The British Ijebu war of 1892 otherwise known as the Battle of Imagbon is a major event in pre-colonial Nigerian History. The war started in 1892 when the British authorities were encountering problems in their dealings with the Ijebu tribe dwelling between 50 and 60 miles Northeast of Lagos on the Magbon River when they set a blockade on the trade route from the interior into Lagos which was a crown colony, and charged custom dues which served as their income. The ruler of the Ijebu people, Awujale closed down the Egirin market in 1890, cutting off Lagos from a source of up-country trade.
The British government was obviously not happy about these restrictions and persuaded Awujale to open the blockade, but he refused on several occasions. In an attempt to have a better negotiation with the Awujale, in May 1891, the British acting governor, Captain C.M Denton took with him his troops (mostly Hausa slaves who fled the North to South and were recruited by the British army), travelled to Ijebu kingdom to make an agreement with the Awujale concerning the restrictions and to allow free passage of goods to Lagos. However the Awujale refused to agree to the British requests and he also rejected the British presents given to him by Denton, doubtless fearing that to accept them would obligate him in some way.
The Awujale agreed to the demands of the British in January 1892 on the terms of receiving £500 annually as compensation for the loss of customs revenue. However, this agreement did not last long as they were unhappy with this outcome as they did not wish to change their traditional methods and practices, particularly when threatened by foreigners. Afterward, a White Missionary on his way to Ijebu kingdom was denied access. This act by the Ijebu people provoked the British authorities and resolved to the use of force on the Ijebu kingdom. Britain gathered troops of 450 men from Gold Coast (Ghana), Sierra Leone, Ibadan and Lagos commanded by Colonel F.C Scott CB and advanced to Ijebu kingdom. On the 12th may 1892, the captain and his men including some carriers sailed up the Lagos Lagoon and landed at Epe where they met another 186 men. Meanwhile, on the Ijebus had prepared 8,000 men with old rifles to combat the British.
The British underestimated the strength of the Ijebus which made their penetration into the interiors of Ijebu kingdom difficult, however, they were able to raze down four villages on the first day while few of their men sustained injuries. The following day, the British troops moved to Atumba with machine guns and killed many Ijebus. Britain lost 13 men, 9 British fighters and 12 Africans. At this point, the Ijebus were losing the battle, however, they devised a strategy to prevent the British army from crossing the Yemoyi River. The Ijebus dug the Yemoyi River deeper to make it difficult for the British forces to cross. It was said that they offered a human sacrifice to the river goddess to prevent the British army from crossing. However, this did not hinder the British troops from crossing the “sacred” Yemoyi River.
They successfully crossed the Yemoyi River and proceeded to Imagbon and continued the battle.
At the end of the war, the British army lost 56 men, and the Ijebus lost over 900 men, but the Ijebus were still determined to fight on, but the Awujale surrendered and admitted losing the war.
A few hours later, Ijebu Ode, had a Union Flag flying over it, the Awujale’s palace was being used as the British officers’ mess and the surrounding buildings housed the soldiers. Scott banned looting but this order antagonized the Ibadan irregulars who had to be disarmed. Flying columns marched along the trade routes declaring them open
The British troops were awarded the East & West African medal with clasp dated “1892”. Today on these medals can be found in Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge. Ijebu kingdom was later annexed to the colony of southern Nigeria.
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