Kiriji War: Remembering the sour phase of a people’s history

One of the most tragic chapters in Yoruba history was the unfortunate Kiriji war which lasted for 16 years. It is today regarded as perhaps the world’s longest civil war. The war, which was stopped by the signing of a Peace Treaty on September 23, 1886, resulted in unimaginable devastation and loss of lives. With the Kiriji Festival celebrated every year in commemoration of the peace treaty, TUNDE BUSARI, TUNDE OGUNESAN and OLUWOLE IGE report the continued relevance of the celebration particularly as this year marks the 130th edition of the festival.

The role played by Aare Latoosa of Ibadan in the protracted Kiriji war that raged the Yoruba nation between 1877 and 1893 is incontrovertible in Yoruba History. Latoosa was the commander-in-chief of Ibadan armed forces which were engaged by the Ekitiparapo army.

The war was fought to resist the Ibadan expansionist policy, as well as despotism of the Ajeles who took law into their hands and freely trampled on the freedom of their host communities. The Balogun of Ilesa, Ogedengbe, then struck an alliance with Fabunmi of Oke-Imesi and confronted the confident Ibadan army in a mother of all battles.

The inference is that Aare Latoosa is key to any event relating to the war that shook the Yoruba nation to its root. When, however, Aare Latoosa is not part of such event, it raises a question of the likely reign of the old suspicion 130 years after the peace treaty that formally brought the war to an end, was signed in Imesi-Ile in the present day Osun State.

Last Friday, September 23, 2016, the 130th Yoruba Peace Treaty anniversary held in Ibadan, the Oyo State capital with the Governors of Oyo and Ogun States sending representatives. While the Secretary to the State Government, Olalekan Ali, stood in for Senator Abiola Ajimobi, Deputy Governor of Ogun State, Onanuga attended on behalf of Senator Ibikunle Amosun.

Held at the International Conference Centre of the University of Ibadan, the event was put together by the Yoruba Academy and the Afenifere Renewal Group (ARG).

Other Yoruba sons in attendance included: Speaker, Lagos State House of Assembly, Hon. Mudashiru Obasa, members of the Ogun State House of Assembly, Chief Segun Odegbami, Prof. Dawud Noibi, Mr Ayo Afolabi, Mr Tunde Kelani, Dr Kunle Olajide, Prof. Wale Omole and the Director-General of the Development Agenda for Western Nigeria (DAWN), Commission, Mr Dipo Famakinwa.

As the Ibadan event was holding, so also was it holding at Imesi Ile, where in attendance, among other dignitaries, was a member of Osun State House of Assembly, Olatunbosun Oyintiloye.

At the two gatherings, the central point was the cause of the war and need for Yoruba nation in the federated Nigeria to rise and promote peace and unity for rapid progress among the comity of nations. The Secretary-General of Kiriji Cultural Foundation, Mr. Kehinde Kolawole said the war brought out the determination of Yoruba people to rise against oppressive rule, and called the people to use the quality for the unity and development of the nation.

However, Prince Adegboyega Mabinuori, the Arole Aare Latoosa picked a hole in the unity campaign, describing it as a cosmetic statement not meant for people like him.

He stated in strong terms that his recent experience, regarding the peace treaty anniversary, had shown him that the old suspicion generated by the war still subsists among the Yorubas.

Mabinuaori argued that the way organisers of the events allegedly ignored some historical details, left much to be desired and insulted some key personalities involved in the beginning and end of the war. “When I realized the organisers are not showing genuine commitment to the memory of the Kiriji War, actors like Aare Latoosa, I decided to keep my peace at my home. How can anybody or group organise such an event without involving Ibadan?

“It does not and would not appeal to historians. I attended a couple of the events but decided not to attend again. It looks like they want to reduce it to an Osun State event whereas before Osun was carved out of the former Oyo State in 1991, we were together. Aren’t we still brothers despite the creation of new states?” he queried.

The outspoken Mabinuori further queried the justification of leaving out the Alaafin of Oyo from the anniversary despite the role the monarch played in the event leading to the historic peace treaty.

He alerted the Yorubas on the danger of distorting history, saying it would not help whatever unity being preached at public fora.

If Alaafin was not carried along in the event, he argued, the credibility of the event was questionable. Mabinuori also pointed out that the Alaafin was the beginning and the end of the war, recalling that the monarch, at the climax of the war, sent a message to the British to end the war to save Yoruba nation of further bloodshed.

The message, according to him, led to British intervention and the eventual peace treaty.

From left, Honourable Bosun Oyintiloye, representing Obokun State Constituency; Owa Oye of Imesi Ile, Oba Enoch Adeyemi (Oyoyo II) and another traditional ruler during the annual commemoration of Yoruba Peace Treaty Day, in Imesi Ile .
From left, Honourable Bosun Oyintiloye, representing Obokun State Constituency; Owa Oye of Imesi Ile, Oba Enoch Adeyemi (Oyoyo II) and another traditional ruler during the annual commemoration of Yoruba Peace Treaty Day, in Imesi Ile .

The 12-article treaty reads in part: “Now, therefore, we, special commissioners appointed by His Excellency, the Governor of Lagos for the purpose of executing the said treaty in accordance with the provisions thereof, do hereby proclaim, in the name of the signatories of the said treaty, that peace has this day been established and shall henceforth continue forever between the signatories of the said treaty and between their respective peoples.”

“The point I am making is that we should give recognition and respect to whom it is due. Have they forgotten that it was Latoosa who sent his brother Ajayi Ogboriefon to Jalumi War where the Hausa/Fulani and Tapa were stopped from invading Yorubaland? Latoosa was aged and instructed Ogboriefon to deploy masquerades at the battlefront to scare the Hausa/Fulani. The strategy worked and Ibadan won that war and pushed Hausa/Fulani back.

“Have they forgotten that Aare Latoosa was the first and only one to have combined both civil and military leadership? It is unfortunate that we don’t care about our war heroes. We don’t care about those who made sacrifice for Yoruba. As long as we don’t care about them, I am afraid something would happen to the unity being preached everyday,” he said.

Aside Mabinuori’s grouse, the state of the site where the treaty was signed is nothing but a tourist attraction.

Although historical objects such as stone anvils which blacksmiths used to manufacture bullets, gun powder and other weapons, plus the carved stone on which Ogedengbe, the commander of the Ekiti Parapo,  are still found there, it was gathered that they had been overgrown by weeds.

Same goes for the cenotaph erected for the signing of the peace treaty on September 23, 1886 as well as the road that leads to the site.

Against this background, Oyintiloye, who averred that tourism sector should be leveraged on to harness its potential for economic rebound and long-term stability, contended that for the potential in sectors such as tourism to be translated into reality, it was imperative to adequately address the rudiments and critical gaps by promotion and creation of an enabling environment, infrastructure and reputation management and perception of the country.

According to him, “All natural endowments, landmarks, historical places and places of attraction which are key selling points of the sector must not be allowed to stand alone, but must be seen as composite in driving the sector for employment generation and foreign exchange earnings.”

In the same vein, the Owa-Ooye of Imesi-Ile, Oba Enoch Adeyemi (Oyoyo 11) described the Kiriji site, where the treaty was signed as a veritable source of economic development and potential that government should tap into.

Owa-Ooye observed that the significance of the celebration was to re-emphasise the promotion of peace and the cooperation for development among the Yoruba nation and Nigeria as a whole.”

Historians at the Ibadan event emphasized the need to bring innovation to some products that stand Yoruba out such as food, clothing and local technology. They urged that these products be exported with the added advantage of also exporting Yoruba culture to the world.

Ms Bamidele Olateju warned that Yoruba must tie their future to innovation if they want to be relevant in the next century. He added that consciousness of creativity in the modern world must be taken into cognisance, thus advising that Yoruba culture must be embedded in modern innovation.

In his remark, Professor Banji Akintoye, said while Yoruba agreed to end Kiriji war in spite of the huge number of warriors across the towns and communities, they failed to use their military strength to resist the White people who came to colonise them. He posited that the combination of all the armies would have successfully repelled the colonialists successfully.

This, he said, teaches that Yoruba will be a better force and be a major player in the globalized world if they choose to combine their strengths to play together as one bloc economically, politically and culturally.

Welcoming participants, ARG Chairman, Honourable Olawale Oshun, said the event was to celebrate the end of Kiriji war, as well as to allow Yoruba discuss how the lessons of the war could help them maximise opportunities in the next century.

He added that the programme was also aimed at fostering unity among all political leaders, traditional rulers and other leaders in Yorubaland.