The Scramble for Ilorin: An Exercise in Futility, By Abubakar Imam
“People will continue to live the horrors of history for as long as they continue to ignore its lessons”.
—Hon.Justice Chukwudifu Oputa(1924-2014)
The “integrational challenges” confronting our country,particularly our beloved “State of Harmony”,which were precipitated by the alleged confounding activities of cattle herders and the propriety or otherwise of wearing Hijab in public schools, have,again, brought to the fore the intellectual contestation surrounding the status of Ilorin within the nation’s geopolitical configurations. The situation is incontrovertibly fuelled by the age long inherited desire of not letting Ilorin be by the powerful Southwest opinion moulders and its restless “political soldiers” who believed that Ilorin must be incorporated into their anticipated Republic of Oduduwa “Ni ti ipa ti ikuku” (by fire by force).
As not unexpected, the debate has attracted divergent interventions from interested parties,particularly but most unfortunately or annoyingly from those who have no stake on Ilorin. Such interventions of the “busy bodies”, as they say, have left the overwhelming majority of indigenes of the southernmost Emirate with the perplexing exclamation of “Gba ran mi se di e le ru. Aa jin ni fe se di Oko eni”(Why should anyone be more English than an English man)
While some of the views canvassed by some participants were in tune with the truth and contemporary reality, quite a number of others were speculative and dismissive.
I am,however, not too disappointed because we are in a season of politics. We are in an era where and when intellectual gyration,political grandstanding and hilarious propaganda are often the order of the day.
The renewal of the debate on where Ilorin actually belongs afforded many who had issues against the city and its people the opportunity of unveiling such on the pages of newspapers and social media platforms. My job as an information gatherer and manager places me in an advantageous position of reading and digesting as many media contents as possible on daily basis.
The last few weeks has,therefore, been a period of extensive content analysis for me and I think I enjoyed it all. It left me more informed and exposed to reality of the fact that human beings, or do I say Nigerians, hardly learnt from history. Is that not why events often repeat themselves even in the life times of critical players or major participants in the previous episodes?
The contributions of objective analysts and of subjective pretenders reminded yours sincerely of the events that happened a little over two decades ago on the same subject. It was the aftermath of the attempted invasion of Ilorin by the now decimated Odua Peoples Congress(OPC) to install what the factionalised group called “Yoruba Oba” on an Emirate. A misnomer, you would say?
I was a postgraduate student at the University of Ilorin at that time and was therefore quite informed of the development. The perceptions of the people of Ilorin Emirate on the matter informed the piece I published then which I titled as “The Battle for Ilorin” on “The Emirate Spring”,the rested publication of Unilorin chapter of the Ilorin Emirate Students Union. Those who were active in the chapter and its patrons within and beyond the shores of the institution would recall the context and contents of the piece as well as what the intervention precipitated.
This piece therefore would have been unnecessary but for the fact that “bi eniyan ba ni ohun o se Ogun Ika mon awon ti o je iwo ko ni fi ni lo orun si le”(No matter one’s effort those who are destined to err would still do so).And so, in order to set some records straight readers would permit me to add my voice to the debate.
No doubt,Ilorin speaks Yoruba language,even though with peculiar variations, like their compatriots from the Southwest. It is also true that the forebears of the people of Southwest Nigeria gave the city and several of its Quarters,including Pakata,where I hail from, their names. Yes,Ilorin is geographically located Southwest of the great River Niger. Yes,Ilorin is the only home to a people, many of whom traced their ancestry to Oyo and other parts of the Southwest. Yes,quite a significant number of people of Ilorin answer similar names with their brothers and sisters from the Southwest, even with pride. To say the fact,Ilorin,as presently constituted and despite being an amalgamation of people whose ancestors came from different ethnocultural backgrounds, cannot completely distance itself from the general ethnocultural classification as Yoruba. We are Yoruba-speaking people of Northern Nigeria and not of the Southwest geopolitical region and with no affiliation to any “primordial diety of the Yoruba nation”.
And so, Ilorin Emirate remains part and parcel of Northern Nigeria. It enjoys being so. It prefers remaining politically part of Arewa. It does for so many reasons including culture and history and conviction.
I grew up admiring the imposing image of the late Sardauna of Sokoto and Premier of the defunct Northern Region,Alhaji (Sir)Ahmadu Bello,KBE,GCON(1909-1966) hung on my father’s sitting room. Even upon my old man’s transition to the great beyond, the memoriam remains where it has been displayed probably before my birth. As a child, I used to think that the murdered political icon was my grand father until I came of age and later saw the same portrait at the residences of my father’s contemporaries and even seniors across Ilorin. The portrait symbolises something. It represented and still represents a significant link between Ilorin Emirate and the rest of the erstwhile Northern Region.
Despite the tremendous advantages Ilorin Emirate derived from being part of the North, including the production of a Chief of Staff,Supreme Headquarters(Vice-President) in a government headed by a fellow Northerner between 1984 and 1985, it is not to say that Ilorin has had it completely rosy with its being part of the North(I have also written on this issue in the past). Every form of relationship suffers one challenge or the other. Yet,it remains in the North. This is because it could be worse elsewhere.
Notwithstanding, no one can bring any evidence of such a close political relationship and gigantic benefit coming from those who see Ilorin as a parasite and who derided the people of the frontier Emirate as “mesu jamba” simply because they could not cope with the boundless diplomacy of indigenes of the southernmost Emirate. It is also clear that since circa 1807 when the hitherto semiautonomous settlements ,which pre-Alimi Ilorin was, got transformed into a multicultural entity or a cohesive sociocultural confluence, it has not had any patrimonial political relationship with the Southwest except for the brief reign of the defunct Ilorin Talaka Parapo(ITP) ,which was even precipitated by local politics to form alliance with the disbanded Action Group(AG) following its rejection by the defunct Northern People’s Congress(NPC).
More importantly,the people who own Ilorin and inhabit its entire landscape have the right to self determination within the context of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. And they have consequently demonstrated where they stand on the issue in war and peace. For the avoidance of doubt, their position is that they are part of the erstwhile Northern Region and would remain a segment of Northern Nigeria for the next foreseeable future . We have done that through politics, religion and culture. It was the essence of all the wars our forebears, who were of assorted cultural backgrounds, fought between circa 1807 and 1897.It was the basis of the classification of the city and its environs as part of the North by the British colonialists who in that particular instance,more than any other(in my own view), looked before leaping. It was argued and resolved before Sir Willink Commission on the fears of minorities,which the British commissioned on the eve of the nation’s independence and at which the late Mutawali of Ilorin, Alhaji Abdulganiyu Folorunsho AbdulRazaq,SAN,OFR,(1927-2020) competently and successfully defended the position of the people of Ilorin Emirate . It was what determined the name given to the State Ilorin serves as capital. It formed the contents of many books and discourse on Ilorin. The stance has also been repeatedly restated over the years through deliberate actions and intentional inactions,including participation in the formation and operations of the Arewa Consultative Forum,which was chaired by the Emir of Ilorin,Alhaji(Dr)Ibrahim Sulu-Gambari, CFR, on its formation;the Gamji Memorial Club,peopled by some of our outstanding emerging leaders, as well as the rested “Northern Union”,which was founded and funded by the late Waziri of Ilorin, Dr Abubakar Olusola Saraki(1933-2012),to ensure that a Northerner succeeded President Olusegun Obasanjo at the end of his second term in office, among others,which space would not permit me to enumerate here.
I appreciate the fact that this particular conversation on Ilorin would remain what Communication Scholars called “Dialogue of the Deaf”. As I posited elsewhere, the case of Ilorin could be likened to that of a fantastic super star who is coveted by all but for different reasons. A successful child is always admired, preferred and proud of by all and sundry. The North would never forsake “Ilorin:Garin Alimi”. The Southwest wants “Ilorin Afonja”. This is because the descendants of Oduduwa know what they stand to gain should Ilorin becomes part of their geopolitical region. For being such a beautiful bride, I think the contestation would continue for the rest of history and for as long as Ilorin remains what it is and it has been.
Having come this far,I think it is very important to tell our neighbours down south not to be “more Catholic than the Pope”. Or can anyone justifiably fight for one who does not call for his assistance? No doubt, “eni to ba se be a je ebi bo ni”(Whoever does so would find himself on the wrong side of the law)
Why are some recalcitrant fellow from the Southwest disturbed with the enduring position of the people of Ilorin to remain as an integral part of the North? Have they not said that we are not like them in the praise-song they constructed and “foisted” on us as “Ilu to yi ko ni egun”(a polity as big as it is without a masquerade)? Or is there any community they can compare us with in their cultural enclave? Why are they not dissipating as much energy on the Yoruba-speaking people of Kogi State as much as they are concerned about Ilorin Emirate? Se won bi sorin man eja ni(Is it a must)? Don’t they think that it was their relentless irredentism that denied a Yoruba man from becoming the Governor of Kogi State following the death of Alhaji Abubakar Audu?If Hon. James Faleke,has had northern orientation like the S. B. Awoniyis, the S. B. Daniyans,the Stephen Ade Johns, the Smart Adeyemis and even the Dino Melayes,he would by now serving as the Chief Executive of the Confluence State.
Is it not wrong going in pursuit of a rat in another person’s room when one’s home is on fire?With all those unrepentant irredentists have to resolve in the Southwest, why are they disturbing themselves with Ilorin? Don’t they know that the Almighty God has even forbidden Himself from undoing what has been done? Do they think they can bring back the past which has been lost to “might”,which they say “is right”?
I think having Ilorin Emirate and its people within Southwest irredentism is an illusion that can never be realised. We have come a long way to be winkled and hoodwinked by a mere sloganeering.
While it is not impossible to have a few naysayers among the people of Ilorin Emirate who think that for them to become whatever they are dreaming of, they must “sellout” by supporting the submerge of their ancestral home into the Southwest region,I stand to be corrected in saying that the worst insult that can be hurled on a typical Ilorin indigene is to associate him with Oduduwa or link him with important cultural beliefs of the Yorubas like egungun,Ifa and their deities.
Let those who want Ilorin in the southwest resolve the issue of who owns Ile-Ife between the Ooni of Ife dynasty and the Olugbo. Have we heard the last position on the claim of Alaafin of Oyo on who the real descendants of Oranmiyan are between his progenitors and those of the Ooni?We are also waiting for where the pendulum would swing among those who believed that the legendary Oduduwa was a Prince of Benin in comparison with those who insisted that he descended from heaven as against those who argued that he came to Ile-Ife from the Middle East. What about the insistence of the people of Ijebu land that they are not descendants of Oduduwa?Would nothing be done on the fact that the progenitors of the Oba of Lagos,the sovereign of the most economically strategic Yoruba city and its gateway to the rest of the world, hailed from Benin Kingdom,which is dismissing the claim that it was established by an Oduduwa descendant. These and other assignments are awaiting the irredentists before coming to Ilorin.
Rather than mudslinging, the people of Southwest Nigeria owe Ilorin Emirate a lot of appreciation for the services rendered them in several ways and across centuries. It is the people of Ilorin Emirate who spearheaded the peaceful spread of Islam into southern Nigeria and the eventual institutionalisation of the religion in the region. They have also been in the forefront of the enduring and sustained private efforts at promoting Arabic and Islamic knowledge in the region even till date. So many words have also been borrowed into Yoruba through various forms of interactions between the people of the Southwest and Ilorin Emirate,which enriched the language in so many ways. Ilorin has also benefited tremendously from the Southwest in the realm of western education,trade in traditional textile products and even marriages,among others. The region also hosts quite a significant number of indigenes of Ilorin Emirate many of whom have “made it”. Those good turns deserve more positive reciprocations and collaborations and not provocations as witnessed in recent times.
The people of Ilorin are contented with our geographical location at the junction between the North and the West. We are also delighted being an Emirate,which is the gateway to the rest of the Northern part of the country. We are happy for been a cultural melting point. We are satisfied for proving to be an enduring sociocultural confluence. We are contented for being a good instance of a peaceful amalgamation of different tribes. We are happy speaking Yoruba and we are delighted not being categorised as part of the old Western region. Nothing sweet us than our amazing pluralism. If not applauded for such uncommon peculiarities, Ilorin should be left alone to continue with the process of its evolution.
The rest of the country should come to Ilorin to learn how people from different cultural backgrounds have mingled and evolved into a single tribe. Ilorin Emirate is a perfect example of an enduringly peaceful heterogeneity. Others ought to come and study the homegrown arrangement, which produces a unique traditional political system that takes into consideration the feelings of others under the banner of the only Emir in Nigeria who conducts his leadership in Yoruba language and very proud of his lieutenants who bear the title of Balogun, two of whom are of Yoruba origin while the others are of Fulani and Hausa stocks with a pride of place also accorded the descendants of Yoruba’s greatest and most misunderstood Warrior,Aare Onakakanfo Afonja, unlike in other places where the winner takes all.
It would not unusual if my positions here are either poisonous or painful to some of my compatriots what is important is the acceptance of the fact that “Knowing the truth”, according to Juan Gerard Conedera,” hurts but it is an healthy and liberating act”. While those who may want to contest my postulations and conclusions are welcome,I urge the naysayers to ruminate over the timeless submissions of one of the British most accomplished statesmen and ex-Prime Ministers,Winston Churchill, when he said that “those who continue to dispute with the past will lose the future”.
Imam writes from Pakata Roundabout, Ilorin