Today In History: How Nupe Fighters Defeated British Army In 1896

By Ndagi Abdullahi (Amana Nupe)

The 26th of June is celebrated every year as the Nupe Day as it marks the only day, in the entire history of imperial Great Britain, on which the almighty British Army was decisively defeated by a native African army.

On the 26th of June 1896, a British Constabulary provocatively wandered off the ‘British Protectorate’ of Lokoja and approached the Bida Army camp at Udi in Ogidi, today’s Kogi State. In the resulting skirmish the Bida army resoundingly defeated the British Constabulary and seized the Union Jack.

The humiliated British began a campaign of defaming the Nupe Nation or KinNupe with virulent slanders and baseless propaganda: that the Nupe emirs were bloodthirsty slave-raiders destroying and depopulating the Niger Valleys.

The result was the Battle of Bida which took place on the 26th and 27th of January 1897 and which ended with the British conquest of Bida.

The Battle of Bida was, actually, a cowardly invasion of Bida by the British who sneaked across the Niger and bombarded a defenceless city of Bida at a time when almost the whole of the Bida Army was stranded across the Niger at Kabbaland in today’s Kogi State.

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The British dethroned Etsu Bubakar but even in exile they were forever scared of him as the only African monarch who dealt the white man a death blow.

Etsu Bubakar lost the war in the short run but won it in the long run because his unprecedented resistance to British imperialism became the spark for the rise of international anti-imperialism which eventually brought an end to colonialism after the two world wars reduced Europe to ashes and its great powers to coma.

Ndagi Abdullahi

Etsu Bubakar should be celebrated as the greatest figure in history as far as the resistance to British rule and anti-imperialism are concerned.

He came to power fully prepared for the fight with the white men. For a whole decade before he came to power he had painfully witnessed the double-speak politics of the RNC British against the Nupe Nation or KinNupe.

As far back as 1885, Sir George Taubman Goldie, had larcenously lied that he had obtained a treaty signed by Etsu Maliki placing the entire Nupe Nation under the rule of the RNC for the British Government. With this barefaced lie, the RNC treacherously confiscated Lokoja from the Bida Emirate and declared Lokoja a territory of the British ‘Protectorate’ in 1888.

When the Bida authorities complained against British larceny, Sir George Taubman Goldie, personally visited Etsu Maliki in 1891 and gave the Etsu Nupe his words that the British will no more take any Nupe land and will definitely not fight the Bida Emirate.

But the moment the devilish Sir George Taubman Goldie got back to Lokoja he incited the Kabba people of Northern Yorubaland to rebel against Bida Rule. The RNC organized the Kabba rebels into the Ogidi Alliance and provided them with weapons to fight the Bida Army.

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Etsu Bubakar was a witness to all these mischievousness of the British and that was why when he became the Etsu Nupe in 1895, after the death of Etsu Maliki, his first major action was to move the Bida Army across the River Niger to Kabbaland to crush the Ogidi Alliance.

The Bida Army, according to Professor Smalldone, was the most powerful in the whole of the pre-Colonial Nigeria of those days and so it was initially calculated that the Ogidi Alliance will be crushed by the Bida Army in less than a month. But the series of the Ogidi battles gradually dragged on into a war that lasted for years because the British continued to secretly supply the Ogidi Alliance with both training and weapons.

It was while openly infuriating the Bida Army in this manner that the British further sent a constabulary, made up of two white officers and 45 native soldiers, to go and attack the Bida Army camped at Udi in Ogidi on the 26th of June 1896.

Of course, and as we narrated right at the outset of this write-up, the Bida Army at Udi completely routed the RNC constabulary, injuring, arresting and detaining the British Army for a while.

And what followed was the Battle of Bida.

The Battle of Bida was the greatest battle ever fought by the British in the history of Nigeria. It was so great it made headlines in British newspapers back in England.

In those days such was the reputation of the “dreaded Emir Abubakar” and the “dangerously large Nupe kingdom” that the British had to take some six solid months meticulously preparing for the Battle of Bida in absolute secrecy.

In preparation for the Battle of Bida, Sir George Taubman Goldie, personally travelled back to England to customize and improved on the Maxim Gun, the first machine gun in history. It was the first time the Maxim Gun was to be used for a full-scale war anywhere in the world.

From England, the British secretly brought in modern and state-of-the-arts weapons including the Maxim Gun, 7, 9 and 12 Pounder cannons guided with compasses, electric lamps, barb wires, etc — all of which were very modern weapons that have never been used anywhere in Africa before then.

And despite all these modern weapons the British only won the Battle of Bida because the Bida Army was stranded across the Niger and couldn’t participate in the battle.

In any case the Fall of Bida opened a floodgate of several other conquests by the British. The Benin Kingdom (in 1898), Kano Emirate (in 1903) and even Sokoto the Seat of the Caliphate (in 1903) all fall in rapid succession to the expansionist larceny of the British imperialists.

If the British had not treacherously conquered Bida in 1897 the Northern Protectorate in particular, and Nigeria in general, might not have come into existence.

So it was the fall of KinNupe that led to the creation and emergence of Nigeria. The history of Nigeria will be a hideously mutilated mutant if it is not told in the context of our modern Nigeria being nothing but the British transmutation of the ancient Nupe Empire.

As we can see, therefore, it was the innocuously simple skirmish on that fateful day the 26th of June 1896 that set in motion the cascade of historical events that eventually led to the formation of our Nigeria today. That is why the Nupe people celebrate the Nupe Day.

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Nupe Day is also an occasion for us to appreciate the profundity of the Nupe culture.

For now the Nupe people are confused because they have jettisoned their culture ever since the days they accepted Islam in the 11th century and Christianity even further back in the 3rd century AD. For a millennium or so the two world religions of Islam and Christianity have been finding their definitive abodes in KinNupe as their ultimate bastions.

It was Professor Reverend Edward Wilmot Blyden, who observed over a century ago that Africa will eventually use Islam, and even Christianity, to rule the world in the far future.

The Nupe man’s incredible obsession with Islam, and Christianity, today is just a step towards that future that Shakespeare too, speaking with golden joys but hiding behind the voice of his literary character Pistol, said will witness the domination of the world by Africa.

The day the Nupe man rediscovers the profundity of his Nupe culture and add it to his millennium old obsession with Islam and Christianity is the day KinNupe will regain its lost glory of being the greatest and superpower phenomenon of the whole of West Africa.

Nupe culture is, according to Professor Leo Frobenius, so profound it had established a civilization prototypic to both Atlantis and the Byzantium right here in ancient Nigeria.

The Nupe Day Festival should also let us know that inherent to Nupe culture is the most potent spiritualism in the world. This ancient Nupe spiritualism, called Eba in Nupe and Ifa in Yoruba is already on the rise back to its ancient global supremacy in the form of the Ifa spiritualism of Latin and, now, even Central America.

Ndagi Abdullahi is a Nupe professor coroneted with the title of Amana Nupe.


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