Artist: Ndidi Dike
Location: Lagos Island, Lagos

Madam Tinubu (Tinubu Square)

As a contemporary artist living in a palpable, dynamic city such as Lagos, I connect extensively with a diversity of multiple approaches to my creative practice, working and researching on selected theme(s). Historically speaking, not enough documentation and recognition (and in some cases women have been completely excised) has been given to the pivotal roles women have occupied in Nigeria’s political and cultural landscape. One of the most prominent and politically powerful Yoruba women in pre-colonial Nigeria is Madam Efunroye Tinubu an activist and phenomenal business woman, originally an Egba from Abeokuta (1805 to 1887). Tinubu Square, named after her, is situated in the heart of Lagos central business district on Lagos Island, previously known and named Independence Square, by the leaders of our first republic.

Madam Tinubu was born into a trading family in Abeokuta (also known as Egbaland). After learning her business skills under the apprenticeship of her mother, she headed to Badagry, Lagos where she started trading in tobacco and salt. She later expanded her trade to include slaves who she sold to European slave traders. As a shrewd businesswoman and entrepreneur, she became the most important middleman in trade between Europeans and the Yorubaland interior by creating large trading networks.

She moved to Lagos in 1835 from Badagry with her second husband and built up a formidable economic enterprise in agro allied products and slaves (Tinubu was also rumored to own three hundred sixty personal slaves). By 1845, as European nations repudiated slavery and turned to commercial crops (natural resources) from West Africa, she expanded her empire by controlling the major items of commerce: palm oil, coconut oil, and cotton et c, and became an adversary of the British Colonial Government of what is today known as Nigeria.

Tinubu’s power and influence were taken away from her in Lagos when she challenged the British Consul Benjamin Campbell, who railed against her economic hegemony and secret slave trading with Europeans and Brazilians. The consequences were dire and in May of 1856 she was exiled from Lagos to Abeokuta, where she remained a major trader until her death in 1887. She is revered as a legend and remembered for her outstanding business acumen, entrepreneurship, as well as being an astute politician with extensive networks of political power, who fought patriarchy and did not allow it have any influence in her life. She was a formidable opponent to competition and the colonialists.

A quote on her cenotaph an iconic monument reads:

“Here stands a cenotaph in memory of the irrepressible opponent of the slave trade and the British colonial government. Madam Efunroye Tinubu, this icon of enterprise and leadership renowned slave trader as a matter of principle and diverted her commercial skills to trading in arms and salt. Her immense wealth and nationalism earned her the prestigious title of The Iyalode of Egba land and she remained the stormy petrel and amazon of the anti-colonial struggle until she breathed her last in 1887.”

Ndidi Dike

July 2016

Gloria Chuku, "Tinubu, Efunroye," Dictionary of African Biography, Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Emmanuel K. Akyeampong, eds. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008); "Tinubu, Madame (1805-1887)," New Encyclopedia of Africa, John Middleton and Joseph C. Miller, eds., 2nd ed. Vol. 5 (Detroit: Charles Scribner's Sons, 2008).

Foster, Hannah
University of Washington, Seattle