The kiriji war, which was an epic battle fought between two powerful Yoruba confederate armies which spanned for 16 years, happens to be the world’s longest civil war.

kiriji war
The Ijesha War Camp

According to most historians, the war is said to be the fiercest tribal war among the Yoruba ethnic group of Nigeria between Western Yorubas(Ibadan and its allies) and Eastern Yorubas(Ijehas and Ekitis (and other allies). The war started when the Ibadan police, navy, infantries and artillery soldiers led by General Obadoke Latoosa invaded the entire commonwealth of the Yoruba nation; pummeled the sacred institutions, raided the markets, and the deepest hinterlands and sought to proclaim a forcefully united Yoruba nation. Before the Kiriji war, ethnic wars have been traditionally fought with basic weapons such as bows, poisoned arrows, cutlasses, knives, spears, swords and of course black magic, however, the Kiriji war changed the perception of the past ethnic wars, as it was researched to be the first civil war among the Yorubas to herald the usage of weapons of precision such as cannons. Kiriji is said to be a term that was derived from the onomatopoeic booming of the cannons echoed by the rocky terrains of the war field. It is said that the war lasted for about 16 years with heavy causalities on both sides, although historians are of the opinion that the losses were even. It is on record that the remote cause of the war was the collapse of the Oyo empire,( which in its heydays remained the largest and the most powerful  political unit in Yoruba land)while the immediate cause was the domineering stance of the Ibadan military unit on Yoruba towns and cities; in other words, the immediate cause was the revolt against Ibadan’s desire to rule over other towns after the decline of the Oyo empire. Ibadan wanted a centralized political system with a central economy, a command military structure, a central administration, and a forcefully united Yoruba nation, while the other Yoruba subgroups wanted a decentralized structure where all the federating units would be autonomous and would be able to plan their political future based on their own heritage.

Ibadan had stationed its Ajeles (district officers) in other parts of the Yoruba land especially in Ekiti and Ijesha, which provoked the two towns who were not willing to accept Ibadan as the Yoruba head. The district officers represented the political authority of Ibadan in those towns and collected tributes. Ekiti and Ijesha were frustrated and provoked by the way the Ibadan district officers manhandled their town. It was said that the district officers harassed young men and had sexual affairs with their women. The Ekitis and Ijeshas were displeased with the atrocities committed by the Ibadan district officers, thus causing them to revolt and massacred them. They then established an alliance known as the Ekiti Parapo (Confederate of Ekiti) and waged war against the suzerainty and hegemonistic stance of Ibadan. Other Yoruba states such as Egba, Ijebu, and Ife later joined the war. Ibadan found itself fighting on five fronts; first in the south against the Egba, who confined their activities to raids and surprise attacks, secondly, against the Ijebu, in the same south who pitched a camp against them at Oru under Balogun Onafowokan, thirdly, the main war at kiriji in the east where the forces fought against the Ekiti parapo soldiers under the command of Saraibi Ogedengbe the seriki of Ijesha, fourthly at  offa in the north where they faced the Ilorin Fulani who pitched their camp against the people of Offa, and finally at Ile Ife where the Ife people joined the alliance against them in 1882.

Saraibi Ogedengbe

Although Ibadan was fighting on five fronts, the main action of the war took place in the northeast. Ibadan faced so many challenges during these wars because the Ekiti parapo forces were equipped with weapons more sophisticated than theirs and also considering the fact that had to fight on five fronts and probably because none of the Oyo forces on Ibadan’s side actually wished it well. However, in spite of Ibadan’s disadvantages during the war, these five forces could not defeat Ibadan.As the war dragged on, it became evident that only the intervention of an outside force could redeem the whole Yoruba nation.

Before the war eventually came to an end, attempts at mediation had started as early as 1879-80. The Lagos government at a point had to intervene in the war because it was having serious effects on the economic life on the colony. Although, the Lagos government was under instruction from  London and Accra to keep out of the conflict but Lagos government under commercial pressure had to make attempts to mediate, but all efforts proved abortive and from 1882 to 1884 the British did nothing.

In an attempt to end the war, the administration turned to the CMS. A ceasefire was arranged in 1846 through efforts of Samuel Johnson, the historian and Charles Phillips, later the Bishop of Ondo. The parties then signed a treaty in Lagos with Governor Maloney which provided for the independence of the Ekiti parapo towns and the evacuation of Modakeke to suit Ife. This proved impossible to carry out as Ilorin refused to stop fighting in the north where it was besieging Offa. Thus the war dragged on and the forces refused to disband.

In 1893, Governor Carter was able to successfully impose peace on both warring sides. It was said that Governor Carter trekked all the way from Lagos to the camps of both warring sides in Igbajo and Okemesi where he persuaded both the Ibadans and Ekitis to return to their homes. They were made to sign a treaty. This treaty allowed for the effective colonial control of the British over the Yoruba land. It is also important to note that the war brought peace within Yoruba land and till date, there has been no war among the Yorubas.

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