio and Ojo Akanbi, like Ajayi Crowther, were former slaves, but unlike Crowther, they rose to become merchants themselves.” They reckoned I meant that Oshodi Tapa was a slave of Prince Kosoko. In that passage, I was listing the personalities who were slave traders and those who were ex-slaves; I was not listing who owned them. Ajayi Crowther was enslaved in March 1821 at his village of Oshogun 140km north of Lagos by Fulani slavers who capitalised on the weakened Oyo Empire to attack his village. Crowther, a boy of 12 years old was exchanged for a horse. The lady who brought him later exchanged him for tobacco leaves and a bottle of English wine from an Ijebu man who in turn sold him in Lagos to the Portuguese slave ship, Esperenza Feliz (meaning Free Spirit). Oba Eshilokun was the king at this time.

Like his children – Princess Opo Olu and Princes Idewu Ojulari and Kosoko, – Eshilokun was a slave exporter and price fixer who would not allow market forces to determine slave prices hence owned slave warehouses. There was no record that he or his family owned Crowther but he received commission on his sale because as the Oba of Lagos, he had put in place a rigorous and aggressive tax system which ensured that for every slave ship that docked in Lagos, for every slave sold to those ships, his cut was assured.

Click to read the rest here: www.thenewsnigeria.com.ng/2019/04/the-transport-interchange-and-the-origin-of-oshodi/