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IFRA Special Research Issue Vol. 2

Approaching the Study of Yoruba Diaspora in Northern Nigeria in the 20th Century

Rasheed Olaniyi


In 1956, the defunct western region government launched the Yoruba Historical Research Scheme. The main aim was to produce an authentic and coherent history of the Yoruba, covering all aspects of the people from the earliest times. Despite the fact that a tremendous achievement was recorded in this enterprise, an enormous lacuna exists in the study of Yoruba diaspora in northern Nigeria. While accounts of Hausa impact on Yoruba history, particularly for the pre-colonial and colonial periods, have been offered, only passing references have been made to acknowledge the Yoruba factor in the history of the Hausa society during the same period. Within this context, the paper explores the chronology of Yoruba migration and formation of diaspora communities in northern Nigeria during the twentieth century. It raises the questions: what were the migration patterns? What forms of identities did the diaspora communities produced? What were their linkages with the Yoruba homeland? What were their contributions towards the development of towns in Yorubaland? Of what implication was the Yoruba diaspora to the socio-economic development of northern Nigeria and Nigeria as a whole? The paper focuses on the interplay of cultural, political and economic forces in the formation of Yoruba diaspora communities in northern Nigeria.

Author's note

Note portant sur l’auteur1

Full text

Conceptualising Yoruba diaspora:

Ajo ko da bii/ile.
Diaspora is not like home

  • 1 Interview with Professor Isa Hashim of the Department of Political Science Bayero University, Kanoo (...)
  • 2 Nearly all the sources on Yoruba history claimed that the name Yoruba was the Hausa reference to th (...)

1Yoruba diaspora in northern Nigeria is better understood within the historical context of the respective host communities and indeed the entire history of northern Nigeria as a whole. It is equally important to examine the interaction of resources and opportunities in order to understand the dynamics of Yoruba commerce in northern Nigeria. Isa Hashim has offered three explanations why the Yoruba were accepted in the north.1 First, according to Islamic tradition, the Yoruba were regarded as brothers and sisters of the Hausa people because the majority of Yoruba migrants were Muslims. This suggests why some Yoruba have been assimilated into Hausa culture or enjoy accommodation. Second, economically, they were hardworking in ternis of their technical skills, productivity and quality of work delivery. Third, the Yoruba shared myth of origin with the Kanuri. Oral tradition in Borno has it that the “Yoruba and Kanuri were cousins. According to one mythology, the Yoruba were said to be outspoken while the Kanuri were calm people who detested discussing their private affairs in public, particularly those issues concerning their sexuality. The Kanuri thus referred to the Yoruba as “Khairuba,” meaning that there is no alheri in your habit (that is, you don’t keep secret, go away!). It was from “Khairuba” that Yoruba was derived.2 There are those who claimed that the similarity in Yoruba and Kanuri culture could further be observed in their passion for singing, particularly among their women.

  • 3 Cohen, R„ 1996, pp. 507-520.

2Very often, diaspora communities construct identities that distinguished them from the host community. The identity could be expressed in terms of settlement patterns, social, religious, political and economic institutions. The word diaspora is Greek, meaning scattering. According to R. Cohen, the term diaspora as first used in the Greek classical world (800-600 BC) implies “to sowwidely, to expand.”3 The concept of diaspora is used to describe a community, which has a history of migration, possess distinctive cultural practices that distinguished it from the host community and maintain cultural ties with the homeland. Some diaspora members engage only in activities that involve their ethnic group (for example herbalists); while entrepreneurs and traders may specialise on economic interests involving their homeland (for example, Yoruba women Alajapa-itinerant foodstuffs traders).

  • 4 Cohen, R„ 1997, p. 26.

3The term Yoruba diaspora is used here to refer to ail those of Yoruba descent who settle outside the shores of the Yoruba homeland but maintain socio-cultural linkages with the homeland or who continue to maintain Yoruba identity. Conceptualising the Yoruba diaspora could be situated in the Cohen’s framework for classifying diaspora, which involves migration from a homeland in search of work and pursuit of profitable commerce; and ethnic consciousness preserved over a long time and based on a series of cultural distinctiveness.4

  • 5 Eades, J.S., 1980, pp. 63-87.
  • 6 Ibid.

4Eades articulates four main types of migration among the Yoruba, which influence the formation of diaspora communities.5 These were analysed according to occupational categories. First, there were the unskilled labor migrants of the colonial period, looking for work on the cocoa farms or in larger towns. Second, there were migrant farmers looking for suitable land, especially for planting cocoa. Third, there were long distance migrants, many of them traders. Trading diaspora was particularly a common commercial orientation in the savanna towns of Yorubaland. Fourth, there was the migration of the younger educated people to the urban centres, especially since the rapid expansion of education in the 1950s. According to Eades, kinship plays an important part in channeling migration, as people move to join their relatives in other towns to fïnd jobs. Eades argues that a steady flow of goods and information exists between home and diaspora.6

5The Yoruba diaspora includes people who have experienced migration and others who were born and brought up in a new community of settlement. In this way, Yoruba diaspora implies that their culture survived, transformed and remained relevant even when members of the diaspora have not lived in the original homeland. Yoruba diaspora in northern Nigeria developed its own political organisation influenced by historical specificity and social forces operating in the host communities.

  • 7 Mohan G and Zack William A.B., 2002, p. 217.

6There were many Yoruba families in northern Nigeria who experienced cyclical migration and lived in many communities of the region. For example, in 1967, the expulsion of Yoruba from Ghana led to their migration to northern Nigeria towns of Kano, Kaduna, Jos, Zaria, and Minna. This pattern of migration greatly convoluted the spatiality of diasporas and produces a geography of diaspora, which was builton multiple localities.7

  • 8 Ifidon E., 1996, p. 93.

7The concept of diaspora becomes imperative in the analysis of the legal status of Nigerians living in communities other than their own when considering the question on citizenship. The identity crisis of citizenship and indigeneity rights within Nigeria call for a review and redefinition of the term diaspora. According to Ifidon, “the level at which citizenship is truly realised is not the mega-state, but the home state or primary group level, where the Nigerian is a subject. Beyond this, a Nigerian is an alien in another state.”8

  • 9 Kazah-Toure T., 2003, p. 22.

8The perception of a Nigerian citizen is compounded by the retrogressive provision of the 1999 constitution, which places emphasis on places of origin and indigeneity rather than residency. In certain situations it was easier for a person to be accepted as an abstract Nigerian citizen than to be recognised as belonging to the area of residency no matter how the person, group or family had settled in the area.9

9A problematic factor for ethnic relations in Nigeria is the manner in which indigeneity has been entrenched in the constitution. Both the 1960 independence and the 1963 republican constitutions were progressive on the question of citizenship rights, but the 1979 constitution on which the 1999 was based, was retrogressive on citizenship. Whereas the former constitution granted citizenship rights to Nigerians in any part of the country, subject to a residency requirement of three years in the defunct northern region, the 1999 constitution is completely silent on the issue. The aftermath of this has led to the rise in ethnic conflicts between indigenes and settlers across the country. In several cases, the frictions between “us” and “them” have been expressed violently and in terms of molestations.

  • 10 Hair P., 1961, pp. 79-82. Other examples are: Sudarkasa, N.,1979,’From Stranger To Alien: The Socio (...)

10This study expands our knowledge of Yoruba migration in the north. Most of the Yoruba diaspora studies have been carried out through ethnographical and anthropological research covering areas outside of the Nigerian region. An early account of Yoruba society and the Yoruba language appeared in French in 1845, notably the ethnographical study of Osifekunde, an Ijebu Yoruba liberated slave in France. The life-story of Osifekunde studied by M.A.P. d’Avezac de Castera-Maya of the Société d’Ethnologie, Paris, in 1939 constitues a pioneer scholarly work on the Yoruba diaspora.10

Colonial antecedents

  • 11 Olaniyi, R.O., 2004, ‘Yoruba Commercial Diaspora and Settlement Patterns in Pre Colonial Kano,’ in (...)

11The historical relationship between peoples of northern Nigeria and the Yoruba runs deep. For more than five hundred years before the British rule, Yoruba merchants traversed communities in northern Nigeria and established their abodes. For example, Yoruba traders established Anguwar Ayagi and Lalemi quarters in Kano and Bida respectively.11 They were assimilated and their descendants today formed the core of peoples in the region. Nigeria is full of examples of individuals and groups who formed settled communities of occupational specialists in societies other than their own. Traditionally, exchange of immigrants among communities has been part of the Nigerian historical heritage. Societies with centralised political structures accommodated culturally diverse groups with different modes of livelihood within a single political system. Immigrants provided complimentary services alien to the host community, which often added value to the economy.

  • 12 Aronson, D.R., 1978, The City is Our Farm: Seven Migrant Ijebu Yoruba Families, Cambridge: Schenkma (...)

12In the twentieth century, the formation of Yoruba diaspora in northern Nigeria had a linkage with the British conquest and colonial rule. Migration was largely driven by colonial labour policies; commercial opportunities available for Africans, and deprivations during economic crises. For example, D.R. Aronson observes that it was the wage labour of the colonial economy, together with the indigenous institutions of Yoruba society, which provided the framework for individual migration.12 Thus, economic pursuits produced a set of Yoruba craftsmen, laborers, and traders in cities.

  • 13 Suleman, M. D., 2001, p. 30.
  • 14 Tamuno, T. N„ 1970, p. 48.

13The British utilised the services of the Yoruba in the conquest of northern Nigeria. Some Yoruba served as spies, commercial agents, and members of the West African Frontier Force. In 1900, when Lord Lugard took over the colonial administration from the Royal Niger Company, its constabulary was absorbed into the West African Frontier Force, which was formed in 1898. For a long period, the force remained largely dominated by the Hausa and Yoruba.13 The civil government police force raised for the north included the Yoruba in its service. In 1908, the force was made up of 240 Hausa, 216 Yoruba, 102 Beriberi, 53 Fulani, 25 Nupe and 54 others.14

  • 15 K. Rotimi, 2001, pp. 16-17.
  • 16 Abdulkadir, M.S., 2001, p. 138.

14In Kano, by 1914, the government police were composed entirely of Yoruba ethnic group.15 Some of the Yoruba who served gallaritly in the British army were rewarded with administrative positions in northern Nigeria. In the non-Muslim areas of northern Nigeria, the British imposed non-indigenous chiefs on the people for the purposes of suppressing rebellion and collection of taxes. For example, in the Abinsi Division of Tivland, Audu Dan Afonja, a Yoruba Muslim from Ilorin, was imposed as the Chief of Makurdi between 1914 and 1947. He had formally served as a British agent and spy in the area. In Dekina, Ahmadu, a Yoruba was imposed as the Onu of Dekina between 1914 and 1918 as a result of his role as a member of WAFF in the conquest of Igalaland. His rule was tyrannical and full of extortion. In 1916, he arbitrarily raised taxes from 1 s to 10s per adult male.16 His rule ended in turmoil and he was eventually sentenced to four years imprisonment.

  • 17 Oshin, O., 2004, p. 101.

15The railway construction led to the employment of the Yoruba in several projects, and their migration and settlement patterns across communities, both rural and urban, in northern Nigeria. In 1912, the completion of the Baro-Kano rallway marked a turning point in Yoruba migration to northern Nigeria. From the northern Yoruba towns, there were migrations from Kabba, Ijumu, Isanlu, Offa and Ilorin to Kaduna between 1916 and 1917.17

  • 18 Ibid., p. 113.
  • 19 Osun, O., 2004, p. 119. According to late Bola Ige, between 1916 and 1941, his father lived and wor (...)

16After the First World War, more Yoruba, especially from Ogbomoso, Ilorin and Kabba, migrated to Kaduna in an attempt to participate in the booming commerce about which they had received information from their family and social networks.18 From Funtua, Nguru, Makurdi, Malamadori to Jos, Yoruba diaspora communities were established along the rall lines taking advantage of modem communication for foodstuffs, livestock, groundnuts and kolanuts trades. By the 1920s, the scarcity of Hausa clerical staff made the British employ southerners in the administration of northern Nigeria.19

  • 20 Eades, J.S., 1979, pp. 169-182.

17Beyond the colonial institutions, for most Yoruba in northern Nigeria, migration occurred within the kinship and social networks. Yoruba developed diaspora communities through migration of kinship linkages from the same town and family compounds.20 Successful “pioneer” migrants encouraged others to follow and supportive social mechanisms emerged to connect places of origin and diaspora.

  • 21 Adeleye, A., 1999, Ogbomoso in the Centuries of Conflict and Development, Lagos: Loadis Nig. Ltd.

18Throughout the colonial era, migration was a crucial identity among the Yoruba. Yoruba migrants in cities were better viewed than their folks that stayed at home. Commercial opportunities in the colonial era influenced migration of Yoruba to northern Nigeria. For example, the Jos township market created the pull and Ogbomoso people flocked in. Those who had already settled in places such as Minna and Bida could not resist the prospects of making money in the tin mining city. By the end of the 1930s, the Jos market was dominated by Ogbomoso merchant families such as Aladire, Aiyetoro, Odefara, Mafoni, Banki, Onilu, Araromi, Magajiya, Tapa, Idowu-Oke, Idowu-Isale, and Sabo, which developed to reflect the identity of the new traders and their cultural background.21

19Nevertheless, colonial rule created distortions in ethnic relations whose consequences still prevall. During the colonial era, the tasks facing Yoruba in diaspora changed dramatically from those that faced their predecessors in the pre-colonial era. In the pre-colonial era, migration often led to integration with the host community while in the colonial period, migration was overwhelmingly marked by segregation.

20The establishment of Sabongari between 1911 and 1913 was a central thrust of the British divide and rule system constructed to make colonial rule flourish on ethnic division and enforcement of segregation. In the colonial era, Yoruba immigrants in northern Nigeria were British “protected persons” and the hosts were subjects. In the post-independence period, the citizenship status was reversed in favour of the host communities who were regarded as indigenes and migrants as non-indigenes or settlers.

  • 22 Olaniyi, R.O., 2006a

21The attempt by the British to segregate the Yoruba from the indigenes falled in Kano and Zaria due to historical relationships that had existed between them before the British conquest. In Kano, despite restrictions, the Yoruba Muslims continued to live within the Native Reservation Area (Kano old city) while some Hausa lived in Sabongari.22

  • 23 Tukur, M., 1990, p. 144.

22For the Yoruba and Hausa, the colonial segregation was ineffective due to historical relations that had existed between the two groups for no less than five hundred years before British rule. The idea of segregation was in some ways resisted by the two ethnic groups. For example, the establishments of the Townships of Sabongari created some problems for the British in Zaria. As early as 1915, the British found it difficult to keep out “emirate natives” who were neither employees of the government nor European Trading Firms in the Township area of Sabongari. Hence the British resorted to the system of issuing “permits” to all residents of Sabongari. Itissued 1,355 permits: 885 to “nogovernment” and 470 to “government” residents.23

  • 24 Bako, A., 2000, p. 67.
  • 25 Frishman, I.A., 1977, p. 134.
  • 26 Oshin, O., ‘Rallways and Urbanization’...p. 114.

23In Kano, despite the British insistence, Yoruba Muslims were allowed by the emir to either live in the native area or in Sabongari. By 1937, the population statistics of Kano Township showed that there were 1,903 Hausa residents in Sabongari as against 1,547 Yoruba.24 By 1938, there were 2,040 Hausa (26 per cent) of the population in Sabongari, Kano.25 In 1939, the population of the Hausa in Sabongari Kaduna was 1,568 while Yoruba population was 1,093.26

  • 27 Adamu, M.U., 1999, p. 163.

24The status of Yoruba clerks, employed and protected by the British in northern Nigeria, depended upon the perpetuation of colonial rule. The host communities felt politically and economically threatened in the public sector where most of the Yoruba were now employed on contract basis. Under British rule, inter-communal relations in northern Nigeria as elsewhere in the country were enforced within the political and economic framework of colonialism. The British policy of exclusion created a dichotomy between the migrants who were British ‘protected Dersons’ and the natives, mainly the host community.27

Identity in diaspora

Odo kii gbagbe orison
A river never losses sight of its source

  • 28 Sudarkasa, N„ 1979, pp. 143-167.
  • 29 Trager, L., 2001, Yoruba Home towns: Community, Identity and Development in Nigeria, London: Boulde (...)

25Identity-based institutions articulated Yoruba disapora and home ties. During the 1930s depression, the Yoruba in the north organised themselves to fight the exploitation of British rule and as a form of cultural nationalism. The Yoruba in northern Nigeria articulated their communal goals through different levels of associational civil life of an ethnic, religious, township and occupational nature.28 L. Trager argues that the hometown associations served as a source of social and cultural identity among the Yoruba in diaspora.29 She demonstrates the propensity of Yoruba groups to migrate and settle in other communities while maintaining ties with their homeland. Evidence from her study of the Ijesa-Yoruba shows that at the individual level, migration was combined with the maintenance of ties to family, kin networks and community in terms of remittances, ceremonies and visits.

  • 30 Olaniyi, R.O., 2005, p. 138.

26These networks served as mechanism of managing threats of insecurity. Members drew on emotional resources including friendship and family visits, to strengthen ethnic bond. For example, in 1942, the Yoruba Central Welfare Association, Kano (Egbe Omo Oduduwa), was founded. It was the creative ingenuity of diaspora members to establish communal and ethnic associations rooted in their own culture. Chief D.O. Sanyaolu offered the association a plot of land where Oduduwa Hall, Kano, was built, but after his death in 1960, the ownership of the land and the building was disputed between his family and the Yoruba community.30

  • 31 Arifalo, S.O., 2001, p. 117.

27It should be noted that the Egbe Omo Oduduwa in Kano preceded the one founded by Chief Obafemi Awolowo in London, Lagos and Ile-Ife between 1945 and 1948. By 1948 however, Awolowo’s Egbe Omo Oduduwa became popularly accepted among the Yoruba in northern Nigeria. For example, the Sokoto branch was formed on 4th January, 1948 and the Bukuru branch was inaugurated on 20th January, 1948.31

  • 32 Ibid., p. 165.
  • 33 Ibid., p. 292.

28Prominent Yoruba merchants in northern Nigeria played active roles in the activities of the Egbe Omo Oduduwa. In July 1951, Chief D.O. Sanyaolu was part of the delegation of Egbe Omo Oduduwa led by Chief Awolowo to discuss the various problems of Yoruba in the north with the Northern Chief Commissioner in Kaduna.32 Chief D. O. Sanyaolu was one of the eight (8) Vice Presidents of Egbe Omo Oduduwa between 1954 and 1956.33

  • 34 Ibid., p. 200.
  • 35 Peel, J.D., p. 225.

29Nevertheless, some Yoruba businessmen opposed the formation of Egbe Omo Oduduwa. Mr. S.A. Fajemisin, a Yoruba trader based in Kano and Kiyawa, mobilised a group in Ilesha against the formation of Egbe Omo Oduduwa. He “contended that only the oba in Yorubaland were the descendants of Oduduwa and that the generality of the Yoruba were not. The group alleged that even though the Ooni was not one of the sons of Oduduwa, the incumbent Ooni was being sponsored by the Egbe to deal with and overshadow Ilesa. It wanted the name of the Egbe to be changed.”34 Fajemisin, however, became an ardent supporter of Action Group (A.G) and attended the inaugural conference at Owo in 1951. He also urged the Ijesha people to support the Action Group as Yoruba.35

30The formation of ethnic and communal associations constituted a crucial part of fraternal loyalty /allegiance to the Yoruba homeland. The Yoruba community was the representative assembly of the Yoruba associations. It was organised within the framework of Yoruba traditional political framework, having the oba (king), basorun (prime minister), iya egbe (matron), otun (adviser to the king), balogun (Chief Security) and baales (district heads).

31In 2001, the Yoruba Welfare Association in Naibawa Kano donated a new throne to the oba Yoruba in Kano State, Oba Abdullahi Salihu Olowo in an attempt to rehabilitate the palace and enhance the status of the oba. This in essence was to give political meaning to Yoruba ethnic identity. Among the Yoruba diaspora in northern Nigeria, the institution of oba symbolised authority, solidarity, loyalty and the final arbiter in disputes. The administrative set up of the organisation has the oba as the head and an executive council that serves as a customary court. Yoruba community served as the centralised pseudo-political institutions that regulate internal social order, communication and diplomatic affairs both within the community, the homeland and the host community.

32Despite the fact that the Yoruba has the highest number of legal practitioners in Nigeria, its tradition gives a high preference to settling cases out of modem secular courts. Hence, the Yoruba community organised an autonomous judicial institution for settling disputes internally. The internal judicial arrangement ensured social cohesion, exclusiveness and integrity of the community. Thus, the judicial council adjudicated disputes over financial matters, business transactions, and social issues involving domestic disputes, and breach of marital contracts.

33Of ali the Yoruba associations in Kano only Lisabi Club of the Egba Yoruba had “Town Hall” built in 1947 under the leadership of Chief D.O. Sanyaolu. Other associations operated in temporary meeting halls in the houses of influential leaders. Members were often a small fraction of the total number of the Yoruba residents and, indeed, representatives of the entire community.

34Ethnic associations generated and disseminated information central to +the identity of the community. To a greater degree, the elements of mutual solidarity provided informal mechanisms of social safety nets and security in times of adversity. For example, many of the ethnic associations provided assistance to deceased members by burying them in their hometowns and granted educational support to their children.

35Communal identity enhanced hometown ties and ensured resistance to cultural assimilation into the host community. Most of the associations were formed as a branch of larger unions with headquarters in the hometown (for examples, the Ogbomoso Parapo and Okin Club of Nigeria). Branches sent subscriptions and representatives to annual and quarterly meetings. The Yoruba in northern Nigeria continued to maintain close affinity with their homeland over several generations. Yoruba social networks involved maintaining, reinforcing, and extending relationships with the homeland. At both the individual and group levels, these activities included sending remittances, marriage, sponsoring of festivals and events, and child fostering.

  • 36 Interview with Mr. Safaradeen Olaniyi, Kano, February, 2003.

36Social capital, grounded on ethnic networks, provided a key resource in confronting obstacles to successful adaptation in the diaspora. It increased economic opportunities for entrepreneurs, giving them better prospect to put to use whatever skills they brought from their homeland. Yoruba used the tradition of rotating credit associations (Esusu and Ajo) brought from their region of origin, as a means of acquiring or boosting business capital. Yoruba women predominantly practiced Esusu and Ajo. In Zuru town, some Yoruba women entrepreneurs emerged richer than their husbands who brought them to the town.36

37The system of cooperatives and hire purchase schemes enabled Yoruba men to dominate taxi transport across northern Nigerian cities. Yoruba immigrant groups had additional advantage over the host communities in small-scale business by virtue of their tradition of extended kinship and apprenticeship schemes. They facilitated the establishment, operation and expansion of businesses. Some of the migrants who worked for co-ethnics businesses emerged as entrepreneurship through hard work and savings. Access to cheap labour of apprentices and journeymen, rather than a large amount of capital, was essential to the operation of artisanship workshops such as auto-mechanics, auto-rewires, lathe-work artisans, and battery chargers.

38These comparative advantages made it easy for Yoruba artisans to start workshops with relatively simple technologies and small capital. Production technology was organised around the social relationship of kinship, friendship and ethnicity. However, the intermediate economic roles (concentration in credit schemes and money lending) subjected Yoruba migrants to host hostility and commercial mistrust but further enhanced their ethnic solidarity. This was particularly signifïcant in the case of Osomaalo of Ijesha-Yoruba textile traders until the 1970s when they diverted to corn mill and auto-spare parts businesses.

  • 37 Olaniyi, R.O., 1998, Yoruba Entrepreneurs in Kano Metropolis: A Case Study of Printing Industry 194 (...)

39In most of the northern communities where kulle (seclusion of women) system was practiced, Yoruba women played an intermediary role between the hosts and the immigrants. Yoruba women were equally active players in commercial networks and activities that linked regional, urban and rural economies. This accounted for their retalling trade in household utensils, jewelry, textiles and agricultural products and setting up of food canteens that employed Hausa men. In most communities of northern Nigeria the Yoruba became a powerful economic force, particularly in urban technical services, photography, printing, and auto-repairs.37

40Another factor that reinforced identity was the cultural flows of organised music and theatre. Many Yoruba musicians (Fuji, Juju, Apala) and theatre practitioners were invited to stage their plays either commercially or in annual, township, club and ethnic celebrations. Equally, the evenings on which popular Yoruba musicians and entertainers such as Hubert Ogunde. Dauda Epo Akara, Ayinla Omowura, Haruna Isola, Sikiru Ayinde and King Sunny Ade were invited to play in northern Nigeria illustrates cultural eontinuity and linkages between home and diaspora.

  • 38 Clark, E. p. 37.

41In 1946, Hubert Ogunde took his play Human Parasite to northern Province, Jos, Kano, Zaria, Kaduna, and Minna where he acquired many patrons. However, the display of his work Strike and Hunger” was opposed by the British administrators in northern Nigeria who saw it as Southern Nigeria’s attempt to incite northerners against the British. In Jos, he was arrested and fined. The Yoruba community in Jos supported Ogunde’s fight against the British by contributing £100 to fight the case as a national one.38

  • 39 Ibid., p. 46.
  • 40 Ibid., p. 46.

42In May 1951, he was charged with sedition and banned from staging his play Bread and Butter in the Colonial Hotel, Sabongari Kano.39 He was fined £6 and Makurdi. Bread and Butter was apparently produced in solidarity with the Enugu strike of 1949. Such plays that were not provocative, such as Mr. Devil s Money, and Highway Eagle, were staged in Zaria, Minna, Gusau, Bukuru, Kaduna, Jos, Oturkpo, Bida, and Jebba in 195540.

43Some Yoruba in northern Nigeria lived in very poor conditions to enable them accumulate capital. To them, the city was a ‘farm.’ They lived together and sometimes squatted until they were able to marry and live independent of the person under whose influence they migrated. The interplay between the spheres of the workplace and the neighborhood was crucial to the social organisation of the Yoruba. As Yoruba were concentrated into larger communities, their interests became more harmonised and social consciousness was unified. Thus urban neighborhoods were metaphors for urban villages with primordial identity of kinship, religion, language, culture and costume. Yoruba culture expressed the philosophy of “back to the land” vision in which traditional attire played a dramatic role.

44Since 1995, Yoruba Cultural Day celebrations have been organised as a strategy for the unity, cultural renaissance and ethnic identity in the north. Many Yoruba cultural activities are displayed including dancing, a beauty competition, Ayo games and Yoruba traditional medicine trade fair. For the second Yoruba Day Celebration in November 1997, individuals, Yoruba ethnic associations, religious institutions and corporate organisations in Kano donated more than 400,000.00 naira worth of food and drink.

Religion in the context of Yoruba diaspora

  • 41 Olayiwola, A., 1999, pp. 11-12.

45The commercial and religious interactions between Yorubaland and Kanem Borno led to the settling down of the two ethnic groups in each other’s communities. The Yoruba in Borno were products of two religious waves. First, Borno scholars who settled in Yorubaland influenced the migration of Yoruba students to Bomo for Islamic education. Second, Yoruba pilgrims to Mecca often passed through Borno. Some of these pilgrims discovered business opportunities, which made them to settle in Borno.41 In northern Nigeria, Islamic brotherhood constituted a fundamental relationship between the Yoruba and their host communities. Thus, while Islam inspired the migration of Yoruba Muslims, the drive for evangelism motivated most Yoruba Christians to northern Nigeria.

46The Yoruba increasingly turned towards the homeland in search of spiritual stimulation. The practice of traditional religions was widespread among the Yoruba in northern Nigeria. There were branches of the Reformed Ogboni Fraternity and the presence of Babalawo-Yoruba herbalists northern Nigeria. Herbal medicine traders, both itinerant and those in diaspora, oflten sold their products in major markets.

  • 42 Akanmu, I. 1999, p. 23.

47It is equally noteworthy to understand the dynamies that gave rise to the formation of Yoruba religious institutions within an ethnic framework. Some of these religious centres maintained linkages with the headquarters based in the Yoruba homeland. For example, the establishment of Yoruba mosques such as Ansar-ud-deen, Samori-a-deen, Nawairudeen, Nurudeen, and Yoruba churches such as Baptist church, Cheripm and Sheraphim, and Aladura churches. In Maiduguri, Yoruba Muslims built the first mosque with modem infrastructure while the first church, the Holy Trinity, was built by some Yoruba along with some Ghanaians and Sierra Leonians. In 1939, seven Yoruba colonial workers from Lagos founded Ansar-ud-deen Society of Nigeria, Maiduguri branch. It was officially launched in 1942, and they completed their mosque in 1948, a modem infrastructure popularly called “Madina Mosque.”42

  • 43 Atanda, J.A., 1988, Baptist Churches in Nigeria, 1850-1950: Accounts of their foundation and growth (...)

48It should be noted how Yoruba religious centres invested in human development through education in the host communities. Some Yoruba mosques in the north operated their own nursery, primary and secondary schools. The evangelical work of the Baptist Mission in northern Nigeria spread from Plateau, Bomo Provinces in the northeast, Zaria Province in the northwest to Benue Province in the South. Ogbomoso merchants opened the areas to evangelism. From 1855, Ogbomoso had been exposed to the work of the Baptist mission and nthis continued untill the early twentieth century when traders from the town migrated. In 1915, Ogbomoso traders established Baptist church in Jos; Zungeru and Kaduna in 1916; Dorowa Babuje in 1926; Minna and Keffi in 1924; Kafanchan, Zaria, Kano and Gindi Awati in 1926; Gana Ropp in 1927; Bida in 1929; Funtua in 1930, Katcha in 1931 and Bukuru in 1932.43

  • 44 Crampton, E.P.T., 1975, p. 158.
  • 1

49Evangelism was carried out among the indigenous peoples of central and northern Nigeria, thereby solidifying the early work of Bishop Samuel Ajayi Crowther. Indeed, Yoruba had more religious contacts with the indigenous northemers than most southem Nigerian groups.44The first indigenous Baptists were converted as a resuilt of their efforts. For example, apart from visiting Yoruba traders and civil servants in Kaduna, the Reverend I. A. Adejumobi started working among those Tiv whom the government brought to settle near Unguwan Rimiin 1937.45 In Kano region, between 1975and 1994, preaching stations were Like the Christian missionaries, Ogbomoso Baptist adherents established schools partially to enhance their work and to train their own children and those of the converts who were excluded from the government controlled schools. Rev T.A. Taiwo opened the first Baptist Day School in Jos in 1926. In Kaduna, Baptist school was established in 1926; Minna, Zungeru in 1927; Kano in 1929 and Keffi in 1941. In the 1940s, schools were also established in Jos, Rahama, Bukuru, Mongu, Dorowa and Gindi Akwati through the efforts of Rev. E.O. Agboola. Some of the schools were placed on the list of government-assisted schools in 1946 or received grants in aid from the government. By the 1980s, most of the mission schools were taken over by governments.

  • 46 Olaniyi, R.O., 2003, p. 340.

50A sizeable number of Yoruba Muslim migrants established their settlements within the neighborhood of the host communities. Some Muslim members of the two ethnic groups are also adherents of Islamic brotherhoods (Sufi), particularly Tijaniyat and Quadiritat. Yoruba Muslims in northern Nigeria developed an extensive social network with the Hausa host community through inter-marriages.46

Post-colonial experience

  • 47 Olaniyi, R.O., 2006.

51Yoruba diaspora in post-colonial northern Nigeria was composed of the early migrants, their descendants, and the new migrants. Hence, the Yoruba diaspora in the post independence period could be understood in terms of an historical continuity of the dichotomy between the immigrants and the hosts. In terms of access to resources and opportunities, the distinction between indigenes and non-indigenes was decisive. Thpugh the post-independence period has brought about the dismantling of ethnic and residential segregation imposed by the British, migrant communities were confronted with the issue of citizenship in places where they had settled for several years. The residential segregation between immigrants and hosts decreased as many among them enjoyed better income and education. Across northern Nigeria, Sabongari was transformed from migrant enclaves to merchant cities. Culturally, the significance of Sabongari became even more profound because of the unrestricted nature of inter-ethnic social interaction.47

52In recent decades, religious and ethnic affiliations became major criteria for appointment to political offices, employment in the civil service and enrolment in schools. There was disparity in terms of school fees paid by indigenes and immigrants. This has led to unequal access to power and resources and to violent contestations and conflicts.

53Yoruba were among the earliest settlers in Funtua, and certainly played significant roles in the development of the town. A 1918 report of the cotton market at Funtua clearly indicated that out of the ten buying agents at the cotton market, three were Yoruba, while another three were of West African origin. Alhaji Sule Mohammed, the leader of the Yoruba in Funtua -Sarkin Yorubawa Funtua observes that:

  • 48 Ujogha, T., 2003, p. 3.

...We want to be recognised as Katsina State indigenes. If we return to Ogbomoso, we would be ignored. Some of us don’t even know our towns, but we do know that we have Yoruba roots. We wish that the Katsina State government would accept us fully.48

  • 49 Muhammad, G and Kperogi, F. A., 1999, ‘Sagamu Refugees Turned Back in community’s swift move to pre (...)

54He acknowledged the fact that some Yoruba who identified themselves with the host communities often benefited from scholarships and employment opportunities from the state government. A high rate of mutual co-existence was displayed in August 1999 to prevent a reprisai attack of the Hausa-Yoruba conflict in Sagamu. The District Head of Funtua, Alhaji Mainasara Idris, turned back Hausa refugees from Sagamu but equally appealed for calm among the Yoruba settlers.49 Alhaji Mainasara observed that the Yoruba in Funtua had become integrated with the indigenous community and that it was absurd for Hausa to rupture their time-honoured relationship with the Yoruba because of a distant ethnic strife betweem Hausa and Yoruba in Sagamu and Lagos. According to him,

  • 50 Weekly Trust, August 27, 1999, p. 2 and Muhamtrtad, G, ‘How Funtua leaders averted Sagamu, Kano-lik (...)

Considering how united we have become with the Yorubas in Funtua, it will be completely irrational that we should want to isolate and kill them. This is the work of rouges, not ethnicity.50

55According to the Sarkin Yorubawa Funtua, neither he nor his subjects in Funtua contemplated relocating to their homeland in Yorubaland:

  • 51 Ibid.

That will be useless. I have children here who are married to Hausa people of Katsina. I have no intention of going anywhere, and I believe it is the same with may of our people (Yoruba) here”.51

56While ethnic conflicts against the Yoruba were prevented in a rural setting like Funtua such an effort proved abortive in metropolitan Kano and Kaduna. Indeed, from the middle of 1980s the incessant ethno-religious conflicts in northern Nigeria towns has led to the unprecedented relocation of Yoruba families from the conflict zones to their hometowns or other northern cities. Many Yoruba

  • 52 Babalola, A.J., 2002, p. 8.

57After three or four generations of a family that had lived all their lives in Kaduna, Kano or Jos, they might be seen as indigenes but practical situations sometimes indicated that even after undergoing cultural, religious and other dimensions of assimilation, such persons could still be regarded as non-indigenes.52 In October, 2000 much fears were aroused among Yoruba in Kaduna and other northern cities after the OPC/ Hausa violent conflicts in Ajegunle, Apapa and other parts of Lagos. The Yoruba community leader in Kaduna, Alhaji Oguntoyibo, who was conscious of possible reprisal attacks, repeatedly disassociated the approximately four million Yoruba people in the northern states from OPC’s activities while the Yoruba Welfare Forum led by Alhjai Rafiu Salawu also did the same while appealing for reason to be allowed to prevall. Justifying the fears of the Yoruba ethnic group about the possibilities of retaliatory attacks, a coalition of thirteen northern youth under the aegis of G-13 disseminated statements which emphasized that all Yoruba immigrants must leave Kaduna within tweoty-four hours or pay risk their lives. In a statement entitled: ‘Who is Afraid’ the coalition stated that:

  • 53 Ibid., p. 13.

Following the recent organized killing of Fulani cattle-herdsmen in Lagos and the subsequent events in Kwara State, we hereby give all Yorubas resident in Kaduna, twenty-four hours to either pack out or pay for it. We have followed, with keen interest, the calculated plan to destroy our people with the support of powerful people in the society who have been aiding the OPC members with weapons of mass destruction. We call on President Obasanjo and the Inspector General of Police to resign...53

  • 54 Interview with Prince Ajayi Memaiyetan, Public Relations Ofïicer, Yoruba Community, Kano, August 20 (...)

58To some extent, the preponderance of the Islamic faith among Yoruba in Kaduna has provided some good measure of re-assurance and sense of brotherhood feeling among their Muslim hosts. For example, the quick intervention of the council of Ulamas and several leading Muslim clerics including Sheikh Yusuf Sambo Rigachikun of Sultan Bello Mosque actually helped substantially towards laying the G-13 threat to rest. Since the resurgence of Ethno-religious conflicts in Jos in 2002, Yoruba immigrants have been living with fear of insecurity and attack on their lives and properties. Many were displaced and forced to relocate to their hometowns.54

59Since the resurgence of ethnic conflicts in 1999 largely masterminded by the Odu’a People’s Congress against the Hausa immigrants in Yorubaland, the relations between Hausa and Yoruba has been transformed from hospitality to mutual suspicion and hostility. The uncertainty and state of insecurity has led to the formation of pan-Yoruba and multi-ethnic organizations involving Yoruba in Northern Nigeria around the issues of security and peaceful co-existence.

60In 1995, the Yoruba Community Northern States Council was formed. Alhaji A. G Oguntoyinbo and Alhaji Y. A. Makanjuola who became President General and Secretary respectively coordinated the establishment of the association. The association further encouraged the formation of Pan-Yoruba groups in Northern States.

  • 55 Shekarau, A. and Kwaru M. I., 2002, ‘Plateau Crisis: Nonindigenes flee troubled Areas,’ in Dally Tr (...)

61The Kaduna state chapter established the Northern States Council, similarly known as Northern Forum. In the Executive Council were: Dr. J. P. Aiyelangbe, Kano (Vice President), Alhaji Y. T. Dada of Bauchi; Chief S. A. Adesina of Zamfara State. Others are: Chief Akin Fatonyinbo (Gombe), Oba Solomon Olugbodi of Plateau and others. The council, which comprises of the 18 Northern States excluding Kwara began its maiden quarterly meeting in October 1996 in Kano. Jos-Plateau, Bauchi, Adamawa, Sokoto, Nassarawa and Zamfara followed this.55

62The formation of Yoruba Community Northern States was influenced by the socio-political crisis that followed the annulment of the June 12th, 1993 Presidential elections. Indeed, the state of insecurity and tension and ethnic conflicts made the Yoruba leaders in diaspora formed a Pan Yoruba Association for the protection of Yoruba migrants through allegiance with host communities and the security agencies. The Central Agenda of the association is to foster unity, stability and strengthen the cordial relationship among the Yoruba on one hand and between Yoruba and other Nigerians on the other hand.

The association has the following objectives:

  1. to foster unity among Yoruba;

  2. to be our brothers’ keeper;

  3. to cooperate and assist ourselves in all fields;

  4. to identify ourselves where and whenever the need arises; and

  5. to seek continuous cordial relationship between our people, the indigenes, the government and other citizens in northern Nigeria

63For mobilisation of membership and solidarity, the association dedicated the month of November for the celebration of Yoruba Day.

64In the aftermath of the Kano anti-Yoruba ethnic violence of July 1999, the National Integration Forum for Peace (NIFOR) was launched on 23rd August, 1999. The core targets of (NIFOR) were the Nigerians in all parts of the federation not living in their states. The Forum is an association of Nigerians who are living, thriving and happy to be living among ethnic groups other than their own regions other than theirs. NIFOR was formed as a consequence of the ethnic riots that took place in Shagamu and Kano in July 1999. Dr. J. P. are living, thriving and happy to be living among ethnic groups other than their own regions other than theirs. NIFOR was formed as a consequence of the ethnic riots that took place in Shagamu and Kano in July 1999. Dr. J. P. Aiyelangbe, a medical doctor who has lived in Kano for 24 years, the Bashorun of Yoruba in Kano and Deputy President General of Yoruba Community Council Northern States was appointed as the Protem Chairperson. While Alhaji Ahmed Zungeru, the Sarkin Hausa in Ibadanland who was born at Ibadan and hold the title of Asiwaju Adeen of Ibadanland served as a co-chairperson.

65In a passionate letter to Alh. Chief Bala Abdulsalami the Sarikin Hausawa of Osogboland dated 4th November, 1999, Aiyelangbe passionately expressed that:

  • 56 Ibid.

You will... remember that members of (NIFOR) like you have a very high stake in the unity of Nigeria, simply because we have intermarried, in fact every fourth marriage in Shagamu is mixed. Intermarriage is routine in Shagamu. People don’t even notice it. We have houses and fixed assets that cannot be transferred. We have the clout we have in the place we live, so that if you Sarki go back to Kano, you are an ordinary man, no more Sarki. If I go back to Ondo State, I am no more accepted doctor, no more the Bashorun as this recognition is in Kano-by-Kano people. We need Nigeria. We can do something to keep Nigeria56

66At inception, NIFOR membership was drawn from the Hausa Fulani communities in the Southwest and the Yoruba Community in the 17 Northern States, but membership have been widened to incorporate all Nigerians living in states other than their own.


67The existence of the Yoruba in northern Nigeria has implications for national development. Yoruba lived with other ethnic groups and exhibited the capacity for ethnic tolerance and religious pluralism in northern Nigeria. The migrants pursued and.secured economic livelihoods that contributed to the development of the host and home communities. The entrepreneurial drives of the Yoruba merchants enabled them to recruit labour from their kinship network for the expansion of their commercial base but such strategy often prevents capital accumulation on a large scale. Kinship network of extended family was a major strategy in the provision of employment, training and capital that ensured the preponderance of Yoruba commerce in northern Nigeria. Some integrated with the host communities. Integration involved both the Yoruba immigrants and the host communities achieving a degree of convergence. The integration of second-generation Yoruba migrants was largely conditioned by how their parents identities. These has been exhibited in costume and the spoken pattens of the Yoruba in diaspora who felt at ease communicating in Hausa, Nupe and Kanuri or mixed the languages together with Yoruba. The central question is not whether the second generation assimilated into Hausa society, but into what segment of that society it assimilated. Many of the descendants of early migrants have integrated into the Hausa society and became members of the political, intellectual, military and commercial elites. Others used their integration into Hausa to benefit from scholarships; employment and promotion opportunities but despised their Yoruba ancestry. Those who maintained their Yoruba identity in diapora often ended up as ‘marginal citizens’ without the right to lay claim to the community where they were born and grew up or their home origin where they were less known. Among the last group, however, were those who contested elections and won as representatives of the communities where they lived, particularly, at the local government levels.

The author acknowledges the invaluable comments of Professor Toyin Falola on the earlier draft of this paper presented at the Conference on the Perspectives on Yoruba History and Culture, organised by the Department of History, University of Texas at Austin, USA, March 26th - 28th, 2004.



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1 Interview with Professor Isa Hashim of the Department of Political Science Bayero University, Kanoon l0th December 2003 at Maizube Farm, Minna.

2 Nearly all the sources on Yoruba history claimed that the name Yoruba was the Hausa reference to the people of the Oyo empire. Olaniyi (2006b) has debunked this claim. See, Olaniyi, R.O., (2006b), ‘Hausa-Yoruba Relations, 1500-1800: A Historical Perspective’ in A.E. Ekoko and S.O. Aghalino, (eds.), Inter-Group Relations in Nigeria: The Historian ‘s Perspectives: Essays in Honour Prof. Obaro Ikime At 70., forthcoming. The word Yoruba first appeared in the works of the 17th century Songhai scholar, Ahmad Baba Al-Timbukti in 1615/1616 A.D. It was further used in the works of Ibn Masani of Katsina in the 18th century and by Shehu Uthman Dan Fodio and Sultan Muhammad Bello in the early 19th century. There is every possibility that the people of Old Oyo Ile whose language was Yoruba described themselves as such.

3 Cohen, R„ 1996, pp. 507-520.

4 Cohen, R„ 1997, p. 26.

5 Eades, J.S., 1980, pp. 63-87.

6 Ibid.

7 Mohan G and Zack William A.B., 2002, p. 217.

8 Ifidon E., 1996, p. 93.

9 Kazah-Toure T., 2003, p. 22.

10 Hair P., 1961, pp. 79-82. Other examples are: Sudarkasa, N.,1979,’From Stranger To Alien: The Socio-Political History of the Nigerian Yoruba in Ghana 1900-1970,’ in W.A. Shack And E.P. Skinner, (eds.), Strangers in African Societies, Berkeley: University of California Press, pp. 143-167; Eades, J.S., 1979, ‘Kinship And Entrepreneurship Among Yoruba in Northern Ghana,’ in ibid., pp. 169-182; and Eades, J.S., 1980, The Yoruba Today, Cambridge: University of Cambridge Press, pp. 63-87.

11 Olaniyi, R.O., 2004, ‘Yoruba Commercial Diaspora and Settlement Patterns in Pre Colonial Kano,’ in Toyin Falola and Steven J. Salm (eds.), Nigerian Cities, Trenton: Africa World Press, pp. 79-99.

12 Aronson, D.R., 1978, The City is Our Farm: Seven Migrant Ijebu Yoruba Families, Cambridge: Schenkman Publication Company.

13 Suleman, M. D., 2001, p. 30.

14 Tamuno, T. N„ 1970, p. 48.

15 K. Rotimi, 2001, pp. 16-17.

16 Abdulkadir, M.S., 2001, p. 138.

17 Oshin, O., 2004, p. 101.

18 Ibid., p. 113.

19 Osun, O., 2004, p. 119. According to late Bola Ige, between 1916 and 1941, his father lived and worked at all the important rallway stations between Osogbo and Kaduna: Osogbo, Ofa, Zungeru, Baro, Kushi, Minna, Serikin Pawa and Kaduna. For detalls see, Ige, B., 1991, Kaduna Boy, Ibadan: NPS Educational Publishers Limited.

20 Eades, J.S., 1979, pp. 169-182.

21 Adeleye, A., 1999, Ogbomoso in the Centuries of Conflict and Development, Lagos: Loadis Nig. Ltd.

22 Olaniyi, R.O., 2006a

23 Tukur, M., 1990, p. 144.

24 Bako, A., 2000, p. 67.

25 Frishman, I.A., 1977, p. 134.

26 Oshin, O., ‘Rallways and Urbanization’...p. 114.

27 Adamu, M.U., 1999, p. 163.

28 Sudarkasa, N„ 1979, pp. 143-167.

29 Trager, L., 2001, Yoruba Home towns: Community, Identity and Development in Nigeria, London: Boulder.

30 Olaniyi, R.O., 2005, p. 138.

31 Arifalo, S.O., 2001, p. 117.

32 Ibid., p. 165.

33 Ibid., p. 292.

34 Ibid., p. 200.

35 Peel, J.D., p. 225.

36 Interview with Mr. Safaradeen Olaniyi, Kano, February, 2003.

37 Olaniyi, R.O., 1998, Yoruba Entrepreneurs in Kano Metropolis: A Case Study of Printing Industry 1943-1983. unpublished M.A. Thesis. Kano. Bayero University. and Olaniyi. R.O.. 2004. Yoruba in Kano: A Commercial History of a Migrant Community. 1912-1999. unpublished PhD. Kano, Bayero University.

38 Clark, E. p. 37.

39 Ibid., p. 46.

40 Ibid., p. 46.

41 Olayiwola, A., 1999, pp. 11-12.

42 Akanmu, I. 1999, p. 23.

43 Atanda, J.A., 1988, Baptist Churches in Nigeria, 1850-1950: Accounts of their foundation and growth, Ibadan, University Press Limited, pp. 300-302; Ajayi, S.A, 1992, The Origin and Growth of Baptist Mission Work in Yorubaland, 1850-1960: An Analysis, PhD. Thesis, Deparment of History, University of Ibadan; Ajayi, S. A, 1999, Emmanuel O. Akingbala: The Adventures of a Nigerian Baptist Pastor, Ibadan: Hope Publications; and Bunza, M. U., 2000, Christian Missions in Sokoto Province 1935-1990, Ph.D. History, Usmanu Dan Fodiyo University, Sokoto.

44 Crampton, E.P.T., 1975, p. 158.


46 Olaniyi, R.O., 2003, p. 340.

47 Olaniyi, R.O., 2006.

48 Ujogha, T., 2003, p. 3.

49 Muhammad, G and Kperogi, F. A., 1999, ‘Sagamu Refugees Turned Back in community’s swift move to prevent reprisal killings in Katsina State’, Weekly Trust, August 27, p. 1.

50 Weekly Trust, August 27, 1999, p. 2 and Muhamtrtad, G, ‘How Funtua leaders averted Sagamu, Kano-like riots’, p. 3.

51 Ibid.

52 Babalola, A.J., 2002, p. 8.

53 Ibid., p. 13.

54 Interview with Prince Ajayi Memaiyetan, Public Relations Ofïicer, Yoruba Community, Kano, August 2001.

55 Shekarau, A. and Kwaru M. I., 2002, ‘Plateau Crisis: Nonindigenes flee troubled Areas,’ in Dally Trust, June 30.

56 Ibid.


1 History Department, University of Ibadan, Ibadan, Nigeria

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