In 1891, the Ijebu tribe, dwelling between 50 and 60 miles north-east of Lagos on the Magbon river, set a blockade on the trade route from the interior into Lagos, which was a crown colony, and charged customs dues which served as their income. The Awujale, the traditional ruler of Ijebu, closed down the Ejirin market, cutting off Lagos from a source of up-country trade.
The British government persuaded the Awujale several times to open the blockaded route but the Ijebu ruler remained adamant. However, in May 1891, a British acting governor, Captain C.M Denton C.M.G, together with some Hausa troops (mostly slaves who fled the North to South and were recruited by the British army) went to Ijebu kingdom to make an agreement with the Awujale on opening the blockaded route and allowing the free passage of goods into Lagos. The Awujale refused but after much persuasion and pressure, the Awujale agreed in January 1892 on the terms of receiving £500 annually as compensation for the loss of custom revenue.
However, the agreement didn’t last long. A white missionary was denied access to pass through the kingdom and was sent back. The British government were provoked by the action of the Ijebus and authorized the use of force on the kingdom. Britain gathered troops from Gold Coast (Ghana), Sierra Leone, Ibadan, and Lagos (the Hausa troops nearly 150).
Colonel F.C. Scott C.B was the commander of the troops of 450 men piled up by Britain. On the 12th of May, 1892, the captain and his men, including some carriers, sailed up the Lagos Lagoon and landed at Ekpe.
When they got to Leckie, another carriers about 186 in numbers were recruited.
On the Ijebu side, 8000 men with old rifles would be fighting the British. The British underestimated the fighting prowess of the Ijebus thus giving them some hard times in penetrating into the interiors of Ijebu kingdom. The first day, the British army razed down four villages with some of their men sustaining fatal injuries. The next day, they proceeded to Atumba and gunned down the Ijebus with machine guns. Britain lost 12 men which include a Briton and 12 Africans. Every Ijebu villages they came across was burnt to the ground. The Ijebus were really losing the battle but determined to prevent the British army from crossing the Yemoyi river. The goddess of the Yemoyi river was said to have taken human sacrifice in order to prevent the intruders (British) from crossing. The river was dug deeper by the Ijebus to make it impenetrable by all means for the British army. However, the British army managed to cross the sacred Yemoyi river and unleashed havoc on the Ijebus. They proceeded to the village of Imagbon.
The Ijebus had lost over 900 men while Britain lost only 56 men and have more than 30 wounded. The Ijebus were still determined to fight on but shortly afterwards, the Awujale surrendered and admitted losing the war.
The British union flag was later raised above Ijebu Ode. Captain Scot warned his men against pillaging which some didn’t heed to especially the Ibadan irregulars who were later deprived of their arms. The toll gates in Oru built by the Ijebus were destroyed and some of their shrines were also torched.
This bloody war is also known in history as the 1892 Ijebu Expedition.
The British troops were awarded The East & West Africa Medal with Clasp dated ‘1892’.
Today, one of these medals can be found in Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge. Ijebu kingdom was later annexed to the colony of southern Nigeria.
* Roddy Owen – A Memoir by Bovill and Askwith
* Colonel Scott’s Report London Gazette No 26303 dated 1st July 1892