Imam Bashir: Ilorin Chief Imam’s Four Decades of Extraordinary Imamship
By Abubakar Imam
For obvious reasons, the Office of the Chief Imam of Ilorin is among the most respected traditional cum spiritual positions among the good people of the community generally known as either the southernmost Emirate or Northernmost Yoruba-speaking enclave and their friends. This is why the community, under the leadership of the succeeding Emirs often looked for the best, in terms of knowledge, capacity, integrity and health among eligible and aspiring candidates, whenever the office is vacant. Ilorin is uniquely known for nothing greater than Islam and every other thing associated with it. And so, due diligence is often deployed to the appointment of whoever would be its Chief Imam. Such a person must not only be versatile and brilliant in Arabic and Islamic sciences as well as energetic he must equally be diligent, cerebral and integrity personified to enable him discharge his duties effectively and efficiently.
It is significant to say that not all those appointed to hold hereditary offices actually merit the appointments going by what unfolds within and outside Nigeria. But in the case of the Chief Imam of Ilorin, who is marking his 40th anniversary in office, there is a consensus of opinions among stakeholders within and outside Ilorin Emirate that His Eminence, Shaykh (Dr) Muhammad Bashir Saliu Al-Fulani, OON, perfectly befits the office as the office also befits him from every parameter of evaluation. His is evidently a case of a round peg in a round hole!
I remember vividly the submission of the inimitable founder of Arabic and Islamic Training Centre (Markaz), Agege, Shaykh Adam Abdullahi Al-Ilorry (1917-1992) when he said sometimes in 1991 that the Chief Imam was a perfect match for the office. Long before then and repeatedly thereafter, the illustrious first Grand Mufti of Ilorin and founder of the Ansarul Islam Society of Nigeria, Shaykh Muhammad Kamaluddeen Al-Adabiy, MFR, OFR, ORSA (1905-2005); had authoritatively affirmed that Ilorin Emirate got it absolutely right with the appointment of its outstanding Chief Imam. These assertions are similar to the position of LAK Jimoh in his evergreen book, “Ilorin: The Journey So Far” where he describes the Chief Imam as “energetic, learned and brilliant with an imposing physique.”
Interestingly, this great spiritual leader has served Ilorin Emirate, the nation, Islam and humanity with great erudition, absolute dedication and unflinching loyalty before and since he became the Chief Imam of Ilorin. Those who are conversant with the recent history of Ilorin would agree with me that the celebrant has seen the best and the worst of times as the Chief Imam of a community generally renowned as “the sanctuary of saints, soldiers and scholars”. And so, he deserves to be celebrated by all and sundry for an “unpunctuated” four decades of hard work and tirelessness in the realm of spiritual leadership.
His Eminence, Shaykh (Dr) Muhammad Bashir Saliu, the 12th and incumbent Chief Imam of Ilorin, is a great teacher, an enigmatic cleric, celebrated school proprietor and outstanding community leader. A distinguished member of Alfa Omo family of Baboko, Ilorin; Imam Bashir, as he is popularly known, was born in Ilorin in 1950. His father was Imam Saliu Omo Onida Abdulkadir, who was the seventh Chief Imam of Ilorin while his mother was Alhaja Awawu Imam Saliu. His mother was a daughter to the Agogo family of Agaka, Ilorin.
This outstanding spiritual leader received his basic Qur’anic education from Magaji Baboko Qur’anic School, Ilorin. He proceeded to the school of Shaykh Abubakar Sakama, Sakama Quarters, Ilorin, where he was trained between 1963 and 1965. The then future Grand Imam of Ilorin was also trained under the watchful eyes of Shaykh Musa Nuhu Elere at Ile Oba Kumasi, Alanamu, Ilorin, for six years between 1965 and 1971.
In 1971, this great son of Ilorin was admitted into the famous Al-Mahad Al-Azhar Institute of Arabic and Islamic Studies established by the pioneer Grand Mufti of Ilorin, Shaykh Muhammad Kamaluddeen Al-Adabiy. At the school, which is affiliated to the globally renowned Al-Azhar University, Cairo, he was taken through several branches of Arabic and Islamic Studies by Egyptian tutors and some of the best indigenous scholars who were on the teaching staff of the institution. He graduated from the institution in 1974.
Armed with sound education coupled with untainted integrity, Imam Bashir joined the teaching service under the defunct Ilorin Local Schools Management Board. He served at Woru LSMB School in the present-day Ilorin East Local Government Area from 1975 to 1978. He also taught at the Kwara State Polytechnic Primary School, Ilorin, between 1978 and 1980. His last station as a salaried primary school teacher was Baptist LSMB Primary School, Surulere, Ilorin, where he taught from 1980 to 1983.
As a born teacher, who was born into a factory where children are inculcated with Islamic knowledge and values, this great son of Ilorin served as a Qur’anic teacher at the family’s Qur’anic school, which he inherited from his father even while in the services of the Kwara State Government. In order to deepen the spread of Islamic knowledge, Imam Bashir moved the advanced segment of the school, which is now known as Imam Saliu Institute of Arabic and Islamic Studies, Ilorin, to Egbejila Village in Ilorin in 1986. He also established similar school at Odo-Eri in Kogi State in 2002. He similarly established another school at Ayibata near Ogbomoso, Oyo State, in 1987 and, of course, another school was established by this great servant of Islam at Takete in Kogi State in 2015.
In addition to being a promoter and proprietor of many schools, this remarkable personality is also the Chairman of the Kwara State Council of Ulama. He is also the Chairman of Ilorin Emirate Council of Ulama as well as the Council of Muslim Organisations, which previously had late Prof. Shehu Jimoh, OON, as the Coordinator, and, at present, being coordinated by Honourable Justice Idris Abdullahi Haroon, OFR, a former Grand Kadi of Kwara State.
Shaykh Saliu left the classroom for the pulpit following his appointment as the 12th Chief Imam of Ilorin on October 15, 1983. His appointment was made by the 9th Emir of Ilorin, Alhaji (Dr) Sulu Gambari, CFR, who died in 1992. During the life time of Emir Sulu Gambari, he served meritoriously and also did so competently under the 10th Emir of Ilorin, Mallam Aliyu Abdulkadir who reigned from 1992 to 1995. He has equally been holding the position outstandingly since the incumbent Emir of Ilorin, Alhaji (Dr) Ibrahim Sulu-Gambari, CFR, assumed the throne of his illustrious forebears in August, 1995.
Since 1983, His Eminence has rendered yeoman’s services most of which are offered without any form of financial rewards. He has led communal obligatory and supererogatory prayers on weekly and annual bases for the people of Ilorin Emirate in the last 40 years. He has served as a preacher. He has been a counselor, a peace builder and a personality model as well as a modest personality.
The exciting character, intimidating sagacity, fascinating physique, infectious intellect and enticing eloquence of this uncommon scholar of scholars have won him the admiration of thousands of people including local and international dignitaries including non Muslims. These include all those who have administered Nigeria and Kwara State from 1983 till date such as President Shehu Shagari, President Muhammadu Buhari, General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida, General Sanni Abacha, General Abdulsalami Abubakar, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, Dr Goodluck Jonathan and, of course, the President-elect, Senator Ahmed Bola Tinubu and former Vice President, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, and of course, the Sultan of Sokoto, who is also the President-General of the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (NSCIA), Alhaji Muhammad Saad Abubakar III, CFR, among several others.
This piece would be incomplete if deserved homages are not paid to all the celebrated predecessors of the celebrant. According to the late Prof. Musa Ali Ajetunmobi (1949-2008) in his seminal work entitled “Contributions of Ilorin Scholars To The Development of Islam and Islamic Scholarship in Yoruba Land,” the predecessors of this celebrant were the first Chief Imam of Ilorin, Imam Muhammad bn Sanni Idiagbon who was succeeded by Shaykh Bello Badiko and Shaykh Haliru Temim Isale Maliki. Other previous Chief Imams of Ilorin were Shaykh Saliu Ori-Oke, Shaykh Abubakar Atiku Ori-Oke, Shaykh Abdulkadir Aliyu Ori-Oke and the biological father of the celebrant, Shaykh Saliu Alfa Omo Onida Baboko, who was turbaned as such in 1955. The rest includes Shaykh Ibrahim Dasuki Agaka, Shaykh Ahmada Baboko, Shaykh Abdulmaliki Baboko and Shaykh Ahmad Musa Baboko, who died on September 13,1983 while on Hajj.
Shaykh Saliu is a man who has a unique place in the history of Ilorin. He was clearly the youngest person to emerge as Chief Imam of Ilorin since 1900. He did so at the young age of 33. He is equally and incontrovertibly the longest serving Chief Imam of the sacred community of Ilorin, at least, in the last one century. The Chief Imam is also the 5th to be appointed from Baboko Quarters, Ilorin.
Similarly, the tenure of His Eminence has not only witnessed the superlative physical transformation of the Ilorin Central Jumaat Mosque but also saw to the complete “deregulation” of venues for Jumaat services and the annual eid prayers in Ilorin. Such places of worship now run into hundreds within and beyond the traditional segment of Ilorin because of the increasing population of the community.
Despite the above, the Chief Imam has maintained and retained his respectable and venerable Number One status in the comity of spiritual leaders serving in the community and those operating outside Ilorin Emirate as he is rightly seen and acknowledged as the Grand Chief Imam of Kwara State and one of the most respected spiritual leaders across Nigeria.
The Chief Imam is also enjoying the support of his equally brilliant and competent lieutenants who are the Imam Imale of Ilorin, Shaykh Abdullahi Abdulhamid, who assumed the position in 1987 and whose father, Shaykh Abdulhamid Abdulkadir, a distinguished teacher of Arabic and Islamic Studies, served as the Imam Imale of Ilorin from 1961 to 1964 as well as the Imam Gambari of Ilorin, Shaykh Suleiman AbdulAzeez, who assumed the office in 2017. His father, Imam AbdulAzeez Ta’aj, held the position of Imam Gambari of Ilorin between 1973 and 1979. The three great clerics have been working harmoniously for the greatness of Islam and Ilorin Emirate as inherited from their illustrious forebears. The level of conviviality, cooperation and fraternity among the trio is neither coincidental nor surprising. This is because they are all learned and moderate. They are also occupying positions previously held by their biological fathers. Each of them is equally the 12th occupant of their prestigious positions. Other lieutenants of the Chief Imam are the youthful Ajanasi Agba of Ilorin, Shaykh Mujtaba Yusuf Bature, who assumed the office in 2020 and whose father, Imam Yusuf Bature (1919-1994), was the penultimate occupant of the position; and the Alfa Rabanna of Ilorin, Shaykh Yahaya Kokewu.
Speaking on the exciting pedigree and venerable status of our beloved Chief Imam, one of his close associates, Shaykh Yusuf Murtala Pakata, recalled the precious manner the Chief Imam was treated even outside Nigeria. He recalled that on many occasions the magnetic personality of the learned Chief Imam had encouraged Imams of Arab descent to leave their “minbar” for him to enable him lead congregational prayers. Shaykh Pakata also recalled another event in Dubai, United Arab Emirate, where the celebrant was unexpectedly called upon to present a vote of thanks on behalf of his colleagues consisting of eminent scholars and clerics conferred with honorary doctorate degrees by a British University, saying that the audience were held spellbound by his captivating delivery in English Language, which attracted spontaneous thunderous applause. This particular episode was confirmed by Honourable Justice Saliu Olohuntoyin Muhammad who equally witnessed it.
A retired Grand Kadi of Kwara State, Honourable Justice Mutalub Ahmad Ambali, OFR, while speaking at a public event about a decade ago, also acknowledged the respect and ovation the Chief Imam has earned for himself and Ilorin Emirate on various occasions. Justice Ambali recalled how honoured and elated he and his Ilorin compatriots felt when the Chief Imam was given the uncommon privilege of leading a large assembly of eminent personalities from allover Nigeria and beyond and presided over by the then President Goodluck Jonathan in saying the opening and closing prayers of an event at which national honours of various categories were conferred on deserving citizens and foreigners including Shaykh Muhammad Bashir Saliu himself and the retired Grand Kadi.
Happily, the services of this exceptional cleric have not gone unrecognised. He is a recipient of the prestigious award of the Officer of the Order of the Niger (OON), which was conferred on him by the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan in 2012. He was also conferred with honorary doctorate degree by Belaze University, United Kingdom in 2013, among others.
The Chief Imam of Ilorin, who is not only intellectually generous but also a free giver of his personal material resources, is happily married and blessed with many outstanding children who are doing very well in their various fields of endeavour.
As the people of Ilorin Emirate roll out the drum to celebrates his 40th anniversary in office as the Chief Imam of Ilorin on Thursday, 9 and Friday 10, March, 2023, I join numerous admirers, friends, well wishers and compatriots to wish His Eminence many more years of quality and rewarding services to Allah and humanity.
Imam is National Secretary,Ilorin Emirate Descendants Progressive Union.