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Brief history and facts about the Egbas of Southwest Nigeria

The origin of the word Egba is disputed. The first meaning might have come from the word Ẹ̀gbálugbó, meaning wanderers towards the forest. This points to the fact that the ancestors of the Egba people came from the region of the Oyo Empire to the “Egba Forest” and formed what is now known as the city of Abeokuta.
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Ab initio,the origin of the word Egba is disputed.The first meaning might have come from the word Ẹ̀gbálugbó, meaning wanderers towards the forest. This points to the fact that the ancestors of the Egba people came from the region of the Oyo Empire to the “Egba Forest” and formed what is now known as the city of Abeokuta.The story of Abeokuta, the abode of the Egbas, started with their liberation from the sovereignty and over Lordship of the Alaafin of Oyo Empire, to which the Egbas belonged. According to historians,the liberation took place between 1775 and 1780, under the leadership of Lisabi, a resident of Igbehin, but who was born in Itoku. He organised a movement under the name of Egbe “Aaro” tradition mutual aid society.

Lisabi later used the mutual aid assistance to free the Egba by organising the simultaneous killing of the Ajales or the Ilaris in all Egba towns, in 1780, starting from Igbehin. In all, more than 600 llaris or Ajeles were wiped out in a day. The Ilaris were the representative of the Alaafin of Oyo and collectors of the tributes paid to the coffers of Alafin from all territories under the Oyo Empire.The Ajales or Ilaris in general, behaved like an army of occupation in the places they administered. Their tyrannical rules mark them out as instruments of oppression and suppression of the people. It was this authoritarian rule of the Alafin and reckless lifestyle of the Ilaris in Egbaland that threw up Lisabi and his peers who were resolved to bring an end to this rule at all cost. The adoption of the universal popular Aaro system of cooperation by the “Egbe Ologun” (Arms Bearers Club) was the strategy Lisabi used to plot against the Ilaris in his Igbehin town. All the other Egba towns rose and killed the Ilaris in their midst, it was an ambush from within.

As soon as the news reached metropolitan Oyo the Oloyo wasted no time in dispatching an army to crush the Egba Rebellion. But Lisabi anticipated the reprisal and had factored it into his plan. The army of vengeance was routed and the freedom of the Egbas from the yoke of the Alafin was sealed. This was between 1775 and 1780. The period between 1780 and 1828 in the history of Egba was the post-Lisabi era in the Egba forest. Around 1829, Lamodi of Igbehin and Balogun of the Egba, living in Maye’s camp in Ibadan, decided that the Egba should find a way of escape from Maye’s bondage. The Egbas had heard about Abeokuta earlier on in their quest for a place with good security to settle in. They sent chief Sobookun, the Baamokun of Ilugun, and others to bring a handful of earth and the result was propitious.

History revealed that the Egbas did not get to Abeokuta at the same time. The first batch to arrive at Abeokuta consisted of Egba Alake, Oke Ona, and Gbagura, in that order. Later Olufakun led the Owu to Abeokuta, while others followed. Lamodi lost his wife in an epic battle while trying to prevent his first son, Osota, from being captured by Maye’s army, who were pursuing the Egba. But before he died, he handed over the mantle of leadership to Sodeke. The seriki of the Egbas, Sodeke, in 1830 led the Egba Alake into Abeokuta. Balogun Olunloye, the Balogun Ilugun, led Ogba Oke-Ona whilst Oluwole Agbo, Balogun Ojo Gbagura, led the Gbagura to Abeokuta, like Joshua in the bible. Sodeke of Iporo finally led the Egbas to Abeokuta in 1830. It was revealed that an Iloko chief named Idowu Liperu had earlier been living at the settlement. He had crossed the Ogun River and settled on a farmland, where three hunters, namely Jibulu, Ose and Olunle joined him. Unlike Liperu, who erected a house with the assistance of the then Olubara Lafa, the three hunters lodge in caves under the Olumo Rock. It was them who told the Egba delegate who came to take soil samples about the Olumo Rock.

Later, Adagba and others moved to the rock to join Liperu and the three hunters, who had settled there. Adagba was a brave man, who had his farmland located very close to Olumo Rock. The settlement was called “Oko Adagba,” the other name for Abeokuta while Olumo Rock took its name from being naturally furnished with apartments. “Olumo “means built by the Lord.” Other historians maintained that the meaning of olumo is “Oluwa Fimo” meaning God put an end to our hostility against the Egbas and their suffering.” Abeokuta is also known as “Abe Olumo”.

After the demise of chief Sodeke, Abeokuta has had no leaders for quite a number of years. The administration of the town was left in the hands of chiefs like Ogunbona, the Balogun of Ikija, Okukene the Sagbua of Ake; Someye, the seriki who later became Bashorun who succeeded Apati, Bada of Kemta and others.

The Egbas realised that they are not united as they had been when Sodeke brought them together. The thought of having an Oba came to them and the lot fell on Okukene, the Sabua of Ake and head of Egba Ogboni – an industrious woodcarver. He installed the Alake of Abeokuta on August 8, 1854.

Oba Okukene’s reign witnessed the advancement of Christianity, commerce and the advent of European merchants in Abeokuta. He died in 1862. An interregnum of about seven years elapsed between the death of Okukene and the installation of another Oba in the person of Ademola 1 – who reigned between 1869 and 1877.

He was succeeded by Oyekan who reigned between 1879 to 1881. It was the turn of Luwaji to reign between 1885 to1889. Osokalu ruled between 1891 and 1898. Egba became a nation during Oba Osokalu. Gbadebo 1, ruled between 1889 to1920. Sir Ladapo Ademola II reigned from 1920-1962. Oba Adeshina Gbadebo II reigned from 1963 to 1971. Oba (Dr.) Oyebade Lidepe ruled between 1972 and the year 2005.

The Egba anthem is titled – “L’ori oke ati petele, ibe l’agbe bi mi si o…” meaning – “on a land, hilly and low; that’s where I was born…” The Egba people are popularly called “Omo Lisabi,” meaning – “the children of Lisabi”; who was a very brave and great warrior. He led the Egbas to victories in so many wars and eventually turned himself into a legend. Lisabi’s name is immortalised in the Egba’s anthem, as the “father of the Egba people.” Under his leadership, Egbaland was founded in 1830, with the support of other great warriors like Sodeke, Ogundipe Alatise (“Arapasanwu”), among others.
Nigeria’s first medical school, known as Abeokuta Experimental Medical School was established in 1861. Both water and electricity schemes were executed in this ancient city in 1910, leading to the establishment of Abeokuta Water Works, which was opened in 1914.

The first government-owned hospital in Nigeria was built in Abeokuta in 1908, to complement the Sacred Heart Hospital, which was built by the missionary in 1895, as the first standard hospital in Nigeria. Moreover, the first secondary school, Abeokuta Grammar School, was established in 1908 and the first female secondary school, Abeokuta Baptist Girls High School, was established in 1912.Therefore, Abeokuta ranked among the few cities in Nigeria with the highest number of both primary and secondary schools, before Nigeria’s independence in 1960. In addition, the first church in Nigeria, St. Peter’s Anglican Church, Abeokuta was built in 1898. Moreso, Sokori bridge, Abeokuta, which was constructed in 1903 was the first bridge to be constructed in Nigeria.

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