Toyeje, Ogbomoso warrior king: He bravely fought Fulani Jihadists yet died peacefully

The Aare Ona Kakanfo title is an esteemed but dreaded war title in Yorubaland. As the Supreme Commander (field marshal or generalissimo) of the Oyo/Yoruba imperial army, it is a title sought desperately and intensely by military commanders in the days of yore when war was du jour (trendy) and raged with unbridled intensity. Afonja Layaloko and Latosisa among others took the title by force to underscore the extreme craving for it. However, the title is associated with misfortune; it is on record that the holders always meet with violent end as well as bringing ill-fate to their towns. Afonja died cruelly, killed by his Fulani allies led by Mallam Alimi in a hail of spears and arrows that dangled from his body, after he was repeatedly shot at, making his body to be suspended against crashing on the ground, following which his Ilorin throne was seized and Ilorin created a Fulani emirate with allegiance to the Sokoto Caliphate. Aare Kuruynmi of Ijaye, who hailed from Esiele in today’s Ogbomoso zone, another brave warrior who fought many battles against the Fulani jihadists also died despondently after losing five sons in a day during a war with the Ibadan army-led Balogun Ibikunle and Bashorun Ogunmola, and subsequently had his Ijaye beloved town razed to the ground, a calamity the town never recovered from. Latosisa, a native of Fiditi, who became king of Ibadan, and who reportedly snatched the Aare Ona Kakanfo title from Ojo Abuirumaku, Baale of Ogbomoso and son of Toyeje, allegedly committed suicide after his generals revolted against him during Kiriji War with the disastrous result of losing the Ekiti/Ijesa dominion of the fledgling Ibadan Empire and ultimately a takeover of Yorubaland by the British colonialists. Perhaps such ruinous end often met by holders of Kakanfo title is rooted in the Yoruba saying that “Iku ogun ni pa akikanju…” (The brave dies of battle…). In modern times, Aare Samuel Ladoke Akintola GCON, who was Premier of the defunct Western Region, was felled by coupists’ bullets in a most brutal way; Aare Moshood Kashimawo Abiola, who won a presidential election which was annulled by reactionary forces, was allegedly poisoned to death after he refused to jettison his pan-Nigerian mandate. Moreover, the towns from which the holders of the title hailed from in the pre-colonial period, except Ogbomoso and Ibadan, from Iwoye to Ajase, to Jabata to Gbogun to Ijaye, are either in ruins today or have lost their relevance and former status. Ilorin on its own took on a new characteristic altogether! So, it can be described as a title that comes with the duplicity of boom and doom! Perhaps the reason why the current holder, Aare Gani Adams, is treading with tremendous caution in the face of the current peril against the Yoruba nation, a trait unknown to the past occupiers of the post. Aare Ona Kakanfos in the past were restless spirits who felt elated at waging wars at the peril of their own life, war mongers they were!

Artist’s impression of Aare Ona Kakanfo Toyeje Akanni Alebiosu, by Bolaji Ogunlana

But General Toyeje Akanni, whose nickname was “Alebiosu” (One who rises like the moon), had a different trajectory as a holder of the title. He not only survived the calamity infamously associated with the office but used it to turn his town of Ogbomoso into an impregnable fortress. Perhaps the dictum that “to every rule there is an exception” holds true in the case of the intrepid Toyeje. He was of an indomitable courage and spirit, which ensured that the Fulani menace which engendered the fall of the once mighty Oyo Empire was unsuccessful against his kingdom. Even after his death the foundation of formidability he orchestrated and laid ensured the town never capitulated. His determination to preserve the sovereignty of Ogbomoso must have propelled his immediate successors and army generals resident in the community to be unrelenting in fending off the numerous invasions of the Fulani army. All through his adult life and reign, he constantly waged wars, many perished by his sword yet he died a peaceful death.

Toyeje was a son of King Kumoyede (the sixth king of Ogbomoso) and great grandson of Soun Ogunlola Ogundiran, the first king of Ogbomoso. Toyeje became the king upon the dethronement of Olukan, the eighth king. He was the first of Kumoye’s five sons to ascend the throne and the the fourteenth king of the town, Ojo Abuirumaku. His reign marked the beginning of the monopoly of the throne by the descendants of Kumoye as henceforth only Kumoye’s descendants got on the throne. His mother, Agbonrin, was of a noble family in Oyo. Toyeje, born in about 1760s, was of quiet disposition which belied his strong character. Wiry in stature and wily in behaviour, he was a perfect fit for the time he lived. The account of how he forged himself to be a redoubtable warrior is not told but he grew a warrior and soon joined the military caste.

Reign and legacy
His ascension to the throne was dramatic. Olukan, the eighth king of Ogbomoso, was alleged of murder by his many enemies and was consequently summoned to the royal court at Oyo, the capital city of the empire. Prince Toyeje, his nephew, accompanied him. And when Olukan could not extricate himself from the web of murder charge woven around him, Toyeje was proclaimed king. In fact, the Alaafin of Oyo at the time, while interrogating Olukan had demanded to know the names of other princes that could take the throne; some were mentioned to his hearing but he dismissed them based on the meaning conveyed by their names; his eyes then strayed to the scrawny Toyeje and asked who he was. When told he was also of the chieftaincy family, he demanded his name, informed it was “To-ye-je,” the ruler’s face lit up and said this is the person that would now take the throne. Literally, Toyeje means, “Re-assume-the-chieftaincy.” He became the ruler of Ogbomoso in late 18th or early 19th century.
Toyeje reorganized Ogbomoso’s defences, his rise to power having coincided with the period peace and tranquility was taking flight from Yorubaland. Afonja had been appointed Aare Ona Kakanfo by Alaafin Aole but went ahead to rebel against Aole by declaring the independence of Ilorin from Oyo. Several other towns were to follow suit.
Meanwhile, a Fulani Islamic scholar and itinerant preacher, Othman Dan Fodio, had launched jihad in Gobir (today’s Sokoto) in 1804, and his bellicose disciples overran the whole of Hausaland and some other tribal kingdoms. Many Fulanis and Hausa slaves Afonja conscripted into his army, styled Jamaas. Afonja turned deaf ears to all entreaties to wean himself of these marauders. In fact, Fagbohun, Baale Jabata, and who was a deputy Kakanfo (Osi or Commander of the Left), was insistent on this, but Afonja’s response was to scheme to kill him, Fagbohun however escaped the plot. When the excesses of the Jamaa military band, as it engaged unrestrictedly in plundering, pillaging, kidnapping, slave raiding etc, became unbearable even to Afonja, he moved to disband it but too late, the marauders got wind of his ploy and rose against him in arms before he could rally support from outside; he fought fearlessly but he was overwhelmed by numbers and killed in battle. The Ilorin throne was seized with allegiance sworn to the Sultan at Sokoto, Sokoto being the epicenter of the jihad, and all together abrogated the title “Oba of Ilorin.”
By Afonja’s death, destiny beckoned on Toyeje. As first deputy to Afonja (Otun Kakanfo or Commander of the Right), he was promoted Aare Ona Kakanfo. Upon him now fell the gargantuan mantle of rescuing Ilorin from the Fulanis and more importantly halt their incursions further into the Yoruba nation as it had become clear that the invaders were being borne by an imperialistic ambition. The Fulanis were buoyed greatly by their victories in Ilorin and suburbs, and so, their next objective was to overrun Ogbomoso, the next major Yoruba town after Ilorin. This was the scenario when Toyeje got into the saddle.
In “Iwe Itan Ogbomoso,” (The History of Ogbomoso), written by N. D. Oyerinde, he is described thus: “In matters of wisdom, courage and power, Toyeje was a formidable man.”
Toyeje’s first task was to expel the Fulani usurpers from Ilorin. He promptly mobilized for battle. Nevertheless, the mission was unsuccessful as internal strife, treachery and disunity ravaged his troop. His generals were not in one accord with him owing to jealousies, selfishness, arrogance and inordinate ambitions; loyalty to the cause was flippant, which considerably sabotaged his effort. Onikoyi Adegun and Solagberu in Oke Suna, Ilorin, were the two other most fearsome Yoruba generals of the age. Solagberu was subservient to Ilorin; Adegun was neither here nor there, only Toyeje stood unwaveringly for Oyo/Yoruba. The tactics of these enemies within was to give way to the Fulani at the most crucial moments when Toyeje and other loyal troops had made a charge. That Toyeje did not perish in the face of such uncertain circumstances was a miracle and due to his ability as a general. To further drive home this point Adegun later usurped the powers of Alaafin by investing the title of Kakanfo in another warlord, Edun of Gbogun.
The Fulanis were brave, driven by a burning desire to conquer the land and with their swift cavalry army, armed with spears; they proved adequately formidable against the Yoruba infantry soldiers armed with bows and arrows. Ogele and Mugba-mugba (Yunyere-yunyere) wars were some of the campaigns to recapture Ilorin but victory eluded the Yorubas. The circumstances described above among the Yoruba leading warriors of the time featured prominently in these wars and consequently stood in the way of victory. And so, Ilorin could not be taken back. And it should be realized that many powerful Yoruba warriors in Ilorin like Balogun Ajikobi and Balogun Alanamu, also overcome by personal glory and lure of war captives and booties, similarly came under the Fulani-led Ilorin army to join the onslaught against their kith and kin. Toyeje made great sacrifices to maintain the territorial integrity of Yorubaland making his Ogbomoso army especially to largely bear the brunt of these wars. Some Ogbomoso mighty generals of the time are Areago Oniyirokun, Bammeke, Ogunrunmbi, Ikolaba Olujonku, Balogun Lasinmiran (an Ijeru/Oje prince and warlord). They shared the credit of protecting Ogbomoso and Yorubaland as a whole at this hazardous time.
Toyeje also fought Pamo War; this was a war with Onikoyi Adegun. Toyeje, supported by Solagberu and contingents from Ejigbo, Osogbo, Ede, Iwo, Ilobu etc (which were all under Ogbomoso during the time), was on the verge of victory when the troops of Emir Abdulsalami Alimi of Ilorin made sudden appearance at the theatre of war to aid Ikoyi, as Adegun hurriedly pledged allegiance to Ilorin to secure military aid. Meanwhile, Solagberu had an axe to grind with Adegun, hence his support for Toyeje, a decision that set him on collision path with the Ilorin leaders, who later declared war against him and vanquished him. Ede and Aiyepe wars were some other wars waged by Toyeje. Ede, which was a vassal town to Ogbomoso, refused to pay tributes and so, Toyeje sent a punitive force under General Lasinmiran to Ede. Ede was pummeled and so was brought under submission again.
Toyeje also had a strand of diplomacy in him. His strategies turned Ogbomoso into a powerful town. He attracted many warriors, warlords whose communities had fallen he brought to Ogbomoso, and he was generous in marrying off his daughters and other relatives to these warriors. As an instance, Ikolaba Olujonku, who killed a brave warrior at Aiyepe war, Toyeje rewarded by giving his daughter to him as wife. He also gave these mighty men lands to cement their loyalty. Furthermore, there were times Ilorin rulers asked Toyeje to come, he would not be obdurate, he would go assisted by some of his generals, and he would do their (physical) bidding by bowing to them though he was resolute that Ogbomoso would never come under the Fulanis. He was a match to them and he succumbed to none of their wily stratagems toad his domain to their empire. And he was known to always emphasize that even after his demise the town must not be subjugated to Ilorin. His military investment laid the foundation for the impregnability of Ogbomoso and in making the town the centre of resistance to Ilorin-led Fulani imperial army. Warlords poured into Ogbomoso that after his death, 143 different villages and towns with their traditional heads and people made Ogbomoso home, to repel the invaders.
Toyeje’s obsession with waging wars was amazing and he often displayed matchless gallantry; his strong-will kept the kingdom together and he used his wit to advantage in dealing with Ilorin. Also, he saw to the construction of a defense wall to make the town impenetrable. His efforts were great and impressively paid off as none of the attacks launched by the invaders ever penetrated or breached Ogbomoso defense line. And to realize that the circumstance of his demise was serene in view of the numerous wars he fought and due to the dreadful position of supreme commander he held, is remarkable. The belief even up to this day is that the holder has signed a pact with a violent death, but for Toyeje, this fate eluded him, perhaps he was the only Kakanfo who did not meet with a violent death. It was therefore an irony and a pleasant surprise. His descendants today constitute one of the royal houses of Ogbomoso, indeed first in the line. He died in the late 1820s.
He was succeeded by his step brother, Oluwusi, whose great grandson is the present Oba of Ogbomoso – Oladunni Oyewumi Ajagungbade III JP, CON, CFR.

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