Olubiyo, Kolade Gabriel PhD

Department of History and International Studies

Bowen University, Iwo,

Osun State, Nigeria.



Oluyole, Stephen Sunday

Department of History,

Kogi State College of Education,

Ankpa, Kogi State


Early studies on Nupe conquest of Okunland focused on slave raiding and imposition of Ogba system of administration in which fiefs were appointed to administer and collect taxes and tributes on behalf of the Nupe imperial power. Of very important in the course of Nupe-Okun invasion were military warfare, tactics, and resistance, which has received less attention in the academic literature. It is against this background that the thrust of this paper is to provide insights into military warfare and tactics deployed during the Nupe-Okun war. The study adopted qualitative research method to contends that the Nupe demonstrated a superior military tactics during warfare, to overrun the Okunland and continued to control it until the British colonial military forces dislodged the Nupe suzerainty in the Okunland.

Keywords; Conquest, Military, Tactics, Warfare, and Resistance


Most of the precolonial African kingdoms and states possessed formidable armies, not only to defend the territorial integrity of the states but also to prosecute wars when the need arose. Several reasons have been adduced as to why precolonial African states and kingdoms prosecuted wars. Aliyu Idrees pointed out that most of the precolonial African states and kingdoms prosecuted wars to consolidate power and establish central government, expand their territories, acquire slaves, and impose imperial rule, among others.[1]  It is not surprising that large-scale wars and internal rebellion became rampant among African states and kingdoms in the precolonial period. In fact, some African states and kingdoms were known to be famous for their military prowess and strengths during wars. There is no denying that an elaborate military system, such as an efficient military commander and well-trained troops, as well as effective weapons and good tactics, are determinant factors for success in military expeditions. In the nineties, Nupe Kingdom was one of the African states that prosecuted several wars to quell internal rebellion as well as obtaining slaves and levies from the conquered states. This was possible because of its elaborate and efficient military systems, akin to military organisation.     

       The Nupe kingdom launched a military expedition, conquered Okunland, and thereafter imposed imperial administration on the people, a situation similar to that of the Ajele system in Yorubaland. Though there were forms of resistance by the Okun people, the Nupe continued to exercise control over the Okun people and the Okunland. However, Nupe armies were dislodged by the British forces in 1897 to mark an end to the Nupe imperial rule in Okunland.[2]  In this context, this study is set out to historicize the Nupe military warfare and tactics used to annihilate the Okun people as well as the resistance by the people, which have not received adequate academic attention. The study is organised into the following themes: introduction; Okunland and its people in the nineteenth century; relationship between Nupe and Okun people; motives for the Nupe invasion of Okunland; Nupe military system, warfare, and tactics; major battles and resistance; reasons for the Okun People’s defeat; end of Nupe imperial rule; and conclusion. 

Okunland and Its People in the Nineteenth Century

The word ‘Okun’ is a connotation generally used to describe sub-Yoruba communities found in Kogi State, North Central Nigeria. The Okun people and dialects consist of the Owe, Ijumu, Bunu, Yagba, Gbedde, and Oworo.[3]  They are collectively called ‘Okun’, which in Yoruba means strength or vitality, and it is the word commonly used in greetings among the people. Although this form of greeting is also found among the Ekiti and Igbomina groups of Yoruba people, Okun as an identity was probably first suggested by Eva Kraft-Askari during the 1965 field expedition, and since then, it has gained wider acceptance among the indigenous Yoruba people and scholars.[4] 

        A. Obayemi, while describing the Okun people, maintains that for convenience, the people, even with little dialectical variation, are lumped together as Okun-Yoruba.[5]  In other words, Okun people are a confederation of different groups who lived independently of each other with their own organisation, though with bounding similarities. The individual sub-groups of Okun share some historical, cultural, and linguistic affinity but still maintain individual peculiarities.[6] Their dialects are distinguishable as individual dialects, but they are mutually intelligible to an extent. The dialects are generally classified as part of the North-East Yoruba language grouping.[7] 

According to oral tradition, individual Okun sub-groups laid claim to migration from Ile Ife,[8] the cradle of Yoruba, and to a greater extent, this is very popular and highly accepted among the people because of the similar cultural traits Okun share with the other Yoruba groups like the Egba, Ijebu, Akoko, Ijesha, and Ekiti. One of the huge gaps created by oral tradition linking their origin to Ile Ife is the unavailability of the epoch or period of migration and arrival to their present location, and this has made the identity of the Okun people as a Yoruba sub-group contestable. Contrary to the Ile-Ife migration, Ade Obayemi and Ijagbemi are of the view that the Okun people are aboriginals in the Niger-Benue confluence and may not have migrated to their present location from Ile-Ife.[9]  The controversies surrounding the origin and identity of the Okun people prompted scholars like Ann O’Hear to call attention to the need for further research on the Okun people and their history.[10]   Historical research has been able to establish over the years that Okun people have socio-cultural and linguistic affinity with other Yoruba subgroups. The people lived in nucleated settlements made up of villages and towns.[11]  The geographical entity of Okunland has an area of about 28,032 square kilometres of land.[12]  It bordered Ebiraland in the south, Akokoland, Ekiti, and the Igbomina in the west, Lokoja in the southeast, and the River Niger in the north. Okunland is situated very close to the Confluence Rivers of Niger and Benue; thus, the people are often classified among the Niger-Benue confluence people.[13]  According to O. Akinwumi, the proximity of Okunland to the Confluence Rivers of Niger and Benue has largely enabled Okun inter-group relations with the people around the confluence area up to the early part of the nineteenth century. The major Niger-Benue confluence people who established inter-group relations with Okun people include the Nupe, the Ebira, the Kakanda, and the Igala on the east of Niger.[14] 

[1] Aliyu A. Idrees “Precolonial Military Organisation and Strategies in Nigeria” in Gbor, J.W.T (ed.), Military History

  of Nigeria from Pre-Colonial Era to the Present, Ibadan: University Press, 1992. Pp14-15

[2] Richard H. Dusgate “Kabba: The British Invasion of 1897” in Olu Obafemi (ed) Studies in Okun, (Ibadan: Kraft

    Books Limited, 2014). Pp.321-328

[3] Ade H. Obayemi “States and People of the Niger-Benue Confluence Area” in Obaro Ikime (ed.) Groundwork in

   Nigerian History (Ibadan: Heinemann Educational Books, 1980), p.136

  [4] Eva Krapf-Askari, “The Social Organization of the Owe,” African Notes 2, No. 3 (1964–65), p.9. See also, Ade

    Obayemi, “The Sokoto Jihad and the ‘O-kun’ Yorùbá: A Review,” Journal of the Historical Society of Nigeria.

    Vol. 9 (1978): p.61.

[5] Ade Obayemi “History Culture and Group Identity: The Case of North East or Okun-Yoruba.” Unpublished Post-

  Graduate Seminar Paper Presented to the Department of History, A.B.U, Zaria 1976/77 session

[6] John. Otitoju, The Okun People of Nigeria. (Lagos: WEPCOM Publishers Limited.2002), Pp6-7

[7] Bayo Ijagbemi “O-Okun Yoruba in Yoruba Art Historiography: History, Problems and Prospects”. PhD Thesis.

  The University of Arizona, 1996

[8] Clement O. Bakinde “Oral Narrations on the Origin and Settlement Patterns of the Okun People of Central Niger”

   Journal of Tourism and Heritage Studies, Vol. 2, No.2 (2013). Pp53-63

[9] Ade H. Obayemi “States and People of the People of the Niger-Benue Confluence Area” … Pp163-165. See also,

   Bayo Ijagbemi “O-Okun Yoruba in Yoruba Art Historiography: Problems and Prospects.” An Unpublished PhD

  Thesis, submitted to the Department of History, University of Arizona USA 1996.

[10] Ann O’Hear “The History of the Okun Yorùbá: Research Direction” in Toyin Falola and Genova (eds) Yoruba

     Identity Power and Politics (New York: University of Rochester Press, (2006) Pp111-126

[11] Clement O. Bakinde “Oral Narrations on the Origin and Settlement Patterns of the Okun People of Central Niger”


[12] Ekundayo Aduke “Women in Pre-Colonial Economic Development in North East Yoruba Land of Nigeria”

    Science Arena Publications Specialty Journal of Humanities and Cultural Vol.4 (3) Pp.60-64. ISSN: 2520-3274

    Available online at www.sciarena.com

[13] Ade H. Obayemi “States and People of the People of the Niger-Benue Confluence Area” …163-176

[14] Olayemi Akinwumi “A Socio-Political Survey of Okun Yoruba History in the 19th and 20th Centuries” in

    Zacchaeus O. Apata and Yemi Akinwumi (eds.) The Groundwork of Niger-Benue Confluence History (Ibadan:

    Crest Hill Publishers Ltd, 2011). Pp74-75

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