Abeokuta: Beyond the rocks

Ogun State isn’t called the Gateway State for mere lip service. Its thriving capital, Abeokuta, is a land of many firsts. Nigeria’s first hospital, first police post, first abattoir, first hospital, first church, first female driver, first bridge across a river, first newspaper location, first sawmill, first motor park, among other firsts too numerous to mention, all have their presence in Abeokuta. Even presidents, medical experts sought globally, world famous artistes renowned businessmen, all have their roots in Abeokuta. OLAYINKA OLUKOYA reports the marvel of the famous Adire capital and how it has evolved beyond 180 years.


L’ori oke ati petele

Ibe l’a gbe bi mi o

Ibe l’a gbe to mi d’agba o

Ile ominira;

Emi o f’abeokuta sogo

N o duro l’ori Olumo

Mayo L’oruko Egba o

Emi omo Lisabi


Abeokuta Ilu Egba

Nko ni gbagbe re

Ngo gbe o l’oke okan mi

Bi Ilu odo oya;

Emi o mayo l’ori Olumo

Emi o s’ogo yi l’okan mi

Wipe Ilu olokiki o

L’awon Egba ngbe


Chorus: Mayo, mayo, mayo o

L’ori Olumo

Mayo, mayo, mayo o

L’ori Olumo.

Chant the above words and any true Egba man is bound to smile with relish at the mention of the town’s anthem. They were among the very first settlers in Abeokuta after the Yoruba wars which had its beginnings at Aponmu market near Orile Owu.

A first-time visitor to the history-laden town called Abeokuta will be struck at the sheer nature of the place. Its numerous rocky sites, the bustling enclaves of enterprise, the ever-ready-to-help nature of the people and the raw will to stand out successfully, a nature that pervades both rich and poor alike, is not enough to decribe the features that characterialse the average Abeokuta native.

Over 180 years and counting, Abeokuta remains a major reference point in the Yoruba nation. The town became home to virtually all sub-ethnic groups consisting of about 143 townships in 1830, when it was founded by its leader, a hunter, Sodeke, referred to as the progenitor of the Egba people.


A history of wars

Abeokuta, as the name suggests, gets its uniqueness from the first settlers. History records it that the original town and settlement of the Egba nation was under and around the Olumo Rock, under the jurisdiction of Egba Oke Ona.

According to the Seriki Jagunmolu of Egbaland, Chief Suara Alani Bankole, the Egba people who were administered under the United Government for Egba nation, under the Presidency of Alake of Egbaland, lost their independence in 1914 to the Ijemo war and had to sign an agreement with the Lagos Colony Government to be part of the Southern Protectorate.

The Oluwo of Iporo Ake, Abeokuta, in his contribution noted that the town was an independent nation because it had its own laws that governed the land, the police, the court, the civil service. He also affirmed the statement that the town was founded by a hunter and leader of the Egba people who fled the old Oyo as a result.

According to the information by the Egba Progressive Association (EPA), “Abeokuta was founded in 1830 after intertribal wars ravaged refugees in Egba forest and took them from their original homes between 1817 and 1830. The name of the town, ‘Abeokuta,’ was derived from the protection which the fleeing settlers sought under the Olumo rock, now a tourist centre in the town. Abeokuta means ‘refugees under a rock,’ signifying the protection which the Olumo Rock offered refugees from possible attacks.


A land of many firsts

The rocky nature of the town is a spectacle to behold, as the rocks upon which some people built their houses on, were of different shapes and sizes. Abeokuta, no doubt is the home of many firsts in the real sense of the word. The town houses Nigeria’s first hospital, the Sacred Heart Hospital, whose structure remains intact and is located at Itesi area of the town till date.

The hospital, however, has since been moved from its original location to Lantoro area to provide health care delivery system to the people. The hospital being managed by the Catholic Mission was established in 1895 by Rev. Father Jean Marie Coquard.

It is worthy of note that the hospital remains the oldest existing medical hospital in Nigeria with about 300 bed spaces for patients under the current supervision and proprietorship of the Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Abeokuta, the Most Reverend (Dr) Peter Odetoyinbo.

Another first recorded in the town was the establishment of the first Nigerian newspaper published as Iwe-Iroyin fun awon ara Egba, in 1859 by Henry Townsend, a missionary.

The paper was used for the propagation of Christian faith and education and it impacted positively on the lives of the people.

Abeokuta, the home of the Egbas, still houses the first church in Nigeria, St. Peter Anglican Church, Ake. The church which is still standing is located a few metres away from the palace of the Alake and Paramount Ruler of Egbaland. It has since transformed into a cathedral status, and is the seat of the Bishop of Diocese of Egba (Anglican Communion).

History also records that the first secondary school in Nigeria was first sited in Abeokuta, before it was moved to Lagos which later became the CMS Grammar while the first university in Nigeria, which was said to have been established in Abeokuta, was also taken to Ibadan.


An evolving people

Abeokuta is also home to the first police post, first abattoir, first sawmill, first bridge across a river, first motor park, among many firsts. In fact, the first woman to drive a car and ride a bicycle, Mrs Funmilayo Ransome Kuti was a native of Abeokuta. These firsts also serve as testament to the enterprising nature of the people. They are known the world over as a very hardworking set of people who find no qualms in proving themselves in whatever endeavour as might interest them.Speaking with South West, a native of Abeokuta, Mr Tajudeen Oladehinde, said one of the unique things about Abeokuta was the fact that the Egbas were enterprising and that many of them had made their marks in their field of endeavours.


A land of historical testimonies

The Olumo Rock, which provided refuge for the Egbas during the attack by their enemies. Olumo Rock is a tourist attraction till date. The whole of Abeokuta can be viewed from the top of the rock and it is on record that in spite of its domineering nature, not a single person has fallen while navigating it.

Abeokuta is indeed a unique town because it has four traditional rulers, with each administering his own domain. The Alake of Egbaland is the prescribed authority on the people of Ake, the Osile of Oke-Ona Egba, the Olowu of Owu, Abeokuta, administers over the people of Owu extraction and the Agura of Gbagura reigning over the Gbagura people. Each section of the Egbaland has been peaceful without any interference from any quarters.

As a testament to their resourceful nature, Abeokuta is the home of many distinguished Nigerians who have made their marks in their various callings. As is in their nature, they are usually first in the many endeavours and command respect within and beyond Nigeria.

Chief Olusegun Aremu Okikiola Obasanjo is of the Owu extraction of Abeokuta. He is the Balogun of Owu. He was former military head of state and two-term democratically elected president of Nigeria.

Another eminent son of Abeokuta, is Chief Ernest Shonekan. He also occupied the exalted seat of the number one citizen of the country as the Head of the defunct Interim National Government.

The late business mogul and pillar of sports in Africa, Chief Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola was from the Gbagura section of Abeokuta. He was the acclaimed winner of the June 12, 1993 presidential election that was annulled by a military government.

The former governor of Ogun State and a distinguished journalist, Chief Olusegun Osoba, is from Abeokuta. He is the Akinrogun of Egbaland.

Former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Dimeji Bankole is another distinguished son of Abeokuta. In the field of medicine, the late Professor Adeoye Lambo, the man who was the brain behind the establishment of the Neuropsychiatric Hospital, Aro, Dr Moses Majekodunmi and one of the Ransome-Kuti, the late Olikoye Ransome-Kuti.

In education, Reverend Oludotun Ransome-Kuti, Professor Saburi Biobaku, Professor Kayode Oyesiku , the Oyewole twins and many others.

In the field of music, international juju sensation, Chief Ebenezer Obey-Fabiyi; the late afrobeat legend, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, afro juju musician, Sir. Sina Peters, among several others are natives of Abeokuta.

In accounting and banking, there are Akintola Williams, Bola Kuforiji-Olubi, Folorunso Oke, the former deputy governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Mr Tunde Lemo. In law, there the first Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Adetokunbo Ademola, Chief Bola Ajibola, Chief FRA Williams among others. These are just few of the many sons and daughters of Abeokuta who have distinguished themselves favourably.

Abeokuta, like the name implies, is significant on many fronts. Having lasted beyond decades, beyond battles and beyond change on various fronts, for a people who have survived all odds to set themselves apart in ingenuity, resourcefulness, creativity, inventions and originality, the Ogun State capital, no doubt, provides the root of the slogan, The Gateway State. Abeokuta, indeed, stays true to its foremost and principal role as the gateway to Nigeria’s greatness.