Oyo’s Closed Northern Gateway: the Pains and Gains

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By Yami Bamgboye

email: korede4ril@gmail.com

War and conflict are both age-long terms used interchangeably but distinctly to refer to two similar things and have been since the first humans on earth. While some have been to gratify personal or collective desires of lust for power or stroke the ego of superiority to prove a point, others have been to correct a wrong ,maybe seek justice hence, birthing conquests of “varying degrees.”

It is so implausible for historians to be precise about the first war fought in the world therefore, it is pertinent to rely on Biblical records. The first war according to Gen 14:1-24, started first, as a show of strength (that made five kings serve four kings, an ally headed by Chedorlaomer king of Elam, for twelve good years) and metamorphosed into the fight for freedom. The latter really had Abraham entangled because of Lot, his nephew. And since that period, wars have sprawled throughout the world on different scales.

Religious wars known as jihad in Islamic circles are as old as these too–and maybe more. The first which was led by the founder of Islam himself was the Battle of Badr in 624 C.E. and it led to the outright defeat of Meccans by the Arabs of Medina. The Jihad had been a build-up of the rivalry between Mecca and Medina, culminating in several continual raids of the caravans of  Meccans that passed by Medina. Pre-colonial Nigeria witnessed many of these (ancient) wars as well, including those of Oyo, Ife and Ijebu (an ally) and Owu kingdom, Dahomey and Egba, Igala nation and Benin Kingdom and the like.

The first Jihad in pre-colonial Nigeria was the Fulani Jihad or Fulani War of 1804 that was led by Usman dan Fodio and lasted for four years. It began when he was exiled from Gobir by king Yunfa, one of his old students. Thereafter, he assembled a Fulani army and declared jihad on the Hausa kingdoms. His forces gradually captured more Hausa kingdoms and eventually captured Gobir and executed Yunfa in 1808. This singular act and it’s success, inspired more jihads in the north and by extension, the west.

Before the 19h century, the Oyo empire had been a cluster of conglomerates that had its tentacles deeply rooted in all Yoruba land, up north and even Benin republic. However, it’s unparalleled supremacy began to decline towards the end of the 19th century due to several internal disputes that culminated, leading to insurrections and declaration of independence by a number of sub-groups within the empire: Abomey, Ijebu, Egba and Ilorin spearheading the major insurrection that shattered Oyo Empire.

Ilorin was a border town North-East of the Oyo Empire with mainly Yoruba population and an immigrant population comprising Hausa-Fulani. The town was an outpost of Oyo and the headquarters of Afonja, the Are-Ona-Kankan-Fo (generalissimo) who rebelled against Aole the Alafin of Oyo and helped bring about the “complete” collapse of the Oyo Empire. While this battle of independence, insurrection and supremacy ensued, Afonja sought the spiritual help –maybe the help he wished he never sought– of Alimi a Fulani and an Islamic scholar who had spiritual powers (to make things happen) and military might and eventually defeated the Alafin of Oyo.

Just like Usman dan Fodio whose prominence and influence as Islamic scholar grew, he enjoyed the support of the leadership of Gobir until he began to advocate for self-defence (against the rulership of Gobir and the “oppression of the Fulani”), Alimi’s influence grew as well. It grew so much that his followership (comprising many Yoruba students from many Yoruba land, according to late Professor Abdullahi Smith’s writings extracted from translations of the travel notes of Arab travelers who witnessed events in nineteenth- century “Nigeria”), became a threat to the leadership of Afonja. Like a relived history, Afonja placed restrictions on Alimi and eventually asked him to leave the town in the same manner Yunfa asked Usman dan Fodio to leave Gobir. It was Alimi’s students, most of whom were Yoruba, that fought and defeated Afonja.

In some other circles and versions, Alimi is completely let off the hook. Alimi went to live in Ilorin on the invitation of Afonja and Afonja was only mutinied by the few Hausa-Fulanis who became defiant in his army. Whichever way, it is true that the war was not a direct off-shoot of Usman dan Fodio’s jihad in the north, the conquered territory was later absorbed into the Sokoto “Caliphate” after about three visits and persuasions.

In a bid to correct this “wrong” which some say had the backing of powerful Yoruba kingmakers in Oyo (probably on revenge mission) at the time Alimi became king or emir, the Yorubas like people awoken from years of slumbering, rebelled against an emir in 1895, burnt his palace and killed him. But the rebellion was futile. No Yoruba king emerged still. Another broke out in 1913 and 1936 but were quenched by Lord Lugard in favour of the Fulanis and in 1978, the George Innih administration of Kwara State raised a judicial panel of inquiry to look into the Yoruba agitation. Yet, nothing was achieved. Other subsequent conflicts between the Yorubas and Fulanis had been presented as one between Islam and ‘idolatry’ because the few Fulani elite would do anything to preserve their privileges in the state (Femi Awoniyi:2009).

As if all of that did not hurt enough, Bukola Saraki came, adding salt to injury in 2003, by reverting and demoting Busari Alasa, the Magagi Are, who was promoted to a first class king by his biological son and the last governor of Kwara state (late Mohammed Lawal) before Saraki. It’s a bit simple from a particular corner. The Fulanis, generations ago, could sense the trouble in the future of their kids. So, according to history, resorted to christening their kids in the manner Yorubas did, in names, to bear full resemblance with the Yoruba culture. Some of them began to intermarry and their kids were given either one Yoruba name and one Fulani name or two Yoruba names (like Tunde Idiagbon. That clouded Nigeria’s objectivity too: two Fulani leaders ruling Nigeria in 1983). This made them masquerade their true identity in certain places and quarters.

Busari Alasa and his generation are typical Yoruba people of Ilorin and logically, descendants of Afonja while the Sarakis are true Fulanis and logically, descendants of Alimi. Bukola’s paternal ancestors were Fulanis who came from Mali about 150 to 200 years earlier and his father constantly reminded people in his statements he was not Yoruba even though he could speak the language. Saraki maybe have reverted Lawal’s decision to quench his thirst for revenge (because all Nigerian politicians have enemies) but he ultimately repeated history and killed the “last ray of hope” Yorubas had to have a first class Yoruba king in Ilorin like the emir.

Now, posterity holds a reason or two to forgive or not to forgive Afonja. His greed and lust for power made him lose what he didn’t have and thought he had. History can be made but can’t be corrected; even if it can, maybe not completely because we all are a case study.

Photo Credit:Mirenepress

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