Abẹokuta lies in fertile country of wooded savanna, the surface of which is broken by masses of grey granite. It spreads over an extensive area, being surrounded by mud walls 18 miles in extent. Palm oil, lumber, natural rubber, yams, rice, cassava, maize, cotton, other fruits, and shea butter are the chief articles of trade. It is a key export location for cocoa, palm products, fruit, and kola nuts. Both rice and cotton were introduced by the missionaries in the 1850s and have become integral parts of the economy, along with the dye indigo.
Abeokuta lies below the Olumo Rock, home to several caves and shrines. The town depends on the Oyan River Dam for its water supply, which is not always dependable. The dam is situated in the Abeokuta North local government area of Ogun State in the West of Nigeria, about 20 km northwest of the state capital Abeokuta. The dam crosses the Oyan River, a tributary of the Ogun River.
Abeokuta is the headquarters of the federal Ogun-Oshun River Basin Authority, which is responsible for development of land and water resources for Lagos, Ogun, and Oyo states. Included in this are irrigation, food-processing, and electrification.
Local industries include but not limited to fruit canning plants, plastics, breweries, sawmills, and an aluminum products factory. South of town are the Aro granite quarries.
Abeokuta is connected to nearby Lagos by a railway that was completed in 1899, with a length of 77 kilometres (48 mi). Roads connect it to Lagos as well as Ibadan, Ilaro, Shagamu, Iseyin, and Ketou.
Sodeke first settled Abeokuta (meaning literally “the underneath of the rock” or indirectly “refuge among rocks”) in 1825 as a place of refuge from slavehunters from Dahomey and Ibadan. The village populations scattered over the open country to take refuge among the rocks surrounding the city. Here they formed a free confederacy of many distinct groups, each preserving the traditional customs, religious rites and the names of their original villages.
The original settlers of Abeokuta were of the Egba nation, fleeing from the Oyo Empire, which was collapsing. Later, some members of other Yoruba tribes came to the settlement. Baptist and Anglican missionaries from Great Britain began to serve the area in the 1840s, in addition to Sierra Leone Creoles.
Because Abeokuta was in a key location for the palm oil trade and because it was the so-called capital of the Egbas, Dahomey soon became hostile. In the 1851 Battle of Abeokuta, the Egba, with assistance from missionaries and armed by the British, defeated King Gezo and the Dahomey incursion. They again beat back the Dahomey military in 1864.
The 1860s also saw problems arise with the Europeans, namely the British in Lagos, which led to the Egba first closing trade routes, followed by the expulsion of missionaries and traders in 1867. Between 1877 and 1893 the Yoruba Civil Wars occurred, and Abeokuta opposed Ibadan, which led the king or alake of the Egba to sign an alliance with the British governor, Sir Gilbert Carter. This occurred in 1893, which formalized the Egba United Government based in Abẹokuta which became recognized by the United Kingdom. In 1914, the city was made part of the colony of Nigeria by the British.
In 1918, the Abeokuta Riots took place which was related to the levying of taxes and the policy of indirect rule by Lord Frederick Lugard, the British Governor-General.
The Abeokuta Women’s Revolt, led by the Abeokuta Women’s Union (AWU), took place in the 1940s. It was a resistance movement against the imposition of unfair taxation by the Nigerian colonial government.
In 1976, Abeokuta became the capital of the newly created Ogun State.
Abeokuta was a walled town and remnants of the historic wall still exist today. The Ake, the traditional residence of the Alake, along with Centenary Hall (1930). There are secondary and primary schools and the University of Lagos Abeokuta Campus opened in 1984. This campus specializes in science, agriculture, and technology. This has since been changed to an independent full-fledged tertiary institution, Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta (UNAAB) in 1988.