T.O.S. Benson

T.O.S. Benson , Nigerian Minister at Hotel Hilton June 1963
Nig. Inform. Min. Benson i/West-Bln. Hotel Hilton. Juni 1963

Theophilus Owolabi Sobowale Benson was a Lagos lawyer and prominent member of Nigeria’s pre and post independence aristocracy. Born in Ikorodu in 1917, Benson lived for 91 years, a life that is remembered for high attainment and personal style. He attended CMS Grammar School, Lagos and after working briefly in the civil service as a custom officer between 1937 and 1943, he left Nigeria for further studies. There, he joined the Egbe Omo Oduduwa, a cultural nationalist group that would transform into the political party that sailed the Nigeria western region through independence. He earned a law degree from University College, London and was called to bar at the Lincoln’s Inn in 1947.

Benson became known when in the year of his return to Nigeria, he successfully defended the arrested members of the Zikist movement who were charged with sedition. In 1950 he was elected into the Lagos Town Council and subsequently to represent Lagos in the western house of assembly. Under the NCNC, he held other elective positions, the last being member of the House of Representatives and Government Chief Whip. Benson served as federal minister of Information, Broadcasting and Culture from 1959. Although he rose to the position of the Vice President of the Igbo dominated NCNC, the inter-ethnic tensions that built up in the first republic and his loss of election primaries necessitated his resignation from the party in 1964. In the first Nigerian military coup that brought Aguiyi Ironsi to power, Benson was arrested alongside many southern leaders and detained at Ikoyi prisons. They were released months after, with the success of a counter coup.