Wars are some of the most significant events in history. Indeed, war is the ultimate struggle to change society and change the course of events. War shapes society and affects the mentality of generations. For us in Nigeria, we have had different epochs in our post-independence history, but the most dramatic and costliest, was the Nigerian Civil War. War is the theme of Goke Omidiran’s latest book, Kiriji War and Other Stories of Courage and Conviction.
Omidiran, a geologist and poet, is also a self-taught historian.
Even now in 2022, the Kiriji (or Ekiti Parapo) War defines the meaning of Ekiti, its essence, its relationship with other Yoruba sub-ethnic groups and the pride and purpose of Ekiti people. Before the 19th Century rise of the military class in Yorubaland, there were 17 independent Ekiti kingdoms, who were enjoying their freedom under the old protocols that bind all states whose kings can trace their ancestral origin to the House of Oduduwa in Ile-Ife.
Trouble was to come with the collapse of old Oyo in the 1830s following pressures from renegade generals and the rise of Fulani elements who, in a spectacular military coup, had seized the government of Ilorin, one of the most important vassal towns of the Alaafin, the ruler of the Oyo Empire.
These distant events from Ekiti were to have profound effect on the land. Under the old Ife protocol, the Alaafin was the warrior-king in charge of the North and West of Yorubaland and with his military prowess, was expected to keep the country safe.
The Oba of Benin, another powerful king produced by the House of Oduduwa, was in charge of the East and South and with his powerful army, he kept the country safe from those frontiers. The late 18th Century and the 19th Century were to change all that.
Events in distant land in America and Europe where the hunger for African slaves remain high were to affect the people of Ekiti and a large part of Black Africa.
The collapse of Oyo, the weakening of Ife and the rise of new military powers like Ijaiye and Ibadan meant the relationship between states became seriously altered. The most significant of these new powers was Ibadan, an Egba settlement, which was overtaken by military stragglers from the Owu War led by an Ife general, Lagelu, who was later toppled in a bloody coup engineered by an Oyo general, Oluyole, a descendant of Alaafin Abiodun. Under the pretence that they were saving the Ekiti from the new Fulani power in Ilorin, the Ibadan marched on to Ekiti, Ijesha, Igbomina and other lands and subdued them under a new Ibadan Empire.
According to Omidiran’s excellent book, that was to be the turning point for Ibadan, a state ruled by soldiers who had scant respect for the Ife protocols or the hierarchy of kings and princes. Their aim was to subdue other Yoruba states and sell their captives to European and American slave merchants. The story of protecting the Yoruba country from the Ilorin soldiers were soon interpreted by other Yoruba groups as mere ruse to subdue everyone.
The situation was worsened by the tyrannies of Ibadan representatives, known as Ajeles, in the various kingdoms. The Ajeles treated everyone, including royal fathers, as mere chattels. At last, their cup became full in 1878, when a revolt against Ibadan was ignited in Okemesi, in the Ekiti country. The revolt was led by Ishola Fabunmi, a young soldier, who was trained in the art of war in Ibadan. Fabunmi and his soldiers rounded up the Ajeles in Okemesi and got them executed. His example was followed in many other Ekiti, Ijesha and Igbomina towns.
In the beginning, the Ibadan underestimated the revolts and thought a contingent of troops and the promise of serious sanctions would persuade the rebels to lay down their arms. It was not to be. Many of the generals from other Yoruba states joined the alliance; Faboro from Ido, Agada from Effon, Esubiyi from Ayede, Ogundana from Ikole, Samo, the Asao of Akure and other generals and commanders from more than 140 towns and communities in the present day Ekiti, Osun, Kwara, Ondo and Kogi states came to Okemesi to swear common allegiance. A formidable military alliance was formed known as Ekiti Parapo.
The Ekiti Parapo forces climbed through the ravine of Okemesi to Imesi-Ile to confront the Ibadan soldiery. The conflict lasted for 16 gory years until the armistice of 1886 brokered by the British authorities in Lagos and the Church Missionary Society (CMS). It was an expensive conflict that changed the course of Yoruba history. Its resolution led to the end of the Slave Trade and the beginning of colonialism. For the first time since the princes departed from Ile-Ife at the dawn of time, the entire Yoruba country came under foreign rule.
When foreign rule came in the guise of Pax Britanica, many Ekiti communities preferred it to the tyrannies of the Ibadan Ajeles. The Ekiti Parapo Grand Alliance was the precursor of the present Ekiti State. All the 16 pre-colonial independent kingdoms are now in Ekiti State. It was the bond of that old 16 years struggle that made Ekiti State peculiar among the states of the South-West. Therefore that common history made it easy for the state to be created out of the old Ondo State.
Since the creation of the state in 1996, it has often faced a new type of Ajele syndrome; those rulers who come, take whatever they can to Ibadan, Lagos and other places, and then disappeared at the end of their tenure. It was so for most of the military governors. It is not so different for the elected rulers. There have been four elected governors of Ekiti State since 1999 and Ekiti people know who among them are afflicted with the Ajele syndrome. They know the governors, who came from Ibadan and Lagos like the Ajeles of old and after their tenure, fled with their loots. They leave behind the burdens of debts, unpaid salaries and pensions and abandoned projects. Future generations of Ekiti citizens are their victims, for they would be forced to pay the debt these Ajeles have accumulated on unviable and grandiose projects.
Omidiran believes that it is when we learn from history we would not fall into the same errors again and again. Modern realities must be interpreted with the hindsight of old history. History is a bully pulpit reminding us that we should not allow our children to bear a similar burden which our ancestors fought to overturn for 16 years. Omidiran’s Kiriji War and Other Stories of Courage and Conviction, is a book for the ages. It is timely warning to stop the Ajele syndrome from repeating itself.