Sneak Peek: Fireflies on the Lagoon – Tunde Leye

We present Fireflies on the Lagoon, our second title in the Sneak Peek series. Written by historical novelist, Tunde Leye it chronicles the bombardment of Lagos during the reign of Oba Kosoko with Efunroye Tinubu aka Madam Tinubu (one of the most powerful women ever in Lagos) looming large. Fireflies on the Lagoon will be published by Masobe Books in October 2024.


Lagos, 1845


Efunroye Tinubu had come to the conclusion that the gods were her enemies. Twice she had placed a king on the throne in Lagos and twice, the king had ended up dead. Oluwole’s demise came only four years into his reign, a young man in his prime. Unlike his father whom the gods had taken peacefully even though they made his reign short, they had made a resounding statement with Oluwole’s death. Sango himself visited the palace with thunder and lightning and blew up the gunpowder cache. It happened when the king was checking the storehouse. All that remained of King Oluwole were the beads he had been wearing. Even his body, the gods had made sure they could not find.

But the gods had once been human. And if there was one person who would refuse to accept defeat from them, it was her, Efunroye. She gathered herself together to bury the king and got ready to make a new one. As long as they left her alive, she would not relent.

She sent a messenger to Domingo Martinez. He would know how to reach Akitoye.




Kosoko was deliberate with the time of day he arrived in Lagos. The sky was clear and the town was fully alive. Four years ago, he had left secretly, in defeat, but this time, everyone would see him arrive. His boat had twenty rowers on each side. Large drapes emblazoned with the emblem of the royal house fluttered in the wind. He wore a purple velvet agbada, reminiscent of the one Idewu Ojulari favoured, flanked by Opo Olu and Oshodi Tapa. He was now forty and the years he had spent in Ouidah had matured his perspective significantly.

Every day he spent in that foreign country, he counted down to when he would be able to return home. In Ouidah, everyone lived in fear of King Ghezo of Dahomey. He had summoned several merchants who he thought had grown too wealthy and powerful to the capital, Abomey, and they were never seen again. People only knew of their fates when the king’s messengers arrived to break the merchants’ houses, removing everything they could carry before levelling them. The only thing that preserved him was his being a foreign prince and his friendship with the Chacha of Ouidah, the Brazilian merchant, Fransico Felix De Souza. De Souza was the only person King Ghezo trusted because it was with his help that Ghezo usurped the throne from his brother. It was said that Ghezo and De Souza swore an unbreakable blood oath before the coup.

Ouidah had taught Kosoko to conceal, to minimise his dazzle, to make himself less threatening, as a matter of life and death. He hoped it would be of use in his return to his home city. But it was not a lesson he chose to apply for his arrival. He needed the spectacle. The city needed to know that Prince Kosoko had returned.

When the news reached him that Oluwole had died, Kosoko had wasted no time in planning his return. Oluwole was childless. The road to the throne was again open to him. He sent lavish gifts to King Ghezo to thank him for accommodating him in Ouidah. He wanted to keep that relationship warm, as he might need it in his bid. He knew Eletu Odibo was still alive, and he had no intentions of making a deal with him. But Efunroye could be reasoned with. Efunroye, he could make a deal with.

He took a deep breath as the Lagos shoreline drew closer. The hairs on the back of his neck prickled with excitement. He could now flaunt his feathers a little. He was a peacock and in his home, he could spread his tail. As he approached, the drummers in the boat started drumming energetically. By the time he reached the shore, a crowd had gathered to welcome him. He headed straight towards the palace, and as they went, the crowd got bigger. It felt like the whole town was behind him by the time he reached the palace gates.




Efunroye Tinubu had been informed of Kosoko’s arrival long before he reached the palace. With the display that had been described to her, there was only one place he could be headed. She immediately sent for Eletu Odibo and the other important chiefs. She also sent her maid to call her husband. While they had remained married throughout Oluwole’s reign, she had maintained her compound separate from his. She didn’t expect him to move in with her, and the expectation had been mutual. She was not going to leave her much larger compound for his. Their arrangement was clear from the beginning and Yesufu Bada had abided by it.

By the time Kosoko arrived, Bada had garrisoned the palace properly and she had ensured everywhere looked regal. She inspected every wall to ensure they were sterling white and spotless. Every inch of marble was polished. Expensive drapes were hung across the walls and anything that looked even a little worn was removed from the throne room. She would not allow Oshinlokun’s children look down on her for any reason. The chiefs took their seats on each side of the aisle that led to the throne, according to their class. Eletu Odibo sat at the head of the Akarigbere chiefs, to the right of the throne. Efunroye took the position opposite him at the head of the left row of chiefs.

Kosoko entered the throne room with Opo Olu and Oshodi Tapa in tow. It was the first time Efunroye had seen Opo Olu in four years. She eyed her from head to toe. The princess had grown even more beautiful, a woman in her prime. Her body had not borne the exactions of a husband or the decimation of bearing children. Efunroye felt something flutter in her chest. She recognised the envy that had risen inside her, and she tried hard to push it down.

Oshodi Tapa nodded at Yesufu Bada, only acknowledging his fellow warrior.

Eletu Odibo did not allow them settle before he launched his attack. He jumped to his feet as skilfully as his ageing body would allow him, waving his fist. “Why have you come at this time? The city is mourning its king yet you enter the palace accompanied by drummers and noisemakers as if you have come to carry a wife. We do not need the trouble you always bring.”

Kosoko chuckled. “I see you are still alive, Eletu Odibo. I am not surprised. It is the way of evil people to shrivel but never die. Perhaps you elongate your own life by draining that of the kings you are meant to serve. Isn’t it four kings you have served now? Like Eletu Odibo, like Bashorun Gaa,” his delivery was cool, but the words found their mark.

“You, a loser, deign to mock me? I refuse to be mocked. I demand that you tell us which trouble you bring, now!” Eletu Odibo yelled.

Kosoko took his attention from Eletu Odibo and directed it at Efunroye Tinubu. She saw the bemused look on his face at the décor and the display of all the chiefs before him. His boldness and attitude irked her.

“I received word in Ouidah of the unfortunate accident and the passing of the king. I have come to pay my respects, as is my duty as a prince of this royal house.”

Efunroye scoffed. She raised her irukere and pointed it at Opo Olu. “Respect, you say. To a king that you fought for the throne. Respect, yet you come with her. Someone the same king you claim to come and pay respects to banished in his lifetime. We all know why you came, Kosoko”.

Opo Olu stepped forward from behind her brother. “I, who came into this land with my head out of my mother’s womb, banished? By you, a foreigner, who came in with your feet? Or by whom?”

Efunroye glared at her. “I will not dignify you with a response.” She faced Kosoko. “You, who we have something to say to. You have not answered the great chief. State yourself, why you have come?” she demanded.

“You are losers,” Eletu Odibo said without giving Kosoko a chance to reply. “You fought Oba Oluwole and lost. Now that he is gone and his body is still warm, you children of Oshinlokun think you can now dance in and snatch the crown, is that not it?”

Kosoko inhaled sharply at Eletu Odibo’s words. He walked in slow measured steps through the row of seated chiefs, allowing his eyes lock with each chief’s as he passed them, speaking as he walked. “And is it not my right? Will you all not listen to the gods, even as they speak to you loud and clear?”

He reached the head of the row where Eletu Odibo stood. He towered above the older man, locking eyes that were as cold as steel on him. Eletu Odibo attempted to move backwards but Kosoko closed the gap between them.

“We, of Oshinlokun are the rightful heirs. When my father took the throne from Adele and Adele connived with the British foreigners to try to take the throne from him twenty years ago, what happened to him? He lost. But when he returned home in Badagry, Sango sent lightning to his compound and destroyed most of it. But at least the gods spared his life as a warning. But did you listen?”

He paused and waited for a response. No one spoke.

“Then you schemed to kill my brother and returned Adele to the throne. But the throne refused to have him and within two years, he died. Yet you refused to listen. You denied me and placed Oluwole on the throne. It is you who killed that poor boy with your stubbornness. Sango was so angry that this time when he sent his lightning, he did not just destroy the palace but he killed Oluwole. You couldn’t even find his body. That was how angry the gods were.”

He turned away from Eletu Odibo and faced the chiefs. His voice rang out loud and clear and, for a moment, he looked godlike.

“Do you all still choose not to listen and make me, Kosoko, the son of Oshinlokun who descended from Asipa himself, the clear choice of the gods, king? There is no other candidate that the gods of our land approve!”

Fear and doubt crept into the faces of the chiefs as they soaked in Kosoko’s words. Only Efunroye was unaffected. She chuckled.

“You seem to have learnt a thing or two while in exile, Prince Kosoko. I applaud that. But no matter how many clothes a child has, he will not have as many rags as his elders. You say there is no other candidate? We will see about that,” she said.

Kosoko gave a slight nod. “Indeed, we will.”

He bid the chiefs farewell, and left the room with his people.

Outside the palace gates, the drummers began to beat away in earnest. Kosoko had indeed learned a thing or two while he was away. People needed a spectacle. That admiration for and fear of a person was often the same emotion. But the crowd was fickle. To obtain power, Kosoko would have to part with his wealth. Men who had accompanied him waiting outside the gates stepped forward with bags.  They opened them and began to distribute the cowries and bundles of cloth he had brought. The crowd erupted in cheers.

About the Author

Tunde Leye is Nigeria’s foremost historical novelist and the author of Afonja: The Rise and Afonja: The Fall.  He divides his time between Nigeria and the UK. Fireflies on the Lagoon will be published by Masobe Books in 2024.

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