Battle of Bida




The Gwagba are autochthonous to KinNupe, that is, they have been in KinNupe right from the beginning.

They are the same that are variously known as the Gwari, Gwara, Kwara, Gara, Koro, and so on and on.

They have always been a people generally living on the banks of the River Niger in Central KinNupe.

Somewhere around the middle of the first millennium AD, that is around 500 AD, the Yisa people arrived as the Kisra refugees in Central KinNupe. These Kisra or Yisa people came originally from outside the African continent, from the Mediterranean, Arabia and Asia Minor.

The Gwagba and the Yisa at a time merged into the United Kingdom of Zugurma which was also variously known as Zungeru, Zakzak, Zazzau, Zaria, Sagoro, Shango, Songhai, Tsonga, and so on and on.

Zugurma, Songhai or Tsonga, whatever you called it, was later on ousted from suoreme power over KinNupe by the rise of the AtaGara or NdaKolo Empire. The AtaGara was a merger of the Akanda and the Gwagba Nupe peoples. But then, and in all these, the aboriginal Gwagba and Yisa peoples remained as some of the most influential of the ancient Nupe peoples in KinNupe.

So, when Tsoede came with his Akanda or Kyadya people to establish his Nupeko or Kororofa Empire it was with the Gwagba and Yisa Nupe people that his incoming Kyadya people acculturated and integrated.

The integration of Tsoede’s Akanda or Kyadya into the Gwagba resulted in a an half-caste Nupe people known as the Gwagba. And the integration of Tsoede’s Akanda or Kyadya into the Yisa Nupe people resulted in a half-caste Nupe population known as the Gwasa, Bassa, Agabizhi or the Yisazhi.

There was also a section of Tsoede’s Akanda people who did not mix with either the Gwagba or the Yisa nor with any other of the ancient Nupe peoples including the Bini, the Ife, and so on and on. These unmixed Akanda people who nevertheless settled down in the KinTifin half of the Nupe Nation are the same that are known today as the riverine Kyadya people.

In any case the integration of the emigrant Tsoede Akanda peoples with the Gwagba and Yisa ancient Nupe peoples resulted in a two-housed Tsoede dynasty with a Gwagba sub-dynasty and a Yisa sub- dynasty. These two Tsoede dynasties were always at loggerheads with one another and they were still at loggerheads with one another when the Fulani Jihadists established themselves as the Dendo dynasts in KinNupe.

When the Fulanis arrived KinNupe at the end of the 18th century they met a Nupe Nation divided between the Gwagba Tsoede dynasts headed by Etsu Zubairu Majiya II at Zugurma and the Yisa Tsoede dynasts headed by Etsu Jimada at Gbara and Zhima.

The Dendo dynasts played the two Tsoede dynasts against one another and eventually the Dendo dynasts took over the rulership and sovereignty of the Nupe Nation while both the Gwagba and the Yisa Tsoede dynasts were ousted from power.

The Gwagba tried to revolt against the divide and rule mischief of the Dendo dynasts but they were dwelt with in a such a drastically punitive manner that to this very day, a century and half later, they have not recovered from the pangs of that punishment.

The Yisa wisely collaborated with the Dendo Fulani dynasts but they had to face the humiliation of being held captive at Bida under the watchful eyes of the Dendo dynasts. Etsu Mu’azu Yisa and his son Etsu Idirisu Gana, both of the Yisa Tsoede dynasty, were held captives in Bida by the Dendo dynasts in the second half of the 19th century.

In this way the Dendo dynasts unwittingly turned both the Gwagba Tsoede dynasts and the Yisa Tsoede dynasts into their bitter enemies. Though powerless against the Dendo Fulani dynasts, the Gwagba and the Yisa Tsoede dynasts were embittered by the treatment the Dendo dynasts meted out to them and both waited patiently for the day they will be able to exact their revenge on the Dendo dynasts.

The Dendo dynasts at Bida also had serious problems with the riverine Kyadya peoples. A mighty Bida Emirate, that is so expansionism- minded, could not allow the Kyadya people to enjoy the total control they used to have over the River Niger in the pre-Fulani days. The wrestling over the River Niger also transformed the riverine Kyadya into bitter, this time around open, enemies of the Dendo dynasts at Bida. The Kyadyas revolted several times against the Dendo dynasts at Bida.

And the same Bida Emirate became rather tyrannical over its vassal states most notably including, in the context of our present discussions, the northeastern peoples of Yoruba land. These various Yoruba peoples under the rule and sovereignty of the Bida Emirate subsequently became another bloc of bitter enemies of the Dendo dynasts at Bida.

The Bida Emirate, and its Dendo Fulani dynasts, was accordingly surrounded, within and without, with all manners of enemies who were just bidding their times for the right moment to bring about the downfall of the Bida Emirate. The Gwagba, the Yisa, the Kyadya, the northeastern Yorubas, and so on and on.

It in this scenario of the Bida Emirate surrounded by a plethora of enemies that the White man arrived KinNupe from Europe. The White man came in as a big and formidable player in the socio-political setting of the Central Sudan. In the beginning the White man allied with the Etsu rulers of the Bida Emirate. This was because at the beginning the White man and the Bida Emirate had commercial and mercantilic interests in common.

The Bida Emirate immediately became the biggest business partner of the White man on the entire Guinea Coast.

Etsu Masaba was particularly the Etsu Nupe who was on the best of terms with the White men. Then Umaru Majigi was also on good terms with the White men. And it was Etsu Maliki who became the wealthiest Etsu Nupe because his reign coincided with the time that the commerce between the White men and the Bida Emirate reached its zenith.

But Europe was changing and the Industrial Revolution that began in the second half of the 18th century had completely transformed Great Britain from an industrial nation that doesn’t need human labour in the form of slave labour any more. That was when the Abolitionist Movement became famous in Europe and the same Europeans who have gruesomely engaged in the Transatlantic Slave Trade now became the hypocritical campaigners against slave trade.

The mercantilic slave trader then became replaced by the imperialist colonialist White man on the Guinea Coast. Having no interest in commerce and being more interested in colonialism, the new White man saw no reason to be cordial or friendly with the Fulani rulers of the Bida Emirate. That was how the relationship between the White men and the Bida Emirate began to deteriorate. In 1885 the Royal Niger Company, headed by the George Taubman Goldie declared that it has obtained a treaty in which the new Etsu Maliki of Bida had agreed to place himself and the Bida Emirate under the protection of the RNC.

While Etsu Maliki and his ruling council were busy arguing and disproving the dubious claims of the RNC the British Government granted the RNC a royal charter to rule over its colonial possessions in the Nigeria area. With this the mischievous George Taubman Goldie officially declared that the Bida Emirate is a dependency of the British Government.

The RNC then systematically began to encroach on Bida Emirate territories when it declared Lokoja a territory of the RNC and independent of the Bida Emirate.

The animosity between the Bida Emirate and the British colonialists deepened further due to these mischievous and imperialist designs of the RNC led by George Taubman Goldie.

In 1891 George Taubman Goldie visited Etsu Bubakar at Bida. He assured the Etsu Nupe that the RNC will not attack Bida. But he warned that if the Bida forces do not stop their aggression against the British the RNC might be left with no option than to attack Bida.

But the same double-speaking George Taubman Goldie went ahead to instigate the Kabba people, who were a subject people to the Bida Emirate in those days, to rebel against Bida rulership. Through his agent, William Wallace who is the Agent General of the Royal Niger Company, George Taubman Goldie roused the Kabba people against Bida Emirate.

As a matter of fact William Wallace at Lokoja provided the Kabba people with weapons and other things they needed to revolt and rebel against Bida.

In 1892 Wallace even got the Kabba people to complain, through Captain Bower in Lagos, to the British Government about his so-called ‘Bida misrule’ over the Kabba people. Soon the Bida rulers and overlords back at Bida came to know of the RNC’s empowerment of the Kabba and others with weapons to rebel against the Bida army.

To add salt to injury the RNC blatantly declared further stretches of areas around their Lokoja base as independent of Bida sovereignty. Lokoja was part of Bida territory before the RNC began aggressiveness and now the British came and illegally declared that Lokoja and a great stretch of area throughout the Lokoja general area as protectorate of the Royal Niger Company.

The Bida Emirate felt insulted and affronted by this action of the RNC.

In 1896 Etsu Bubakar sent the Bida cavalry, the most powerful section of the Bida army, to cross the Niger and camp at the town of Ogidi in Kabbaland in present day Kogi State. This was in order to check and forestall any attempt by the Kabba and all other northeastern Yoruba people at rebelling against Nupe rule over them.

Then there came about the incidence, on the 26th of June 1896, whereby the Bida army at Ogidi captured two White army officers of the RNC and their forty-five accompanying native African soldiers of the RNC. The RNC White men and the native Africans were members of an RNC constabulary that have illegally wandered off the ‘British Protectorate’ of Lokoja and have brazenly approached the Bida army camped at Ogidi.

A skirmish ensued between the RNC patrol team and the Bida army at Ogidi. The two White officers and many of the native African soldiers of the constabulary were wounded and arrested by the Bida army. They were held captive for a while but eventually released. Their weapons and the Union Jack were, however, confiscated. George Taubman Goldie then used this incident to launch a successful propaganda warfare against the Bida Emirate. He painted Bida as a recklessly bloodthirsty emirate that vampirishly fed on slave- raiding through which it was depopulating, destroying and demoralising all of the Middle Niger area. He also accused the Emir of Bida as being the one who was instigating the Ilorin, Ibadan, New Bussa and other powers against the British in Nigeria. He reasoned, therefore, that Bida must be conquered and subdue through a war in order to safeguard the British Government’s interests in Nigeria.

The success of this propaganda eventually convinced the British Colonial Office to provide George Goldie with the army he needed to invade and conquer Bida, the seat of the Bida Emirate.

The RNC despatched a detachment, on the 6th of January, 1897, to go and dislodge the Bida forces encamped at Ogidi. It was a large army comprised of 30 European officers and 513 native African soldiers. But the Bida army deserted their Ogidi camp before the arrival of the British forces.

The British forces were not happy that the Bida army fled the Ogidi camp. The British had hoped to engage and defeat the Bida army at Ogidi.

In any case the RNC forces went ahead to declare the Kabba District independent of Bida rule. While the people of Kabba and northeastern Yorubaland in general celebrated the Bida authorities were deeply displeased for losing one of their most cherished and economically viable territories, namely, the Kabba District. The jubilant and grateful Kabba people then rendered all helps and assistance they could to the RNC forces which were then headed towards Bida for a full-fledged battle with the Bida army. The Kabba people, thanking the British for securing them independence from Bida, supplied food, porters, guides and even volunteer soldiers free-of-charge to the RNC British forces headed for a battle with the Bida forces.

The RNC also employed a two-pronged strategy in its combat with the Bida Emirate. While George Taubman Goldie set out with the RNC forces to attack Bida, William Wallace, the Agent General of the RNC, was busy rousing the Kabba people and the Riverine Kyadya people against the Bida Emirate.

Wallace remarkably succeeded in stirring the Kyadya people against the Bida Emirate. He reached an agreement with Yahaya Marike, the exiled leader of the Kyadyas who lived at Lokoja.

Marike is the most influential and a most respected Kyadya around. And with the promised of being installed as the Kuta of the Kyadya and the granting of full independence to the Kyadya people from the Bida Emirate, Marike mobilised all the Kyadya people against the Bida Emirate on behalf of the British RNC forces.

So was it that the Kyadya canoe men refused to transport the returning Bida forces across the River Niger. The Bida army had to take the long, circuitous and deadly route of Kusogi back to Bida.

Along this route the Bida army lost many of its rank and files through death and desertion. Yet the Bida army couldn’t reach Bida to defend Bida before the arrival of the RNC forces.

On the other hand, and on the order of Yahaya Marike, the Kyadya gave their full support and backing to the RNC forces. On the 22nd of January the main body of the RNC forces arrived at Egban, also known as Kpatagban, a Kyadya port-town on the banks of the River Niger.

The Kyadya people of Egban eagerly welcomed the RNC forces and offered them all assistance they required.

Yet it was these same Kyadya peoples of Egban who, on the order of Yahaya Marike, have refused to ferry the Bida forces across the River Niger thereby forcing the Bida forces to take the deadly route of Kusogi on their way back to Bida. The British stern-wheelers, named Empire and Liberty, headed by William Wallace, also came to meet the main body of the RNC at Egban that very day the 22nd.

Wallace related that his flotilla was continuously pestered by the bulk of the Bida army that was still stranded on the right banks of the River Niger and that was trying to cross the River Niger back to Bida. But the British patrol, together with the help of the Kyadya canoemen, have successfully prevented the Bida army from crossing the River back to Bida.

In any case the RNC forces at the Egban port- village received reinforcements from Lokoja. Two doctors also came along with the reinforcement from Lokoja. And there were also Captain Sangster, Lieutenant Parker, Second Lieutenant Day and Captain Anderson – who also all came along with the reinforcement from Lokoja. The next day, that is on the 23rd, a small section of the RNC forces crossed the River Niger and went and camp some two miles away. They camped beside a creek that was strategically used to obstruct any harassment from the Bida forces.

The next day, on the 24th, the bulk of the Royal Niger Company forces crossed the River Niger.

When the bulk of the RNC forces arrived the creek where the small detachment have earlier on encamped, the entire force was transported by boats across the creek.

It was on the other side of the creek, that is after crossing the creek, that the RNC forces organised themselves into a combat-ready expedition. All in all the expedition had two mighty Whitworths guns, a number of pounders, including 12,9 and 7- pounders.

In terms of manpower the expedition consisted of 35 Europeans and 240 native Africans.

On the 25th the force began its determined march towards Bida. The forces have to drag the heavy guns and weaponry across a difficult swamp. It was a terrible and exhausting experience crossing that swamp with all that heavy weaponry being carried along by nothing but sheer human labour.

By the time the advance guard reached the little village of Lokitsa they had to fire at a group of Bida warriors who then scampered away.

When the bulk of the forces reached Lokitsa it was decided to camp there for the day.

The exercise of crossing the difficult swamp had exhausted everybody.

While camped at Lokitsa, a reconnoitre group went forward to inspect the way forward. The reconnoitre group heard Nupe warriors beating drums and shouting battle cries in surrounding villages in preparation for the battle with the RNC. There was a little skirmish between the reconnoitre group of the RNC and a group of Nupe warriors they ran into.

There were no casualties on both sides but a member of the reconnoitre group was slightly injured.

This was the first direct combat between the RNC forces and the Bida warriors and it then evidently became clear to the RNC that the Bida army was ready for a serious battle with the RNC.

On the 26th the RNC group left first thing in the morning sometime around 6 a.m. in the morning.

Major Cunningham led the advance guard. Behind the advance guard was the Derbyshire Regiment made up of the Number 3 and Number 5 companies. Members of the Number 3 Company include Lieutenant Burdon, Lieutenant Tighe and L.

North Lancashire Regiment. Members of the Number 5 Company included Captain Sangster, Lieutenant Pereira, Lieutenant Vandeleur who was in charge of the Maxim guns of the Number 3 and Number 5 companies, D.S.O., and the Scots Guards.

George Taubman Goldie and William Wallace also went along with this group that followed behind the advance guard. Half a mile behind these two groups was the main body. The porters, carriers and the guns were in this main body.

Around 8 a.m. the RNC forces came across groups of Bida cavalry hiding behind palm trees in the distance. The RNC forces occasionally fired at them and they fled in confusion. This manner of confrontation continued for a while as the RNC forces continued with their steady march towards the Nupe capital city of Bida. Eventually the RNC forces sighted the main body of the Bida army. Bida had mustered a large army of some 30,000 strong warriors. And this is despite the fact that the main body of the Bida army is stranded across the River Niger. The large Bida army was standing along a ridge of a ravine on the outskirt of the great city of Bida.

The Royal Niger forces stationed themselves some two miles from the ridge. From that position the Royal Niger Company forces started firing at the Bida army. The impact of the four Maxim guns drove the bulk of the Bida army away from where they have concentrated at the ridge between them and the Royal Niger Company forces.

By this time the place have been cleared for the in infantry of the RNC the moved forward. Then it was decided that the main body of the RNC should camp once more.

After camping, Major Arnold then reinforced the advanced guard with the Number 4 and Number 7 companies and also with two Maxim guns. Then the advanced guard began to move towards the enemy with two companies in the middle and another two spread out to the sides. It was actually a square formation with a Maxim gun at each of the four corners.

Leaving the main body behind at the camp this strategic square formation continued to move forward until they crossed the ravine and right unto the ridge that was previously occupied by the Bida army. And all this while that this square formation was moving forward there was continued firing of the heavy guns at the Bida army.

Yet Bida warriors kept coming up close to the position of the moving Royal Niger Company force.

It, accordingly, turned out to be a difficult and dangerous battle. The problem was that while the advance guard and the two companies in the middle were able to move in relative safety the two companies spread out and guarding the sides came under heavy attack from the marauding Bida warriors who were employing guerrilla tactics to attack and fled.

It was in one such attacks that Lieutenant A.C. Thomson and a group of native RNC soldiers came under serious attack. In the attack Lieutenant Thomson was killed and several of the natives with him wounded. The RNC forces were, however, able to collect the body of Lieutenant Thomson and also the wounded natives.

The body of the dead Lieutenant Thomson and the wounded naive soldiers were all brought and placed at the centre of the moving square formation.

Doctor Cargill was placed in charge of the dead and the wounded.

From the first ridge the RNC formation moved on unto flat lands and on again until they eventually sighted the great city of Bida. The Bida army was now concentrated on a second ridge, this one of the Landzun stream which dissects a section of the great city of Bida.

The Bida army numbered some thirty thousand warriors each battalion and troop led by its own chief, titled royalty or war general. It was one of the largest such gathering one could ever see in this part of the Central Sudan – thirty thousand people gathered in one place at the same time!
There were drumming, battle cries, battle songs, and so on and on.
Coming face to face with such a gargantuan army of some 30,000 strong Bida army, the RNC detachment decided to pause and stand still for a while. The RNC detachment was actually taken aback by the sight of such a gargantuan Bida army.

The detachment was hardly up to 300 people, the Europeans and the natives combined, and here there faced with a 30,000 strong Bida army.

In the end the detachment began to retreat, back towards the camp. The retreat of the RNC detachment threw the Bida army into wild and jubilant excitement. The Bida army, numbering in the tens of thousands, then descended on the RNC square formation of just some 300 men all in all.

Major Arnold therefore further consolidated his four companies into a more compact square with a Maxim gun still at each of the four corners. The loads and baggage of the porters and carriers were placed in the centre of the square. Major Arnold then led the attack on the Bida army. Despite this the Bida warriors attacked the RNC formation viciously. There was noise everywhere and there were gun shots and the pounding of the Maxims can be heard every now and then and all around. It was a hell of a battle with both sides determined not to lose out.

The Company to which belong Captain Sangster, Major Cunningham and Lieutenant Festing was the company that really came under the main onslaught of the Bida army as it was the one on the frontline against the attack of the Bida warriors.

Also Lieutenant Pereira and his group of native soldiers almost got decimated by the Bida army when the natives delayed in dismounting the Maxim gun of their company. They narrowly escaped death in the hands of the triumphant Bida warriors though.

But there was heavy casualty on the part of the Bida army. The Maxim guns and the pounders caused a lot of havoc among the body of the Bida army and brought down a lot of the Bida warriors. Almost many of those Bida warriors who dare come close to the square formation got gunned down by the RNC forces.

In all these the RNC square formation made its way slowly but steadily back to the camp where the man body is still waiting. When the square became visible to the main body of the RNC at the camp there was immediately covering fire for the square from the camp. This immediately led to a gradual dispersion of the innumerable Bida warriors who have besieged the square. Covering fire from the camp brought down many more of the Bida warriors and in the end the Bida army was forced to leave the square formation alone.

The members of the square formation were actually happy to see that the Bida army have, unwisely enough, left the main body of the RNC at the camp untouched. If the Bida army had concentrated its attention on attacking the main body of the RNC at the camp it most probably would have succeeded in winning the battle that day. But instead the Bida army wasted its time and energy on the small RNC detachment, the square formation, that went towards Bida and retreated back. But by this time the Bida army was attacking both the square detachment and the camp itself. The attack on the square formation was so vicious that one of the 7 pounders, that is the gigantic guns, was left behind as the RNC forces carrying it came under life-threatening attack.

In any case the square formation joined the remaining RNC forces at the camp. And instead of laying down to rest the entire camp became a beehive of activities as ammunitions were shared out and heavy guns positioned in preparation for further attacks from the Bida army.

In the meantime, Major Arnold sent two companies, Number 1 and Number 3 companies, to go and assist those with the 7 pounders back to the camp.

The main problem on the mind of the RNC forces at that time was the arrival of the two 12 pounders which were still on the way. Without the 12 pounders it is quite possible that a remobilised Bida army of some 30,000 warriors might be able to eventually crush the entire RNC forces at the camp.

And before long the Bida warriors resumed their attack, this time around on the entire camp itself.

And this is despite the fact that the camp was well positioned and well-protected. Bida snipers severely wounded two native soldiers of the RNC who had to be rushed to the centre of the camp formation while all other members of the RNC forces at the camp opened fire on the attacking Bida forces.

Before long the camp was under serious attack from the Bida army that have regrouped and mobilised itself around the RNC camp with the expressed intent to wipe out the camp. Though surrounding the camp from reasonable distances and hiding behind the trees and villages in the surroundings the Bida army seemed to be planning or bidding its time to attack at a most propitious time.

But this time around it all look like the RNC forces cannot make it against this sea of some 30,000 Nupe warriors who also have the advantage of fighting a battle in their homeland.

The Bida army however waited too long, and wrongly so. For, sometime around 4 p.m., the 7 pounders arrived the RNC camp. Immediately, and with great sigh of relief from all members of the RNC camp, the 7 pounders were mounted and put to action.

The first shot from one of the 7 pounders landed in the midst of a battalion of Bida army who were thrown in all direction, including some horses and their riders being flung far into the air, by the explosion and impact of the 7 pounder. The effect of this new weapon was devastating on the Bida warriors. They were so frightened they all fled in all directions.

But then a second, a third, and many more poundings and explosions from the 7 pounders followed immediately one after the other. Before they know it the Bida army was in complete disarray as the casualty rate was geometrically unprecedented and totally unexpected by the Bida army.

A second phase of the battle between the RNC and the Bida army this fateful day was son in full course. Wild battle cries, frenzied gun battles, the thumping sound of the heavy guns, and so on and on, were all over the place again. The Bida army brought an old and obsolete canon from Bida. They fired the canon at the RNC camp several times but the canon was as good as useless.

Meanwhile the shells from the 7 pounder guns of the RNC forces continued to wreck havoc on the Nupe army. One of the explosions from the 7 pounded landed in the midst of the Agaie battalion that have come to assist the Bida army in its fight against the RNC. That explosion not only decimated many of the Agaie warriors but instantly killed the war general of the Agaie people. The instantaneous death of the Agaie war general demoralised the entire Bida army and before long, and with more explosions from the 7 pounders, the Bida army made a hasty retreat back to Bida thereby leaving the RNC camp completely alone.

When the Bida army left the members of the RNC at the camp settled down to a meal. They were all hungry; they have been fighting all day long. And the night was already fast approaching.

Then the 12 pounder giant guns arrived around 8 p.m. in the night. The entire camp celebrated the arrival of the giant gun. Immediately the gun was pointed in the direction of Bida and a sophisticated compass bearing was used to aim a shell at Bida setting it at some 5400 yards away. The giant gun was fired and, as the RNC forces were to learn later, the gigantic shell landed right in the middle of Bida city killing many people, causing great havoc and confusion among the citizens of Bida, and generating a general and demoralising sense of defeat and a dreadful fear of the White man among the people of Bida.

Pandemonium broke out in Bida as many houses caught fire and major sections of the city became engulfed in fire resulting from the explosions of the 12 Pounder giant gun rocked the city that night.

That very night Etsu Bubakar and his courtiers fled Bida.

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