Genesis, lessons of Yoruba ethnic bloodshed of 1877-1886
From Clement Adeyi, Osogbo
according to Yoruba mythology, the race, in times past, fought sundry wars among themselves in different parts of the South West. The most crucial and devastating was the Igbajo Kiriji War, which lasted for nine years. It was the longest among all the Yoruba ethnic wars. It was fought between 1877 and 1886.
The genesis of the war? It was the rivalry that ensued among some Yoruba stocks, following a revolt by Afonja Latosa, the Aare Ona-Kakanfo and Commander-in-Chief of the Oyo Army against the Alaafin of Oyo.
Daily Sun gathered during a visit to the war site in the enclaves of Igbajo in Boluwaduro Local Government Area of Osun State that in the 18th Century before the war broke out, the Yoruba land had enjoyed socio-political and economic stability.
The Owa of Igbajo, Oba Oba Adeniyi Fasade, said the people had enjoyed a common bond and relative peace. They believed that Ile-Ife was their source and heritage. They enjoyed absolute protection from external aggression by the mighty Oyo Empire until its generalissimo, the Aare Ona-Kakanfo, revolted against the Alaafin. After the revolt, things fell apart and the centre (of love, peace brotherliness and unity) could no longer hold. Wars took the centre stage in different magnitudes, leaving ruins, anguish, sorrows and heavy losses in humans and properties in their wake.
Law and order broke down. Also, a series of internecine wars broke out among the Yoruba nation. In the free-for-all, the Owu people attacked Ile-Ife and defiled the sacrosanct of Orirun; that is, the source of the Yoruba race which was too sacred to be attacked.
From that point, the Yoruba people were no longer at ease with themselves. The sense of brotherhood, tribal cohesion and oneness disappeared and enmity became the order of the day.
The last straw that broke the camel’s back was when Alimi, a Fulani scholar, overran the Oyo Army under the pretext of helping Afonja Latosa in the attack against the Alaafin. This led to the break of the Yoruba structure.
Consequently, each Yoruba group opted for self-freedom and guarded it very jealously. Each group sought alliances from wherever it could find any to protect itself. This marked total collapse of the Yoruba kingdom, which led to the emergence of Ibadan. Though a new settlement, Ibadan was able to garner enough capital, human and military resources to check further incursion and external aggression against what still remained a Yoruba nation at that point in time.
Following its military acumen, success and the attendant economic advantage it brought to the people of the land, Ibadan was able to vigorously embark on its own expansionist programme of consolidating her sovereignty over the Yoruba sub-groups and exercise powers over the conquered territories.
Poised to achieve the sovereignty status, Ibadan then started appointing accredited representatives known as the Ajeles. The Ajeles became power-drunk, corrupt and high-handed. They started exploiting people, extorting money and demanding exorbitant tributes from them.
At this juncture, Yoruba land was sitting on a keg of gun powder waiting for a little spark to explode with a full blast war. And as if such a war was inevitable, the spark came at last, following a disagreement between Fabunmi, an Ekiti warlord, and Awopetu, an Ajele from Ibadan in the mid 1877 at Imesi-Igbodo, now Oke-Imesi in Ekiti State over the latter’s alleged disruption of Fabunmi’s annual celebration of Erinle.
In the ensuing controversy, Fabunmi beheaded the Ajele (Awopetu). This singular act provoked the Ekiti and the Ijesa who had been enduring the Ibadan Ajeles’ oppression. They went haywire and unleashed more terror on them (the Ajeles) and massacred them in their respective areas.
Later, they (the Ekiti and Ijesa) formed a confederation known as Ekiti Parapo and declared their independence from Ibadan. Consequently, a revolution erupted among the entire Yoruba tribes. This marked the beginning of the Kiriji War that lasted for years.
During the war, Ekiti Parapo through their kinsmen in Lagos obtained new cannons which reverberations – KI-RI-JI -later became the appellation of the war that lasted longer than all the wars in Yoruba land. Later on, Ibadan too, acquired the same new cannon, which made them not to be interested in ending the war.
Igbajo, which was the theatre of the Kiriji War was, however, not in confederation with their Ekiti and Ijesa allied forces during their involvement in the war, despite their close relationship in terms of dialectical similarity.
There is a close link between Igbajo and Ijesa. Even, a large chunk of the population in Igbajo belongs to the Ijesa stock. The monarchical title of Owa in Igbajo is the same as that of the monarch of Ilesa, which is also an Ijesa stock. Yet, Igbajo faced a lot of wars from Ijesa.
The last attack by the Ijesa on Igbajo in 1867 was when one of its (Ijesa) warriors, Ogedengbe, was captured by Ibadan people and was taken captive in Ibadan where he vowed never to wage war against Ibadan people any more. But he broke the vow when he was invited by Fabunmi and the Ijesa contingent to assist them in the Kiriji War.
As the war raged on, without respect for ethnic affinity, Igbajo then considered the hostility between Ibadan and the Ijesa as a revenge mission and allowed Ibadan the use of their land to launch an attack against Ekiti/Ijesa allied forces to defend themselves.
With the scenario, there was an alliance between the Ibadan and Igbajo instead of Ijesa, which is closer in dialect, affinity and proximity to them (the Igbajo).
By 1886, the warring combatants had been exhausted by the prongs of war to an extent that each camp was ready to accept the peace treaty organised by the British. It was the Lagos Colony that provided the peace keeping force that stood between the warring camps with each planting the Peregun shrubs on the sides of their camps to mark the end of the war, while the major actors of the war – Ibadan forces and Ekiti/Ijesa allied forces – signed the treaty.
They selected British nationals, Samuel Johnson and Charles Philip, to carry out the diplomatic negotiation and settle the terms agreeable to the warring parties without loss of prestige to any camp. So, the peace treaty was signed on the note of no victor, no vanquished.
Oba Fasade stressed that the Kiriji War would remain indelible in the minds of the Yoruba following the big lessons it taught the people on the danger of allowing little controversy to snowball into big fight that could lead to full blast ethnic war. They also learnt lessons on tolerance, brotherhood, peace and unity. The war would continue to preach messages of peace since peace was achievable at the end.
Accessing war sites, relics
To a first time visitor, the journey to the legendary war site is adventurous. From Igbajo, the roads leading to the site are narrow and bumpy. As you journey on, you get to a point where no vehicle can navigate the roads, which are mere bush paths. The patchy paths stretch through thick forests and cocoa farms.
Then you have to tread the paths on both low and undulating lands, heaving deep sighs of fatigue until you begin to see the historical sites and relics of the war, each of which has various significances.
The particular point where the peace treaty was signed is on a hill. To ascend the place and have a full glimpse of the site, you have to walk on ascending steps to land there.
Among the historical sites and relics is the Faragbota Tree. It is a mysterious tree that played significant roles during the war when the battle was fierce and many casualties were recorded. The victims always hid behind it for protection as the trees absorbed bullets from the direction of the Ekiti Parapo allied forces.
Another historical site is the Fejeboju Stream. It is a symbolic and mysterious stream that provided spiritual cleansing to the casualties and wounded warriors. The stream turned reddish in view of much blood that flowed into it.
Victims went to the stream to wash blood from their wounds. With its therapeutic powers, the water from the stream was also used to remove bullets from the wounded warriors.
It was the Fajeboju Stream initially called Eleriko Stream that supplied water to both the Ibadan and Ekiti Parapo Confederation camps. A certain victim from Ekiti Parapo camp used the water to wash blood from his face.
When he returned to the camp and was asked where he got the water, he told them that it was from the Fejeboju Stream used for cleansing of casualties and victims. Hence, the stream was named Fejeboju.
Aare Latosa War Camp
The Aare Latosa War Camp is another historic site. It was the command post of the commander of the Ibadan Army, the Aare Ona-Kakanfo who was also the generalissimo of Alaafin’s Army. He was said to have died at the camp located in Igbajo. The regalia of the title, Aare Ona-Kakanfo, is in Igbajo till date.
The Oluomo of Igbajo, Chief Sunday Akere, told Daily Sun that every Aare Ona-Kakanfo-designate, including the current one, the Oodua People’s Congress (OPC) leader, Gani Adams, must conclude his installation rites in Igbajo where the title’s site has its origin.
Peace Treaty Site
This arena was the site where all stakeholders converged to sign a treaty that ended the over 400 years of intra-racial Yoruba wars. It was on September 23, 1886.
The Acting Secretary, Henry Higgins, Advocate Special, Oliver Smith Queens, and Commissioner, Charles Philips Clark in Holy Orders on that fateful monumental day, stood on top of the stones at the site to make the stakeholders sign the peace treaty.
To sign the treaty, the Twelve Articles, serving as agreement, were inserted into a bottle, sealed and buried in the hole of about six feet. It was Samuel Johnson Clark in Holy Orders that interpreted the Yoruba language on that day.
The Twelve Articles on the agreement, till today, are conspicuously inscribed as plaques on a monolith for posterity.
But despite the rich history, traditional and cultural backgrounds of the Kiriji War site, the enclaves remain relatively desolate.
Such a legendary place that ought to have been acquired by government and developed as tourism centres and as a means of revenue generation has been left undeveloped over the years.
Tourism enthusists have, however, been visiting the site. Researchers, historians, and students from both secondary and tertiary institutions also go there on excursion free of charge since the site has not been developed as a tourism centre.
The Lekoja of Igbajo, Chief Sunday Akerele, said the town had gone into the annals of history as a historical monument, which must command international recognition. He added that the mysteries of the relics and the site “would forever remain sacred and indelible in the minds of the Yoruba and tourists.”
Asked if the Fejeboju Stream still has the therapeutic and cleansing powers and whether people still go to the stream for the same purposes, he said: “Yes, the Fejeboju Stream still has its cleansing and therapeutic powers. In fact, people still go there for cleansing. People who sustain injury or wound by whatever means still go to the stream to wash it off and get healed.”
He disclosed that the cocoa farms where the Kiriji War site is located were not in existence before or during the war. He said they were partly forests and vegetation lands that were not cultivated in those days. It was hundreds of years after the war that farmers could make bold to carry out farming activities in the area:
“Nobody dare went to the place after the war to do anything because the spirits of the gods and victims of the war were in charge of the place. The place was sacred.
“Our forefathers told us that they had to go to the place to appease the gods of the place fondly called Anjonu before people could dare go there. The appeasement was to reduce the spiritual powers in the place for people to be able to go near it. It was about 500 years after the war that people could go there.
“When people started going there, even, people from Igbajo which is the centre of the site, could not go near the place for a long time because of their birth background with the site as going there was considered an abomination. Only people from neighbouring towns and communities such as Eripa, Iree, Ikirun, Ada, Okuku and Ilesa could go there.
“Our forefathers told us that it was tragic; even more tragic, calamitous and catastrophic than the Nigerian civil war. Most Yoruba people and their children lost their roots because those that were caught in the throes of the war had to run for dear life from their places of settlements to far places outside their family backgrounds for solace.”
But if government goes ahead with its ongoing plans to develop the site as tourists’ centre, what would be the fate of the cocoa farms and the farmers?
Lekoja said: “There must be an agreement between government and the farmers. This is because the cocoa farms where the site is located are vast, covering many acres of land. Cocoa farming is the thrust of the economy of Igbajo. Apart from cocoa, there are other cash crops in the farms such as kola nuts, palm trees, bitter kola, oranges, plantains and banana.
“So, government cannot just go ahead and clear the farms. If it would do that, then it has to compensate the farmers and the compensation has to be proportionate with the value of the farms. But because of the high value of the farms, I think government can only develop the parts that are meant for tourism and spare the other parts of the farms.”
Akerele said that some relics were good historical tools that needed to be extracted and kept in national or Osun State museums for posterity to preach peace, unity and progress in Yoruba land.
Oluomo told Daily Sun: “Being an enclave of a legendary war in Yoruba land and a place where a treaty was signed to bring a lasting peace that restored brotherhood, unity and love among the Yoruba race, Igbajo must forever remain a subject of reckoning in socio-cultural, political and economic perspectives.
“There is a new development ahead of the formal installation of Adams, as the Aare Ona-Kakanfo scheduled for Oyo January next year. This is because, the final rite for the installation can only be completed in Igbajo where the title is rooted in the person of the first holder as the commander of the Oyo Army during the Kiriji War in Igbajo in the19th century.”
He recalled that all the past Aare Ona- Kakanfos, including the former Premier of the defunct Western Region, Chief Ladoke Akintola, had their installation final rites in Igbajo. He said only the late business mogul-turned politician, Chief Moshood Abiola, who was the immediate past Aare Ona-Kakanfo did not visit the town for his final installation rites.
“Historically, Igbajo is the domain for the final rite of any Aare Ona-Kakanfo title because the traditional regalia of that office is here with us in Igbajo. Aare Latoosa, who was the generalissimo during the Kiriji War and the 12th on the throne died here (Igbajo) after the war and left the regalia behind for future Aare Ona- Kakanfos.
“Gani Adams can only be a real and authentic generalissimo only if he comes here to perform his final rite,” the former Osun State Commissioner for Information said. He called on the government to develop the war sites as a tourists’ centre just as in Cuba and South America where tourism remains the mainstay of their economy.
An Igbajo resident who preferred anonymity said: “The Kiriji War site is a very good source of tourism and revenue generation. But over the years, government has neglected the place. You can imagine the huge amounts of revenue the state would have been generating from the place. Also, it would have brought more development to Igbajo and also exposed the state to international recognition.”
Chairman of Igbajo Development Association (IDA), Prince Akingbade Latilo: “We the good people of Igbajo, under the aegis of IDA to appeal to Boluwaduro Local Government Council to prevail on the state government to ensure the full development of Kiriji War Site as a tourists’ centre.
“We also want government to facilitate the Federal Government’s involvement in declaring the site a cultural centre of tourism that would be recognized as a UNESCO world cultural heritage centre.
“We also want the Federal Government to declare the Kiriji War Site as a national heritage site and implement the survey report on Boluwaduro communities for exploitation of mineral deposits in the areas and a quarry to explore the large deposits of granite in Boluwaduro LG.”
Latilo called on the Yoruba race to learn lessons from the past wars, embrace and preach messages of love, peace, progress and prosperity in the entire Yoruba nation and Nigeria.
He advocated annual celebration of the Kiriji War Peace Treaty by the Yoruba, especially those directly involved to keep the memories on:
“The Kiriji War and its associated Peace Treaty should not be in vain. Let us all preach and embrace peace. We shall not be ravaged by war again. Never!”
Special Adviser to the Governor on Culture and Tourism, Mrs. Taiwo Oluga, said: “Governor Rauf Aregbesola has given his nod for the development of the site as a tourism centre. I am sure this would be done before he lives the office. I personally went to Igbajo recently to meet with the Kabiyesi on government’s plans to the effect.
“I also went to the site and the place has been cleared. Even, the contractors are already on ground. All we are waiting for now is the final approval from the National Assembly after the Nigeria Institute of Policy and Strategic Planning (NIPSP), Kuru, Jos, Plateau State, recommendations. The NIPSP are the ones in charge of the tourism policy in the country.
“The NIPSP team has already visited the site and had recommended it to the National Assembly. As soon as we get the final approval from them, work will resume at the site because we have to follow their recommendations.”