THE LEGENDS OF AFONJA
WRITTEN BY OKÙNADÉ JOHNSON
Afonja was the 6th Aare Ona Kakanfo of Yorubaland and the second most controversial figure in Oyo history after Bashorun Gaha. Growing up as a prince, he was trained in the art of war and military formations; as he grew older, he showed excessive traits of a narcissist.
He grew arrogant and egotistic. His actions showed one of a rebellious energetic youth with no respect for structured authority.
At the latter end of Alaaafin Abiodun’s reign, the empire had growing factions of warlords. The soldiers enlisted in the army of the warlords were usually slaves and as such, their loyalty to their masters were one of absolute loyalty.
The warlords profited from slaves and raiding of small settlements and as such, usually met with constant resistance from the Alaafin who was against raiding in his empire.
The warlords in return sought actions to weaken the Alaafin and make the empire a loose federation incapable of putting warlords in check. One of the warlords was Afonja.
Another was Kurunmi, a notorious warlord that went on rampage robbing rich settlements in the early days of Afonja. He played a great role behind the scenes to ensure the downfall of two Alaafins; one of them was Aole and the other was Alaafin Oluewu.
When Aole Arogangan succeeded the throne after the death of Alaafin Abiodun, his major obsession was to get rid of Afonja, having observed his potential to be egotistic and ambitious. It was obvious he had potentials as a factional warlord and obvious as well that he could use such powers to the discomfort Oyo leadership, very much like the notorious Bashorun Gaha in recent history at the time.
At the death of the Aare Ona Kaakanfo Oyabi, Afonja lobbied to take the position. Alaafin Aole was reluctant to give such an important post to Afonja. His chiefs argued as well that the post of Aare ona Kakanfo was not befitting for a prince.
Afonja insisted he wanted the post and was the best candidate to lead the army for future battles. Alaafin Aole reluctantly granted the title to him.
Afonja at the time stationed in Ilorin with his warriors. His choice of Ilorin was strategic. The region had fertile lands and from the location, he could raid cities that were not a part of the Oyo Empire for the most important commodity at the time which was slaves.
Eventually, The Fulani raiders under his commands in later years however sacked settlements in Oyo for slaves. One of the villagers captured by the warlords and sold to Portuguese traders was the famous Samuel Ajayi Crowther.
The Alaafin allowed him to remain in Ilorin and from the base, he commanded the Oyo calvary. Warlords were also permitted to station in other regions bordering the empire to the west. They were however subject to the command of Afonja owing to his title and station.
Aole’s relationship with his Bashorun and some of his chiefs was not so cordial. A bone of contention they had with him was that he waged war on Ile-Ife, which was against traditions.
It was said that the King of Ile-Ife had earlier had him flogged as a prince for an offence of slave trading of an indigenous citizen. This was however a disguised sentiments. Aole had restricted many of the privileges of the chiefs and rejected their demand to collect levies from immigrant traders, most especially the Hausa migrant traders from the North. Bashorun and a few of the chiefs wanted to replace him with a puppet they could control.
Their scheme was to take advantage of his reservations for Afonja. They influenced him to send Afonja to war on a fortified city, knowing fully well he could not penetrate the fortress.
According to Oyo laws, when an Aare ona Kakanfo fails to win a battle, he must commit suicide. Alaafin Aole fell for the bait and ordered Afonja to go to war. He assembled the soldiers and the warlords joined him in the campaign. When they got to the city, he realized it was a set up.
Having been trapped in a dilemma, Asamu and the chiefs made a deal with Afonja. He could keep his life in exchange for joining the campaign to get rid of Aole. A deal was also struck with the warlords, promising them more autonomy to go on unrestricted raids and looting as they pleased.
Historically, Afonja could not attack the people of IwereIle because a curse had been placed on any Are-Ona Kankafo who dared attempt to attack the town by Alaafin Ajagbo who instituted the title. Incidentally, Iwere-ile was also the birth place of his mother and that of Alaafin Abiodun.
From the battlefield, a slave was sent to the palace in Oyo with an empty calabash. The symbolism was indeed that the Oyo leadership and Prime minister had lost faith in the Alaafin. He had no choice but to commit suicide.
He took the calabash and put his house in order. Being skilled in metaphysics, he enchanted the spirits and placed a curse on the nobility and all Aare-Ona Kakanfo for betraying him before taking his life by drinking poison.
According to Rev. Samuel Johnson in his book ‘The History of Yoruba,’ he invoked the spirits of his fore-fathers and shot three magical arrows into the three tripod on which the kingdom was believed to stand. “My curse be on ye for your disloyalty and disobedience, so let your children disobey you. If you send them on errand, let them never return to bring you word again
“To all the points I shot my arrows will ye be carried as slaves. My curse will carry you to the sea and beyond the sea, slaves will rule over you and you their master will become slaves” he said. Thereafter, the kingdom never knew peace.
Alaafin Aole was the last great Alaafin to rule an independent Oyo empire. A few years after his death, Oyo empire was sacked by solders from the Ilorin Emirate.
Afonja in 1817 invited Alimi, the Fulani itinerant Muslim preacher to Ilorin. Alimi was not new in Yorubaland, for from about 1813, he had been going round such northern Yoruba large towns as far as Ikoyi and Ogbomoso.
He had lived for three years in Kuwo, Solagberu’s town (Solagberu was Afonja’s Friend), and was intending to settle there when Afonja heard of him from Solagberu and decided to invite him to Ilorin.
Alimi’s arrival could be seen as an important addition to his jama’a at Oke-Suna. There is indeed a distinct probability that Solagberu influenced Afonja’s invitation of Alimi to Ilorin because of this.
But a number of discerning Ilorin citizens clearly saw the danger in the new scenario, but so afraid of Afonja were most of them that they did not dare to tell him. Two persons however took courage.
The first was Fagbohun, the Commander of the left flank of Afonja’s army, who thereby incurred his wrath and had to flee to avoid being executed.
The second person was Agborin, Afonja’s younger brother, but so confident was Afonja of his own ability that he again brushed the warning aside. Frustrated, Agborin committed suicide.”
After Alimi was proclaimed Commander of the Faithful he swore to the disinterestedness of his intentions, saying:
“If I fight this battle that I may become greater than my fellow or that my son may become greater than his son, or that my slave may lord it over his slave, may the Kabbir (infidel) wipe us from the land.”
It was said that In 1835, Afonja rose against Oyo Empire and with the support Of Alimi and his Fulani Jihad the revolted again the Old Oyo Empire and razed it to the ground.
Alimi quickly cashed in on the trust Afonja had in the Jamas to plot evil against him. After the war, the Jamas became uncontrollable and became a thorn in the flesh of the people they professed to be protecting.
At will, they looted, maimed, killed and confiscated cattle’s and livestock found in the town. The people ran to Afonja and complained bitterly that he should check the excesses of these Jamas but he took it with levity.
Afonja, who thought he was at the peak of his power, became naughty and sought no advice from his chiefs anymore. He refused to listen to his able lieutenants and nobody could talk to him, especially on the recklessness of the Jamas.
Afonja was power-drunk and started scolding his warrior kinsmen in favour of his friend, and his people. Ironically, he never knew he was inching gradually towards his end through his obsession for political power. So he continued falling to the seductive bait being spewed by his visitors, who later not only ousted him from his home but also murdered him.
Eventually Afonja stood against Alimi and his Jamas of Jihadist, but it was too late. They were already rooted and had all the power they needed. Afonja fought back but he was overpowered and defeated.
It was said that he fell like a hero. Covered in darts that his body was supported in an erect position upon the shafts of spear and arrows showered upon him.
So much dread had his personality inspired that these treacherous Jamas whom he had so often led to victory could not believe he was really dead; they continued to shower darts upon him long after he had ceased fighting.
They were afraid to approach his body, as if he would suddenly spring up and shake himself for the conflict afresh.HAVE YOU READ: AN INTERVIEW WITH OLUWO OF IWOLAND, OBA DR. ABDULRASHEED ADEWALE AKANBI
However, Samuel Johnson emphasised that “The late Afonja was a native of Ilorin.” The city was built by his great grandfather, Laderin, whose posterity ruled in succession to the fourth generation. Laderin the founder was succeeded by Pasin, his son, a valiant chief, who opposed the renowned Basorun Gaha, when he was at the zenith of his glory.”
In 1838, Ago d’Oyo – New Oyo was founded and Oba Atiba Atobatele reigned as First Alaafin of the newly founded Ago d’Oyo.
Samuel Johnson recorded three attempts up to 1831 to retake Ilorin from the Fulanis. The first was the Ogele War, the second was the Mugbamugba War and the third was the Kanla war. About 1836, Oyo Ile, the original imperial capital was abandoned. But it is still today part of the Oyo State.
Each of the war was lost by the Yoruba largely because of what Samuel Johnson called: “the want of foresight and vaulting ambition of the rulers”. It is amazed how in the face of the danger which they all saw, the leaders kept thinking in terms only of their own selfish interest or their own importance and could not combine to fight a common enemy.
WRITTEN BY OKÙNADÉ JOHNSON
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