- Power, Culture and Modernity in Nigeria: Beyond the colony by Oluwatoyin Oduntan
By Oluwatoyin Oduntan. London; New York: Routledge, 2018.
In Power, Culture and Modernity, Oluwatoyin Oduntan challenges the conventional interpretation of colonial African history by mapping the instructive responses of the Egba people of South West Nigeria to European sociopolitical and religious forces that sought to shape and appropriate their sociocultural and political systems.
In six engaging chapters, Oduntan explores the socio-political development among the Egba people of Abeokuta in the southwestern part of Nigeria. The new settlement, established in 1892, consisted of various sub-Egba groups: the Ake, Oke-Ona, Gbagura, Oshile, and later the Owu. Oduntan argues that the Egba nation was negotiated out of various groups that migrated into Abeokuta (31). The forging of a new Egba identity, Oduntan argues, was an existential necessity. Though one could argue that pre-Abeokuta Egba settlements lacked hierarchical othering, he concludes that the Ake claimed seniority based on "primordial authority over other settlements" (32). However, in the new settlement, leadership was not defined by claim to royalty: it was "survival of the fittest." Men who became the rallying point for the new settlement were men of war and valor.
Oduntan goes on to describe the impacts of freed slaves from Sierra Leone, Cuba and Brazil in the making of Abeokuta in the third quarter of the nineteenth century. The freed slaves, most of whom remembered their towns and points of departure, became central in the colonialization of Yorubaland. Contrary to earlier scholars, Oduntan argues the returnees from Sierra Leone were not on a civilizing mission; rather, they had become disenchanted with the colonial policy of the British and sought a new living space. Lagos was their first choice of settlement after leaving Sierra Leone. However, the fear of King Kosoko, a prominent slave dealer, forced them to first seek accommodation in Badagry, a slave market town to the west of Lagos. Unfortunately, their sojourn in Badagry was not palatable. Those who sought refuge in Abeokuta were accommodated by the Egba chiefs, and their presence changed the sociopolitical and cultural landscape of Egbaland. They saw themselves as the harbingers of Victorian ideas and ethos in Abeokuta and Lagos (34, 52, 53).
Because of their education and their time under British rule, these formerly enslaved people were Victorian in their worldview, but they still related with the Egba people because they retained their African identity. Their ability to negotiate the sociocultural milieu of colonial Africa under the British gave them the authority to assert their Egba citizenship. They were therefore very active in Egba life, forming sociocultural clubs such as the Egba Patriotic Association (formed in 1893), the Egba National Council (formed in 1898), and the Lisabi Club (formed in 1934). These associations became a vehicle to propagate their notion of modernity, Oduntan argued. Because of their Western education and advanced knowledge in technical skills, they constituted the new elite. Oduntan remarks, whether they were a "deluded hybrid" or not, they became a "recognized elite and power broker" class.
Missionaries were very central to the formation of Egba identity in the incipient days of colonialism. They however lacked a clear understanding of the conflict between King Kosoko and his challenger to the throne of Lagos, Akitoye. Akitoye was presented as anti‒slave trade crusader and Kosoko as an unrepentant slave dealer. According to Oduntan, however, the Egba were merely playing existential politics, and the missionaries were outplayed by the Egba. The Egba elites succeeded in using the missionaries as conduits to the British government in Lagos. After the death of Sodeke, the Egba war chief, the missionaries encouraged and supported the centralization of chiefly power, which led to the installation of Alake in 1854 in the midst of and despite the contestation of chiefly power among the traditional elite and "modern" elite. It did, however, give the Egba a sense of national unity.
While the Egba tolerated the missionaries to an extent, interference in the local power dynamics among the Ogboni chiefs by Lagos-based Egba elite and general resentment by the people over the...