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At the beginning of the nineteenth century, Yorubaland was made up of different sub-ethnic groups each of which spoke the same dialect of the Yoruba language.

 

The major sub-ethnic groups were Oyo, Egba, Egbado, Ijebu, Ilesa, Ekiti, Ondo, Akoko and Owo.

 

Over the centuries, Oyo, the most successful and wealthy had been able to build up it's power through the use of a cavalry force.

 

The old Oyo Empire at the height of its greatness included Yoruba states such as Egbaland, Egbado and Oyo from which the kingdom had expanded.

 

There were also non-Yoruba tributary states like Dahomey and other Aja-speaking states, parts of Nupe and Borgu.

 

Trade routes from Benin, Port-Novo and Whydah passed through Old Oyo to the Western Sudan and Hausaland.

 

Ife was also important as the ancestral home of all Yoruba people and was accordingly regarded as sacred.

 

In fact, Oyo and Ife were able to maintain a balance of power and considerable stability in Yorubaland.

 

This balance was destroyed with the fall of Oyo empire in the nineteenth century.

 

Many parts of Yorubaland were thrown into civil wars which divided and devastated the territory, with far-reaching consequences.

 

The fall of Old Oyo

The fall of Old Oyo could be traced to the collapse of the monarchy towards the end of the eighteenth century.

 

Oyo Empire was ruled by the Alaafin with the help of a council of senior chiefs called Oyomesi whose president was called Bashorun.

 

During the eighteenth century, the chiefs, especially the Bashorun, started growing more powerful at the expense of the Alaafin.

 

It was possible for the Bashorun as the prime minister and head of the Oyomesi to control the affairs of State, leaving the Alaafin a mere figure head.

 

One of such chiefs, Bashorun Gaha had become so powerful that he was able to depose four Alaafins who ruled before Abiodun came to power in 1774.

 

But Abiodun was energetic enough to have him executed.

 

What is more, the leader of the Onamely:alry, the Are-ona-Kakanfo who was charged with the expansion and defence of the empire was not allowed to live in the capital.

 

The Alaafin could not therefore effectively control him nor the cavalry.

 

The growing power of the Bashorun and the Are-ona-Kakanfo weakened the Alaafin politically and militarily.

 

Consequently there was internal instability which provided the opportunity for the tributary states to rebel and for outside enemies to attack the empire.

 

The most outstanding challenges to the Alaafin's authority came from Afonja, the Are-ona-Kakanfo, who had lost the struggle for the throne.

 

Afonja was more or less the governor in Ilorin, a Yoruba province.

 

By 1817, Afonja had built up a private military force made up of Muslims and some Hausa slaves.

 

With the help of a Fulani Muslim cleric, Alimi, and some Oyo Chiefs, he successfully revolted against the Alaafin and proclaimed the independence of Ilorin.

 

But he soon quarrelled with his allies probably because of his refusal to reconcile with some Yoruba chiefs.

 

The disagreement caused a revolt of his troops who eventually killed him.

 

The Fulani thereafter captured Ilorin, the northern stronghold of the Oyo Empire.

 

Ilorin became an emirate of the Sokoto empire, with Abdulsalami, son of Alimi, as Emir.

 

All efforts made by the Alaafin to recapture Ilorin failed.

 

Instead the Fulani went on to destroy the ancient capital of Old Oyo (Oyo Ile) which surprisingly they did not occupy.

 

Afonja's successful revolt encouraged other provincial leaders and tributary states to start breaking away.

 

When the capital of Old Oyo fell, thousands of its people were forced to migrate southwards to the forest edge for greater security, leaving the northern part depopulated.

 

It was in these new areas that the Yoruba refugees established new towns, displaced some Yoruba from their original homeland or lived amongst others.

 

Atiba the new Alaafin eventually established a new capital in this forest area at Ago Oja (later called Oyo) where he tried to revive the greatness and system of government of Old Oyo but was faced with many odds. new settlements after the fall of the empire that the Yoruba found themselves torn by civil wars.

 

Successor states emerged and struggled for supremacy and control of trade and trade routes.

 

The attempts to resolve the conflict led to fresh wars.

 

The warrior refugees looking for new fortunes often aggravated the situation by joining the various factions in the wars.

 

Although these wars were generally aimed at restoring peace in Yorubaland, when each of them ended, new problems emerged which also involved more areas in war.

 

By the last stages of the wars, it had been realised that no side could completely defeat the other.