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British-Ijebu War of 1892 (Battle Of Imagbon)

The final battle by which Ijebu fell took place on 19 May 1892 at the village of Imagbon. This short war claimed the lives of up to a thousand Ijebu.

The Yoruba country had been connected with England throughout the 19th century, since the days when the slave-trade on the West Coast of Africa flourished. And the connexion had been maintained, and in latter days on happier lines. The Yoruba country lies to the west and south of the River Niger. Its western boundary was the French territory of Dahomey. On the north it extended almost to the Niger, while on the south the Atlantic Ocean washed its sandy coast-line. A break in the coast-line indicated the entrance to the lagoon and the situation of the island of Lagos. To the north-east of Lagos lay a patch of country about 40 by 40 miles in extent, covered with dense forest, and watered by numerous streams and rivulets, which found their way to the great lagoon on the south, and finally into the Atlantic.

This country was occupied by the Jebu tribe of the Yoruba nation, numbering perhaps 200,000 around 1900 a tribe not living in huge towns, as the Egbas did in Abeokuta, and the true Yorubas in Ibadan, but scattered for the most part through their country in villages and tiny hamlets, each with its clearing in the forest where the land as been claimed for purposes of cultivation. The country was governed by a king holding the title of Awujale, who lived in the chief town, Ijebu Ode, a town then containing perhaps 15,000 inhabitants.

The Jebus had figured prominently in the history of the Yoruba nation, and they considered themselves superior to the other tribes of the nation, and acted accordingly. They closed their country largely to friendly external intercourse, and while Jebus moved freely over the whole Yoruba country buyin and selling (for they were keen traders), they did not freely extend the same privileges to others. A journey from the north through the Ijebu country was not infrequently attended with difficulty and danger to property or life, and the Jebus were feared by many.

This condition of things in the Ijebu country at length came under the notice of the Lagos Colonial authorities, with the result that an agreement was made with the king of Ijebu Ode allowing travellers to pass up and down the country in safety. The agreement, however, was soon violated. A native messenger, returning up-country through Ijebu Ode, was robbed and killed. Carriers were molested and hindered, and other serious irregularities were perpetrated.

During the years 1888-1892 the Ijebus had shown an increasing contempt for the whites as exemplified in their treatment of the officials of the Lagos Government and the missionaries who traveled through their country. They had a tradition which revealed the root of their contempt, and indicated their view of the origin of the whites. Many centuries ago a male and female albino were born in different parts of the Ijebu country. African albinos are white, and when these people grew up, no black person would engage to marry them. They were therefore brought together, placed in a canoe, given a supply of food and water, and sent away across the lagoon. When after many years the white men came to the Ijebu county it was thought that they must be the descendants of the albinos whom they had driven out. Absurd as this tradition is, the Ijebus treated white persons as if they believed it to be true.

In 1891, the Ijebu tribe, dwelling between 50 and 60 miles north-east of Lagos on the Magbon river, set a blockade on the trade route from the interior into Lagos, which was a crown colony, and charged customs dues which served as their income. The Awujale, the traditional ruler of Ijebu, closed down the Ejirin market, cutting off Lagos from a source of up-country trade.

The British government persuaded the Awujale several times to open the blockaded route but the Ijebu ruler remained adamant. However, in May 1891, a British acting governor, Captain C.M Denton C.M.G, together with some Hausa troops (mostly slaves who fled the North to South and were recruited by the British army) went to Ijebu kingdom to make an agreement with the Awujale on opening the blockaded route and allowing the free passage of goods into Lagos.

The treaty was broken almost as soon as it was signed, caravans were robbed, white men assaulted, a mailman was murdered, and a peremptory demand sent to the Ibadan chiefs for the heads of the Revs. Tom Harding and D. Olubi (a native minister) of the Church Missionary Society. This was intolerable, and a punitive expedition was sent into the Ijebu country. In 1892 a small British expedition was sent up to the Ijebu country to enforce order. The Jebus opposed the expedition, were defeated and submitted. The Awujale resisted, but after much persuasion and pressure, the Awujale agreed in January 1892 on the terms of receiving 500 annually as compensation for the loss of custom revenue.

Shortly before the military expedition left Lagos for the Ijebu country, special services were held in some of the Lagos churches for humiliation and confession, and for prayer for Divine guidance to all concerned. Some Christians at Lagos felt that if the influences of all professing the name of Christ in the colony had been consistent with their profession, and if there had been more earnest efforts to send the Gospel into the Ijebu country, the state of its people would possibly have been very different.

The agreement didnt last long. A white missionary was denied access to pass through the kingdom and was sent back. The British government were provoked by the action of the Ijebus and authorized the use of force on the kingdom. Britain gathered troops from Gold Coast (Ghana), Sierra Leone, Ibadan, and Lagos (the Hausa troops nearly 150). Colonel F.C. Scott C.B was the commander of the troops of 450 men piled up by Britain. On the 12th of May, 1892, the captain and his men, including some carriers, sailed up the Lagos Lagoon and landed at Ekpe. When they got to Leckie, another carriers about 186 in numbers were recruited. On the Ijebu side, 8000 men with old rifles would be fighting the British.

A British representative was placed in Ijebu Ode, the country was opened, trade began to stream up and down the country, and a forward movement in things both material and spiritual began, advancing at first very slowly, but which increased in power as it progressed, and was such that a European Government official, who knew the town soon after its first occupation, and who returned to it after a long absence, said that he could scarcely believe that they were the same people.

Even before the opening of the country various attempts had been made from time to time to reach the people. As long ago as the 1850s Rev. C. A. Gollmer had tried to open up work on the outskirts of the country, but had failed owing to the opposition of the people. In the 1880s the Rev. James Johnson, who was himself of Igebu extraction, ventured to enter the country with a view to begin work among them; and a few years afterwards a further attempt was made by him and another to get into Ijebu Ode from Lagos. These two succeeded in obtaining from the king permission to send a teacher, who was supported by them, but the people generally refused to have the teacher, and he had to leave.

In spite, however, of this exclusiveness, the Christian religion was not entirely unknown. A story is told of a girl who went to Lagos, learned to read while there, and brought back a Bible to her home. Her friends in inquired what she was reading, and on being told, took the book from (her and destroyed it. At the time of the opening of the country there were a few in Ijebu Ode who, like this girl, had in the course of their trading journeys come into contact with the Christian religion and had been favorably impressed by it; and when the district became somewhat settled, these few sent to Lagos to ask for some one to be sent to Ijebu Ode to instruct them further.

The Ijebus were divided into two sub-divisions, Ijebu Ode and Ijebu Remon; and the chief of the latter, subordinate to the Awujale or head chief of the former, was killed with ceremony after a rule of three years. Dr. Frazer, in his "Early History of the Kingship", gives numerous instances showing the rise of the head magician to the rank of king, accompanied not infrequently by his enforced death after a certain interval, in order that the divine power residing in him should not be weakened through approaching age.

The lesson taught by thd expedition to the arrogant king and chiefs of Ijebu was not lost upon the other members of the Yoruba family, and in a short time all roads were opened to trade, and had never since that time been closed. A period of prosperity set in at that time which continues to increase. Ijebu proved to be one of the "open doors" to the forces of education and Christianity, albeit those doors were opened by a military expedition.

A sample of pitch was received at the Imperial Institute in February 1904, accompanied by a letter from the Colonial Secretary, Lagos, stating that it was obtained from the Ijebu Territory of the Colony, and requesting that it should be chemically examined with a view to ascertaining whether it possessed any commercial value. The specimen consisted of a rather soft and adhesive pitch which melted fairly completely at 65 C.(i49 F.). The material contained, distributed throughout it, portions of dried twigs and leaves, and patches of earthy matter. These last were found by microscopical examination to consist of clear quartz grains embedded in a mixture of decomposed organic matter. The crude pitch had a somewhat unpleasant odour resembling that of guano.

A commercial expert to whom the pitch was submitted reported that it was suitable for electrical purposes and for the manufacture of street-paving. It was suggested, however, that in order to save freight the foreign matter should be separated on the spot, and only the purified material exported. The latter would command a price of from 4 to 4 10s. per ton in the UK. These results show that this Lagos pitch, when properly prepared, would possess some commercial value.

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Page last modified: 22-02-2017 16:28:24 ZULU