By Toyosi Onabanjo
Queen Elizabeth II’s death on 8 September has occasioned many tributes but also many Twitter jokes, some of them about the late Queen’s cherished Pembroke Welsh corgis. Being a former Queen of Nigeria, it is expected that Nigerians have an opinion about the monarch who passed away aged 96 at the Balmoral Castle in Scotland. Thus far, the reactions have been mixed—many have hailed the Queen, the gospel singer Tope Alabi going as far as making a montage in veneration; some others have tweeted less than salubrious remarks. But at least all can agree that the Queen is one of the most important people in world history.
Born Elizabeth Alexandra Mary on 21 April 1926, she ascended the British throne in 1952, following the death of her father and former king, George VII. At only twenty-five years old, she became the queen of seven independent Commonwealth countries: The United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Pakistan, and Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). She was Nigeria’s constitutional monarch from 1960 until 1 October 1963 when Nigeria became a republic.
At the time of succeeding her father, the British Empire was on the cusp of its demise and many former British colonies were clamoring for independence, with Ghana attaining it in 1957 and Somalia and Nigeria both attaining theirs in 1960.
Elizabeth was crowned in 1953, a year after her father’s passing. As queen, one of her ceremonial duties included visiting the British colonies, to which Nigeria belonged. She visited Nigeria twice—in 1956 when Nigeria was a British colony and in 2003 when Nigeria was already a sovereign nation.
Queen Elizabeth’s visit to Nigeria in 1956 happened three years after ascending the British throne. She landed in Nigeria’s former capital, Lagos, along with her entourage, among whom was her late husband, Philip Mountbatten, the Duke of Edinburgh. She was received by thousands at the airport. In that number was the then Governor-General of Nigeria, James Robertson; Festus Okotie-Eboh; and the then-Oba of Lagos, Adenji-Adele II. A twenty-eight-year-old Elizabeth wore a pink floral dress, a brimmed hat, and a pair of white opera gloves to match a white handbag. She was a picture of youth and royalty.
She spent twenty days in Nigeria, from 28 January to 16 February. In her husband’s company, she toured the country, visiting Kano, Kaduna, Enugu, among others.
She worshipped at the Cathedral Church of Christ in Marina, Lagos, an Anglican church founded by Reverend Samuel Ajayi Crowther and which during the Queen’s visit was under the provost Reverend A.W. Howells. During her visit, the Queen donated a chair to the cathedral.
While in Nigeria, the Queen commissioned the Nigerian painter and sculptor Ben Enwonwu to make a bronze sculpture of herself. The next year, she posed in London as Enwonwu banged metal against his imagination in order to bring an outsized version of the Queen to life. The sculpture was completed in 1957, and in November of the same year was presented at the Royal Society of British Artists exhibition in London.
The second time Queen Elizabeth visited Nigeria, she was 76 years old. She retained the brimmed hat, but this time it nested wreaths of grey hair. The flower of youth had withered, but the royal grace endured.
This time the Queen visited Abuja and was hosted by then-President Olusegun Obasanjo. She was in the country to attend the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting—the 18th of its kind—that had representatives from 51 Commonwealth countries in attendance. 3 Commonwealth nations were not in attendance—the suspended Zimbabwe and Pakistan who were not invited, and Antigua and Barbuda who were not suspended but sent no representative.
The meeting garnered great media attention at the time. Discussed in the meeting was Zimbabwe’s controversial suspension from the Commonwealth of Nations. There was also a dispute over the re-election of the New Zealander Don McKinnon as Secretary General.
The Queen was in Nigeria from December 3rd to December 6th.
In spite of the controversies that have tailed her public life and some negative remarks that have tailed her demise, the Queen leaves behind a rich legacy. Having reigned for 70 years and 214 days, Queen Elizabeth II was the longest-serving British monarch and the longest recorded of any female head of state. She was the second longest-reigning monarch in world history, only behind France’s Louis XXIV. Her death itself is symbolic. Having lived nearly a century, in which time she lived through major global political and cultural changes, her demise in many ways epitomizes the end of an era. Or two eras. Or three.
Queen Elizabeth II is succeeded by her eldest son, Charles III.
Toyosi Onabanjo is a freelance technical and entertainment writer who lives in Lagos.