Jalumi War: Remembrance and Lessons

(Published in the Nigerian Tribune on Monday, 1 November, 2021)

Today, November 1, 2021, is the 143rd anniversary of the Jalumi War. Some historians call it the Battle of Ikirun but Jalumi (meaning: plunge into river) is the more popular name for the one-day war that commenced at dawn on Friday, November 1, 1878 and was won and lost before dusk same day. Those who drowned in Otin River that day might be soldiers of the Emir of Ilorin but the war was not strictly a Yoruba-versus-Fulani war. It was, in fact, a Yoruba-versus-Yoruba war. The Fulani army of Ilorin was invited as an ally by one of the sides, but the invitee saw more than being an ally in that expedition. There were old scores waiting for settlement.

Descendants of the witnesses to that age of guile are today seeking to use the wise Fulani fingers to pick 2023 presidential chestnuts from the fires of Nigerian politics. It won't work. Click To Tweet

It was a war without a heart; a killing field from which one-child parents went home empty-handed. Jalumi was fought between the Ibadan/Oyo army and the allied forces of Ijesa, Ekiti and Ila who invited the Fulani forces of Ilorin to join their campaign. But while the objective of the “rebellious” Yoruba groups was to liberate their people from the stifling overlordship of Ibadan, the Ilorin establishment jumped at the invitation as an opportunity to finish off all the sides and fulfill its imperial ambitions. It was the same design sixteen years earlier at Ijaye when Ilorin joined its old foe, Kurunmi, against Ibadan. History, indeed, quotes the reigning emir as telling his people why they must be part of that war. Check Samuel Johnson (on page 338) where the emir said: “The Kaffirs (infidels) are at war with one another, and we should combine against this Ibadan which has often baulked us of our prey.” What was that prey? He and his people had no problem knowing what the illusive prey was. And they fixed their gaze on it, repeatedly aiming at getting it, even today. The emir also said something about using the Ibadan-Ijaye war to “yet carry the Quran to the sea” as if there were no Muslim Yoruba at that time. But he was right in his designs; he had a mandate to expand the frontiers of his heritage using the sword of Tortoise to kill Tortoise. So, do not blame the wily Fulani, the alliance-seeking Yoruba crawler was the ass.

How the Jalumi war was fought, won and lost is not hidden in history. Almost a century and a half after that day of blood and death, what lessons were learnt should be the focus here. That war was a war of liberation from Ibadan by the Ekiti, Ijesa and Ila. But how did they become vassals of Ibadan in the first place? Was it not the quest for protection from the same marauding outsider who became an ally in this war? The Fulani was supposed to be a common enemy, but he was also a willing partner to any Yoruba group desirous or worthy of his comradeship. He did that throughout the Yoruba wars of the 19th century. A rash of treacherous alliances delivered 19th century Ilorin from Alaafin’s plots to win back that part of his empire. In one moment, Ilorin supported its arch-rival, Ibadan, in a war called Batedo and mounted a futile siege on Ogbomoso. For that favour, it sought and got Ibadan’s alliance in the Opin War – a punitive expedition against some Ekiti towns. No enmity was too bitter to be thawed with alliance requests. There were many more of such handshakes across lines of indecency. Danmole and Falola’s 1985 paper: ‘Ibadan-Ilorin Relations in the Nineteenth Century: A Study in Imperial Struggles in Yorubaland’ provides a deep insight into the intriguing complexities of the military politics of that era.

The road to peace lies in addressing the causes of war. Click To Tweet

Ilorin’s presence in Jalumi was a continuation of a military diplomatic tradition rooted firmly in the end always justifying the means. The Fulani does that till today. You can examine the cold-blooded alliances that birthed (and still rule) the political parties called the PDP and the APC and their current tremors. The Fulani does not forage the forest picking palm nuts that have no kernels. Yoruba war bards knew how poisonous, dangerous and slithering in maneuvers the King Cobra could be. The fast and agile reptile sees no danger subsisting on other snakes while also preying on other breathing stuffs. If you read or heard ‘Arewa ejo’ (beautiful snake) as a praise name of the Fulani, he got that salute from those who experienced him in Yorubaland during that period of encampment and decampment. Yet, descendants of the witnesses to that age of guile are today seeking to use the wise Fulani fingers to pick 2023 presidential chestnuts from the fires of Nigerian politics. It won’t work.

Yorubas do not forget; worse, they do not forgive even their own. Paraphrasing Jonathan Swift, I would say the Yoruba have “just enough religion” to make them hate, but not enough to make them love one another. Their troubles throughout history is from here. Historians say that battles between different Yoruba groups started in 1793 at Apomu in present-day Osun State. Over what? Ask them. For the next 100 years, Yorubaland and its people knew no peace again. About two decades after the Apomu incident, nearby Owu, a thriving community of valiant people, sinned and was comprehensively visited with destruction by Yoruba armies east, west, north and south. Destroying Owu was not enough. A decree accompanied it that it must forever remain in ruins, “never to be rebuilt.” On June 4, 1851, David Hinderer, the first European missionary in Ibadan, wrote of what he saw of what remained of Owu: “This afternoon, I rode out to the place of old Owu which is only two miles from my lodging. Owu was an old very large town composed of the whole tribe of that name. It was destroyed about thirty years ago and is now converted into farms by the Ibadan people but main ruins still remain…To think of the awful and bloody scenes such a large place must have witnessed at the time of its destruction makes one shudder and feel indignant…” (See Akinjogbin’s War and Peace in Yorubaland, 1998 at page 40). The lion ate its cub; it still does. The convulsion which ravaged the Yoruba and their land continued throughout that century. Jalumi, which has its anniversary today, was a spur on that road of self-murder, despoilation, destruction and desolation. The war was one of the opening salvos of another long night which history recorded as the 16-year Ekiti-Parapo War. It was also the very last time the Ilorin forces would make a direct elaborate move to subdue or take any part of Oyo Provinces as a booty.

Before Jalumi, the Oyo/Yoruba had suffered several defeats at the hands of the Fulani. By 1820s, history says Old Oyo was caving in under the yoke of the Fulani. It completed the unraveling soon after. History adds that the Yoruba were wracked by a combination of fratricidal intrigues and treachery. Self-hate and self-immolation had overwhelmed and subdued the Yoruba thoroughly by the time their real nemesis entered through the front door. Cornish explorer, Richard Lander, saw and wrote about the Yoruba of that moment. He said they had “neither foresight, nor wisdom, nor resolution, to put themselves in a posture of defence” against the Fulani challenge. What did Lander see to have activated that damning verdict? The same Lander had, in another breath, acknowledged that “the Yaribeans (Yoruba) have the reputation of being the best bowmen in Africa.” Yet, for all their expertise, they had to abandon their ancestral home for the enemy to inherit. So, it is true that it is not enough to be a man of strength. If you are strong but lack introspective wisdom, you are the very father of the weak.

Over time, Ilorin forces were forced to slow down in their hostile, kinetic maneuvers against Yoruba communities. But the Yoruba himself did not think he should go home and prosper in peace. He must be a predator to his brother and a curse unto himself. And so, civil wars continued here and there which were only brought to a close by the superior powers of the British. A peace treaty was signed in September 1886 under the supervision of the British which by 1893, also signed a firm agreement for peace with Ibadan. Exactly a hundred years after that treaty and the agreement, the Yoruba were forced into another ‘war’ (on June 12, 1993) by the contradictions of Nigeria. We are not even sure that that war has ended or will ever end. Today’s loud demand for restructuring or, even, for self-determination is a major distributary of that strong stream.

The road to peace lies in addressing the causes of war. What were the causes of the Jalumi War of 1878? Injustice, greed. I go back to my favourite author, Jonathan Swift and his opinion here. To him, “war is the child of pride, and pride the daughter of riches.” In other words, wealth or the pursuit of it, makes man proud; and the arrogance of the rich and famous precipitously ignites war. And did the 1878 war end its reasons? If it did not, can the successors to that history help it by repeating the errors of that past?

War and peace are bitter antonyms. Yet it is one of the ironies of man that he has to fight wars in search of peace. War itself is a subversion of everything that edifies living. On 23 September, 1986, Oba Isaac Adelani Famodun II, Owa of Igbajo (1957-1988) at the centenary celebration of the 1886 Yoruba Peace Treaty made a very profound statement along this line. And I am quoting him directly here: “You may have all the land of this earth, but if you do not have peace, you will be running from one corner of your land to another, running after something or something running after you. Until you have peace, you may not enjoy, or enjoy fully, that which you claim to have.” He was very right. Northern Nigeria, for instance, claims to have power and a land area of 660,000 square kilometers (out of Nigeria’s 923,768 square kilometers of land area). Despite this, today, the north and its people run from one corner of the nation to another – in search of peace.

Lasisi Olagunju Photo

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