Amodu Tijani’s Case

Ahmodu Tijani led by his staff bearer, Herbert Macualay at a London event in 1921
Amodu Tijani, Lagos chief, led by Herbert Macualay in London during the case trial in London, 1921. Photo: British Pathé

Amodu Tijani’s case against the secretary to the government of Southern Nigeria was the watershed legal event in 1921 by which the ownership of Lagos lands was decided in favour of natives. Amodu Tijani, the chief Oluwa of Lagos was an Idejo chief whose influence extended to several villages and towns in the Lagos area in the early 20th Century. Beyond his membership of the Lagos aristocracy, Amodu made inputs in the formation of the nationalist movement cutting across West African states, the National Council of British West Africa, (NCBWA) which in its inaugural meeting in March 1920 called for increased representation of natives in African affairs.

In 1921, Amodu Tijani sued the government of the Southern Nigeria for lands at Apapa which he had been compelled to release. With the help of Herbert Macaulay, the astute son of Babington Macaulay, he had pushed his case to the Privy Council, the senior court in the British Empire and highest court of appeal for colonies. The council ruled that the 1861 cession of Lagos did not affect the character of the private native rights. This effectively overruled the Nigerian Supreme Court decision, which had denied his petition against the confiscation of his land. In Lagos, Tijani’s case enjoyed wide support of the people and the king, Eleko of Eko entrusted to Macaulay, Amodu’s temporary minister, the Opa Adehun silver staff which his father had been given by the British in recognition of his office in 1861. This served as a gesture of his support.

Amodu Tijani & Herbert Macaulay in London

While in London, Macaulay blared out the staff proudly and his public statement which appeared to have exaggerated the Eleko’s status landed the monarch in a controversy for which his salary was terminated. In response, Macaulay published an essay in London in which he counselled imperial powers of its moral obligation to Lagos monarchy. Thus commenced the political career of the man who had in the eve of his flight to London been persecuted through a judicial process that made him ineligible for public office for the rest of his life. He would shortly form upon his triumphant return heralded by the composition of new poems, the first substantive Nigerian political party. Though local, Tijani’s legal success impacted greatly throughout the British Empire, and it became a reference point in places as remote as India and New Zealand.

Tope Apoola
Profession: Writer