The territory of the ijebu people is in the South-central of Yorubaland; bounded in the North by Ibadan, in the East by Ondo, Okitipupa and the west by Egbaland. The Southern fringe is opened to the sea with the coastlines of Epe, Ejinrin and Ikorodu and despite the political division which has placed these three towns in Lagos State while the main part of Ijebuland is in Ogun State, people have always regarded themselves as one entity even when the migration legends which have often been cited point in different direction.
The Ijebus have been, through migration legend, linked to the biblical Jebusites and Noah (hence Omoluwabi omo ti Noah bi the children of Noah) but these are farfetched. Other migration legends trace the Ijebu people to Mecca where Oduduwa, the legendary ancestor of the Yoruba was said to be the son of King Lamurudu. According to the legend, Oduduwa was expelled from Mecca when he resorted to idolatry. This is an objectionable story since it implied that the Yorubas must have come into existence as group after faithful Muslims expelled Oduduwa some 1500 years ago.
The migration legend that the Ijebu people came to their present territory from a region of Sudan called Owodaiye, corrupted to Waddai, is preferred by the traditional historians, indicating the Ijebus had a parallel migration wave like other Yorubas who believed they came to theirs abode via Oduduwa.
A claim which seems to be corroborated by a Hailemariam publication who wrote that “the most powerful people that the Negede Ort, (Ancient Ethiopian Africa) met in East Africa were the Ijebus”. Their king was claimed to be very influential that he appointed the Governors of Yemen. It is however not known if that king was the same Olu-Iwa, the legendary first ruler of Ijebuland.
Negede Orit’s sojourn into Ethiopia was several centuries before king Solomon and the famous Makida, the Queen of Sheba ( about 900 B C) where he met the Ijebus on the East Coast of Southern Sudan, a legend that negates the earlier story of the descent from Mecca.
A lot of evidence abounds in support of the fact that the Ijebus migrated into Nigeria from Sudan, the Sudanese tribal mark being the most obvious although it is varied and duplicated all over Yorubaland. For the Ijebus, the three vertical marks on both cheeks are the national marks. Additionally, the original languages which Arabic superseded and spoken in the boarder of South Sudan and Ethiopia is very much like the Ijebu dialect. Names like Esiwu, Saba, Meleki (corruption of Menelik) are still synonymous to the Ijebus and the Southern Sudanese. A musical fluteformerly used during the coronation of the Awujale is still being used in Ethiopia and Southern Sudan.
The ancestors of the Ijebus who now inhabit Ijebu-Ode and district came into Nigeria from ancient Owodaiye Kingdom of Ethiopia which came to an end due to the Arab supremacy in Middle-East and the Sudan where Owodaiye was situated. The kingdom of Owodaiye (Corrupted into Waddai) was bounded in the East by Tigre and the Kingdom of Axum; in the North by Nubia in the South-Eastern border it was bounded by the land of punt while there was no clear boundary in the West. The Ijebus share their culture and religion with these people; tribal marks with Tigrians and ancient Axumites, funeral rites, the Agemo cult and the Erikiran are shared with Egyptians, the Nubians and Puntites.
The Yorubas in Nubia were the nearest people to the Ijebus in Owodaiye, But there were basic differences between the two people: whereas the Yoruba group practices circumcision on both their male and female, the Ijebus only practice it on only male, the Yorubas used to bore the lower of their ears in both sexes while the male never bore in Ijebu.
The first major groups of Sudanese that came to Nigeria were led by Iwase who came to Ife several centuries before the major Sudanese immigrations under Oduduwa and Olu-Iwa, who entered the country about the same period as the Yoruba under Oduduwa. There are many reasons to believe that they arrived before the main Yoruba group. The most important being the one on the Yoruba tradition that when Oduduwa was alive, he became partially blind sometime and consulted the Ifa priest, Agbonmiregun, with a view to finding the remedy for the ailment. Brine was recommended and Oduduwa had to send his Son, Obokun to the sea to get the sea water. Obokun wandered in vain for many years until he came to the Ijebu king for help who promptly aided him a messenger that guided him to the sea, and on his return to Ijebu he was also given some eye medications by the Ijebu King (Lewu Legusen), which on application restored the sight of Oduduwa.
The above tradition shows that the Ijebus were in Nigeria before the main Yoruba stock as the Ijebu King being referred to was the fifth Awujale. Oduduwa set out to visit the Ijebu King in appreciation of this service, but died about fifteen miles east to Ijebu-Ode. His followers settle down at idofe a town which has now become extinct.
The Ijebu legend tracing their origin to Waddai must have brought the known rivalry between them and the other Yoruba people. If indeed Lamurudu and Oduduwa descended from Omu, the younger brother of Olu-Iwa, there is some sense in the claim that the Ijebus are senior to the Yorubas and cannot therefore accept the junior order that puts them under the Ooni of Ife and Alaafin of Oyo.
The bulk of Yoruba people regard the Ijebus as peripheral Yorubas while the Ijebu themselves do not hide the fact the cohesion between them and others who call themselves central Yoruba has been the result of cultural and political interaction over the centuries.
Time itself has taken care of these legends as the various groups of people in western Nigeria have come to accept a common nationality as Yoruba, be they Ekiti, Ijesha, Egba, Ondo, Ijebu etc. Even among the Ijebus there are conflicting claims to the source of origin depending on the political intention of those concerned. Irrespective of these claims, the Ijebus are united under the leadership of the Awujale of Ijebuland and this unity has been the strength of the people as exhibited by the achievement of the people.
The ijebus are known for their business acumen which dated back to the early nineteenth century, and according to the testimony of contemporary observers of that time, a child is expected to have known the value of money and have attributes of a trader from age twelve.
The Yoruba people are very enterprising set of people who are self-reliant and innovative. By the middle of the nineteenth century, the Ijebus had become the major mover in the business world, and they have become more prosperous not only terms of understanding the dynamics of the emerging modern facilities, but also in terms of physical and social infrastructures. In those days, it is on record that the houses and streets of ijebu people were superior to those of the surrounding people and communities. They cultivated their lands adequately bred high-breed farm animals and were the first and foremost self-sufficient. The excess proceeds from their sundry efforts were spread around their neighborhoods. The ijebu people are generally noted for their intelligence and integrity.
The greatest economic asset of Ijebuland throughout the nineteenth century and far into the present century was timber on which 19th century Lagos depended and the major source of wealth of the first generation of the noveaux riches in ijebuland. The European observers found them more intelligent that the other Yoruba groups are described in the following phrase: “They are remarkable as a race for their integrity to a fault”.
By 1900, Ijebu-Ode had become the capital of ijebu land with a population of about 20,000, a ten percent of the entire ijebuland population. (The jebus of the Yorubaland; 1850-1950. Politics, Economy & Society, Prof. F.A Ayandele, 1992). Thereafter the ijebus went on to distinguish themselves in whatever trade they dabble into, becoming positive yardstick for measuring business acumen and ingenuity throughout the country as “people that can turn stone into money”.
The Ijebus are equally noted for their sociability throughout the Yoruba kingdom; they work hard and celebrate well. They are known to go to the long haul to make their events memorable, borrowing in some instances if the need arises.
An index of the growth, prosperity and tranquility of nineteenth century Ijebuland was the systematic organization of age grade known as Regberegbes every three years with tiles reflecting significant events. They constitute a major instrument of social cohesion and mobilization in ijebuland. These groups always come together to help one another in the event of any serious need for concerted and joint efforts. With these groups, the society is further strengthened while community project and facilities are initiated and maintained. A few examples; Egbe Moradegun which was for all people born from 1813 to 1816 referred to the leisure the ijebu had for fashion in infinite variety “tasteful pleasing and popular.” Or Egbe Mafowoku “Never be in dearth of money “, the name assumed by all born from 1845 to 1848 because prosperity reached a peak.
Naturally, in a society in which the Awujale mirrored the state of the commonwealth, most of the names of the age grades centered around the paramount rulers. For instances, Egbe Bobajolu “Help the King maintain unity among the town people” for those born from 1849 to 1853, or Egbe Gbobaniyi, “Raise the king in honour” for those born from 1855 to 1860; or Egbe Arobayo, “Those who see the King and rejoice” for those born from 1873 to 1876.
The Regberegbes have always been the lynchpin of traditional ijebu democratic forum of government. The present Awujale, Oba Adetona has revived the Regberegbe for the continuous rapid development of Ijebu. This strategy has been yielding fruitful results and the Regberegbe are in healthy rivalry for contribution to ijebu upliftment. Oba Adetona’s resuscitation of the system is a positive move to blend the ancient and the modern to enable Ijebu progress.
The Regberegbe form part of the organization body for the annual Obanta Day Celebration through their membership in social clubs. They are also actively involved in the annual Ojude-oba celebration which comes up on the third day of the Muslim Eldel-Kabir festival. The different age groups of the Regberegbe go to the Awujale Palace to pay homage to the paramount Ruler of Ijebus in their attractive fashionable costumes.
ORGIN OF THE NAME “IJEBU-ODE”
The name “Ijebu-Ode” according to Olusola, is a combination of the names of two persons namely, AJEBU and OLODE who were conspicuous as leaders of the original settlers and founders of the town. OLODE was said to be a relative of OLUIWA, the first ruler of Ijebu. It is difficult to say for certain which of them preceded the other, but tradition has it that Ajebu, Olude and Ajana met on this land which was uninhabited dense forest and consulted Ifa Oracle to determine the Actual spot on which each one of them should make an abode.
The Oracle directed that Ajebu should go and settle on a spot now known as IMEPE, Olode and Ajana to remain together at a place known today Ita-Ajana. The grave of Ajebu is still marked by a tomb erected by his descendants at Imepe, near Oyingbo market on the Ejinrin road. Olode’s grave is also marked at Olode Street at Ita-Ajana quarters, Ijebu-Ode. The town derives her name from the two persons more conspicuous among the original settlers being Ajebu and Olode, Hence “Ijebu – Ode.”
Ijebu- Ode town was divided into two main wards namely; Iwade and Porogun, but Iwade was divided into two Iwade Oke (Also called Ijasi) and Iwade Isale, that is Upper and Lower Iwade ( North and South ). By this divison there are three wards in Ijebo Ode town and that was why the town was spoken of as Iwade, Porgun and Ijasi till this day; Iwade Oke, Iwade Isale and Porogun. Each ward was divided into “Quarters” known as “Ituns
The political structures of the Ijebu people consist of the Awujale at the top of the chain and he is supported by the community based groups/societies which make up the constellation of the Ijebu Sovereignty. There were no political parties as in modern democracy but the ancient administrative setup which ruled Ijebu in those days was democratic in nature and principle. There were political groups/societies which had functions each in the administration of the town. The administration pattern in Ijebu-Ode was the same all in other towns under the sovereignty of the Awujale, but with slight variations in some cases. The groups were:
The Pampa – The People
The Osugbo – The Executives
The Ilamurens – The High chiefs
The Odis – The Palace Assistance (Officials) and servants
The Parakoyi – The equivalent of the Chamber of Commerce
The Peoples parliament, the Pampa was the mother and spring board of the other groups although it is the lowest in ranks. The Pampa was the people to whom we refer to as the electorate in modern democracy and from whom the others derive authority. Without the Pampa, the Osugbo and the Ilamuren and even the Oba did not exist. The Pampa was the voice of the common people which must be headed in the administration of the town. Titles in the Pampa society were as follows:
The Agbon, The Kakanfo, The Lapo-Ekun, The Jagun, and The Likotun. Other chiefs lower in ranks to the Jagun and Likotun were the Ashipas. Their functions were to be the medium of information between the mass of people the “Womparis” and the higher chiefs.
This is a cult a fraternity of Chiefs and Elders which was also the Executive Authority of the town. It has also a religious character. Two brass images known as EDAN was the centre of worship in the Osugbo cult. It was the highest group and cult and commanded the respect and obedience of all. Women were admitted into it by initiation but such women must have passed bearing age. Titles in Osugbo in order of precedence were:
They had different functions in the Osugbo, the Apena being the Chief Steward in the society. There was an inner circle known as the Iwarefa consisting of only six members as the name implied including the Apena and the Odele Olurin. The Oliwo and the Akonaran were not in the Iwarefa circle. The Osugbo was the Legal Executive. They enforced the law and execute judgments in capital crimes. They were also members of the Kingss court.
The Ilamuren is the class of high chiefs under the headship of the Olisa. Other chiefs in the class are the Ogbeni-Oja, Egbo, Olotufore, Apebi, and other chiefs that may have been initiated into the class having fulfilled all the conditions of initiation and provided “Eran Iboje”, (a feast of ram or goat).
The seat of the Ilamurens is ILISA, But when it comes to the Afin Palace of the Awujale, the Ogbeni-Oja takes the precedence over any chief. The Oja in the Ogbeni-Oja title is not market (its common meaning) but the PALACE (AFIN AWUJALE).
The Ogbeni-Oja title had remained vacant for long time in Ijebu history. Not much was known about its relevance and importance until Chief T.A Odutola became the Ogbeni-Oja. The position of the Ogbeni Oja in the society became clearer and recognised during the reign of Awujale Gbelegbuwa II. The highest title (not Hereditary) a free born Ijebu can aspire is that of Ogbeni-Oja. This was attested to by Prof. E.A. Ayandele in his book, “The Ijebu of Yorubaland 1850-1950; Politics, Economy and Society. Pg.117” Final reconciliation was effected when Odutola was able to purchase the highest title available to a commoner that of the Ogbeni-Oja, a position that put him defacto next rank only to the Awujale”.
Again Foluso Longe in his 1981 book, “A Rare Breed”: the story of Chief Timothy Adeola Odutola pg 13 wrote:
Little is known in the country about Adeola Odutolas political activities yet he dominated the politics of Ijebuland from about 1945 to the present time where in his position as Ogbeni-Oja he is in his own chieftancy line next to in rank to the Awujale as his Prime Minister and moving force in Ijebuland.
Ogbeni-Oja Odutola enjoyed very high and dominant position in the Royal Court of the Awujale. When Awujale Gbelegbuwa II acceded to the request of the Orimolusi of Ijebu-Igbo and granted him permission to wear a beaded coronet in 1950, it was Ogbeni-Oja chief Odutola who, as representative of the Awujale presided over the ceremony in Ijebu-Igbo and presented the beaded crown to Orimolusi Jewel Adeboye. When Oba Adesanya, Gbelegbuwa II joined his ancestors in Jan 1959, it was Ogbeni-Oja chief Odutola who became the chairman of the Regency council and presided over the affairs of Ijebu-ode during the interregnum.
The Western Region Government also accorded the office of the Ogbeni-Oja deserved recognition in the official letter to the Local Government Adviser announcing the appointment of the new Awujale Adetona on 4th January 1960, (Ref.C1341/333), The Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Local Government directed, I am to request that chief Odutola, the Ogbeni-Oja be informed that for the same reason the Minister regrets that he was unable to notify him of the appointment before the publication of the press release. Chief Odutola presented the new Awujale, young Oba S.K Adetona to the Ijebu people at Itoro, Ijebu-Ode on 14th January 1960. Historian must however note the consolidation and modernization which have been effected in hierarchy of the High-chiefs of Ijebu-Ode in recent years and during the reign of the present Awujale. By 1995 Oba Adetona had evolved and established an orderly and traditional system of succession among this class of high chiefs.
THE ODI SOCIETY
This was composed of the Obas attendants. Their descendants also come into this rank. They employed as messengers of the Oba. They first styled Agunrins and later became Odis by promotion. Another category in this class are the refugees (asaforiji) who sought refuge under the Oba because of one reason or other from their homes and or countries. From this Odi rank, some were promoted and could then leave the Obas palace and occupy land allotted to them by the Oba on which they lived with their family. They farmed on the Obas land for their living, but were always at the Oba’s services whenever he needed them. But the land will never pass to them.
This is society which was more commercial in nature than political. It was the equivalent of Chamber of Commerce. Members looked into anything pertaining to trades and market disputes. They have the Olori Parakoyi (head) and his Ashipas in running the organization.
THE ANCIENT TOWN COUNCIL
What could be described as the town council in those days was the Council for the Olorituns known as “Oloritun Medogbon” that is the twenty-five Quarter heads”. In Ijebu Ode for example, there were twenty-five quarters and each has its own Quarter head called “Oloritun” whom the people respected and was recognized by the Awujale
The people of the Quarter met regularly in his house and dealt with petty matters amongst themselves. There, other matters of general public interest were discussed. All these Quarters heads also met to discuss all matters affecting the common interest of the town. Each Oloritun represented the people of his quarter. This organization formed the link between the people and the governing authority.
The Awujale and Paramount ruler of the Ijebuland represents the totality of the worthy ancestral heritage of a people that have carved a niche for themselves, not only among the renowned Yoruba people, but also across the length and breadth of the nation. Today, the Ijebu people have ever growing reverence for their monarch, which has become an insignia of an enviable past. Fortified with a very robust political structure, the Ijebu people otherwise known as Omo Obanta voluntarily look unto the royalty with adequate loyalty and allegiance. Inclusive of these systems are the economic structure, social organization, community relation, justice administration, infrastructure development among others. They are the people to be with.