The city of Abeokuta is the capital of Ogun State in South Western Nigeria. Home to more than half a million people, it sits 78 km north of Lagos and is a major stop on the interstate road running from Lagos to Ibadan.
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An interesting fact about Abeokuta is the history that surrounds its name. In English, it means ‘refuge among rocks’. It harks back to the early days of the city when it was inhabited by people fleeing the once-great Empire of Oyo.
The empire was in disarray. War raged on, and slave hunters from Dahomey (now in the Republic of Benin) and Ibadan roamed the area, seeking people to capture. The destruction and dangers had devastated the homelands of the Egba people, a sub-ethnicity of the Yoruba people. For a while, they wandered, seeking a safe place to call home.
At first, the wandering band was led by Lamodi, a warrior; but he died before they found a final spot to sojourn. After a while, they did find refuge—the Olumo rock and its immediate surroundings. Their leader at the time was Chief Sodeke.
Historians say the Egbas arrived at Abeokuta in 1830. But this was just the first of a wave of migrants. Four years later, people from the Owu sub-ethnicity settled there too. In the decades that followed, missionaries from Great Britain, returnees from Sierra Leone, and descendants of slaves from Brazil all made the town their home.
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The early days of Abeokuta were fraught with conflict. On multiple occasions, the Dahomey people tried to conquer Abeokuta. But the nature of the turf gave the Egbas a strategic advantage. They defeated the Dahomey military in 1851, and in 1864.
During the Yoruba Civil Wars of 1877-1893, Abeokuta took a stand against Ibadan. The former sought help from the British. Although the Egba government based in Abeokuta was recognized by the British, they eventually made the town a part of the British Colony of Nigeria in 1914.
Riots broke out in Abeokuta in 1918. The protesters were objecting to the taxes levied by the British, and their indirect rule policy.
Decades later, in 1949, the Abeokuta Women’s Union (AWU) instigated the Abeokuta Women’s Tax Riot, a revolt against what they believed were unfair taxes imposed by the British colonialists. The action was led by two middle-class women, Funmilayo Ransome Kuti and Grace Eniola Soyinka.
In the years since these events took place, Abeokuta has remained a leading city of the South West. In 1976, it became the capital of Ogun State. Many notable people, past and living, hail from the city. They include Madam Tinubu, Moshood Abiola, Olusegun Obasanjo, Akintola Williams, Professor Wole Soyinka, Fela Kuti, Ernest Shonekan, Ebenezer Obey, and Dr Tunde Bakare, among others.
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