Nigeria

Yoruba Civil Wars (1793-1893): Causes, Effects and Why it Lasted for Long

Written by Precious Omolusi

Between 1100 and 1700, the Yoruba Kingdom of Ife experienced a golden age, part of which was a sort of art and ideology renaissance. It was then surpassed by the Oyo Empire as the dominant Yoruba military and political power between 1700 and 1900.

Yoruba people feel a deep sense of culture and tradition that unifies and helps identify them. There are sixteen established kingdoms that are said to have been descendants of Oduduwa. There are many other sub-kingdoms and territories that are second-order branches of the original sixteen kingdoms.

Governmental Features

There are various groups and subgroups in Yorubaland based on the many distinct dialects of Yoruba, which although are all mutually intelligible, have peculiar differences.

The governments of these diverse people are quite intricate and each group and subgroup vary in their pattern of governance, but in general, the government begins at home with the immediate family.

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The next level is the clan, or extended family with its own head, a Baale, and then the town chiefs called Oloyes, Baales rule over clans, and the Oloyes are subject to their Oba, and the king may also be subject to another Oba, depending on the grade of Obaship.

Following the Jihad of 1804

Following the jihad of 1804 (known as the Fulani War) led by Uthman Dan Fodio (1754–1817) and rapid consolidation of the Hausa city-states of contemporary northern Nigeria, the Fulani Sokoto Caliphate annexed the buffer Nupe Kingdom and began to press southwards towards the Oyo Empire.

Shortly after, they overran the Yoruba city of Ilorin and then sacked Ọyọ-Ile, the capital city of the Oyo Empire. Further attempts by the Sokoto Caliphate to expand southwards were checked by the Yoruba who had rallied to resist under the military leadership of the city-state of Ibadan which rose from the old Oyo Empire, and of the Ijebu city-states.

The Decline of the Old Oyo Empire

However, the Oyo hegemony had been dealt a mortal blow. The other Yoruba city-states broke free of Oyo dominance, and subsequently became embroiled in a series of internecine wars, a period when millions of individuals were forcibly transported to the Americas and Caribbean, in such countries as Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Brazil, Haiti and Venezuela among others.

There were other wars that were localized not sustained over the years, such as the Remo War of 1865, the Owiwi war between the Egba and the Ijebu in 1833 and the Egba war of 1828. During these wars, there were moments of calm and respect for traders and women. Thus common markets continued to exist even in the regions where wars were fought and trade went on.

It is not true that the Yoruba fought one another as if they caught “war fever” which made them lose all sense of direction. Wars did not go on all the time, there were long intervals between the wars, but also significant is the fact that war did not affect all the regions which constituted Yorubaland. There were indeed areas that were not touched by war, and these included vast regions in the interior.

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Traditional Medicine, Amulet and Charms

The war that was fought was not similar to the total war of the hype fought in Europe during the two world wars. Although it is true that some European firearms were used, the bulk of weapons used remained the traditional weapons, especially Dane guns. Calvary was not employed as the horse supply was restricted by the Fulani in the north. Traditional medicine, amulet and charms were used and it was common to have charms makers and herbalists follow war leaders to provide protection through charms and incantations.

From about 1840 the theatre of the war widened and the intensity increased as more European arms were obtained at the coast. This was particularly the situation during the sixteen year’s war when muskets were used extensively.

The Warring Areas

War was confined to specific areas. For example, when the war was at Owu, the town was the focus; this was also the case when the wars were fought in Egbado and Remo. The point that is being made is that the war did not go on everywhere in Yorubaland, and at no time whole of Yorubaland.

Another point that must be made is that wars were not always between the sub-ethnic groups. There were times when it was a coalition of sub-ethnic groups against one another coalition.

In general, the wars involved the Yoruba but there were times when outsiders such as the Dahomey-Yoruba war is sometimes discussed under the Yoruba wars of the nineteenth century. In many wars, there were common themes on the cause of the wars. For example, the Egba entered into conflict with Dahomey over the control of the Egbaland lands.

The Egba Imperialists

The Egba having settled at Abeokuta began to look for outlets for expansion and farmlands. In the process, they had run into conflict with the Ijebu and had won the Owiwi war of 1832 which gave them the confidence to move further on. They had turned their eyes on their neighbourhood Egbado, but here they were faced with the ambitions of Dahomey.

Afonja Revolts

The main reason for the outbreak of all the wars was the failure of one sub-ethnic group or a combination of sub-ethnic groups to succeed in imposing peace and supervising the activities of the rulers and the inhabitants of the region.

In the past, the Oyo administration had been able to impose peace and supervise the Empire. But then the control of Oyo was challenged. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, the Are-ona Kannkanfo, Afonja rebelled at Ilorin against Oyo rule.

Independence of Egba and Dahomey

The Egba followed with the murder of the Oyo agents (the Ilari) and the declaration of independence. Dahomey also revolted at a time when the power of Oyo was at the edge of collapse.

The Alaafin of Oyo had relied on the use of cavalry. However, with the threats and pressures on him from the Fulani who had launched a jihad, the source of supply of horses was threatened at a time when more horses were needed to contain the revolts in the Oyo Empire. As the pressures further mounted, the Alaafin was compelled to flee his capital and move to Ago in the Southern part.

Absence of the Superintendence of Power

The absence of the superintendence of power such as Oyo created considerable problems. Any of the sub-ethnic groups could then proceed to fight against another ethnic group without the fear of sanctions from the “big brother”


Another reason was the Fulani invasion, many fled from the Fulani. Many had depended on the Alaafin for protection before the Alaafin, he was forced to flee. Many were brave and strong, many were warriors who could only be orderly if kept under check. The role of these brave warriors would also explain the emergence of years of warfare.

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Many of them were in search of opportunities to practise their profession of warfare. Many just simply loved adventures. Many were in search of new homes now settlements and had to fight to obtain these by force.

To obtain guns for further wars of expansion or of adventure, it became clear to the war leaders that more sources of revenue were needed. It was realized that slaves yielded higher revenue than agricultural products. Therefore raids were conducted on weaker communities wars were launched on neighbours for guns and other European goods.

It is not true that the wars were fought to provide slaves; rather we must note that slaves were obtained to provide guns and ammunition in large quantities to sustain wars. In other words, the wars were political wars and the slave factor was a means to an end. There were also economic causes of the wars.

Those in the interior made considerable profits from these functions. They were not willing to open up trade routes to those in the interior. On the other hand, those in the interior insisted on the trade routes being kept open. Guns were needed, contact with the traders on the coast also had to be made. To ensure that these roads were kept open some of the Yoruba powers fought wars.

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With the disappearance of the old Oyo Empire, there was a power vacuum that many of the ambitious states sought to fill. A power vacuum means there was an empty space where there should have been a government. This means that they needed to impose the rule on other states in the region. But these efforts also led to resistance on many occasions and brought about new waves of war.

The Osogbo War of 1840     

After the Fulanis systematically captured and made Ilorin their territory, they sacked the old Oyo Empire in 1835/1636. They were still not satisfied with their victory; they wished to extend their rule deep into the heart of Yoruba land. Thus in 1840, they set to capture Osogbo, a Yoruba town. The Fulanis, under the command of Ali, the Hausa Balogun of Ilorin, laid siege on Osogbo.

When the king of Osogbo realized that the Ilorins were too strong for the Osogbo army, he summoned the Ibadans for help. Ibadan immediately sent some auxiliaries to Osogbo under the command of Obele alias Mobitan, and Alade Abimpagun.

As this force could not stop the Ilorins, another contingent was sent to Osogbo under a more experienced leader. But still, Ilorin won every battle and gained more ground.

Ibadan Mercenaries

When Ibadan realized that the Ilorins were becoming more threatening to Yoruba land, they sent a large and stronger force under Balogun Oderinlo to crush the intruding forces and Jammas of Ilorin.

When Oderinlo and his men arrived at the battlefield, they realized that things had gone worse than they thought. They could not show their faces in the open field for the fear of the Ilorin horses, and for about 20 days after their arrival at Osogbo, they could not fight outside the town thickets. Oderinlo suggested that Elepo, a brave Ibadan warrior was badly needed at the war-front.

Elepo had been rejected by the war chiefs of Ibadan for his actions at the late Agbamaja expedition. As soon as the message from Oderinlo reached Ibadan, the Bashorun wished he could send Elepo to Osogbo but could not go against the wish of other war chiefs.

The Bashorun gave Elepo a cow to worship his god, Ori, and pray for the victory of Ibadan at the war-front.
At the war-front, the Ibadan could not attack Ilorin during the day because Osogbo was practically in a plain and the Ilorin horses might have the advantage of them with disastrous results.

They decided to attack at dusk when Ilorin would no longer be able to use their horses. About 2:00 pm, the well-prepared Ibadan army left the gate of Osogbo for the battlefield. They were to keep a strict watch and arrest anyone suspected to be a spy.

About a mile from the Ilorin camp, they halted and arranged the order of the attack. The Osogbo army and the earlier auxiliaries were to handle the centre of the battlefield, chiefs Abitiko and Labuju were to command the right-wing, Balogun Oderinlo with the rest of the Ibadan war-chiefs were to form the left-wing of the army. The Ilorin camp was then attacked at midnight. The watchword was “Eloniowoodo?” (How much is the ferry fare?).

The reason this watchword was chosen was that the river Osun had to be crossed in entering Osogbo from the south, and anyone who could not tell this was likely to be an enemy.

Stampede engulfed the Ilorin camp as the Ibadan army set it on fire. Ilorin could not offer the slightest resistance; they were smoked with the gunpowder of the Ibadan guns. This attack was a success for the Ibadan. Some Ilorin war-chiefs were captured in the attack. Prominent ones were; Jimba the head slave of the Emir, One of the sons of Ali the commander in chief, Chief Lateju, Ajikobo the Yoruba Balogun of Ilorin.

The first two were released while the latter two, being Yoruba by birth, were regarded as traitors and were executed. This was a huge victory for the whole of Yoruba land. After the Osogbo victory, Ibokun, and Ijesa town not far from Osogbo was taken by Ibadan for being an ally of Ilorin.

The Mugbamugba War

The Mugbamugba War- Second Attempt of a Failed Expulsion
After Are-Ona-Kankafo Afonja was murdered and Ilorin was seized by the Fulani Jamma, Alimi (the son of Abdul Salam) became the first Fulani ruler of Ilorin not with the title of Oba or Baale but Emir which solidifies that the total control of Ilorin, a Yoruba town had gone to the Fulanis.

In a bid to restore the control of Ilorin in the hands of the Yorubas, Toyeje, the Baale of Ogbomoso and the new Are-Ona-Kakanfo, led an attack on Ilorin to expel the Fulanis, but unfortunately, he failed drastically. After some time, between the months of March and April (when locust fruit i.eIgba was ripe for harvest), another attempt was made by the Yorubas to chase the intruding Fulanis out of Ilorin but failed again.
During this period, the whole land was already devastated by the previous wars and consequently, there were no farms for foraging. Ilorin had also run out of food, so both the besieged and besiegers had no food to eat other than locust fruit (igba). Hence the war was named Mugbamugba.
The Yorubas suffered untold defeat in the Mugbamugba war.

Yoruba Warriors. Photo Cr: Vanguardngr

They did not know how to handle the Fulani cavalry and the Fulanis were expert horsemen. Monija, the king of Rabbah and mercenary fighting on the side of the Yorubas, fled to his town leaving the Yorubas at the mercy of their victors. To crown their victory, the Fulanis of Ilorin attacked all towns in the direction of Offa, Erinle, Igbona etc. the Olofa with Asegbe, his Ilari, escaped to Ikoyi.


The Egba- Dahomey War (1851-1864)

The Egba-Dahomey war, as the name suggests, was a war that broke out between the two neighbouring kingdoms of Egba and Dahomey (now the Republic of Benin) over territorial expansion caused by the quest of the latter to stabilize her economy.

The Egba-Dahomey war was the third of the destructive wars that plagued the Yoruba nation in the nineteenth century, preceding the Owu-Ife war: 1821-1828; and the 1840 Osogbo war.

Political Unrest in Oyo-Ile

In the 1820s and 1830s, the old Oyo Empire, also called Oyo-Ile, witnessed a lot of political unrest which gradually faded her leadership role in Yorubaland.

The Dahomey kingdom, which was then part of the Oyo empire, seized the opportunity to declare herself independent from Oyo in 1930 but soon discovered that the independence wasn’t worth it because of her extremely low economy caused by her barren northern land where probably only plantain could grow, and the crumbling slave trade at the coast which the kingdom had really depended on for several years.

The Dahomians

These agonizing situations made the Dahomians reach an un-considering conclusion that expanding their territory is the only solution to their economic problems, and the only place where this expansion was possible was in the east towards Egbado and Ajase-Ipo which were part of Egbaland, and in the south towards the port of Badagry.

A good look at the positions of these kingdoms on a map will show how uncomfortable this expansion would be to the Egbas who instantly opposed the idea, stating the inconveniences it would bring to them. On the other hand, the Dahomeans failed or refused to reason with the Egbas probably because of their desperation to resurrect their collapsed economy. It was on this ground that the disastrous Egba-Dahomey war broke out.

In 1851, the Dahomean army (which was made up of women), under the rule of KingGezo, marched into the heart of Abeokuta, the capital of Egba and unleashed havoc on the unsuspecting Egbas.

However, the heavily armed Egba army, even though unprepared, was able to repel the attack and killed many of the Dahomean armies, while the captured ones were made slaves. Later, in about 1853, the Egbas revenged by attacking and destroying Lefulefu and Referefe, two towns at the border of Dahomey, with little resistance from their inhabitants

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The Amazon Women

The concerted efforts of the ‘Amazon women’ (Dahomey women warriors) to defeat the Egba army is a surprising and important aspect of the Egba-Dahomey war that cannot be left out.

Due to the fact that women are considered better at home, catering for the family; in the kitchen, preparing food; or at the marketplace, selling or buying goods, it may then be amusing that Dahomean women instead of men fought in battles.

But these women, Amazon women, were ferocious, muscular, and highly skilled in torturing and decapitating their enemies. They were trained to endure pain for a very long time. If not for their bosoms, these women, whom no one dare underestimated, would be completely mistaken for men. The Amazon women or ‘N’Nonmiton’(which means our mothers) as they were called in the Fon language, were even said to be stronger, more skilled and ruthless than the men of Dahomey.

Jean Bayol, a French naval officer, who visited Abomey, the capital of Dahomey, in December 1889, said he watched how a young N’Nonmiton-to-be Dahomean girl named Nanisca, who had never had blood stains on her hands, killing a prisoner in cold blood; “she walked jauntily up to the prisoner, swung her sword three times with both hands, then calmly cut the last flesh that attached the head to the trunk[…]

She then squeezed the blood off her weapon and swallowed it.” This indeed shows how brutal the Amazon women warriors were trained to be. But however, they were no match for the Large, well trained and equipped Egba army.

Gelele the Son of Gezo

The over 3000 Amazon women, under the command of the Dahomean king, Gelele the son of Gezo, were defeated again in 1864 when they attacked Abeokuta for the second time.

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Dahomey kingdom was then forced to sue for peace which thus ended the long-time enmity between her and the Egba kingdom. It must be noted that this enmity between Egba and Dahomey had existed before 1851.

According to oral history, in 1884, the Egbas, infuriated by the attacks on her communities by the Dahomeans, launched a surprise attack on Dahomey in which king Gezo was almost captured and his precious umbrella and sacred golden stool were seized.

After the war ended in 1864, the Egbas established their authorities on the disputed lands of Egbado, Ajase-Ipo and the port of Badagry. Also, the town of Ketu which assisted Dahomey during the war was attacked and destroyed by the victorious Egbas.

The Egba Victory

However, the victory of the Egbas over Dahomey was backed by certain factors. The first was the ultimate support Egba enjoyed from the British nationals in Egbaland.

The British nationals, especially those who had arrived in Egbaland since the 1840s, knew for certain that the fall of Egba would spell a big doom for them, and therefore supplied the Egba army regularly with ammunition throughout the war, and also trained them in the modern strategy of war.

Another factor was the role certain Yoruba kingdoms played during the war in favour of Egba. Yoruba kingdoms like Ibadan and Ijebu were said to have given Egba their ultimate support during the war. But this support was noted to have been short-lived as these kingdoms were involved in protracted conflicts (Ekitiparapo/Kiriji war and Ibadan-Ijaye war) in the latter years.


It can then be safely concluded that the victory of Egba over Dahomey was due to the support Egba enjoyed from the British nationals and some other Yoruba kingdoms as well.

The Ibadan-Ijaye War (1861-1862)

The Ibadan-Ijaye war broke out in 1861 between Ibadan and Ijaye over who succeeded the old Oyo Empire as the political head of Yorubaland. The two rebelling towns sprang up from the ruins of the Old Oyo Empire which was destroyed in 1836 by the Fulanis. Ibadan, Ijaye and the new Oyo, also called Oyo Atiba, succeeded the Old Oyo Empire after its destruction.

According to Latisosa, a Balogun of Ibadan land who fought in the war, “the war was a feud among three brothers over how to share common properties.”

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The three brothers, Ibadan, Ijaye and Oyo-Atiba failed to reach conclusion on who should succeed the Old Oyo as the political head of Yorubaland.

In 1855, Ibadan being the largest and the most populated of the three towns convened a meeting with the other towns to carve out the best way of restoring the fading unity and dignity of the land.

At the meeting, the Alaafin of the new Oyo (Oyo-Atiba) was said to be the most senior among the three towns, and as a result of this, other towns in Yorubaland should pay tribute to the new Oyo.

Finally, Yorubaland has another head, therefore, proposing peace among some Yoruba towns like Ijebu and Egba.

The New Oyo (Oyo-Atiba)

In the same atmosphere, the Ijayes, Egbas and Ijebus raised some doubts on the policies of Ibadan. Kurumi of Ijaye suspected that Ibadan’s intention was to create an empire of her own and not to set up the leadership of the New Oyo (Oyo-Atiba). This suspicion rose as Ibadan continue to accept annual tribute from her own subjects while she encouraged those of Ijaye to send theirs to the Alaafin.
The last straw that broke the camel’s back was the succession issue to the throne of Oyo-Atiba after the death of Atiba in 1859.

Ibadan supported the idea that Atiba’ son should succeed him so as to ensure the continuation of the Ibadan tribute policy. Kurumi of Ijaye opposed this claiming it was against the tradition of throne succession in Oyo. Kurumi’s opposition was supported by the Egbas and the Ijebu. Ibadan saw this as another attempt to bring an end once more to the unity of Yorubaland and vowed to prevent this by all means.

Ibadan didn’t want Kurumi, the then Are-Ona-Kakanfo, to become another disobedient Afonja, and it was on this ground that the Ibadan-Ijaye war broke out.
The war was fought in the forest between Ibadan and Ijaye.

The Egbas joined the war on the side of Ijaye in order to prevent Ibadan from becoming a colossus in Yorubaland.

The Ijebus also joined the Ijaye side in order to foil Ibadan’s attempt of creating enmity between them and Remo in order to secure a route to the coast. Later on, the Fulanis also joined the Ijaye to punish Ibadan from preventing them to spread Islam in Yorubaland.

Ibadan and Abeokuta

The Ibadan army camped at Ilora, 13 miles north of Ijaye while the Ijaye forces, led by Ogunbonna of Abeokuta, camped at Olokemeji on the River Ogun.

The Ijaye, Egba, Fulani and Ijebu forces set a blockade to cut Ibadan off from the supplies from the British in Lagos. Ibadan retaliated by blockading Ijaye from food supplies. The British merchants in Lagos lobbied the Remos of Sagamu and the Ikorodus to smuggle ammunition from Lagos to Ibadan.

The support Ibadan received from the British made her bring the Ijayes on their knees in 1862 following Kurunmi’s death in 1851. The cause of his death is still unknown, but however, it is believed he committed suicide. Other towns supporting Ijaye retreated immediately. The Egbas were displeased with the actions of the Remos and Ikorodus and sought to punish them, but the British army prevented this by defeating the Egba army.

The Egbas avenged this in 1867 by expelling all British missionaries in Egbaland and burned the printing house of IweIrohin, the first newspaper in Nigeria by Rev. Henry Townsend. The Ijebus also punished the British by not allowing any British nationals to enter Ijebuland.

This was the foundation of the Battle of Imagbon (1892) also known as the 1892 Ijebu expedition.


The Kiriji War (1877-1893)

The Kiriji/Ekitiparapo war was a sixteen-year conflict that broke out mainly between Ibadan and the combined forces of Ekiti and Ijesha. According to Latisosa, “the kiriji war ended all wars in Yoruba land”.

The Kiriji/Ekitiparapo war was inarguably the last and the most protracted war that plagued the Yoruba nation.

The war broke out because of the unaccepted policies and type of administration Ibadan established after her significant role in the 1840 Osogbo war and her victory over the Ijayes in 1962 which indisputably pronounced her as the competent successor of old Oyo as the head of Yoruba land.

Ibadan had stationed its administrators in other parts of Yoruba land especially in Ekiti and Ijesha which upset the two towns who were not ready, like any other town, to accept Ibadan as the Yoruba head.

The last straw that broke the camel’s back was the suppressive way the administrators manhandled the towns. It was said that they harassed young men and had sexual affairs with the women. The Ekiti and Ijeshas who could no longer tolerate the immoral acts of the administrators killed many of them and waged war against Ibadan.

Other Yoruba states soon join sides in the war. Egba and Ijebu joined in favour of the Ekiti and Ijeshas, and attacked Ibadan from the south, while the combined forces of Ekiti and Ijesha who allied with the Fulanis attacked Ibadan in the north. Ife also joined the war on the side of the Ekiti and Ijeshas. Ibadan alone was fighting five fronts.

The Course of the War

On November 1 1878, Ibadan clashed with the allied forces of Ekiti, Ijesha and the Fulanis of Ilorin in the northeast of modern-day Osun state. The allied forces were seriously defeated and chased back to their camps.

This encounter was known in history as ‘Ogun Jalumi’ (Battle of Waterloo) or the 1878 Battle of Ikirun.
Ibadan blockaded the Ekitis from transporting ammunitions through Ibadan land, but the latter soon discovered another route through Ondo from Lagos.\

The Ondo Road

The Ondo road had been opened up by the British because of the frequent closure of other roads (Akintoye, 1969). The kiriji war also strengthened the conflict between Ife and Oyo settlers at Modakeke who supported the Ibadan. Ife was later sacked by Modakeke with the help of the Ibadan.

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It should be noted that ‘Kiriji’ was an onomatopoeic name given to the war from the thunderous sound of the cannons the Ekitis and Ijeshas, under the command of Ogedengbe, purchased in abundance which also gave them an advantage over Ibadan.

Governor Carter’s Peace Treaty

However, in 1886, Governor Carter started a peace move between the two duelling factions which was unfruitful in fact, until the British expedition on Ijebu in 1892 in which Ijebu fell to the British’s maxim guns and seven-pounder rockets.

In 1893, Governor Carted was able to successfully impose peace on both warring sides. It was said that Governor Carter trekked all the way from Lagos to the camps of both sides in Igbajo and Okemesi where he persuaded both the Ibadan and Ekitis to return to their homes.

They were made to sign a treaty that formally turned the mighty kingdom of the Yorubas into one of the British protectorates Britain skillfully annexed in West Africa. The British-Ijebu war of 1892 (The battle of Imagbon)
In 1891, the Ijebu tribe, dwelling between 50 and 60 miles north-east of Lagos on the Magbon river, set a blockade on the trade route from the interior into Lagos, which was a crown colony, and charged customs dues which served as their income.

The Awujale, the traditional ruler of Ijebu, closed down the Ejirin market, cutting off Lagos from a source of up-country trade.
The British government persuaded the Awujale several times to open the blockaded route but the Ijebu ruler remained adamant. However, in May 1891, a British acting governor, Captain C.M Denton C.M.G, together with some Hausa troops (mostly slaves who fled the North to South and were recruited by the British army) went to Ijebu kingdom to make an agreement with the Awujale on opening the blockaded route and allowing the free passage of goods into Lagos.

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The Awujale refused but after much persuasion and pressure, the Awujale agreed in January 1892 on the terms of receiving £500 annually as compensation for the loss of custom revenue.

British Military Intervention 

However, the agreement didn’t last long. A white missionary was denied access to pass through the kingdom and was sent back. The British government was provoked by the action of the Ijebus and authorized the use of force on the kingdom. Britain gathered troops from Gold Coast (Ghana), Sierra Leone, Ibadan, and Lagos (the Hausa troops nearly 150).

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On the Ijebu side, 8000 men with old rifles would be fighting the British. The British underestimated the fighting prowess of the Ijebus thus giving them some hard times in penetrating into the interiors of the Ijebu kingdom.

The first day the British army razed down four villages with some of their men sustaining fatal injuries, the next day, they proceeded to Atumba and gunned down the Ijebus with machine guns. Britain lost 12 men which include a Briton and 12 Africans.

Every Ijebu village they came across was burnt to the ground. The Ijebu were really losing the battle but determined to prevent the British army from crossing the Yemoyi River.

The Goddess of the Yemoyi

The goddess of the Yemoyi River was said to have taken human sacrifice in order to prevent the intruders (British) from crossing. The river was dug deeper by the Ijebus to make it impenetrable by all means for the British army.

However, the British army managed to cross the sacred Yemoyi River and unleashed havoc on the Ijebu. They proceeded to the village of Imagbon.
The Ijebu had lost over 900 men while Britain lost only 56 men and have more than 30 wounded.

The British Conquest

The Ijebus were still determined to fight on but shortly afterwards; the Awujale surrendered and admitted losing the war.
The British union flag was later raised above Ijebu Ode. Captain Scot warned his men against pillaging which some didn’t heed to especially the Ibadan irregulars who were later deprived of their arms.

The toll gates in Oru built by the Ijebus were destroyed and some of their shrines were also torched. This bloody war is also known in history as the 1892 Ijebu Expedition.

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For the Yoruba wars to go on for such a long time there must have been important reasons. It is clear that some disputes were not settled at the conclusion of one war and so another war was necessary and inevitable. In listing the reasons for the outbreak of the wars, it is important that we remember that some of these reasons were general and applied to most of the wars while some of the reasons could apply only to specific wars.

Impacts of the Wars

Impacts of the wars; as with all wars, there was much disruption in family life, husbands were declared missing and wives were turned into windows. There was the destruction of properties as entire villages were razed to the ground during the fighting and farmlands were totally destroyed.

Apart from all the loss of life and damage to property, the wars created a spirit of mistrust.

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Another important consequence of the war was the emergence of new communities which cut across sub-ethnic groups. Such was the settlement at Ibadan which was a mixture of many groups of people from over Yorubaland.

They came from different ethnic groups but all shared a determination to live.
One result of the war was the loss of personal freedom. It was no longer enough to depend on close relatives or age grades. One needed access to a powerful war chief to provide defence and safety.

But in the process, one fortified personal freedom and choice and depended on the warlord for directives about where to stay, who was to rule and who was to take decisions.

The war chiefs or professional warriors acquired immense power and prestige and it was a great benefit to be associated with the household of one of them. Many of them established military dictatorship as at Ijaye.

Some assembled to establish a republican system or administration as at Ibadan. Names such as Ajayi, Latosisa, Ogunmola, Onafowokan, Ogedengbe, Oloyole, Sodeke and Ibikunle emerged from the battlefield. They dominated the political life of the time.

The Development of New Settlement and Communities

Another result of the wars was the development of new settlements and communities. Among these were Modakeke(which developed near ile-ife), Abeokuta(which used Olumo rock as natural defence) Oyo, Ayede and Sagamu. A new system of relationships and new political experiments were begun in these new settlements.

Ibadan Supremacy

Although it is often said that wars never settle issues, it seems clear that Yoruba wars did settle a number of political issues. First, the Ekiti used their confederation and the wars fought through that institution to liberate themselves from the imperialism of Ibadan and to ensure that such imperialism was not permitted in the future.

Secondly, the Egba and the Ijebu failed to destabilize Ibadan. Thirdly, the Egba and Ijebu were compelled to open up their roads to Ibadan. Fourthly, Ilorin the traditional enemy of the Yoruba failed to humiliate Ibadan as the Fulani were beaten back at Osogbo in 1840.

The wars brought considerable wealth to the Europeans who supplied guns during the period; it also brought prosperity to families who acted as middlemen and suppliers from the coast.
There was much agricultural work and an increase in food production. This was because many prisoners of war were turned over to the farms to work. Many of the prisoners were brought by men who planned extensive cultivation projects.

It was reported that an Ibadan woman owned more than 200 slaves to work for her.
Trade passed into new hands and many of the former traders lost their livelihood. Trade intensified and continued, it even increased demand for European and African products.

Foreign Intervention

Another effect of the war was that it laid an easy ground for the Europeans to play on the Yoruba state weakness and the Europeans met little or no resistance in taking over Yoruba states as colonies.
The Yoruba interstate wars lasted for so long 1793-1893(over 100) due to numerous reasons.

Seasonal War

It was a seasonal war, they observed the economic seasons. The war was not fought at the same time everywhere, once the war is somewhere, there is peace in another which prolonged the duration of the war, it was not spontaneous- those fighting sometimes support the fighters.

War Beneficiaries

Those who benefited from the war wanted it to last long examples were the craftsmen, herbalists, charm-makers and perceived it as a venture. The warlords benefited and used the slaves for economic purposes and they did not want it to end.

Trade Fare  

Trade as a means of livelihood was totally crippled in some parts of Yorubaland as hunters and strongmen provided security and alternate routes to foster and continue trading activities so a sustain lives. Security was a lucrative business and those who benefited from it never wanted it to end.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the Yoruba interstate war was caused by different factors and majorly was due to the absence of a central power like the old Oyo Empire and the jihad by the Fulani. The crippling effects ranged from death, property destruction, easy penetration for imperialism by Britain and the creation of new leaders and states.

Cite as: Precious Omolusi. Yoruba Civil Wars (1793-1893): Causes, Effects and Why it Lasted for Long. October 25, 2021. Tadexprof. Retrieved at https://tadexprof.com/2021/10/yoruba-civil-wars-1793-1893-causes-effects-and-why-it-lasted-for-long/

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References:

  • Johnson, Samuel; The History of the Yorubas; Lagos; CSS Limited; 1921; pg. 80-81
  • E. Ola Abiola; A Textbook of West African History; 3rd edition; Ado Ekiti; Omolayo Standard Press & Bookshops co. (Nig.) Ltd; 1984
  • Richard Burton; A Mission to Gelele, King of Dahomey. London: RKP, 1966
  • Stanley Alpern; Amazons of Black Sparta: The Women Warriors of Dahomey. London: C. Hurst & Co., 2011
  • A Textbook of West African History: E. Ola Abiola- May 1974
  • Ajayi, S. Ademola; The Ijaye War of 1860-62: A political cankerworm of early Baptist missionary enterprise in Yorubaland, Nigeria; 2007
  • A Textbook of West African History; E. Ola Abiola- May 1974
  • OgunniyiMorakinyo; EkitiParapo liberation war: (Kiriji War 1877-1886); Okemesi-Ekiti: Kayegbo Communications; 2006.
  • Roddy Owen – A Memoir by Bovill and Askwith

* Colonel Scott’s Report London Gazette No 26303, dated 1st July 1892

Read more

  1. Yoruba Revolutionary Wars – Wikipedia. Available at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yoruba_Revolutionary_Wars
  2. The wars Yoruba fight – Vanguard News. Available at https://www.vanguardngr.com/2021/02/the-wars-yoruba-fight/
  3. Nigeria – The Yoruba Wars – Country Studies. Available at http://countrystudies.us/nigeria/10.htm
 
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About the author

Precious Omolusi

Omolusi Precious is a student of History and International Studies, Adekunle Ajasin University, Akungba-Akoko. He is currently a columnist on African Histroy Archives on Tadexprof.

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