Aafin/Okemale Dichotomy: What is the Issue? By Abubakar Imam
Yours sincerely is continuously concerned by the subjective reasoning in some quarters that the challenges of development facing the people of Ilorin are seemingly rooted in the so-called Aafin/Okemale dichotomy. Let me say from the beginning that, personally I do not think it is so! I think it should not be so!! And there should be no reason for it to be so!!!
It is therefore in support of my above opinion; that I beg to venture into debate on the issue and “politics” of the dichotomy within the city of Ilorin. This is because there is always the need to reflect on the basis and basics of our togetherness to strengthen our unity. As unpleasant as the genocide that nearly consumed Rwanda remains, it has seemingly become the strength on which their widely acknowledged development is built.
In Ilorin, because we are who we are; we have unconsciously allowed those who are not part of us to paradoxically turn part of the basis of our unity to becoming our albatross by using the dichotomization of our city to cause disaffection among us. It is this weapon, they use to divide us for them to have their ways. This “dichotomy argument” was unfortunately dusted by a recent development in our community, which should serve as another lesson in our pursuit of unity and development, than being rehearsed to inflame a fire of bitter division.
Before I go further, I must acknowledge the fact that I am taking a risk with this piece. This is because I know that it is not everyone that would agree with my line of thought on the subject. This is not only understandable but also unavoidable. No serious opinion moulder should entertain the fear of his contributions being subjected to critical reviews. Criticism is part of acquisition of knowledge. It enriches discussions and perspectives, particularly when it is constructive.
As a person, I see the upscaling of the dichotomy as diversionary. For me, there is no issue in it, and we should not make it one. Ilorin is one and the same.
Being an humble participant in the development of Ilorin Emirate and currently the Chief Scribe of the umbrella sociocultural organisation of the good people of Ilorin Emirate; I see this debacle as something that must be discussed. This conviction is particularly strengthened by the demands of some of my compatriots and friends from far and near who continually ask for my opinion on the issue.
From the little I know, Aafin and Okemale had never existed separately. The two are parts of the whole. They are two necessary sides of a coin.
A community or settlement cannot be as old, big and favoured as Ilorin and remains unsegmented. The fact remains that the geographical segmentation of Ilorin, just like those of many other communities, is for the purpose of delineation and identification and not segregation or separation. Only apostles of divisive politics and propagandists would explore such a geographic or “urban planning necessity” to create unnecessary divisions amongst a people with common history, dialect, faith and destiny. Such trend is, however, a dangerous one! And it is, therefore, important for all patriots to stand and fight this divisive communicative tendency in the interest of our unity.
In Yoruba analogy, it is indicated that “Bi omode ba subu a wo iwaju. Bi agba ba subu awo eyin wo” (when a child falls he looks ahead, but when an elderly falls he looks at his track to know the cause and to avoid recurrence). The Yoruba also say “Omo ki iba ipele iya re ki o si aso da” (a child who cares about history does not go astray).
What the two wise-sayings draw our attention to is the need to take a critical look at our past and draw inspirations or lessons from it. Yes, that is what we need to do and pass across to the upcoming generations who may not know as much as we do.
How was it in the past? How should it be as we navigate into the future? These are what I intend to communicate with compatriots in this discourse.
The several efforts made by our founding fathers to ensure the survival of Ilorin were jointly effected. I never read or heard it anywhere that a particular battle was singlehandedly fought by a segment of Ilorin with the other showing indifference. The wars and battles, which were compelled by external aggressions and internal wrangling, were collectively executed by the people of the various quarters across and around Ilorin who contributed strategies, materials and contingents.
The interpersonal relationships of our progenitors were also devoid of pernicious segregations. The enduring appellation of “Alimi” given to the legendary Shaykh Saliu ibn Janta, the founding father of Ilorin Emirate, was spearheaded by scholars he met at the original Okesuna. They were the ones who gave him deserved recognition and support needed to build a solid and indivisible community, which Ilorin has become. Many of them do not share similar cultural roots with Shaykh Alimi. Yet, they cooperated with him. Those scholars are among the founding fathers of most of the original families that inhabited the segment now known as Okemale in Ilorin.
We were also told that if not for the intervention of Shaykh Muhammad Belgore, the progenitor of the illustrious Belgore family, Ilorin would have lost the services and intellectual heroism of Shaykh Mohammad Jamiu Alabi ibn Abdulkadir, popularly known as Tajul Adab, either outrightly or to another polity. It was Shaykh Belgore as the Grand Shaykh of Ilorin of that era who took upon himself the onus of confirming and recommending the ingenuity of Shaykh Tajul Adab to the people of Ilorin and by extension the rest of the Yoruba Muslim enclave. The singular incident of the “testimonial endorsement” of Shaykh Tajul Adab by Shaykh Belgore opened the gate of veneration for the former among their contemporaries and those who came after them and even till date as brilliantly espoused by Shaykh Adam Abdullahi Al-Ilory in a 1982 public lecture he delivered on the invitation of Shaykh Muhammad Kamaluddeen. The two scholars(Shaykh Belgore and Shaykh Tajul Adab) were neither related nor from the same segment of Ilorin. Yet, the elderly scholar did what he could to project and elevate his younger compatriot. That was in 1910.
In the early 1930s, it was Shaykh Muhammad Salizu Kokewukobere who “discovered” Shaykh Muhammad Kamaluddeen Al-Adabiy as the future beacon of Islam in Ilorin and of places, which looked towards Ilorin as the “Lighthouse of Islam”. Shaykh Kokewukobere, after traversing the entire Yoruba landscape and the present-day Republic of Benin and Ghana, spreading the gospel of Islam, retired home. On his retirement and the anticipated end of his calling, he heard about a young scholar, who was evidently “the rave of the moment”, and sent for him. He foretold him of what the future held for him and offered him prayers and guidance towards achieving his earthly mission as authoritatively recalled by the pioneer Grand Mufti of Ilorin, Shaykh Kamaluddeen, in a public lecture at Ilorin sometimes in the late 1980s. The two were neither related nor from the same segment of Ilorin. Yet, the transfer of evangelical authority took place (basically for the progress and glory of Islam) and for the love of our people.
In 1943, there was the need for members of the community to cooperate with settlers to build a school in order to take care of the admission need of the growing number of pupils. The idea led to the fundraising for the establishment of Ilorin United School. A cursory look at the list of contributors to the project would show their diversity in geographical origin. Yet, they worked together to ensure the building of the school as the first community owned primary school in the defunct Northern Region.
The invitation of Dr. Abubakar Olusola Saraki into community development services and his subsequent baptism into partisan politics was also carried out by Ilorin elites without segregation. The solo attempt earlier made for himself by the late Waziri of Ilorin in 1964 was unsuccessful. Most of those who took it upon themselves to invite him and eventually stimulated what L. A. K. Jimoh called Dr. Saraki’s return “into politics with bang and in grand style” were not from the same segment of Ilorin as he was. Those patriots did what they did about half a century ago for the love of our people.
Three years earlier and in 1969, to be specific, it was Alhaji Yakubu Amori Gobir, accompanied by the late Honourable Justice Saka Yusuf,OFR; that enticed Alhaji AbdulRasheed Salman Alada into the Kwara State civil service. The duo drove from their homes to Pakata to encourage and beg their younger compatriot to join the administrative cadre of the state civil service after his graduation from the University against his initial desire of joining the services of the Federal Government. Alhaji Gobir, who was a Permanent Secretary as at “the time of the persuasion”, eventually worked for the emergence of the same Alhaji Alada as the first son of Ilorin Emirate appointed as the Secretary to the Kwara State Government in 1979. He could have secured the position of SSG for himself but he was, according to Alhaji Alada in an interview with this author at his residence in 2015 and reconfirmed by him on Saturday, September 17, 2022, fair enough to insist that the position should go to the most senior degree holding administrative officer from Ilorin Emirate. Alhaji Gobir did not even mind working under the younger man he brought into service until he retired after the maximum age of 60 in 1981. What a patriot! What an example!!
The location of the headquarters of Ilorin Emirate Descendants Progressive Union (IEDPU) at Pakata is another powerful example of the act of patriotism. It was not that easy for the Union, which largely dependent on members’ widow’s mites, to get a piece of land to buy for the building. Those who eventually worked for the land and the owners who released the space free of charge were propelled by nothing but sense of togetherness for the love of our people.
In the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s when securing admissions to universities and other tertiary institutions was a serious struggle, an herculean task; and an indication of social class for the growing number of admission seekers, a few of our compatriots spread across the segments of the city took it upon themselves to assist to place many indigenes in different institutions. These included Prof. Saka Nuru (ABU), Prof. Ibrahim Agboola Gambari,CFR (ABU), Prof. Shuaibu Oba AbdulRaheem,OFR (BUK), Prof. Kamil Kayode Kamaluddeen (UNISOK), and Dr. Yusuf Lawal, fsi (JAMB). They assisted innumerable number of their younger compatriots from across Ilorin to secure admissions. Alhaji Abdullahi Babatunde Kasum, then as Commissioner for Education between 1979 and 1983, also assisted many compatriots to be admitted to the Kwara Tech as Kwara Poly was then called. The beneficiaries of their patriotic services are today leading lights in politics, civil service, business, banking, academia and in many other careers.
The above was how the people of Ilorin interacted among themselves. They cared little about where one comes from in the city. The common denominator for them is *Ilorin*. What propelled their attitudes is corporate interest. That was why they were feared and respected because they were cohesive and strong together.
They never regarded Aafin and Okemale as anything but places of residences. Don’t we have a lot to learn from them? I think we do and it is high time we began to work and see one another as one and the same people as our progenitors did.
In unity we stand, divided we fail and fall.
Imam is National Secretary, Ilorin Emirate Descendants Progressive Union