Yola, the capital of the present-day  Adamawa state, was founded around 1841 Modibbo Adama Ibn Hussein, a Fulani cleric and a commander in the Sokoto jihadist army of Uthman dan Fodio, who settled there with his followers. Adamawa was named after this Islamic crusader, who also became the region’s first emir.

Geographically, Yola is situated in the Upper Benue Valley, just south of the Benue River. The city is bordered on the north by the river and the Mandara mountains, and in the south by the Shebshi Mountains, which contain the Dimlang Peak, the second-biggest peak in Nigeria and a breath-taking landmark of the city.

Yola was to become a scene of European imperial rivalry with the British laying claim to it in 1902 ahead of France and Germany. In 1912, the British forces attacked and occupied the town, after the Emir had forced out the Royal Niger Company. This eventually led to the division of the emirate into two parts with the southern part coming under German control while the British held the north.  

The rivalry between the two European powers adversely affected commercial activities in Yola. It ended with the start of the First World in 1914 and Germany’s subsequent loss of its African colonial possessions.  

A Modern City Emerges

The British colonial administration brought to Yola the usual amenities and infrastructure of the colonial service. These include schools, roads water supply, hospitals and electricity. The missionaries came to settle and work there because of the prevailing peaceful atmosphere and high level of religious tolerance, which enabled the Christians and Muslims to live in harmony.   

By the 1930s the nearby town of Jimeta, a river port on the Benue, had become closely tied with Yola. It subsequently became the location of the city’s airport as it became a district of the expanding Yola.

Yola was first the capital of the Adamawa Province, created in rhe colonial era, and later the capital of Gongola state created in 1976 and now that of Adamawa state in 1991.

Topography and Weather

As already noted, Yola lies on the bank of the Benue River. However, it is also in a mountainous region of Nigeria, hemmed in between the Shebshi Mountains (where the Dimlang Peak reaches out over 2,000 feet toward the sky) to the north and the Mandara Mountains to the south. Nearby as well is the Gashaka Gumpti National Park, which includes the Chappal Waddi, or the mountain of death and the begging of the Mambilla Plateau.

Yola, like the rest of Nigeria, has a tropical climate divided into the wet season and the dry season. The rains tend to begin in April and peak in August before ending in October. The dry season starts in November, with January often the driest month. The hottest periods are between March and April at over 32 degrees celsius, with December and January the coldest months on account of the cold, dry winds that come from across the Sahara Desert, forcing temperatures as low as 15 celsius at night.

Nigeria Refugees Miliband
Members of a hunters’ guild passing through a suburb of Yola. Photo/Sunday Alamba)

Economic Activities                                                                                                                          The city is richly endowed with fertile ground for grazing and cultivation of food crops such as rice, guinea corn, beans groundnuts, millet, etc. It is strategically located on trade routes to Maiduguri to the north, Jalingo to the west and neigbhoring Cameroon ro the east.Yola is also a trading centre that attracts goods and merchants from the neighboring communities as well as far-flung places such as  north, central Africa and Western Sudan. Consequently, it’s a melting pot of cultures including the Fulani, Hausa, Kanuri, Arab, European, Igbo, Yoruba and the indigenous Chamba, Jukun and Mumuye among several others.

From the colonial times, Yola has played very prominent role in the political evaluation of Nigeria. It was an important seat of politics in the 1950’s during the struggle for Nigeria’s independence from colonial rule. The town has been very active in the various elections in the country from the first republic to the present time. It has also produced notable political figures among when were the late Alhaji Mohammed Ribadu and Atiku Abubakar, who have played different roles in Nigeria’s chequered political history.

Yola is made up of many ethnic groups such as, the Mumuye, Fulani, Hausa, Higgi Bwatiye, Chamba and Marghi. They are joined by other ethnic groups from different parts of the country who live there to pursue their different occupations. Though the people have their distinct languages and dialects, the Hausa is the common language of the different groups.  English, Nigeria’s official language, is also widely spoken in the area.

Yola is an important transortation centre for vehicles going north to Mubi and Mauduguri. Westwards, it yields access to the town of Numan and the cities of Gombe, Bauchi and Jalingo. To the south there’s road access to Makurdi, Katsina-Ala and Wukari. It is also a staging post for travels across the border to neighbouring Cameroon via Maroua. The city’s airport has daily flights to the capital, Abuja, and the commercial capital of Lagos.

Yola has gained fame in the past decade as a growing centre for tertiary education being the location of American University of Nigeria, the Federal University of Technology (now the Modibo Adama University) and the Adamawa State Polytechnic.

Tourist Attractions                                                                                                                        Yola has a rich diversity of cultures that are often manifested through numerous festivals. Some of the best known  are the annual Njuwa fishing festival held in Yola around March, the Yinagu fishing festival held in the Michika district around April, the Farai (vonon) wrestling festival held in the Numan district also in April, the Killashe harvest festival held in Ganye district by the Chamba people and the Simitereme harvest festival held among the Longuda.

Other places of interest include the Lamido’s Palace (the seat of the Emir of Adamawa) in Yola,the grave of Moddibo Adamawa, the founder of Adamawa, the Dimlang Peak on the Nigerian border with Camerom.

Yola is also a centre for the production of traditional arts and crafts which are available for purchase by tourists. These include decorated calabashes, leather products such as sandals, bags and puffs, as well as woven cloth, beads and woodworks.

Perhaps, most important of all, Yola is the gateway to some of the most amazing natural and cultural wonders. These include the Gashaka Gumpti Nature Reserve, the various peaks of the Mandara Mountains and Shebshi Mountains as well as the Sukur world heritage site.

In the nearby Song district, there is the Three Sisters Hills, which is a spectacular formation of three rock outcrops that is very popular with visitors.