Nomination Submitted By

Halimat Somotan

Columbia University


For more than forty years, Honorable Chief Adekunle AbdulLateef Alli has remained at the forefront of the development of Lagos history and culture. Alli is an octogenarian, public historian, bibliophile, unofficial academic advisor and mentor. After a visit to the British National Archives in 1962, he developed a passion for learning and writing about the history of Lagos. Since then, he has researched the religious, social, political, cultural, and economic history of Lagos from the pre-colonial to the post-colonial period at the British National Archives, Church Missionary Society archives, Nigerian National Archives (Ibadan and Abeokuta), and at Kenneth Dike Library at the University of Ibadan. His uniqueness as a historian and public figure lies in his passion for collecting, disseminating, and synthesizing primary records to unveil new historical perspectives on Lagos.

Born on March 13, 1934, Alli completed his primary and secondary education in Lagos before he proceeded to the City University of London to study accountancy from 1961 to 1964. When he returned to Nigeria, Alli worked for the federal government. He was later elected as a representative of Lagos Island East in the House of Representatives in 1979. He served in the science and technology and finance and appropriation committees at the National Assembly.

After the 1983 military coup abruptly ended his tenure in the National Assembly, Alli began a new career as a writer and historical consultant. From 1986 to 1996, he served as the executive director and acting managing director of Lagos News, founded by Abdulateef Jakande, the first civilian governor of Lagos State. In 1996, Alli established Akete Independent Communications, which produced the television show entitled, “This is Lagos,” and printed magazines on Lagos history. Some of Akete Communications’ publications included British Naval Attack on Lagos in 1851, a compilation of primary records on the British bombardment and annexation of Lagos as a colony, and Centenary of the Legends: Chief Alli Idosu (1906-1912) 9th Eletu Odibo of Lagos, a history of the evolution of the Eletu Odibo Chieftaincy title and the career of Alli Idosu as the Eletu. His other company, Akete Records, produced popular music of the 1950s and 1960s such as Sakara songs of Lefty Balogun Salami for public consumption and historical preservation.

From 1996 onwards, he contributed historical articles to local newspapers such as Eko Today and Awori News. He wrote a weekly column for Island News from 2006 to 2012. His newspaper articles focused on moments and peoples that have shaped the socio-political and cultural history of Lagos. Although these newspapers are no longer in print, existing copies of these articles demonstrate the rigor of historical research. For example, in 2005, he published fifteen parts articles on the life of Alfa Bisiriyu Apalara, an itinerant Muslim preacher, who was murdered in 1953, in Island News. To complete the essays on Apalara, he consulted records from the Nigerian National Archives in Ibadan and published biography on Apalara. He conducted oral interviews with individuals, who were familiar with the history of Islam and Apalara’s activities in Lagos too. In a country, where history has been excluded from public school curriculum, Alli’s writings helped to renew public interest in the importance of historical research.

In addition, Alli has assisted many scholars and students to complete their research by either granting interviews or donating records from his archive. For instance, Dr. Habeeb Sanni, a lecturer at Lagos State University and a member of Lagos Studies Association, praises Alli for sharing primary and secondary sources from his collection. Dr. Sanni first met him in 1987 when he was writing his undergraduate history thesis. Alli’s generosity for sharing his time, knowledge, and archival collections is well known among other students and scholars of Lagos History.

For his persistent efforts towards the development of the history of Lagos, Alli has been celebrated by organizations such as Association of Lagos State Indigenes, National Union of Lagos State Students, Eko Heritage, and Lagos Television News. In 1981, Alli was honored with double chieftaincy titles, Otun Maiyegun and Baba Oja of Lagos by late Oba Oyekan. In 2006, he was turbaned as the Otun Baba Adinni of Brazilian Olosun Mosque in Popo Aguda (Brazilian Quarters), Lagos Island. In 2015, he was selected as the grand patron of Lagos Island Childhood Gist.

At eighty-three, Alli is a modern day Griot, who uses his Facebook page to disseminate historical materials and essays and to engage audiences on Lagos history. For example, on June 2nd 2017, he published and translated a 1946 Yoruba pamphlet, “Outline Record of Lagos Chieftaincy Titles in the Past and Present Time,” written by Chief Yesufu Giwa, on his Facebook page. Alli discovered the little known document at the Nigerian National Archives in Ibadan (NNA). On July 17 2017, he used records from the NNA to explain the factors responsible for the selection of Oba Donsumu as King in 1853 following the death of Akitoye, his father. In another essay published on July 27, 2017, he explained how Afro-Brazilian repatriates developed mosques on Luther Street in Lagos Island. These Facebook essays demonstrate his passion and mission to promote the history of Lagos to audiences across geographical and age boundaries.

By creating versatile and ingenious ways to make the study of Lagos relevant to contemporary and future audiences, Alli has distinguished himself in the development of Lagos history and mentoring of the younger generation.