200 yrs Fulani War: 3 distinguished Yoruba generals who fought the invaders in the 19th century
200 yrs Fulani War: 3 distinguished Yoruba generals who fought the invaders at the start
The Yoruba people of Western Nigeria have been locked in a war of attrition with the Fulanis for over two hundred years, which end doesn’t even appear in sight now except one will be deceiving himself. The Fulanis who incidentally are not natives of Nigeria have since the early 19th century (1800s) been waging wars against the Yoruba fueled by their imperialistic bid to overrun and subjugate Yorubaland as they had done over many swathes of land in the northern part of the country. Their avowed goal is to “dip the Quran in the sea,” a euphemism for taking all in their way under their wings, installing Fulani kings (emirs) that will have allegiance to the Sokoto Caliphate. The Yoruba fiercely resisted this repressive ambition in the beginning and are still doing so, up till the present moment. Several bitter wars were fought in the early days of the conflict, each side experiencing swings in fortunes of battles. The war is still being waged – the invaders are not done and the defenders are not relenting. There were many other generals who fought the Fulani forces but none of the battles were as prominent and momentous as the battles these three fought or led against the invaders.
In this piece, we look at three distinguished Yoruba war generals of old, who commanded drawn-out battles against the invaders, with first of them paying the supreme price in their hands.
1. Afonja L’ayal’oko
The Fulani first began to intrude into the socio-political milieu of the Yoruba people in the early part of the nineteenth century as stated above, when Afonja nicknamed Layaloko (on account of his courageous disposition and deft use of spear), the ruler of Ilorin (present day capital of Kwara state), invited a revered Fulani Islamic cleric, Sheikh Alimi, into his domain, to help him make charms for fortifications. Afonja, who emerged as Aare Ona Kakanfo (generalissimo or commander-in-chief of Yoruba Army), and who was maternally related to the Oyo royal house, was overtaken by an inordinate ambition to carve an independent dominion for himself, to be free from the suzerainty of the Alaafin, the Emperor at Oyo. He thus saw the need to build up himself, hence the self-serving invitation he extended to Alimi. He didn’t stop at that, he also took in hundreds of Fulani and Hausa servants, who escaped from their masters from diverse places, the open arms with which he welcomed them was a trigger for many of them to flee from their masters. His Ilorin thus became a garrison of war mongers. He subsequently attacked the imperial city of Oyo, and drove the then Alaafin, Aole, to commit suicide. Afonja achieved his design but that soon served as catalyst for catastrophe. His Fulani and Hausa war boys styled Jamas, who now saw themselves as allies grew in power and soon became uncontrollable. They launched raids on neighbouring communities; unleashed a reign of terror – pillaging, plundering, kidnapping and seizing of wives and young girls. Afonja grew tired of their rapacity and lawlessness too; he cautioned them but the rambunctious and wild men had grown out of hand, they were recalcitrant and so, he resolved to rein them in and ultimately break them up. But Afonja’s bellicosity knew no bounds too; all along, he refused to pander to the words of wisdom and circumspection and even to the evil prognostications concerning the path he was following – propping up and condoning the Jamas in the beginning; this turned against him, many men of valour in the country.
Determined now to bring them (the Jamas) to their knees, he secretly mobilized his forces, but his adversaries got wind of his furtive move and in panic mode, they frantically rose in arms against him. He solicited reinforcements from Yoruba warriors but many of them he had alienated on account of his spurning of their previous advices. Soon, vicious battles ensued between him and the rapacious Fulani/Hausa men led by Alimi he had turned into warriors in moments of indiscretion. He fought desperately but valiantly living to his billing as Kakanfo but the odds were starkly against him, he was outnumbered, outflanked, ringed by the inexorable foes. Prior that time, his brother, Agbonrin and head slave, Lasia, who were both men of power, had died, a devastating loss to him, as it weakened his strength. Also, his new head slave, Bugare, whom he dispatched to request military assistance from Solagberu, a Yoruba valiant warrior at the nearby Oke-Suna, was treacherously detained by the latter. Solagberu had declined, taunting Afonja, saying he previously looked down on him. Afonja thus lacked adequate reinforcement in the face of an anxious rapacious band now buoyed by an excessive ambition. The battle raged, he was hemmed in on all sides in his quarters; his house was torched, and had to rush out to resist them in the streets. The enemy encircled him, he fought courageously until most of his men fell and he found himself surrounded by heaps of corpses, not of adversaries but of his (faithful) men; ultimately, he fell too amid hails of charmed spears and arrows. The darts that pierced his body were so massive that his body was suspended by them and so, did not fall to the ground after he died. When he ceased breathing, his assailants, who previously weaved an aura of invincibility around him, did not believe their eyes and for several minutes could not move near his fallen body. It took a brave one among them to approach his corpse; fear, caution, alertness all written over him. Such was the height of his intrepidness as a warrior. That brave one placed a spear in Afonja’s hand, which he could not grasp, and this threw them into extreme, wild jubilations. Ilorin was taken by the Fulanis (that was in 1817), and Alimi became the new ruler. After Alimi’s death, Abdulsalami, his heir assumed leadership s the first Emir. Abdulsalami subsequently pledged allegiance to the Othman Dan Fodio Jihad-inspired Sokoto Caliphate. He obtained a flag of Jihad to launch further attack against the Yorubas. The Fulani victory at Ilorin, which coincided with the period of general insurrection in Yorubaland owing to the misfortunes being increasingly suffered by the imperial city of Oyo because of successive weak Alaafins and unruliness borne out of parochial pursuits by Yoruba provincial chiefs and warlords, made the Yoruba country to become vulnerable. The old Oyo was finally besieged and destroyed by the Fulani-led forces in about 1835. The glorious capital was deserted and never was it repopulated till today. Afonja went head to head with the Fulani invaders but his was not altruistic; the battle was not about Yorubaland but for himself. He died a miserable death in 1817.
2. Toyeje Akanni Alebiosu
The gruesome end of Afonja paved the way for Toyeje, the Ogbomoso king, to assume the position of Aare Ona Kakanfo – he was formerly Otun Kakanfo (commander of the right) and thus second in command to Afonja. His late commander sent to him when war broke out between him and the Fulani elements but he had been killed before Toyeje could come to his aid. The investiture of Toyeje as Kakanfo immediately unveiled him as the next major adversary and impediment to the goal that had now caught the fancy of the Fulani invaders. The Fulani as well as other Yoruba chiefs in Ilorin, who were collaborators in the grand design of domination, fired by their victory over Afonja, now believed the path was open to overrun and conquer the whole of Yorubaland. And one of the main gateways to the Yoruba country via the north is Ogbomoso, where Tojeye reigned as monarch. His town was imperiled and his position as Kakanfo en-shouldered him with the responsibility of protecting the country, thus he had a two-fold task. Nonetheless, the first military duty was taking back Ilorin. This led to series of wars commanded by Toyeje. Such expeditions included Ogele and Mugba-mugba (Yunyere-yunyere) wars but which all met with fiascos, however, not because Toyeje was found wanting in bravery or in tactics but because the Yoruba leading warriors like Onikoyi Adegun and Solagberu had divided loyalty. Solagberu was subservient to Ilorin; Adegun was neither here nor there, only Toyeje stood unwaveringly for Oyo/Yoruba. They joined Toyeje in the expeditions truly but they easily gave out at critical moments to the advantage of Ilorin. That Toyeje did not perish in the face of such uncertain circumstances was a miracle and was due to his ability as a general. Toyeje stood doggedly and gallantly for the Yoruba cause but sabotage by co-warriors prevented the recapture of Ilorin. Another factor that negated victory was the use of horse by the Fulani. At the time the Yoruba were not used to fighting against cavalry, which the Fulani were adept at, so, it was later they developed strategies to cope with it.
Nonetheless, his strategies and gallantry ensured the preservation of his own Ogbomoso domain. Toyeje was noted for his “wisdom, courage and power.” The furious, mounted Ilorin forces launched several attacks during his reign as monarch of Ogbomoso but all were repulsed with equal pluck and determination. As a statesman, part of his efforts was turning Ogbomoso into a strong military fortress. He identified good warlords in different parts of the country especially those whose homesteads had been lost. He brought many redoubtable warriors into the town, which contributed to making the town impregnable against the invaders. Some of these warriors he attracted to Ogbomoso were Ogunrumbi and Bammeke, who were distinguished warriors. Toyeje gave these men of valour his daughters and nieces as wives to tie them down in the town. The fruit of his implacable effort was the foundation of the great military strength of Ogbomoso, which subsequently made it a stronghold of resistance against the aggressors, and this partly led to the influx of people from over 140 villages and towns including their traditional rulers into the city after his reign. The Fulanis were brave, driven by a burning desire to conquer the land and with their swift cavalry army, armed with spears, they proved sufficiently formidable against the Yoruba infantry soldiers armed with bows and arrows. Toyeje made enormous 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 and Balogun Lasinmiran. Toyeje was unwavering Ogbomoso would never come under the Fulanis. He was a match to them and he succumbed to none of their wily stratagems to add 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. 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 further impenetrable. His efforts were great, and impressively paid off as none of the attacks launched by the invaders ever breached Ogbomoso defense line. He despite the many wars he waged died peacefully at old age in 1824; he is probably the only Kakanfo who did not meet with a violent end or bring ruins to his town like some others. He died in about 1825.
3. Balogun Oderinlo
Balogun Oderinlo was a successful Ibadan warlord though he was originally from Agberi in present day Osun state. He came to settle in Ibadan at the onset of upheaval in Yorubaland. He assumed position as second Balogun of Ibadan after the demise of Balogun Alesinloye. He was a great general who dealt the final blow to the devious ambition of the Ilroin army at Osogbo in 1840. He fought several other wars as commander-in-chief of Ibadan army but it was the Osogbo War that signposted his bravery and conferred immortality on him as the hope of the invaders was irretrievably put paid to. Following this defeat Ilorin never could muster a large army to lay siege against the Yorubas again. Their new strategy was to support one Yoruba town against another by which they hoped to gain advantage but they never succeeded. They also continued to attack Ogbomoso but never were they successful as that town always repelled them. For the Osogbo victory, Oderinlo earned the appellate, “Omo a fi Fulani bo Osun.” The Osogbo war unveiled the brilliance of the Yorubas in war. The Ilorin army had ravaged and sacked old Oyo in 1835 and brought some other nearby towns under their control. Their covetous eyes were now set on subverting the whole Yoruba territory. The Ogbomoso route had become impenetrable to them because of the valour of the soldiers of that town and so laid siege to Osogbo, under the command of their famous Hausa Balogun (commander) – Alli, a powerful and fearless warrior. Meanwhile, attacking Osogbo was a brilliant stratagem devised by the Ilorins to take Ogbomoso and Osogbo at the same time so they could pour into the country. Osogbo was a dominion under Ogbomoso at the time, and so, with the assault on Osogbo, Ogbomoso soldiers were expected to deploy soldiers to relief the besieged town but the leaders of Ogbomoso saw through the veil. Deploying the bulk of their soldier to Osogbo would leave their town exposed to sneak attack. And so, only a small, weak detachment was sent; but this was no match for the Ilorin’s large expeditionary force. Thus, help was requested from Ibadan, which had become formidable due to the in-pouring of many warlords into the town. The first army contingent deployed by Ibadan, under the command of Obele Mobitan and Alade Abimpagun, could not stand the fiery Ilorin cavalry as well and so another battalion led by a more experienced general departed for the warfront, which also was unable to match the Ilorin forces. It thus became a task for the most powerful Ibadan warriors. Iba Oluyole was the ruler of Ibadan at the time but he did not go to battle, instead he sent the brave General Oderinlo. The war had escalated, with Ilorin on the verge of total victory. Oderinlo ordered the Yoruba army to retreat to allow him and his lieutenants assess the situation and devise a tactic to break the logjam. It was a scary scenario in view of the fast and furious cavalry of the Ilorin army. It took them about three weeks before a measure was evolved to tackle the menace. At a point, it was contemplated whether to request the presence of Elepo, an Ibadan warlord, who should have been appointed Balogun in place of Oderinlo, but declined, and did not join the expedition. But in the long run, the idea was jettisoned. Oderinlo and his men at last resolved to give fight. Ilorin was on a plain ground, a perfect condition for a cavalry force and thus an advantage to the Fulani army, which depended on horses. The Yoruba army thus planned a night attack, which was launched covertly. It worked as the enemy was taken by surprise, moreover, at night, their horses became useless. Spies were eliminated swiftly as the army marched out of the Osogbo gate. The battle formation was a three-prong attack – the Osogbo army and the first contingent deployed by Ibadan took the centre, Chiefs Abitiko and Labujutan (an Oluoje/Ijeru indigene) commanded the right flank, while Balogun Oderinlo led the left flank. The Yoruba defenders in the dead of the night came ferociously upon the invaders, many of whom were already in deep sleep. They tore through the enemy camp; rowdiness, confusion and panic ensued, several of the enemy soldiers were slaughtered. Many of their generals were captured, thus the enemy was routed in that swift surprise attack. Those who escaped from the attack fled precipitately but Oderinlo ordered a hot pursuit goaded by the thought that though they intruded the Yoruba country out of their own volition they would not be allowed to return on their own free will. It was a crushing defeat, one from which the Fulani never recovered from, till this day. Oderinlo returned to Ibadan in victory, assumed traditional leadership of Ibadan following the death of Oluyole and died after about a year. There were speculations that he died from poison.