Civil War in Oyo 1817-1835

[ 1817 - 1835 ]
Ilorin, which became part of the caliphate in the 1830s, was initially the headquarters of the Oyo cavalry that had provided the backbone of the king's power. An attempted coup d'état by the general of the cavalry in 1817 backfired when the cavalry itself revolted and pledged its allegiance to the Sokoto Caliphate. The cavalry was largely composed of Muslim slaves from farther north, and they saw in the jihad a justification for rebellion. In the 1820s, Oyo had been torn asunder, and the defeated king and the warlords of the Oyo Mesi retreated south to form new cities, including Ibadan, where they carried on their resistance to the caliphate and fought among themselves as well...

Oyo, the great exporter of slaves in the eighteenth century, collapsed in a civil war after 1817, and by the middle of the 1830s the whole of Yorubaland was swept up in these civil wars. New centers of power--Ibadan, Abeokuta, Owo, and Warri--contested control of the trade routes and sought access to fresh supplies of slaves, which were important to repopulate the turbulent countryside...

War and slave raiding were complementary exercises among the Yoruba, who needed capital to buy the firearms with which they fought in a vicious cycle of war and enslavement. Military leaders were well aware of the connection between guns and enslavement.

Some of the emerging Yoruba states started as war camps during the period of chaos in which Oyo broke up and the Muslim revolutionaries who were allied to the caliphate conquered northern Yorubaland. Ibadan, which became the largest city in black Africa during the nineteenth century, owed its growth to the role it played in the Oyo civil wars. Ibadan's omuogun (war boys) raided far afield for slaves and held off the advance of the Fulani. They also took advantage of Benin's isolation to seize the roads leading to the flourishing slave port at Lagos. The threat that Ibadan would dominate Yorubaland alarmed its rivals and inspired a military alliance led by the Egba city of Abeokuta. Dahomey, to the west, further contributed to the insecurity by raiding deep into Yorubaland, the direction of raids depending upon its current alliances...

In 1807 the Houses of Parliament in London enacted legislation prohibiting British subjects from participating in the slave trade. Indirectly, this legislation was one of the reasons for the collapse of Oyo. Britain withdrew from the slave trade while it was the major transporter of slaves to the Americas. Furthermore, the French had been knocked out of the trade during the French Revolution beginning in 1789 and by the Napoleonic wars of the first fifteen years of the nineteenth century. Between them, the French and the British had purchased a majority of the slaves sold from the ports of Oyo. The commercial uncertainty that followed the disappearance of the major purchasers of slaves unsettled the economy of Oyo. Ironically, the political troubles in Oyo came to a head after 1817, when the transatlantic market for slaves once again boomed. Rather than supplying slaves from other areas, however, Oyo itself became the source of slaves.

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Afonja was related to the Alafin himself, and may have coveted the title, though it is not clear how strong his claims were. Awole, ordered him to attack the town of Iwere located on top of a steep inselberg, presumably on the assumption that he would fail and be forced to commit suicide. Afonja instead staged a rebellion; with the support of the Oyo Mesi and the Onikoyi he marched on the capital and forced Awole, to commit suicide himself, in about 1796.

After his death, Adebo was appointed Alafin. He was followed rapidly by Maku who was deposed after only two months. Then there was an interregnum of uncertain length (Law, 1970; Akinjogbin, 1966a) - suggestions range up to twenty years. Meanwhile Afonja consolidated his position in Ilorin and no longer acknowledged any allegiance to the capital.

Islam had long been established in the larger towns of the kingdom, having been introduced from the north in the 16th or 17th century (Gbadamosi, 1978). The capital had a Muslim ward under the control of the Parakoyi, who also commanded the Muslim troops in war (Law, 1977: 75). In 1804 the Fulani jihad or 'holy war' started in the Hausa state of Gobir, and its repercussions were eventually felt by the Yoruba.

To strengthen Ilorin's position, Afonja called on the support of Muslim elements in the kingdom. He was not a Muslim himself, and it appears to have been a piece of political opportunism, to harness forces which were proving to be invincible in the states to the north. He enlisted the help of an itinerant Fulani scholar, Alim al-Salih, better known as Mallam Alimi, who declared a jihad at Ilorin. Other support came from Yoruba Muslims led by a man called Solagberu, from pastoral Fulani, and from Muslim slaves who deserted their owners and fled to Ilorin from the adjacent towns. From these, mainly northern, elements, a military force was created which started to lay waste large areas of the Oyo kingdom. Alimi's influence among these troops grew stronger, and Afonja belatedly realised that he was no longer in control. His attempts to disband them led to a civil war, and he was killed in the fighting, probably about 1823 (Johnson, 1921: 193-200; cf. Law, 1977: 255-60). Solagberu was also eliminated. On Alimi's death (the date is uncertain), control of Ilorin passed to his son Abudusalami. He declared his allegiance to the Sokoto empire and was recognised as Emir. The Fulani dynasty in Ilorin has survived to the present.

Related Conflicts

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