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Comprehensive History of Ilorin and the Reign of Afonja

History of Ilorin | Ilorin Central Mosque
Ilorin Central Mosque

Before we begin with the history of Ilorin, here are few details that should be known. Ilorin is a city, traditional emirate and capital of Kwara State in Southwestern Nigeria. It is located on the Awun River, a minor tributary of the Niger. As of the 2006 census, Ilorin had a population of 777,667, making it the 7th largest city by population in Nigeria

History of Ilorin

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 structures to coordinate the scattered settlements later known as Ilorin. The first of the Oyo Ajele (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 from Oyo. 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 Ilorin) where he had then settled, after his Islamic evangelical mission to parts of Yoruba land, such as Oshogbo and even Oyo Ile’. It was for Aare’s persuasions that Shehu Alimi eventually migrated to Ilorin town. On the recruitment of the slaves who ran to Ilorin as a sanctuary, the Aare saw their presence in Ilorin as an advantage to have soldiers who do not have any relations with the local environment.

Are Ona Kakanfo Afonja
Are-Ona-Kakanfo Afonja

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 history of Ilorin has it in its profile that the death of Aare Afonja in about 1813 naturally created a vacuum in the political leadership of Ilorin. 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 as at then very sick and could not mobilize a counterforce 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 Ilorin, 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 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 was 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 the 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 Aare Afonja as Kakanfo. The army camped at Ogele, expecting to easily run over the Fulani authority in Ilorin: 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 Jammah.

Having carefully studied the organizational weakness of the Yoruba army on the battled field, the Ilorin 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″.

According to the history of Ilorin, the defeat of the allied forces of the Yoruba was a morale booster for the emerging forces in Ilorin. 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 in Ilorin.

The Mugbamugba War

After a short respite, the Yoruba re-organised and resolved to get rid of the Fulanis in Ilorin. This time, they went into alliance with Monjia, the King of Kabbah. The encounter took place between March and April when the locust fruits were ripe for harvest. The lingering effects of the previous war were apparent: A good number of places were still deserted, while there was not enough farm that could sustain the long camping of the army. Both the besiegers and the besieged soon resorted to living on the locust fruit (Igba). Hence the war took its title Mugba Mugba’.

Once again, the allied forces of the Yoruba were defeated. Their knowledge of how to deal with the power of Ilorin was still defective. The successive defeat of the Yoruba allied forces made them to lose the courage for launching a further attack. On the other hand, the emirate army grew to be more confident and aggressive. Consequently, many more Yoruba towns and villages were destroyed and the peoples’ properties were looted by the ravaging army of Ilorin.

Two major factors were responsible for the success of the llorin army: superior use of the calvary and effective use of diplomacy. They penetrated the ranks of the Yoruba leaders to cause disaffection and personality clash amongst them. There was, for instance, an intense rivalry between Toyese, the Kakanfo of Oyo at Ogbomoso and Adegun, the Onikoyi. The alliance of llorin with the Onikoyi eventually led to a war between the two.

The destruction of most of the Yoruba towns and villages by the victorious army of Ilorin. turned a good number of Yoruba who lived in them, refugees. They were scattered all over Yorubaland and this continued to be a source of worry for cities that had riot been touched by war. This explains why the Yoruba leaders could not live with the reality of Ilorin emirate army’s victories. Hence they recouped to launch another attack.

Kanla War

As a result of successive Ilorin victories over the Oyo forces, the powers and influence of the Alaafin of Oyo continued to dwindle to the point of their been limited to the capital. More and more of the old Oyo empire’s provinces declared their independence from Oyo’s authority and tributes were no longer paid to the Alaafin.

It was at this period of anarchy and confusion that Alaafin Amodo, one of the grandchildren of Alaafin Abiodun’s twin brother, came to the throne. Understanding the situation as it was, the Alaafin began his reign by trying to consolidate the remaining loyalists to his institution and stretching arm of friendship to prominent chiefs around Oyo.

Fulani Warriors

The Alaafin identified Lanloke. the Chief of Ogodo as one of such prominent and powerful chiefs. Ogodo, according to its historical origin used to be a Nupe town:”. But by the end of the 18th century, Yoruba migrants from Oyo had taken over the town for commercial reasons”‘. Ogodo grew to become a big commercial city that served as the exchange centre for the Yoruba and Nupe traders. They traded in different merchandise and thus the powers and influence of its ruler grew with its relevance.

Alaafin Amodo’s interest in Ogodo was to renew the blood ties with the Yoruba population in the town, use their influence and contacts to rebuild the powers of his institution. He gave out his daughter in marriage to Lanloke, the chief of Ogodo. Rather than appreciate this kind of gesture of Alaafin Amodo Lanloke grew to become more conscious of his new influence, powers and wealth. He treated Alaafin Amodo’s daughter with indignity and disrespect. This was deliberately to spite her father as the Alaafin. At one of such contemptuous treatment of Alaafin Amodo’s daughter, Lanloke nearly beat his wife to the point of death”.

Lanloke was neither remorseful for his act, nor appreciate the possible consequence of his action. He was rather boastful and care free about what the Alaafin would do. He allied with Ilorin, and assumed a more aggressive posture”. With the support of Ilorin soldiers. Chief Lanloke attacked Oyo town and the city was sacked. Oyo thus became an Ilorin tributary.

Alaafin Amodo became very bitter and depressed as a result of the humiliation he suffered and as a result of the destruction of Oyo. He remained very hopeful. He continued with the diplomatic efforts at fostering unity among the Yoruba chiefs that had been divided by jealousy and petty rivalry.

Alaafin Amodo eventually brought the divided Yoruba chiefs together and therefore raised a formidable force to engage the Ilorin army. The battle took place at Kanla. from where the battle took its name. The Yoruba chiefs were together physically, but they were spirits apart. The rivalry among them resulted in treachery. For instance, the Onikoyi was known to be sick and unfit to be on the field but the Edun of Gbogun deliberately encouraged him to man a weak point so that llorin army, which he had arranged with, could penetrate the Yoruba forces and rout them.

Already informed of the treachery in the Oyo camp, the Ilorin forces, merely mounted defences on the other fronts as they voraciously attacked from the Onikoyi’s front”‘. The Onikoyi was rounded up and killed. llorin quickly seized the opportunity to penetrate the Yoruba lines and drive the soldiers out of the battle field.

Many of the remaining towns and villages still loyal to the Alaafm were attacked, destroyed and deserted. Chief Oja, the first settler at Ago (the present-day Oyo town), was among those that were drowned in river Ogun as they fled from the invading llorin forces. The recurring victory of llorin army over the allied forces of the Alaafin was naturally bound to boost the morale of the emirate army and its allies, yet successive Alaafin of Oyo were undaunted. Consequently, they continued to recoup and re-launch attack against llorin.

The Eleduwe War and the history of Ilorin

The distress that followed the last defeat of Oyo empire and its allies by the ravaging army of llorin and its allies was attributed to the depression of Alaafin Amodo, who eventually got ill and died. Prince Oluewu was unanimously elected as the new Alaafin’. Going by the process of selecting the preceding Alaafin of Oyo before Oluewu. Potential candidates used to engage themselves in fierce contests that it was never possible to select an Alaafin by unanimous votes of the Oyomesi, (Oyo empire’s king makers). This explains the very low morale of both the royal families and people. The position of the Alaafin had been reduced to titular institution, rather than the historically known Alaafin that does not only reign but ruled.

Alaafin Oluewu was fully aware of the situation at the time of his enthronement but like his predecessors, he was full of” hope and determination to reverse the situation. Alaafin Oluewu as a person, could be described as haughty and irritable in temperament. He however, acceded to the call when Emir Shitta of Ilorin requested him (the Alaafin} to pay him the traditional homage of a vassal”. The chiefs of Oyo and members of the royal family prevailed on Alaafin Oluewu to accede to the call of Emir Shitta. to save the capital and the remnant towns that still paid their allegiance to Oyo””.

Afonja's Palace
The Palace of Are-Ona-Kakanfo Afonja

Emir Shitta received Alaafin Oluewu with every mark of honour and distinction; but he confiscated the Gbedu drum that was often beaten before an Alaafin to show his royalty. In the words of Emir Shitta: “there cannot be two kings in my dominion but one only, and that is myself. By Emir Shitta’s statement, the Alaafin and his institutions were reduced to mere subjects of the ravaging foreigners based in Ilorin. Alaafin Oluewu felt badly humiliated and insulted by the act of Emir Shitta.

He refused to honour the second call on him by the Emir to come down to Ilorin. Not even the counsel by the both Basorun and Asipa could change his mind for the fear of the consequences on Oyo by Alaafin refusal to honour Emir Shitta’s call, both Akioso, the Basorun and Ailumo, the Asipa went against the express order of Alaafin Oluewu forbidding them to go.

The Emir was disturbed and, in fact, fell insulted by the refusal of Alaafin Oluewu to honour his call. The Emir therefore decided to punish the Alaafin. He ordered Lanloke the Chief of Ogodo to ravage the suburbs of Oyo and in fact threaten the city. Alaafin Oluewu was not unprepared. He had sought and got the support of the Bariba to subdue his enemies both within and without. Those within were the Basorun and the Asipa who defied his instruction not to go on his behalf to Emir Shitta in Ilorin and those outside were the Fulani authority in Ilorin and their allies.

With the alliance of the Bariba led by Eleduwe, Alaafin Oluewu was able to punish both the Asipa and the Basorun with death. He went further to attack Ogodo and raised down Gbodo. Ilorin army and its allies were defeated. They were pursued until they ran into the flooded Ogun River. Most of the Ilorin soldiers were drowned.

Alaafin Oluewu and his Bariba allies were naturally elated by their victory over the combined army of Ilorin and its allies. Therefore, he decided to summon warriors and chiefs all over the old Oyo empire’s territories. Alaafin Oluewu was unaware that some of these Yoruba chiefs he invited were, in alliance with Ilorin and all of them cherished their independence from Oyo’s authority. Alaafin Oluewu was of the belief that those in alliance with llorin were doing it out of necessity and not out of convenience. Hle held the opinion that there was a general resentment of foreigner’s rule over llorin.

The immediate response of the Yoruba chiefs to Alaafin Oluewu’s confirmed his feelings that they would be glad to be free from the foreigner’s yolk. At a meeting of the war council chaired by Alaafin Oluewu and in which Eleduwe. the Bariba warrior and invited Yoruba chiefs were present the modus operandi for prosecuting the war to overrun llorin and reclaim the old Oyo empire’s territories were concluded.

The Fulani authority in Ilorin was indeed distressed by the response to Oluewu’s assemblage of the Yoruba warriors and chiefs. Being fully alive to the seriousness and the extent of florin’s defeat at Gbodo encounter, the Emir was desperate to avert the impending calamity on his territory and people. Added to the desperate moves of the Emir was the fear of the Bariba warrior, Eleduwe or Waru Kura, the commander of the Bariba ally of Oyo Empire. The llorin people referred to him as Ikoko (Wolf) because he was commonly known for destroying every living being in the area he captured.

The Emir embarked on both internal and external moves to save the situation. On the external wing. Emir Shitta sent for assistance from the Sultan of Sokoto his suzerain. Ibrahim Khalil. the third Emir of Gwandu. personally led a joint force of Sokoto and Gwandu warriors to aid llorin.

On the local side, the Emir tried to identify individuals and groups of people among the Yoruba that had an axe to grind with the Alaafin. He was able to locate one Yusufu Bale, the progenitor of the present Alanamu family of llorin.

Yusufu was a renowned warrior specially known for the manner in which he overcame his enemies. He physically beat the enemy to capture them, and was therefore fondly referred to as Alana-mu.

Yusufu Bale or Alana-mu considered his invitation to join the llorin army against the organized team of Alaafin Oluewu, as good opportunity to revenge the unfortunate circumstances under which he packed out of Oyo town and settled at Reke, a village not too far from llorin”‘. He supported llorin with his army, and was also involved in the diplomatic game, employed by the authority in llorin to play the Yoruba chiefs against one another”‘.

At the time llorin was preparing for the impending war with the combined forces of the Yoruba and the Bariba’s from all fronts, old rivalry, sharp differences and fears of Bariba domination were seriously drumming in the war camp assembled by Alaafin Oluewu. For instance, special privileges accorded to the Bariba by Alaafin made the Yoruba warriors fear that the Bariba would only be replacing the established Fulani hegemony already in Ilorin and that the Bariba dominance or rule over them will be real rather than the mere rendering of assistance to engage Ilorin.

Most of the Yoruba chiefs assembled by Alaafin Oluewu to sack Ilorin, actually cherished their respective independence. Their fears were further compounded by the experience of their direct encounter with the Bariba, who had actually began to behave like the new lords of the Yoruba chiefs. They had no doubt that they would be treated later like a captured people after the war.

This explains why some of them made up their minds to undermine the proclaimed interest of the joint Yoruba forces against Ilorin. At the heat of the battle, Prince Atiba of Ago and Timi Bamgbaiye of Ede. deliberately left the wing of their command, to make the penetration of Ilorin army possible. Both Alaafin Oluewu and the Bariba warrior Wan kura were therefore rounded up. Both of them fell in the battle ‘.

The death of Alaafin Oluewu. and the leader of the Bariba allied forces, Warikura, was indeed a turning point in the History of Ilorin as a sovereign state and power; the entire politics of Yorubaland and warfare that characterized the whole of the nineteenth century. The victory of Ilorin army in all its war encounters against Oyo army and its allies have subject of controversy among scholars and philosophers.

While some of them attributed the cause to high rate and degree of treachery exhibited by the Yoruba at a point of war, that their unity was crucial to their collective survival to the historical curse evoked by Alaafm Aole. that “Yoruba would never again be united and that they would be ruled by their slaves after his failure to get Aare Afonja and other prominent Oyo chiefs exterminated by sending them to attack Ilorin. Others see it as a normal trend in political evolution, that such rivalry, treachery and suspicion are prevalent in some other personal and group relations’.

The news of the death of Warukura and Alaafin Oluewu readily aggravated the confusion in old Oyo. This led to the exodus of its inhabitants. The attack on old Oyo and remnants of places that still paid allegiance to the Alaafin by Lanloke the Chief of Ogodo. who had always been an inveterate enemy of Oyo and an active ally of Ilorin. accelerated the people’s migration to different directions. While a good number of Oyo migrants went to Kisi. Some others went to Igboho. A noticeable number even went to Ilorin”. Thus, Oyo was deserted and it went into ruins.

Thanks for reading the history of Ilorin on OldNaija.com.


  • History of Ilorin – The True and Sad Story of How Afonja Lost Ilorin and Its Kingship to Fulani People; Teslim Opemipo Omipidan; OldNaija.com
  • The history of Ilorin: the Yoruba link – Oloolutof
  • The Mugbamugba War – Second Attempt by Yorubas to Regain Control of Ilorin; Teslim Opemipo Omipidan; OldNaija.com
  • “Ilorin – Britannica.
Cite this article as: Teslim Omipidan. (April 15, 2020). Comprehensive History of Ilorin and the Reign of Afonja. OldNaija. Retrieved from https://oldnaija.com/2020/04/15/comprehensive-history-of-ilorin-and-the-reign-of-afonja/

One Comment

  1. Well organized write-up. Thanks for sharing your knowledge of history with us. If I may ask, apart from the website sources you provided, what other text book did you referred to when writing this piece?

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