Ijebu History

Missionary is shown in this German book of 1897 as enjoying his journey through the previously inaccessible Ijebu route from Lagos to the interior. Trouble that brewed from dissatisfied Ijebu elements led to the war of 1892 in which Ijebu was annexed by the colony
Missionary is shown in this German book of 1897 as enjoying his journey through the previously inaccessible Ijebu route from Lagos to the interior. Trouble that brewed from dissatisfied Ijebu elements led to the war of 1892 in which Ijebu was annexed by the colony. Photo: Orisha Image

Ijebu History, like those of many other preliterate Yoruba people, was not well documented, and different oral versions arose due to what one historian listed as political exigencies, conspiracy and the fear of domination. Of these versions, three are preponderant. A good number of Ijebu historical figures ascribe the origin of their kingdom to Ile-Ife, just like all other Yoruba groups. Oluiwa, the accepted father of the Ijebus, was said to have arrived present location with a relative, Olode and his friend, Ajebu, the two from whose name, Ijebu-Ode is said to have been coined. Samuel Johnson, in his Oyocentric History of the Yorubas, alluded that Oluiwa was a resuscitated sacrificial element (left on the highway to die) of the King of Owu, another primordial Yoruba group.


Oluiwa, in historian Johnson’s account, met a people in the land he hid himself and being the oldest in that settlement (probably also due to his gracefulness), his designation was upgraded from Ebonita, meaning, “sacrifice on the highway” to Obanita, meaning, “a king on the highway”. This allusion is in agreement with the official Ijebu Ode Diary version of 1907, in which it is affirmed that Apebi, rather than Obanita, was first to cultivate Ijebu land. Apebi had willingly preserved Obanita’s ascendancy, hence, his appellation, “Ijasi”, meaning, “There is no quarrel”. Ijasi is today, one of the three quarters of Ijebu Ode.

Oluiwa and Oduduwa

This official diary account goes further to put Oluiwa, the Obanita as a contemporary of Oduduwa, the generally accepted founder of the Yoruba nation. Although the third version as promoted by Awujale Adetona, emphasizes on the independent migration of the Ijebu people from a region of Sudan called Wadai, what is apparent is that the leader of the Ijebus, possibly the same Oluiwa, led the people alongside other Yoruba people or delayed this migration until foreign invasion of the locality in which they are dominant, the Owadaiye kingdom in Sudan-Ethopia territory. This will put the arrival of the Ijebus in present day Nigeria to the time when Oranyan, son of Oduduwa started his reign over the Yoruba nation. If the former is the case, then there must be some truth in the assertion that the king of the Ijebus once helped the aging Oduduwa in regaining his sight. It is said that Oluiwa, the founder of Ijebu land, bequeathed Oduduwa with his daughter, Gborowo at Ile-ife in the course of his migration from Wadai.

Out of these varieties in Ijebu history one can find a pattern. Oluiwa, like Oduduwa, must have been a Yoruba prince in North Africa, member of a minority group imposed by imperial powers over his region in Sudan-Ethiopia. Two possibilities arises from this; He might have fled with his people upon the uprising of the majority when imperial powers became compromised. If that is the case, then he might have arrived in present day Nigeria even before Oduduwa. Another possibility is that he fled from the Arab invasion of his original country, landing therefore in its present site in time when Oranyan had already succeeded Oduduwa as Alaafin. Either way, the explanation is provided of why the Ijebus once believed themselves to be senior to other Yoruba tribes.


Before the advent of British rule in 1892, the Ijebu Ode had been the seat of government of the Awujale, the titular head of the single kingdom of Ijebu territory. Two years after the town’s isolationism was broken by the British, Remo was politically detached from the rest of Ijebu but was returned as part of an Ijebu division in 1917. The initial act of balkanization sponsored by the travelling Commissioner to hurt the insubordinate predecessors of Awujale Fusigboye will later proof to be a source of disunity. District heads of Remo, Ijebu Igbo and Ijebu Ife accused the British of fostering a non-existent unity. This secessionist idea however was not all-together British making, for there had been conflict of economic interest between Remo and Ijebu Ode since the nineteenth century, fuelled by Awujale’s inability to provide effective military protection to Remo and Remo’s poor representation at the seat of power.


Again, a succession of the chiefs of Ofin title called Akarigbo had risen among other Remo chiefs to be more than just primus inter pares. The Akarigbo position had been solidified with the destruction of several Remo towns including his own district, by the Egba. The popular belief in Remo was that the Awujale of Ijebu asked Egba to punish them whenever they flouted his directive to put an end to commercial fraternization with Ibadan. For Ijebu Igbo, a new Native administration was formed in 1948, completing its independence from Ijebu Ode, which they adjudged as a ruthless and oppressive neighbor.

Odutola & other New Africans

Two groups came into prominence during the reign of the much unpopular Awujale Otubusin; the New Africans consisting of educated elites who share the believe in the modernization of Ijebu with the Awujale, and the Oloritutun consisting of octogenarians who wanted the dissolution of the British instituted Native Administration. Although a state of warfare had already existed between these two groups, clearly distinct by ideology and by age, they were somewhat united in their contempt of the Awujale. Mention had begun to be made of democracy around this time, a plea that the colonialists considered ridiculous, but it was clear the Awujale needed to drop his absolutism. Although the Awujale was among the first among Yoruba Obas to be pressured into resigning from sole Native Authority. He was the last to yeild in the Western province of Nigeria when he finally surrendered his status on 7 April 1949.

Things changed rapidly around this time, and credentials, rather than birth status became essential. The traditional aristocracy understood their successors must be literate and there had been a marked tendency, whenever vacancies occur since the 1930s for village heads to be replaced with young educated men. Since 1941, a group of forward-minded ecclesiastics such as Solomon Odunaiya Odutola, and many Ijebu leaders of thought with considerable exposure had started preaching that Ijebu was part of one Nigeria, and that the barriers of race and ethnic label that the Christian church had swept under the carpet in Nigeria should not be allowed to resurface. indeed, Odunaiya’s suggested that the Ijebu should cease to have its own administrative unit but team up with the Egba in a single administration. This dream came true in 3 February 1976 when the old Ijebu province and the old Abeokuta province became a single entity in the form of Ogun State of Nigeria.

Tope Apoola
Profession: Writer