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The relevance of January 14 in Oyo (4)


January 14 in Oyo

By Eric Teniola

THE late Ataoja of Oshogbo, Oba Iyiola Oyewale Matanmi, who was crowned on July 7, 1976 and died in August 2010, ruled for 34 years. It was during his reign that Osogbo was made the Capital of Osun State. Alhaji Muhammadu Dikko (1885-1904) was the ninth Emir of Katsina between 1906-1944. He ruled for 38 years.

He was succeeded by his son, Alhaji Usman Nagogo (1905-1981) who also ruled for 37 years. He was the father of the late Major-General Hassan Usman Katsina, the first military governor of Northern Nigeria. The Sarkin of Gobir, Alhaji Muhammadu Bara reigned from 1975 to 2004, and ruled for 29 years.

The late Lamido of Adamawa, Alhaji Bakindo Mustapha was on the throne for 59 years before he died on March 13, 2010. His son Muhammadu Aliyu Bakindo Mustapha succeeded him on March 18, 2010. The late Owa of Idanre in Ondo State, Oba Adegbule Aroloye Arubefin III reigned from 1919 to 1969 for 50 years and died at the age of 120 years, making him one of the oldest monarchs in Nigeria. Oba Afunbiowo Ojijiogungara Adesida ruled Oyemekun kingdom of Akure between 1897 and 1957 for 60 years.

His beloved Olori (wife) is believed to have come from Idanre. He was the father of my friend, Oba Adebiyi Adegboye Adesida, husband of Oloori Moji Adesida who reigned as Deji  of Akure between August 2010 and November 2013. The late Obi of Onisha, Ofala Okechukwu Okagbue reigned between 1970 and 2001 while Samuel Okosi reigned between 1901 and 1931. As the Alaafin Adeyemi celebrates his golden anniversary it is necessary to attempt to analyse why the great Oyo empire collapsed.

The Oyo Empire is still very important to the Yorubas till today. The empire reminds the Yorubas of when they were masters of their destiny under one rulership. The Empire stretched from the present Kwara state to Western Nigeria up to Dahomey, which we now refer to as the Republic of Benin. By the middle of the 19th century, that empire had disintegrated and on its ruins rose the successor states of Ibadan, Abeokuta, Ijaye, Ogbomoso, Egba, Ijebu, Egbado, Ekiti, and New Oyo. Ilorin, though made up of Yoruba people, is now a Fulani kingdom or emirate.

The first three – Ibadan, Abeokuta and Ijaye were the leading Yoruba states and their rivalry for supremacy formed one of the main topics of Yoruba history in the 19th century according to B. C. Onwubiko.

The collapse of the Oyo empire in the 19th century was brought about by several factors – some internal and others external. One of the internal factors was an inherent weakness arising from the size and nature of the empire. Like the Sudanese empires of Mali, Songhai and El Kanem-Bornu, the Oyo Empire was quite extensive and this made central control of the provinces difficult.

One reason for this was that Oyo the capital was situated on the northern fringes of the empire and this made it difficult for-the empire to control effectively the provinces most of which lay to the south of the empire. Again the system of administering the provinces through the Ilaris or resident provincial governors began to prove ineffective from the late 18th and early 19th centuries. These governors were not strictly supervised from the centre.

Consequently they became oppressive, corrupt and arrogant and by their actions drove the subject peoples of the provinces to rebel against them and the Alaafin whom they represented. But the main factor for the decline and eventual collapse of the Oyo Empire was the weakness and resultant breakdown of the central government.

This was the result of a constitutional crisis which rose from the struggle for power between the Alaafin and the Bashoruns in the second half of the 18th century. This crisis reached its climax during the period 1754-1774 when the notorious Bashrun Gaha was in power in old Oyo. An unscrupulous power-monger, he craftily seized power, raised five Alaafins (four of whom he destroyed) to the throne and ruled despotically thereby upsetting the delicate balance of the Oyo constitution.

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It was Alaafin Abiodun (1774-89) who arrested the situation temporarily by destroying Gaha and his family. But after his death in 1789, chaos again overtook the empire. Aole, the successor of Abiodun, committed a constitutional outrage by ordering his army against Apomu, an Ife town.

The army refused this order because Ife was sacred to the Yoruba and the Oni of Ife refused to consecrate new Alaafins. The Obas alienated by this sacrilege withdrew their allegiance to the Alaafins and began to defy them and to assert their independence. And because of the political instability and unrest resulting from the constitutional breakdown, the central government could no longer regain effective control of the provinces. The situation was made worse by the fact that there was at this time no strong central army to crush the rebellions as was the case in the past.

The Oyo army which was the chief instrument for the expansion of the empire and the suppression of internal revolts “was now a ghost of its former self.” This is evident from the fact that Oyo could not reconquer the Egba, and its army was soundly defeated by the Borgu in 1783 and the Nupe in 1791. The Oyo Empire, therefore, entered the 19th century with a serious constitutional crisis and a weak army.

It is not, therefore, surprising that Afonja took advantage of the situation to carve out Ilorin as a kingdom for himself in 1817; and Dahomey a vassal state of Oyo effected its independence in 1821. From then on, Dahomey carried war into Yorubaland, and these wars aggravated the already confused political situation in Yorubaland and contributed significantly to the collapse of the Oyo Empire.

The destructive effects of these internal factors were accentuated by a certain external factor, namely the Fulani with its concomitant effects on the Oyo Empire. The Fulani having conquered Hausaland and Nupe in the first decade of the 19th century were eager to expand southwards into Yorubaland.

Then from Ilorin the Fulani began military pressure on northern Yorubaland, sacking Oyo in 1837. The population of Old Oyo was forced to flee one hundred miles to Ago-Oja where they founded New Oyo. This movement from Old Oyo to New Oyo effectively marked the end of the Oyo Empire.

The Fulani pressure on the northern Yoruba states resulted in a southward population movement generated most of the Yoruba civil wars that plagued Yorubaland throughout the 19th century and completed the disintegration of the Oyo Empire. The authority on Yoruba history Professor Jacob Festus Adeniyi  Ajayi (May 1929 – 2014) from Ikole Ekiti wrote. “The Fulani conquest of Ilorin, had been the last and decisive blow that led to the dissolution of the Old Oyo Empire and the consequent Yoruba wars.” Wishing the Alaafin happy celebrations.

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