Igbohoism: A Return To Yoruba Pre-Colonial Setting

By – Wale Olaogun and Adisa Habeeb

Sunday Adeyemo, popularly known as Sunday Igboho by most Nigerians, was born in the early seventys at Igboho, an area in Oke-Ogun, Oyo State.

Although, Sunday was nicknamed after his town—he wasn’t raised in Igboho, but Modakeke where his father had relocated to. However, Sunday Igboho who is said to possess mystical powers rose to fame during the Ife-Modakeke war in 1997-1998.

From Modakeke, Igboho thereafter moved to Ibadan. Meeting with Lam Adesina, the then Governor of Oyo State, Sunday Igboho became a political instrument to the politician and later met with another former Governor of Oyo State, Sen. Adewolu Ladoja who he equally served.

Recently, Sunday Igboho who had been heard for long again broke into the air due to the far and wide trending of the Fulani’s hard-heartedness and insurgency. He commanded, after serial killings of the Yorubas, that the Fulanis depart the Ibarapa axis of the Oke-Ogun environs within seven days. 

However, this unrest further made the mystical man himself, Mr. Igboho, to declare an independent Yoruba nation, known as the Oduduwa nation. Historically, one would assume that Igboho wants to draw back the hands of time to the Old Oyo Empire (Yoruba Traditional Pre-Colonial System) by questing for an autonomous Yoruba nation. 

The Yoruba Traditional Pre-Colonial System 

For historians, there are different accounts on the origin of the Yorubas, one of which says: “Oduduwa, who is believed to have migrated southward from ancient Egypt about a thousand years ago, is often referred to as the Yoruba’s progenitor”.The Yorùbá people are a Niger-Congo ethnic group of southwestern and north-central Nigeria, as well as southern and central Benin. Together, these regions are known as Yorubaland. The Yoruba constitute about 44 million people in total. Majority of this population is from Nigeria, where the Yorùbá constitute 21% of the country’s population, according to the CIA World Factbook, making them one of the largest ethnic groups in Africa. The Yoruba political administration had a decentralized structure i.e. power was constitutionally shared among all political levels/sections of the kingdom ranging from the highest to the lowest unit unlike the Hausa political system which was highly centralized.

The Yoruba political administration was also based on the ultimate principle of ‘check and balance’ which implies that each of the administrative levels can check, challenge or nullify actions of other levels irrespective of their administrative hierarchy, for example, in the political system of the Oyo empire, the Oyomesi (the 7 hereditary kingmakers headed by Bashorun) and the Are-Ona-Kakanfo (head of the army) acted as checks to the Alaafin who can be deposed by being presented an empty calabash or parrot’s egg if found incompetent or guilty of impeachable crimes, for example, Are-Ona-Kakanfo Afonja, with the help of some of the Oyomesi, presented an empty calabash to Alaafin Aole signifying his rejection as the king which was to be followed by his suicide. However, it can be safely concluded that the Yoruba political system had a semblance to the modern federal system of government.

The Yoruba political structure revolved round many figures starting from the Oba, the political head, council of chiefs (Ijoye which consisted of Iyalode, Otun, Osi, Iyaloja etc.), the kingmakers (Afobaje, part of whom might be the chiefs), the Baale, the army (Esho) and the religious cult (Ogboni). It must be noted that the titles of some of these figures vary in each Yoruba kingdom, for example, the Oba is known as Alaafin in Oyo while in Ife, he is referred to as Oni. The kingmakers are also known as Oyomesi in Oyo while the Ijebus call them Osugbo.

Prelude to British conquest among the Yorubas

 The impetus for various intra-tribal conflagrations which swept through the entire Yorubaland between 1817 and 1893 was fundamentally the control of trade routes within the region. The massive Yoruba empire of Oyo was renowned as an extraordinary exporter of slaves in the eighteenth century, and also as the seat of government for millions of citizens. The empire was to collapse shortly before the invasion of the Fulani Jihadists during a period of civil strife in the years following 1817. By the mid–1830s the ensuing uprisings had engulfed the entire Yorubaland.The civil wars not only completed the break up of the Oyo empire into a large number of rival states but also led to the foundation of a number of new towns and states.

Civil Wars in Yorubaland

One of the political causes of the wars was the collapse of the central authority and army of Oyo following the successful revolt of Afonja, the Kakanfo in 1817. The consequent establishment of an independent state of Ilorin by him marked the beginning of the civil wars in Yorubaland in the 19th century. As the strong controlling and uniting hand of the central authority was no more, Yorubaland was thrown into confusion and strife as the Obas or provincial governors following the example of Afonja began to carve out kingdoms for themselves and the traditional hostilities between the various town were let loose.

The Fulani contributed to the civil wars not only by warring on the northern Yoruba states, but also by the skill with which they set one king against another in order to increase the area under their control. The state of civil strife in Yorubaland was aggravated by the struggle for supremacy among the provincial kings or Obas to the south. They seized the opportunity of the confused situation to expand their states at the expense of each other. Such wars included,the Owu war (1821-25) The Ijebu allied with Ife to destroy Owu town whose inhabitants fled into Egba territory. Then the Ijebu in alliance with Ife and Oyo destroyed several Egba towns. It was refugees from these wars that founded Ibadan in 1829 and Abeokuta in 1830.These two towns soon developed into powerful city-states and joined in the struggle for supremacy. Some of the wars were caused by disputes over constitutional issues. The Ibadan-Ijaye war (1860-1864) was a typical example.

Effects of the War in Relation to Present-Day Yorubaland

The long wars in the interior were no doubt affecting trade in Lagos adversely. In 1861, Lagos had become a British colony and the British Governor there depended on customs duties from trade to maintain the Lagos administration.The Yoruba civil wars which lasted for over seventy years (1821-1893) no doubt had important consequences for Yorubaland in particular and West Africa in general. One of the results for Yorubaland was the consequent destruction of Old Oyo by the Fulani in 1837 and the absorption of metropolitan Oyo into the Fulani emirate of Ilorin.

This set the motion for the conquest by Britain, In 1892, a punitive expedition was sent against Ijebu. As Crowder put it, “The speedy defeat of The Ijebu was the most significant step in the British occupation of Yorubaland”. In 1893, Abeokuta entered into a treaty with the British Governor Gilbert Carter. She agreed to submit all disputes between the Egba and The British to the Governor’s arbitration, allow free trade and abolish human sacrifice provided her independence was guaranteed.

These treaties in effect made Yorubaland a British protectorate and undermined the sovereignty of the Alaafin. However, they restored peace to Yorubaland and with it legitimate trade prospered.

Having traveled back in time, it’d be logical to conclude that the Yorubas were not united from the onset because of various civil wars that have occurred among them. John Dalberg, in his word, said that “power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely”. In an environment where there are many rulers, it’d be fallacious to deduce that peace will reign because of unhealthy competitions that would unfold among powerful individuals in the cabinet. Such was the case of the then Yoruba traditional pre-colonial system, there was separation of powers, ranging from the Alaafin – political/administrative head, to the Kakanfo – commander-in-chief and to the Oyomesi – seven chiefs, the Ogboni – cult, which also performed some Judicial functions. Each arm has a head who maneuver the activities of his organ. 

However, this federal nature of the then Yoruba governmental system made it look too cumbersome, and open to crisis. Critically, one could deduce that there was division among the Yoruba race, which affects them till today. The Egbas are different from the Oyos, the Ijeshas are not same with Ijebus because of some slight differences in the language. However, this language barrier contributed more to diversity. 

Landmass also made most rulers then think that they could be independent because they possess and control a huge territory which made them to overpower the subordinate ones. Power, which isn’t alcohol, intoxicates and could make one stagger. This was what happened to Afonja – the then Kakanfo, who  quest for independence of the Ilorin state which afterward led to war among some parts of the Yoruba race. 

To Mr. Igboho, he probably should go back to history and see if the then system worked out perfectly. Structurally, the Yoruba pre-colonial  system is relevant to the present-day Nigeria because they seem to both operate a Federal system such that if the Yorubas become independent, they probably would face same problem Nigeria is facing today. Is Sunday Adeyemo, Mr. Igboho, not clamouring for same Nigeria in a different attire? 

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