Even though as we said, Baale Oyesile’s reign as Baale of Ibadan was peaceful, there were many wars that Ibadan fought. One of these wars proved key to how Ibadan became a socio-economic and socio-political hub in Yorubaland till date. Till today the Ijaye War remains one of the pivotal wars that changed the history of the Yoruba region
The Ijaye War (1859-1861)
Even though a lot of the events that led to the Ijaye War and what happened during it are lost to myth, but Historians surmise that what led to the Ijaye war was an old Oyo tradition. The tradition in Oyo was that when an Alaafin died, his first son had to die with him when he is being buried. However when Alaafin Atiba, who had established the new Oyo town after the Ilorin and the Fulani destroyed the original site of the city at Oyo Ile, was about to die, he wished to change the tradition so that his heir, Prince Adelu didn’t die with him and could become the Alaafin of Oyo instead. So he summoned a meeting of the two strongest cities in Yorubaland, Ibadan who sent a delegation led by Balogun Ibikunle, and Ijaye who was led by Aare Ona Kakanfo Kurumi in order to make them accept the crowned Prince Adelu as his successor. Aare Ona Kakanfo Kurunmi of Ijaye who at this point was (according to what we know about him) in his seventies, a veteran warrior who had fought many wars from turn of the century and through his experience was a stickler for doing things the proper way, vehemently disagreed with the idea saying it was a violation of tradition, Ibikunle Balogun of Ibadan (some say he was encouraged by Ogunmola his deputy who had an axe to grind against Kurumi) however agreed with the Alaafin that Adelu should not die. This put the two superpowers at loggerheads war was inevitable.
It was possible that the action alone would not have led to the war because of Balogun Ibikunle, an older warrior and the Balogun of Ibadan, balked at the idea of sons of Oduduwa fighting against each other. Moreso Kurumi and Ibadan had fought side by side, at least twice, the first was the Gbanamu War under Maye and second at the Eleduwe War. Ibikunle tried to achieve a peaceful resolution to the crisis. However Ogunmola his Otun (deputy) would have none of it. Unfortunately, it happened that during the Batedo (The first Ijaye) war between Ibadan and Ijaye under Bashorun Oluyole. Ijaye forces had captured Ogunmola, who had the time was a young warrior just learning the ropes, as a Prisoner of War. During his time in Ijaye, he was tied to a tree in front of Aare Kurumi’s house and forced to lick a bowl of ashes. Somehow he escaped and made it back home to Ibadan, but that experience had made him develop a personal vendetta towards Kurunmi in particular and the people of Ijaye in general. Steadily He rose through the ranks in the Ibadan army until he became the Otun Balogun, a position where he was able to influence the Ibadan war council. The Ijaye war was finally a chance for Ogunmola to achieve his revenge and he was not about to let it go.
Even though Balogun Ibikunle did not want war, he himself could still not pass up the chance to destroy the might of Ijaye and make Ibadan the biggest military force in the region. Besides, Ibadan was a major ally of the Alaafin and the Alaafin had already declared war on Aare Kurunmi for his intransigence. Thirdly the other war chiefs who were already waiting for the chance to cut the Aare to size simply overruled the Balogun’s attempts to be the voice of reason and called him a coward. Balogun Ibikunle thus had no choice but to declare war on Ijaye. Initially, Balogun Ibikunle did not fight, instead, he sent Otun Balogun Ogunmola who was only too happy to oblige. However, the Egba who were perhaps wary of the threat Ibadan could pose if she defeated Ijaye and became the only superpower in the region decided to support Ijaye. Ibikunle had no option but to join in the battle to assist Ogunmola. So was the war started.
The Ibadan army camped at Ilora, 13 miles north of Ijaye, while the Ijaye forces camped at Olokemeji on the River Ogun. The Ijaye, Egba, Fulani and Ijebu forces set a blockade to cut Ibadan off from the supplies from the British in Lagos. Ibadan retaliated by blockading Ijaye from food supplies. The war raged for two years with both sides initially proving evenly matched however Ijaye began to wilt as their ammunition ran short and Food too ran short creating a famine in Ijaye. Also, the Egba wanted to fight but they were not prepared for a long military campaign against a military force as strong as the Ibadan army. The war cost them a lot of their men and at some point, they had no option but to pull out of supporting Ijaye. The war between Ibadan and Ijaye continued, and eventually, all the farms in Ijaye and surrounding areas came under the control of the Ibadan. So, starvation became very common among the Ijaye troops. The only source of food came from the Oke Ogun towns. Weapons and ammunition continued to come from Abeokuta. The Ibadan chiefs knew that as long as Ijaye could get supplies from these towns, Ijaye could not be taken. Balogun Ogunmola led the Ibadan troops to a town known as Iwawun. Here, the Ijayes suffered a great defeat. This was the battle that essentially ended the war. It was in that battle that Ogunmola captured and killed five of Kurunmi’s sons were killed including Arawole, his eldest surviving son. The news of Arawole’s death shocked many of the Ibadan chiefs and earned Ogunmola a reprimand from Ibikunle his principal because even though Kurunmi was their enemy, he was still a respected figure in Yorubaland. Ogunmola did not care as he had finally achieved the revenge he had plotted for more than ten years. Despairing at the loss of his heirs, Kurumi, regarded as one of the finest Yoruba warriors of all time, committed suicide. After Kurumi’s death, the Ibadan, in order to ensure that Ijaye will never challenge their authority again utter destroyed the city of Ijaye. Unlike other towns who are defeated and turn to vassal states, Ijaye was completely burnt to the ground. Like the city of Owu. Ijaye has never been settled again till date. All that is left of what was once a large city is a community of people who can mostly be found in Abeokuta and are generally scattered all over Yorubaland.
After the Ijaye war was settled, Ibadan became the superpower of the region, they conquered more towns in the Osun, Ondo and Ekiti regions. However, We cannot talk about the Ibadan wars of conquest without talking about the man that made it all possible, Balogun Ibikunle. His story will be told in the next edition.
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