The ancient Oyo Empire, established by the Yoruba people, controlled a wide area between the Volta and Niger and rivers by the mid seventeen century. The capital of the state was moved from old Oyo (Katunga) in 1930s and the Alaafin (Lord of the palace) of Oyo kingdom still reside in the city. Population: (1995) 250,100. The modern town of Oyo, seat of the Alafin, lies on the site of an earlier settlement named Ago. For centuries the capital of the Oyo empire lay 130 km north of this town on a site that is today completely depopulated, but about 1837 this town, Old Oyo, was abandoned. The Alafin and his followers moved south and settled at the small Egba township of Ago. The new site lay south of direct Fulani pressure but the Alafin’s personal acquaintance with Ago also probably played an important part in its selection as the new capital. A northern quarter of the present town, between the Awerintu and Ishowin streams, appears to lie on the actual site of Ago. The Alafin went to great lengths to make his new capital resemble Old Oyo: apart from the toponymic change and multiplying the town’s area several fold he founded a small religious precinct on the outskirts of the town dedicated to the Yoruba God, Shango. Today he is remembered by one of the grandest buildings in the town, the Atiba Hall, which lies adjacent to the town’s main market and the Alafin’s palace.
The First Alaafins
The Oyo Alaafin is an integral portion of the Yoruba nation that descended from the historical figure, Oduduwa or Olofin. According to historians, the Yoruba arrived in their present homes in waves from the ancient Meroe of the east of Sudan. Ile-Ife was their first principal centre of civilization. Oranyan (the first Alaafin) was either the son or the grandson of Oduduwa: all of them, met indigenous population that they conquered and assimilated. In different monarchial tradition as they arrived in waves from their original homes in the Sudan, they instituted various kingdoms: Oyo, Ife, Ijesa, Ijebu, Owu, Owo, Ekiti, Ondo, Ketu etc.
As the arrow head of Oyo people and the head of their monarchy referred to as Alaafin, the exercise of power saw him (Oranyan) as touching Ife, Edo Kingdom and eventually Oyo. A fighter and a warrior, the administration of his kingdom came to a bloom under his sons: Dada Ajuwon, Ajaka, Sango, Afonja, Aganju (with regent Iyayun, a female, when the monarch died and before Kori came of age to rule) and Oluaso.
Ajaka enjoyed two terms on the throne before and after Sango. Sango had several distinctions as a monarch:
He shifted the capital from Oko in the vicinity of Ogbomoso to old Oyo on the famous tributary of Nigeria River, called River Moshe.
He established the hegemony of the Alaafin over the Owu near Ogboro and in conflict; the later fled to Iwu Ogbere i.e. an area between Ife and Ijebu.
Sango was the product of intertribal marriage between a Nupe lady and the Alaafin.
He extended the area of Oyo Empire and so was able to exercise power over stretches of Rivers Niger and Ogun;
Particluarly, Osun and Oya waterways were named after his deified wives. They represent viable religions and deities over a wide range of Yorubaland.
Aganju was noted for erecting one hundred and twenty high rise gables and installing bronze and brass pillars as a way of enhancing the beauty of the Oyo-Ile palace.
Oluaso was suave, princely and blessed with about ten twins. Handsome and wealthy, he was the Solomon of the Alaafin monarchy. Allowing for historical telescoping of areas of events forgotten or badly remembered, bards could trim the issues to ensure intelligent presentation. But the areas thus covered could nearly approximate about 100A.D. to 1500A.D.
The Igboho period 1500-1600
Arising from the friction of the time of Sango and Nupe, when Onigbogi had dispatched the 70 Eso to Ita-Ibidun war, Etsu Jubrila of Nupe descended on the city and drove Onigbogi to Gbere in Bariba country near Saki. The unsuccessful introduction of Ifa also caused disaffection. Ofiran who succeeded his father moved other people to Kasu and the deity of Ife and Egungun were decently organized. The later was introduced from Nupe. The corpse of Onigbogi was rearranged in Saki. One item of importance was Sokia, an official with a coat of mail Sokia ti iwo ewu irin.
Igboho was founded by Egungun-oju. Here four Obas were buried and the city as Oyo capital subsisted from the middle of 16th Century to about 1600.
Oromopoto’s reign was remarkable for his investment in military resources to cope with the imperial aspirations of the next century. The employment of organized horsemen and foot-men in military formation which he copied from the kingdom’s northern neighbours was the asset of the nation. Under Ajiboyede. The Nupes led by their King Lajuo invaded Igboho and the patriotism of Osi Efa Ahanlapa saved the people. He encountered the observance of Bere, a national festival which include national thanksgiving and propiation to the gods and their ancestors. He was the last of the Kings buried in Igboho.
Abiipa had been instructed by his father, Egungun-Oju, to return the people to Oyo Ile. This was why he was called Oba-moro because the negative antics of the Oyo Mesi to remain in Igboho was deflated and Oyo Ile re-settled in about 1590.
Imperial period, the son of Oba-Moro was Obalokun; whose reign recorded the following:
a. The arrival of the first white man.
b. The sending of envoys to Portugal and France.
c. The introduction of common salt.
The first political agent, “Ajele” was sent to Ijala, near Ilaro. Ajegbo the next Oba succeeded his father Obalokun. He was war-like and launched several military expeditions. He expanded the empire to cover. Weme in the Popo country. Ile Olopa, Onko and Ikereku, his maternal town. Under him the first Aare-Ona kakanfo, Kokoro-gan-gan of Iwoye was appointed. He led the Eso and everybody in war.
Ojigi was another Oba of this period who demonstrated both military and administrative prowess assisted by his Basorun, Yau Yamba, the empire expanded in all directions while the economic buoyancy of the period of Abiodun Golden Age had commenced. Dahomey was conquered and ports secured in the south. Under Onisile, great cultural advances were made. Beads were used on “Sekere: instead of cowries. He was a great warrior and the calvary grew under him. Gaha succeeded Yamba, his father, as Basorun and four Obas were liquidated by him before Abiodun Adegolu (1774-1789), got rid of him. Commerce and Agriculture boomed under Abiodun and the nation assumed its greatness. He kept a zoo of wild lions and elephants.
Under Awole the empire suffered some strain and the Egbas got their independence in 1796. This period to 1837 saw the empire’s greatest trails: the loss of parts of the empire, the loss of trade, the coming of the jihadist Muslims, the coming of the white men and the revolution that forced the population to move to the south to originate Ibadan, Abeokuta, Ijaye and Ago-d-Oyo.
At the height of the empire, the provinces, though fluid, were Ekun Osi, the metropolis and the areas around; the Ekun Otun the western side of the River Ogun: the Ibolo areas and Epo; Egbado, Yewa, parts of Dahomey and Southern Nupe.
Reasons for the success of Oyo Empire:
A good constitution, buoyed by the Alaafin, Oyo Mesi, the Aare-Ona Kakanfo and the provincial kings.
Control of calvary, trade routes and successful agriculture.
Contacts with the northern neighbours and the ports on the south.
There was peace and good government.
Islam has crept into the country from the time of Oyo Igboho and in Oyo Ile, the trend has escalated with the Afonja’s intransigence and Ilorin’s invitation to Sheik Al-Salah. Oyo City, too was basically converted to Islam. The fall of the Empire in the first half of the nineteen century was as a result of interplay of social forces that zeroed in on it.
The Wars were pamo, Mugba, Kanla, Abodo and Elewure. The best men from Saki, Ede,Ogbomso, Ibadan and Ikoyi were involved in the great exploits. The Egbas moved from Ibadan area to Abeokuta. Epo Region of Akeetan, Iseke, Apaara, Aguo Idode Ojongbodu were bursting at the seams from the population from the north and were eventually transferred by Atiba to populate Ago-d-Oyo.
Afonja allowed the foothold of the Jihadist and made the sacking of Oyo “Ile irreversible, but he lost his hegemony to the Fulani of Ilorin. The British explorer visited Oyo Ile in 1821 and Olewu fell in Eleduwa war in 1837. Oyo city thereby dissolved and re-emerged in the South near Ibadan and Ijaye in 1839.
The period of new Oyo 1839 till date
Oba Atiba, the son of Abiodun was the greatest human and political factor in the period referred to above. His sons, Adelu and Adeyemi reigned after him. He enlarged Oyo. Enlisted the new energies of Ibadan and Ijaiye, thus bracing up bravely the Oyo monarchy.
The pacification of Captain Bower from 1893, the Kiriji Wars and the rise of Ibadan, the liquidation of Ijaye between 1861-1863 involved in great wars and great men like Adeyemi I, Luyole, Ibikunle, Ogunmola, Kurumi Ajadi, Toyeje of Ogbomoso, Bamigboye of Ede and Aare Mohammed Latosa. The Osogbo War of 1840 had put a stop to the south-ward advancement of the Jihadists and this with the coming of the Christian Missionaries of the Anglicans, the Methodist and Baptists benefited the town including other Yoruba towns. From early 1900s modern-government has taken root. Captain Ross nurtured its growth.
Oyo city today is the centre of a flourishing civilization from its inception under the children of Atiba Adelu, Adeyemi I, Agogo Ija, Ladigbolu, I, Adeyemi II, Ladigbolu II and Adeyemi III. Great economic strides, two universities, several tertiary institutions, health and industrial facilities adorn the town in its march to a greater height.
The new express road is a marvel, and Oba Adeyemi III, J. P. has assumed the legend of his ancestors with a perfect grasp of the perplexing maze of political, monarchical and economic vicissitudes of the age; an enigma and incarnation of the wholesome attitude of Oluaso.