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Ijebu (also known as Jebu) was a Yoruba kingdom in pre-colonial Nigeria. It formed around the fifteenth century. According to legend, its ruling dynasty was founded by Obanta of Ile-Ife. Scholars today have also identified the influence of the Benin Empire in the court art and ritual of the Ijebu.

The kingdom was one of the most developed in the region with a complex and highly organized government. The capital was at Ijebu Ode where the Awujale had his palace. Counterbalancing the Awujale was the Osugbo(known as the Ogboni in other parts of Nigeria) , a council of all free born men that acted as the kingdom's courts. The Osugbo was divided into six groups based on rank, the highest being the iwarefa, whose head the oliwa was the second most powerful figure in the nation. Also powerful was the olisa who could be described as the mayor of Ijebu Ode. Like many African societies, Ijebu was also divided into three age ranks and these groups each had their own leaders.

The state rose in power in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries mainly due to its important position on the trade routes between Lagos and Ibadan. The kingdom imposed sharp limits on trade insisting that all trade through the region be conducted by Ijebu merchants. The monopoly brought great wealth to the kingdom, but also annoyed Europeans.

Despite its wealth the kingdom fell into internal conflict in the late nineteenth century. The kingdom never had a strong military and had long been forced to rely on mercenaries. These foreigners further destabilized the nation.

In 1892 the British attacked Ijebu in response to its barriers on trade. The British were successful and occupied the capital, burning the meeting hall of the Osugbo. The British army employed Maxim guns, according to the soldier-adventurer Frederick Lugard. In defending himself against charges of excessive death rates in Uganda from his own use of the gun, he stated : "On the West Coast, in the 'Jebu' war, undertaken by Government, I have been told 'several thousands' were mowed down by the Maxim."

For several years the capital was occupied by British troops as the kingdom was annexed to the colony of Southern Nigeria.

'Ijebu' adjective

The Ijebu people are commonly assumed to be stingy people. Ijebus are very rich and successful, more so than most other Yoruba tribes, but along with this they are also popularily deemed extremely miserly with their wealth. Hence 'Ijebu' is a popular slang used to refer to any one miserly with money or other resource.


Peter C. Lloyd, "Ijebu" African Kingships in Perspective

Lugard, cited by Cedric Pulford : Eating Uganda: From Christianity to Conquest, 1999, p. 147