Who Are The Egbas? The story of Abeokuta
The story of Abeokuta, the abode of the Egbas (and Owus), started with their liberation from the sovereignty of the Alaafin of Oyo Empire, to which the Egbas had belonged. The Liberation took place between 1775 and 1780, under the leadership of Lisabi, a resident of Igbehin who was born in Itoku. He organized an insurgent movement disguised under the name of Egbe Aaro Tradition Mutual Aid Society.
Lisabi later used the society to free the Egba by organizing the simultaneous killing of the Ajeles or Ilaris in all Egba settlements in 1780, starting from Igbehin. In all, more than 600 llaris or Ajeles were wiped out in one day. Ilaris were the representatives of the Alaafin of Oyo and collectors of the tributes paid to the Alaafin from all territories under the dominion of Oyo Empire. The Ajeles or Ilaris generally behaved like an Army of Occupation in the places they administered.
Their tyrannical rules marked them out as instruments for the oppression and suppression of the people. It was this authoritarian rule of the Alafin and reckless lifestyle of the Ilaris in Egbaland that resolved Lisabi and his peers to bring an end to the evil.
The adoption of the universally popular Aaro system of cooperative by the Egbe Ologun (Arms Bearers Club) of Lisabi was the strategy he used to plot against the Ilaris in his Igbehin town. All the other Egba towns rose and killed the Ilaris in their midst in an almost simultaneous coordination! As soon as the news reached metropolitan Oyo the Alaafin wasted no time in dispatching an Army to crush the Egba rebellion.
This was already anticipated in the Lisabi plan and the Oyo army of vengeance was routed and the freedom of the Egbas established. This episode occurred between 1775 and 1780 in the Egba forest.
This unity and cooperation among the numerous Egba forest settlements was very short lived, their lack of cooperation and unified direction later resulting in their being completely routed at the advent of the Yoruba Wars triggered at Apomu market near Orile Owu. Much later around 1829, Lamodi of Igbehin and Balogun of the Egbas living in Maye’s camp in Ibadan, decided that the Egbas should escape from Maye’s bondage.
The Egbas had heard about Abeokuta in their quest for a place to settle in. They sent Chief Sobookun, the Baamokun of Ilugun, and others to bring a handful of earth from there for divination, and the result was propitious. The first batch to arrive in Abeokuta consisted of Egba Alake, Oke Ona, and Gbagura, in that order. Later, Olufakun led Owu to Abeokuta, while others soon followed.
(NOTE: It is known that an Owu-Apomu warrior by the name of Sangojimi Gudugba and his group were also at the head of that pioneering refugee team from Ibadan led by Sodeke).
Lamodi lost his life in battle at a river crossing while trying to prevent his first son, Osota, from being captured by Maye’s army, who were pursuing the Egba. Sodeke, the Seriki of the Egbas succeeded him and in 1830 led the Egba Alake into Abeokuta. Balogun Olunloye, the Balogun Ilugun led Ogba Oke-Ona while Oluwole Agbo, Balogun Ojo Gbagura led the Gbagura to Abeokuta. An Itoko chief named Idowu Liperu had earlier been living at the settlement.
He had crossed the Ogun River and settled on a farmland where three hunters by name Jibulu, Ose and Olunle joined him. Unlike, Liperu who erected a house with the assistance of the then Olubara Lafa the three hunters lodged in caves under the Olumo Rock. They had earlier assisted Sobookun to retrieve the soil samples from around the Olumo Rock.
Later, Adagba and others moved to the rock to join Liperu and the three hunters, who had settled there. Adagba was a brave man who had his farmland located very close to the rock.
The settlement was called Oko Adagba, the initial name of Abeokuta. Olumo means ‘built by the Lord’ – its naturally furnished apartments being its caves! Another interpretation of Olumo is ‘Oluwa Fimo’ meaning God puts an end to the hostility against the Egbas. Abeokuta is also known as ‘Abe Olumo’ – a settlement under the rock.
Between 1830 and the turn of the century, the settlers in Abeokuta were forced to fight several wars mostly for the survival of the emerging settlement. In 1832, the Ijebu Remo people provoked the new settlers into taking arms against several Ijebu Remo towns in the Owiwi war.
In 1834, an attempted Ibadan invasion also challenged them into a war which resulted in the heavy defeat of the Ibadan army at the Battle of Arakanga which manifested the potency and indispensability of the warriors of the Owu settlers who had only recently been convinced by Sodeke to settle with them in order to boost the new settlement’s defences!
In 1842, the settlers took the offensive against the Ota people in order to ensure free movement through Ota territory on their route to Lagos for firearms. This led to another war in 1844 when they attacked Ado under the Owu war general, Gbalefa, for assisting the Ota people two years earlier.
The same year, the Dahomeans, under King Gezo, invaded Abeokuta but were repulsed. The Dahomey army repeated the invasion in 1851 and suffered the devastating defeat of their largely female ‘Amazon’ warriors who were pursued all the way to the outskirts of their kingdom!
In 1849, Abeokuta attacked Ibarapa for waylaying the Egba in their territory. Among other wars fought by Abeokuta were the Ijebu-Ere War in 1851, and the Ijaye War of 1860-1862, and the Makun War of 1862-1864, as well as a few others. In most of these encounters, they emerged victorious – although they suffered their own reverses in some as well. After the demise of Sodeke, Abeokuta had no leader for quite a number of years.
The administration of the town was left in the hands of chiefs like Ogunbona the Balogun of Ikija, Okukenu the Sagbua of Ake, Somoye the Seriki, who later became Bashorun in succeeding Apati, Bada of Kemta, and others.
The Egbas in an effort to reunite from this leadership fractionalization elected to install an Oba, and the lot fell on Okukenu, the Sabua of Ake and head of Egba Ogboni cult. An industrious woodcarver, he was installed the Alake of Ake on August 8, 1854. A few months later in 1855, the first Olowu in Abeokuta, Oba Adeyanju Pawu from the Otileta Royal lineage was also crowned!