The Jewel of the Niger

Kongi is the most famous Nigerian; dead or alive. About that, I have no doubt. It is comforting that the most popular Nigerian is a scholar. The grizzling old man has been a target for anything evil – from Boko Haram to the successive authoritarian regimes. That makes him equal to – in Amanpour’s words “the conscience of the nation”. He has been right on many occasions and wrong on many. One of the many true things is that which he said concerning Nigeria at the moment. Being a child of the enlightenment it would be odd to revert to primordial sentiments. Secession, he said, is not the solution. Conversely, he seems to ignore an important event in Yoruba history by declaring that the Òrìṣà religion of the Yoruba has never been the motivation for any war.

Unlike the Abrahamic faiths and other eastern religions. On that, he might be wrong. Actually, I found out something else. The secret is wrapped in the Òkèbàdàn Festival. Ibadan (Ìbàdàn) is the capital of the Yoruba people with a unique history. It was first founded by Lágelú. All traditions affirm that. Lágelú’s Ibadan, however, is different from the present Ibadan. After its founding, the city prospered as a trading and garrison town. Afterwards, the city was utterly destroyed on the orders of the Aláàfin Ṣàngó. It was said that the Egúngún (perhaps the Olóòlù variant) – the veiled ancestral god in the Yorùbá pantheon – was “desecrated”. The so-called desecration happened during the course of the festival when the veil over the face of the masquerade, revealed his identity to women — an abomination. The Aláàfin became furious and ordered the destruction of the ancient town.

A war of attrition ensued. The Ibadan retreated to the hill and fed on snails and the fruits of the òro tree called Irvingia gabonensis by scientists. It also led to incestual unions permitted by the Lord of the town during the war (i.e the siege of Òkèbàdàn). The town was resettled in 1829. It would emerge as the most powerful and popular Yoruba city in the latter half of the 19th century. The subject is up for debate. I come in peace. Further reading: 1. Kareem Kolawole Adesina. “Okebadan: A hill of historical significance”. June 1, 2013. Vanguard Newspaper. https://www.vanguardngr.com/…/okebadan-a-hill-of…/amp/ Retrieved 13 July 2021 2. Oba I.B Akinyele. “Iwe Itan Ibadan Ati Die Ninu Awon Ilu Agbegbe re bi Iwo, Osogbo Ati Ikirun”. Ibadan. 1911.

Ojo, Aderemi Ibadan, Nigeria. ojderemi@gmail.com @RealOjoAderemi


Ojo, Aderemi is a Historian, teacher, public speaker, writer, politician, and community organiser. He was trained at the University of Ibadan and was President of the Students Union.

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