The earliest attempt at modern formal government in the city occurred in 1899 with the establishment of a Sanitary Board. In 1917, a Townships Ordinance (or Law) established First, Second, and Third Class Townships. Lagos became a First Class Township and remained Nigeria's only such township for a long time. By 1950, after a series of extensions to the powers of the Township, the Lagos Local Government Ordinance created a fully elected Council, making Lagos a self-governing municipality with its own mayor. The office of mayor was abolished in 1953, and traditional members or chiefs were brought on board. In 1959, on the eve of Nigeria's independence, Lagos City was designated a Federal Territory administered by a Council comprising elected representatives, as well as traditional chiefs appointed by government.

Since the 1960s, the fortunes of city government had changed along with Nigeria's political climate; its administrative system has thus varied from elected council through sole administrators appointed by military governments.