Afonja, The Coup d’état That shook The Entire Yoruba Race

The complete forfeiture of the Ilorin throne by the Yorubas to the Fulani people can be traced to the singular act of mutiny, disobedience, envious and stubborn nature of a Man named Afonja. Afonja was the Great grandson of Laderin, founder of Ilorin town the most influential person in the history of Old Ilorin. His father was one of the men who swelled the army that stood against Basorun Gaa, the tyrant warlord who dealt horror to kings and commons alike.

The suzerainty of the old Oyo Empire on Ilorin, in the 17th Century was directly influenced by Alaafin Ojigi’s interest to save the Igbomina Yoruba area that had been turned slave reservoirs by the Nupes. He established the first administrative structure to coordinate the scattered settlements later known as Ilorin. The first of the Oyo Ajel (Resident) to be appointed was Laderin. His son Pasin, who was also succeeded by his own son Alugbin, the father of Aare Afonja succeeded Laderin.

The personal animosity between Aare Afonja and Alaafin Aole which degenerated to show of strength between the two leading figures in the administration of Oyo Empire, culminated to the summary termination of Alaafin Aole and declaration of independence for Ilorin. Aare Afonja’s effort to consolidate his power and position as the supreme authority in Ilorin. dictated two major actions that eventually played key roles in the historical changes witnessed in Ilorin. One of such action of the Aare was his contact with Shehu Alimi through his friend Sholagberu. The second was the Aare’s decision to recruit slaves who ran to Ilorin from their masters in Oyo town, after Ilorin had been declared independent of Oyo. into his army. The first of the Aare’s steps was to seek spiritual support for his new position and status.

He therefore persuaded Shehu Alimi to migrate into Ilorin town from Kuwo (a suburb of llorin) where he had then settled, after his Islamic evangelical mission to parts of Yoruba land, such as Osogbo and even Oyo Ile’. It was for Aare’s persuasions that Shehu Alimi eventually migrated to llorin town. On the recruitment of the slaves who ran to llorin as sanctuary, the Aare saw their presence in llorin as an advantage to have soldiers who does not have any relations with the local environment. Thereby, the question of betrayal would be out of the way. Given the circumstances of his declaration of independence for llorin from Oyo. Aare’s confidence and high regards for the slave soldiers soon result to its abuse. The slave soldiers saw themselves as an important element to the survival of llorin as an independent entity. Therefore they resorted to committing atrocities and rapacity that hii’boun, the left wing commander of the Aare’s army, had to draw Aare’s attention to the implications of the excesses of the slave soldiers, who were commonly referred to as Aare’s servant. Aare Afonja’s efforts to restructure the army with the aim of preventing further damages by the slave soldiers for their rapacity, mobilized the slave soldiers to organize a mutiny, which eventually resulted into Aare Afonja’s death.

The death of Aare Afonja in about 1813 naturally created vacuum in the political leadership of llorin. Given the fact that his slave- recruited soldiers killed him, and publicly burnt his corpse, and there was no ready counter force to evolve a new political leader. Ilorin had to remain in a state of interregnum for some time. The Baba Isale. Agboin. was then very sick and could not mobilize a counter force to arrest the confusing situation’. On the part of Shehu Alimi, he concentrated on his cleric duties by leading a group of Muslims in daily prayers. The death of Shehu Alimi in about 1817. Four years after Aare Afonja’s death, was a turning point in the history of llorin. It opened a new course of events that culminated into the emergence of a new-political structure in the emirate.

Shehu Alimi, as a committed Islamic cleric, whose major duty was leading congregation in prayers as the Imam, certainly had no other position that could be inherited by his children. As an Imam, which is a religious position, was indeed not necessarily to be inherited by the family of the immediate past Imam. Any Muslim could actually vie for the position”. This situation explains why the contest for the position of the Imam held by Shehu Alimi in llorin, was contested for by AbdulSalami, Shehu Alimi’s first son, and Bako from Serikin Gambari’s family. The support given to AbdulSalami by personalities such as Sholagberu and other prominent Yoruba group leaders close to Shehu Alimi, made AbdulSalami to be victorious over Bako. As the Imam of the mosque where the slave soldiers often congregate to perform their daily prayers, AbdulSalam and Shitta. his younger brother, were fast at establishing close relations with them”. It was by these relations that the slave soldiers were turned to be used to attack those that were accused of being unfriendly to AbdulSalami’s leadership in the mosque. They intimidate those considered to be influential within Ilorin community and could checkmate their political ambition and attack settlements such as Okesuna, which on its own was an entity. The successful use of the slave soldiers by AbdulSalami and Shitta to terminate all form of oppositions to the realization of their political ambition in Ilorin, actually paved the way for the declaration of Ilorin as an emirate in about 1823.

An army was raised under Toyeje, the Bale of Ogbomoso, who succeeded A are Afonja as Kakanfo. The army camped at Ogele, expecting to easily run over the Fulani authority in Ilorin:i. The Fulani had anticipated and prepared for the attack. They demanded that each of the Ihdogun should raise an army among their respective linguistic group to complement the Jammct . Having carefully studied the organzational weakness of the Yoruba army on the battled field, the llorin army concentrated on the use of calvary. This inflicted heavy human loses on the Yoruba army. A good number of Yoruba towns in the Ibolo areas were destroyed and some others were fully captured .

The defeat of the allied forces of the Yoruba was a morale booster for the emerging forces in llorin. On the other hand, the morale of the Yoruba allied forces waned because of the betrayal noticed amongst them. The tactical error on the part of the Yoruba allied forces was that they concentrated mainly on the military organization. They were not sufficiently diplomatic. Their situation would not have been as bad had they penetrated into the rank and file of Yoruba people that were aggrieved by acts of the Fulani, who imposed themselves as the authority of Ilorin

However, the Alimi people are claiming that the Afonja people never ruled Ilorin and, as such, no precedent exists to back their position. Historical sources said in 1895, the Yoruba rose against the then emir, burnt his palace and killed him but the revolt did not result in enthronement of a Yoruba king. In 1913, when Lord Lugard administered the northern and southern Nigeria, Yoruba were said to have spearheaded a riot over tax to bring the rulership of the then emir to ridicule. In 1936, the Yoruba, according to sources, also moved to oust Emir Abdulkadir who was banished to Kaduna but got reinstated by the colonial administration.

In 1978, the George Innih administration of Kwara State raised a judicial panel of inquiry to look into the Yoruba agitation. The Yoruba people reportedly made a case for the merging of Kwara State with the Southwest before the commission while also laying claim to the Ilorin throne. It was said they even claimed antecedent to the throne as they allegedly said Yoruba had produced four obas in Ilorin before the advent of the Fulani but the Alimi people, in a counter position, claimed there was no known Yoruba king in the town before their forefather mounted the throne.

The report of the panel never saw the light of day while there was also no white paper from government. A twist to the tussle was the recent petition by three of the six Yoruba chiefs (mogajis) in Ilorin to the State House of Assembly complaining that they had been classified as ungraded by government allegedly at the behest of the emir. Their non-grading, according to the chiefs, suited the emir, so that there would be no rivalry of any sort from the Yoruba to his authority. Ilorin Descendants Progressive Union (IDPU), formed to protect the interest Ilorin indigenes who are of Fulani extraction, once in its opposition to the upgrading of the chiefs, said dong so would bring them at par with Gambari. But the Afonja Descendants Union (ADU) which came on stream in 1978 to advance the cause of the Yoruba in the town and with Kasumu as its leader would hear none of that. The group is allegedly pressuring the legislature to grade the chiefs.

Another angle to the agitation is the demand for Oya State that will comprise the Yoruba speaking areas of Kwara and Kogi States. The move, it was said, is to pull the rug from under the feet of the emir and end the Fulani rulership of Ilorin. The Yoruba people of Ilorin are not alone in the struggle. The pan-Yoruba meeting which took place in Ibadan last year demanded restructuring of Kwara State such that Ilorin would be grouped with the Southwest. Analysts interpreted this to mean that the parley did not believe that any emir had any business on Ilorin throne.

Salaudeen Olayinka

A lover of history

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