by Tola Adenle


[This essay was published in The Comet on Sunday in 2002 with above title but I did give my editor two choices: the one above and “The Emir of Ilorin & Dr. Saraki vs. Kwara Yorubas: echoes from a distant past.”  I think readers of this blog deserve the right to see both titles. 


The problem of Kwara Yoruba remains one of the problematic issues that must be resolved as part of a lasting political restructuring Nigeria that cannot be willed away if this country must exist as a nation of different nationalities that in reality, it is.  June 1, 2011]




Even in death, Afonja cannot really rest.  Possibly the best known of the Are Onakankanfos (AOKs), the restless Afonja of Yoruba’s fratricidal era must be turning in his grave.  His mistake, a result of ambition, power drunken-ness and arrogance still continue to haunt us.  I can only write this essay based on newspaper information that have continued to pour out of Kwara as well as a single reference book, Rev. Johnson’s History of the Yorubas

Unlike the Ifes and Modakekes whose adversarial situation arose from the latter being “guests” of the former, Alimi, a Fulani, was a guest who took over the house.  Afonja had invited him to strengthen his hands in dealing with his own chiefs, a goal towards which he made Alimi his priest.  The Fulani man went to Ilorin, (founded by Afonja’s great grandfather) with his Hausa slaves who were joined by other Hausa slaves from neighboring towns to swell the rank of those whom Afonja later used to build himself up.  These Hausas, “Jamas,” were used by Afonja to sack the towns of leaders in opposition to him …

The same Hausas used to fight Afonja’s battles were later used to wage wars not only on him but on the whole of the Yoruba country, to fight Alimi’s wars.  By the time Afonja realized his terrible mistake, the Hausas in the service of the Fulani traitor had gotten out of hand and while Afonja died as all AOKs in Yoruba seemed to have died – valiantly – the Fulanis had risen to power in what used to be the third largest city of the Yorubas.

While the evils of colonialism are real, we cannot forget that but for the British and the various treaties they kept on signing all over the various parts of Yoruba country, we might have continued to do damage to the “polity,” if I may borrow a word currently very much in vogue. Even after each of the many sections had agreed to peace initiatives by the British, the Ilorins (read “Alimi’s descendants”) were not done with expansionist dreams, disregarding the agreement reached with the British.  While the Ibadans would have liked to try one more time to reclaim Ilorin from the usurpers (aided by the British, this time), the forces of the Fulani were finally repelled in 1897 by the forces of the Royal Niger Company, the mighty trading company that must have seen these murderous expeditioners as being inimical to its interest.

All the above was then; the rumbles in Ilorin/Kwara are now.  The principal actors remain the same; rather, the “combatants” on either side of a line long ago seemingly carved in stone remain the same: descendants of the Yorubas and those of the Fulanis and their Hausa fighters.  The battle may not entail murderous Jamas or suicide-if-you-fail Yoruba leaders but the old ingredients are all present: covetousness, treachery, arrogance and patronizing attitudes.

One would think that with intermarriages leading to many Fulani stock bearing both Yoruba in addition to the requisite Arabic names, long co-habitation and education, this ugliness from the past would never again rear its head …!  Now, it seems that some of the same mistakes of the past are being made, although this time, they are being made by the “settlers”.  Allow me to quote from the pages of above reference book:

Ilorin now passed into the hands of foreigners, the Fulanis who had been

                invited there as friends and allies. Their… generous treatment of fallen foes

                and artful method of conciliating a power they could not openly crush,  …”

By refusing to meet the recently upgraded chiefs in Kwara State, Alhaji Sulu Gambari, the Emir of Ilorin, and a direct descendant of one of the two brothers of the same mother who played the other children of Alimi out by becoming the first and second Emirs of Ilorin (and whose descendants have continued to be emirs), has neither been artful nor conciliatory to descendants of powers his forebears already crushed.

Based on my reading of various newspaper reports, advertorials, etc., though not backed by any grounding in History, one could still claim a fair understanding of the goings-on at Ilorin, nay, Kwara State.  Governor Lawal, a former navy man, tagged along Dr. Olusola Saraki like many before him:  Adamu Attah, Akanbi Oniyangi, et al. and won election …  And like those before him, he soon discovered that the medical doctor-turned politician was like that Yoruba all-powerful Basorun of old, Gaha who was a kingmaker more than once and a king destroyer also more than once!  Lawal seems to have played Gaha’s King Abiodun to the Turakin of Ilorin and if evidences on the ground at Ilorin are indications, he seems set for a longer “reign” than four years just as Abiodun’s reign was long and prosperous.

Now, nobody is asking the Fulanis to pack out a la Ife to Modakeke, nor is there the remotest notion of not recognizing the emir as the primus inter pares.  In fact, in an advertorial in at least a newspaper taken by the newly-upgraded chiefs , it was clearly stated that the new chiefs refer to Ilorin as “Emirate” and to the indisputable superiority of Alhaji Kolapo Gambari who dropped his Yoruba name on becoming emir.  For descendants of a conquered people, these chiefs are not asking for anything extraordinary but that the emir recognize their rights, rights that had long been spelt out but were not allowed to see the light of day.  Self determination, it is called in non-feudal modern world.

For the emir to ask that the gate to his palace be closed because the chiefs had sent earlier notification of their desire to pay him homage does not befit a man who once sat on a Federal High Court Bench.  And the retired justice should realize that by sheer force of numbers, history is on the part of the conquered and that it is better he lets things play out as Lawal is doing rather than let it become mob actions as happened when the nationalist, Gani Adams and his OPC faction tried to install aYoruba oba some time ago.  It is better he allows reason to prevail.  Most Yorubas fall into the category of Governor Lawal:  though may be not that well-versed in ALL historical details of the race but very reasonable.  It is people like these that the emir must allow himself to align with before we have great calamities.  After all, (my copy of Johnson’s History of the Yorubas is thousands of miles away for safe keeping and I’ve already called once to have the portions quoted above dictated to me or I’d have quoted more copiously), yes, after all, the first Emir of Ilorin played a fast one on his half brothers, children of the real wives because his mother was a house-girl, if I may borrow an inelegant Nigerian-ese!  He shared physical properties to the other brothers who happened to have been born after him because his mother was at first barren; he then made himself the first emir and his brother (by the same house girl) became the second emir; only descendants of these two have been emirs.  They were the sons of that Alimi,the Fulani priest house guest who became the landlord.

There have been enough usurpations: first and monumentally, of a Yoruba town, and of the birthrights of that first Emir’s half brothers for whom I really cannot shed any tears.  A Yoruba Oba must rule over the Yorubas of Ilorin and the upgrading of chiefs in various Kwara council areas are very much in order.  Otherwise, let us wait for the elections and test Lawal’s popularity.  Calling the police to help maintain a peace that the emir is not working for belongs in the category of what that all-important Sovereign National Conference would iron out.

The Comet on Sunday, September 2002



Nigerian newspapers and online news sources
  • 234 Next News site
  • Bella Naija Magazine
  • Business Day Newspaper
  • Daily Champion Newspaper
  • Daily Independent Newspaper
  • Daily Trust Newspaper
  • Elendu Reports News site
  • Emotan Blog
  • Huhu online News site
  • jhova blog Blog
  • Leadership News site
  • Linda Ikeji Blog
  • National Daily Newspaper
  • Nigeria Plus News site
  • Nigeria Village Square News site
  • Nigerian Observer News site
  • Osun Defender News site
  • PM News Newspaper
  • Punch Newspaper
  • Sahara Reporters News site
  • Sun Newspaper
  • The Guardian Newspaper
  • This Day Newspaper
  • Tribune Newspaper
  • Vanguard Newspaper

    Emotan 77
    Former publisher of the women's bi-monthly, Emotan (1977-1984) and op-ed ... now publishes her writing here

    Bridging Loans. Get a decision today
    We have access to unlimited funding, assuring competitive levels of capital per deal.

    Abuja food delivery, call +234 803 369 4078, +234 809 833 944
    Afang, edikan ikon, egusi, oha, okro, white soup, jollof rice, yam porriage, moin-moin, white rice & stew ...

    Home interiors inspired by Heritage African fabrics
    Handmade cushions, bedding, apparel and more

    Hand crafted cards by Christiangraffiti
    Inspirational notecards and greetings that touch the spirit and pierce the soul