The Rise of Abeokuta - OOU Campus Mirror

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Sunday 5 November 2023

The Rise of Abeokuta

By Nuga Olasubomi. 

Egba were forest dwellers living in Ibadan under the Oyo empire. Their story pops up when Lishabi (An Igbehin warrior) leads Egba to be liberated from Oyo. Here are compiled facts about this ancient and paramount city that serves as the capital of Ogun State and also the pride of Egbaland. Lishabi led the killing of Ajele and he begins in Igbehin, the Ajeles are oppressing and maltreating the Egbas. Balogun of Oyo responded to the rebellion by sending an army but Lishabi crushed them and that gave Egba a noteworthy presence. After crushing Oyo, Egba still lives in the forest of Ibadan until 49 years later. 

Egba did not arrive at Abeokuta the same as the first batch arrived in 1830. Sodeke led Egba Alake, Balogun Olunloye led Egba Oke-Ona, and Oluwole Agbo led Gbagura. After the Owu kingdom had fallen, Olufakun led the Owu to Egba. Arriving in 1830 with Sodeke as her leader. The initial name of the city was "Oko Adagba" meaning "Adagba's farmstead"; Adagba was an Itoko farmer. Sodeke who led the Egba met him there. 

Abeokuta means 'Under the rock'. signifying the protection that the Olumo Rock offered the Egbas during attacks from intruders. 

Since the discovery of Olumo Rock, no one has fallen from it. Not even once. Olumo which means created by the Lord might also mean Oluwa Fimo (God has ended our suffering). Under the leadership of Sodeke, Abeokuta grew fast. In 1839 (9 years of Abeokuta), Egba slaves who were freed from foreign countries moved to Sierra Leone and Badagry then they all moved to Abeokuta after they had their people had a new resettlement.

After their settlement at Abeokuta, its citizens began pushing southwards in quest of new farming lands and ultimately access to the coastal trade. Here they clashed with the Ijebu who had hitherto enjoyed little competition in the trade. The Ibadan also viewed the growth of Abeokuta as a potential threat and they tried to make a common cause with the Ijebu to nip it in the bud. When the Egba defeated the Allied forces at the Battle of Owiwi in 1832, the survival of Abeokuta was ensured. 

Abeokuta was a sovereign nation for 20 years and 11 months before the British amalgamated her with the rest of Nigeria in 1914. She had her own laws, Police Force, Civil Service and was well organized. The repressive system of government by leaders of the EUG did not go down well with the Egba people and this led to the Adubi War (1918). 

Achievements of Egba. 

The first church in Nigeria, St. Peter's Anglican Church is in Abeokuta. The first Baptist Church in West Africa and the first local government in Nigeria (Abeokuta South) are in Abeokuta.

The first University in Nigeria should have been located in Abeokuta but due to the grudge between the Alake and Reverend Israel Oludotun Ransome-Kuti, it was established at Ibadan as the University of Ibadan in 1948. The first secondary school in Nigeria was sited in Abeokuta before it was relocated to Lagos as CMS Grammar School due to unknown reasons.

The first hospital in Nigeria, Sacred Heart Hospital, is in Abeokuta. It is still functioning. The first bridge in Nigeria (Sokori Bridge in 1903) built by a Nigerian (Mr. John Adenekan) without European supervision is in Abeokuta. The first Newspaper in Nigeria (Iwe Irohin) was founded in Egbaland in 1859. The first president of the Nigeria Union of Teachers and the first woman to drive a car in Nigeria were Egba indigenes. They both married each other. They were also the first male and female admitted to the Abeokuta Grammar School.

The first indigenous Chief Justice of Nigeria (Justice Adetokunbo Ademola) was from Abeokuta. He was the son of the longest-reigning monarch (Alake) in Egbaland. Okukenu Sagbua I was the first Alake of Egbaland. He was enthroned on August 8, 1854. His descendant, Okukenu Sagbua IV is the current Alake of Egbaland.

Alake Gbadebo I, was the first monarch in Nigeria to visit England on a state visit. He spent 20 days at sea (May 5-25, 1904).The first time a white man came to Abeokuta on January 4, 1843, everybody (both young and old) left their homes and marketplaces to see Henry Townsend, the white man. When the American Civil War (1861-1865) interrupted the United States' cotton trade to Europe, the Egba began exporting cotton to England. One of the most influential women in the history of Egbaland and the first lyalode of Egba land was Madam Tinubu. Tinubu Square in Lagos and Ita lyalode in Abeokuta were named after her. She died in 1887.

In 1893, the Egba United Government was recognized as an independent nation by Britain. She had her laws. Many developments were made until 1914 when she was amalgamated to form Nigeria. The Sokori Bridge was constructed in 1903 and the Abeokuta Grammar School was founded on July 16, 1908.

How Did Egba Rise? 

The coming of Christianity to Abeokuta gave birth to a lot of developments in the city. After the arrival of Henry, Bishop Ajayi Crowther joined Henry from Sierra Leone in 1846, and he translated the Bible into Yoruba language in 1862 for the first time. 

Human sacrifice and slavery stopped, and ginnery and cotton exportation began in 1849, a lot of Abeokuta's wealthy men benefited from this. The foreign missionaries encouraged their friends to bring trade and service to Abeokuta. Henry Townsend thought of how to improve literacy among the Egbas and he found what would become the first newspaper in Nigeria (Iwe Irohin, 1859). 

Egba benefited a lot from early exposure to Western life and the city has produced a lot of scholars and leaders. Yoruba has produced three presidents and two came from Abeokuta (Olusegun Obasanjo and Ernest Shonekan). Prof. Wole Soyinka, Chief Akintola William (Founder of ICAN), Abimbola Jayeola (Nigeria's first female helicopter pilot), Prince Bola Ajibola (former World Court judge), Chief MKO Abiola (businessman and presidential candidate), Chief Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti (women's rights activist) Hon. Justice Adetokunbo Ademola (First Indigenous CJN), and others. All the above important personnel benefited from the Western education in Abeokuta. 

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