Augustus Otonba-Payne

Augustus Otonba-Payne
Augustus Otonba-Payne, Source: National Archives, UI

Augustus Otonba-Payne was a key figure in Lagos Colony during the reign of Queen Victoria of England. Otonba Payne was born 1839 in Sierra Leone. His father was captured from Ijebu Ode during one of the raids in which individuals were sold to slavery, but was soon rescued by the British anti-slavery squadron. Payne was educated in the then more westernized town of Freetown but he continued with his education in Lagos when he returned, together with other Yoruba nationals in Sierra Leone called Saros. Payne therefore became one of the first generation scholars in Lagos, often discussing political issues in newspapers. His consistently pro-British commentaries have been of immense value to researchers on Victorian-era Lagos. His name was an Anglicized form of his father’s native name, Adepeyin and the Otonba is adapted from Otun Oba, an important traditional title of his father, being the elder brother to the Awujale of Ijebu Ode. Payne co-operated with James Johnson in persuading the Awujale of Ijebu to accept Christian missionaries. He was an advocate of the “Africa for the Africans” cause and his ideas were often in the compass of Johnson’s.

Otunba Payne's Orange House
Orange House owned by the Otunba John Augustus Payne is now presently occupied by Primrose-Tower & Monument Bank, on 17a Tinubu Street on Lagos Island area of Lagos State. Photo: J. O. Payne’s Almanac for the year 1882

Payne moved to Lagos in 1862 and started work as a Police clerk. He later rose to become a prosecutor and the first indigenous Registrar of the Old Supreme Court. In 1881, he was commissioned to organize the first census in Lagos. Payne is often referred to as the father of Nigerian journalism. He served as one of the first Chief Registrars of Lagos courts that had recently been established by the British administration from 1867 to 1899. He was Solicitor of the Supreme Court of Lagos and Southern Nigeria from then till his death in 1906. Payne compiled a document on Lagos and did a West African almanac in his life. He also wrote a chronological table of principal events in Yoruba history. This 1894 book became in its day a textbook for all lawyers and judges. Payne kept a few hundred domestic slaves and lived a privileged life that was a reserve of the Saros of his time. On Thursday 20 December 1906, Payne was  murdered by unknown assailants at home. The murder remains a cold case till today.

Tope Apoola
Profession: Writer