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Madam Efunroye Tinubu was a prosperous nineteenth century West African businesswoman. She gained her wealth and power through the Atlantic slave trade and palm trade with Europe. Although not well know, Madam Tinubu played an extremely important role in Nigerian politics and commerce using her intelligence, business prowess, and natural understanding of trade.

Early Years and Marriage

Madam Tinubu was born Efunporoye Osuntinubu Olumosa around 1805 somewhere in the Elba forests. Osunsola, her grandmother, taught her sales and marketing skills as a trader in herbs, tree bark, leaves, and roots. Nijeede, her mother, taught her how to run a business by selling food. She married a man, whose name is unknown, and together they produced two sons. She established a business as a tree leaf and bark trader after his death shortly after their marriage and relocation to Abeokuta, a Yoruba town in Western Nigeria, in 1830.

Madam Enfunroye Tinubu used the skills she learned from the women in her family to begin her successful career as a businesswoman.

Tinubu remarried in 1833 to exiled king, the boa, of Lagos, Nigeria named Adele. Despite his status as an exile, Adele remained powerful and wealthy and provide her with large capital to build a business. They moved to the small town of Badagry on the coast near Lagos. [1]

Building a Business and Nigerian Politics

After moving to Badagry, Tinubu used her husband’s business network to become an extremely profitable businesswoman as a slave trader located on the busy eastern Slave Coast. She captured and sold locals from Abeokuta to Europeans in exchange for tobacco and salt. Her sons died while in Badagry and her father supposedly provided her with two slaves as a gift. In 1835, Adele emerged from exile to return to his position as king of Lagos. The couple moved to Lagos, where Adele ruled for two years before dying in 1837, leaving Madam Tinubu a widow again. The couple bore no children, but Adele had a son, Oluwole. Upon Adele’s death, she assisted crowning Oluwole as the new king. She then married Yesefu Bada. Sometimes known as Obadina, he was a Muslim, Oluwole’s preferred military advisor, and a successful warrior.

Madam Tinbu always put her business first even if that meant forcing countless Africans into a life of slavery and killing others with her weapons supply from European traders.

Madam Efunroye Tinbu facilitated the change of power from her husband to his son while rapidly expanding her business. [2] She became the largest supplier of palm oil and slaves by trading the European firearms she received. This was especially true during the 1840s-1850s Yoruba Civil Wars, when supplied the many fighting tribes with her firearms in exchange for slaves.[3] The Yoruba lived in almost a third of the Nigerian states, from Lagos to Oyo to Ekiti in the Southwest through Kogi in the middle and down to Edo in the South. They controlled much of the trading routes, Oyo being the largest state and exporting millions of slaves.[4]

When Oluwole died accidentally in 1841, she secured Akintoye, her brother-in-law, as his replacement over rival, Kosoko.[5] He granted her many extensive shopfronts in Lagos’s downtown area as thanks. She invested her expansive wealth to build up and expand the downtown and business district areas. Madam Tinbu then constructed an oversized, new home to exhibit her growing wealth.[6] Akintoye did not remain in power long. He entered into exile in 1845 after being defeated and Madam Tinubu was forced into exile as well.

Madam Efunroye Tinbu greatly influenced Nigerian politics through the leaders she helped install and her economic, military, and political advice.

She continued to use her wealth and power during the unstable political and economic atmosphere to increase her many business ventures. She even was rumored to own over 350 slaves herself. By 1845 Europeans began abolishing slavery and she adapted her business and sought control over the biggest commercial crops available in West Africa, including cotton, palm oil, and coconut oil. Tinubu’s connections grew as she fashioned the majority of deals and trade alliances with European military and political leaders. She performed as the middle-woman in Lagos between the local merchants in rural Nigeria and the traders from Europe. [7]

Madam Tinubu and Her Fall from Power

In 1851, the British attacked Lagos with the encouragement of Akintoye. The raid succeeded and they reinstated Akintoye after deposing Kosoko. Madam Efunroye Tinubu returned shortly after his reinstatement. The New British Consul, Benjamin Campbell outlawed the gifting of child slaves as payment for goods. He challenged Madam Tinubu’s economic monopolies and slave trading. She attempted to remove him from power, but in May 1856 he challenge her with gunboats and, without any defense, she was forced to give in.[8]

Madam Tinubu never allowed a change in location to stop her from pursuing and expanding her ample business interests.

Her vocal contention with the imperialistic pressures from the British as a fervent believer in African autonomy and independence led to her being returned into exile in Abeokuta. Back in Abeokuta, Madam Tinubu returned to her trading background and established a new trade with her slaves in exporting palm produce. Her political activity continued as well. She became Abeokuta’s head female chief, or iyalode.[9] Madam Efunroye Tinubu died in 1887. Tinubu Square, the large, commercial area she built with her wealth and political power in Lagos still exists today as one of the most frequented business areas in the entire city.[10]

References

Bibliography

Foster, H. (2015). Tinubu, Madam Efunroye (ca. 1805-1887). The Black Past: Remembered and Reclaimed. 
Smith, B. G. (2008). The Oxford Encyclopedia of Women in World History. New York: Oxford University Press.

Footnotes

  1. Smith, 2008
  2. Smith, 2008
  3. Foster, 2015
  4. Adeniran, A. I. (2009). Yoruba Wars, 19th century. In I. Ness (Ed.), The International Encyclopedia of Revolution and Protest: 1500 to the Present. United Kingdom: Wiley-Blackwell (an imprint of John Wiley & Sons Ltd). Blackwell Reference Online.
  5. Foster, 2015
  6. Foster, 2015
  7. Smith, 2008
  8. Foster, 2015
  9. Smith, 2008
  10. Foster, 2015

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