For a long time, the Yoruba and Fulani residents of Ilorin, Nigeria’s current capital, have been at odds about who should produce the town’s monarch.
The Yoruba people of Ilorin argued that the throne should always be occupied by a Yoruba king, citing historical evidence that points to Yoruba forebears as the city’s founders.
The Fulani community in Ilorin retorted that no Yoruba king had ever been enthroned from the beginning and that the throne thus belonged to their (Fulani) tribe.
History, on the other hand, does not lie, and we present you the true story of how Aare-Ona-Kakanfo Afonja lost Ilorin to the Fulani people of Northern Nigeria.
Who Was Afonja, And Who Founded Ilorin in the First Place?
Ilorin’s history describes it as a Yoruba town that was originally utilized as a military garrison by the Alaafin, the old Oyo empire’s main king (Oyo-Ile). Ilorin was controlled by Afonja, the sixth Are-Ona-Kakanfo (generalissimo) of the Oyo army and the successor of Are-Ona Oku of Jabata at the time of creation.
Afonja carried out military functions for the then-Alaafin Aole, the son of Alaafin Abiodun, from this station. Between 1789 through 1796, Aole was king. Shehu Alimi, a Fulani cleric, arrived in Ilorin with some of his tribesmen during this time and was welcomed and hosted by Afonja.
Conflict Between Afonja and Alaafin Aole
After a while, Alaafin Aole and Are-Ona Afonja got into a fight. Afonja had been commanded by Alaafin Aole to attack a town named Iwere-Ile, which Afonja saw as a suicide mission and flatly refused.
Iwere-Ile is Aole’s paternal grandmother’s hometown, and a past Alaafin named Ajagbo had cursed any Kakanfo who tried to assault Iwere-Ile. Afonja disobeyed Alaafin Aole’s directives for these reasons.
In 1795, Alaafin Aole, also known as Arogangan (roughly translated as the mean one), ordered Afonja to assault Apomu, an important town in Ile-Ife, while they were still at odds. The argument became so heated that both sides resorted to using violence to settle their differences.
Afonja requested the help of Shehu Alimi, also known as Salih Janta, who possessed both spiritual and military might at this time. Afonja paused in Oyo-Ile on his way back from the Apomu mission to deal with Alaafin Aole. Afonja sent Aole an empty calabash as a token of his rejection as Alaafin, and according to Oyo tradition, he had to commit himself as a result, which he did.
We learned that before Aole committed himself, he performed a rite in which he cursed the Yoruba people, saying that their sons and daughters would be sold as slaves in other parts of the world.
Many think that Aole’s curse caused a succession of inter-tribal conflicts in Yoruba territory in the years following, such as the Kiriji war, Egba-Dahomey war, Ibadan-Ijaye war, and so on.
Adebo, who ruled from 1796 to 1797, replaced Aole; Maku succeeded Adebo and ruled for a few months before dying in 1797. The Oyo throne was vacant from 1797 to 1802. Alaafin Majotu was crowned in 1802 and it was during his reign that Are-Ona-Kakanfo surrendered Ilorin to the Fulani.
In Ilorin, Afonja’s death and the establishment of the Emir Throne
After beating Aole, Afonja and Alimi’s friendship grew to the point that Afonja joined Alimi’s troops in his army and dissolved many of his own, whom history claims he didn’t entirely trust. The Fulanis were gradually infiltrating Afonja’s army, and before he realized it, it was too late.
This was following the death of Sheu Alimi. Abdulsalam, his son, aspired to govern Ilorin and conspired against Afonja in secret. Abdulsalam’s troops shot Afonja with arrows until he died in 1824. His body was shot with so many arrows that it remained suspended in an upright position for quite some time.
“HE FELL INDEED LIKE A HERO. SO COVERED WAS HE WITH DARTS THAT HIS BODY WAS SUPPORTED IN AN ERECT POSITION UPON THE SHAFTS OF SPEAR AND ARROWS SHOWERED UPON HIM. SO MUCH DREAD HAD HIS PERSONALITY INSPIRED THAT THESE TREACHEROUS JAMAS WHOM HE HAD SO OFTEN LED TO VICTORY COULD NOT BELIEVE HE WAS REALLY DEAD; THEY CONTINUED TO SHOWER DARTS UPON HIM LONG AFTER HE HAD CEASED FIGHTING. THEY WERE AFRAID TO APPROACH HIS BODY AS IF HE WOULD SUDDENLY SPRING UP AND SHAKE HIMSELF FOR THE CONFLICT AFRESH.”
Abdulsalam declared himself Emir of Ilorin and pledged allegiance to the Sokoto Caliphate after Afonja’s death. This is how the monarch of Ilorin has retained the title of Emir, rather than Oba or any other Yoruba title for a king, until this day.
Following that, the Yorubas sought but failed to retake Ilorin from the Fulani jamma’s. Toyeje, Afonja’s successor, spearheaded the first and second attempts to expel the Fulani from Ilorin.
The second effort is known as the Mugbamugba battle, during which the Yoruba people suffered a massive loss in their bid to reclaim the crown of Ilorin.