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Editorial News of Friday, 27 May 2022


Why a Yoruba man has never ruled Ilorin

The rivalry between the Fulani and Afonja descendants over the throne of Ilorin is rooted in history The rivalry between the Fulani and Afonja descendants over the throne of Ilorin is rooted in history

MyNigeria Feature

Ilorin, the capital of Kwara State is the 7th largest city in Nigeria with a population of 777,667 per the 2006 census.

Like every other city in the Western part of the country, its history has generated controversy over the years with many debating who founded the popular city. the founders are.

One school of thought is of the opinion that the true founder of Ilorin was Ojo Isekuse, a hunter who had escaped from Ganbe, to settle in the city. said he faced extreme public derision and shame for cohabiting with his own daughter. His name, Isekuse which means "evil habit" was later added to his name.

The second school of thought according to historians as quoted in refered to Emila, the great grandfather of Afonja as the founder of Ilorin. Afonja of Ilorin was the "Are-Ona-Kakanfo", or chief military leader, of the Oyo Empire. The others who are thought to be argued to be founders of the city include Mallam Solagberu and Mallam Alimi and his people.

The diversity with regards to its formation earned it the name, the "mysterious town" as it has withstood the test of ethnoreligious dynamics. It is a town, as many indigenes of Ilorin are quick to boast, that stands in its own class in Yorubaland.

One indigene who spoke to Sunday Tribune in an interview said "there is no town in Yorubaland with major ethnic groups like Ilorin. This is because the city has major ethnic groups like Hausa, Yoruba, Fulani, Nupe, Arabs, Kamberi, Baruba, Kanuri as indigenes and speaking only one language, which is Yoruba, today”.

Statistics from the historic date at the Center of Ilorin Studies at the University of Ilorin show that Ilorin, as a single settlement, is made up of several villages or hamlets. For example, Idi Ape, Gaa, Gambari, Oke Suna, Okelele, Oke Erin, Oloje and a few others are some of the settlements that make up what is known as Ilorin.

It was also gathered that people living in areas around Ilorin decided to move to the town when Abdulsalam became the emir. Such areas are Amoyo, Kuwo, Eke, Laduba, Ogele, Ejidongari, Ila Oja, Ogbondoroko, as well as others in present Asa and Moro local government areas of the state.

Ilorin indigenes are said to belong to four different groups. The first group includes those collectively known as Ilorin like Idi Ape, Okelele, Ogidi, Oke Suna, Gambari and Gaa. These people are mostly Yoruba, Hausa and Fulani. The second group is made up of those who came to swell the town’s population after Abdulsalam became emir. These are mostly Yoruba.

Historian in Ilorin, S. A. Jimba said the Hausa, Fulani, Gobir, Kamberi, Baruba and Nupe origin form the third group. This group also has among them some Yoruba and non-Nigerians like Malians and they reside at an area called Oke Male in Ilorin till today.

He said the fourth group is made up of Yoruba, who came to settle in Ilorin and most of them were from the Old Oyo empire towns like Iseyin, Saki, Ikoyi, Igboho and Old Oyo itself. Some of them were also Yoruba from nearby Igbomina, Ekiti and Ibolo areas.

The meaning of Ilorin and rulership

Founded between 1600 to 1700, the name Ilorin was coined from the word, "ibitiwontilorin" which means where "iron is being sharpened or forged) on a big stone and where every farmer and hunters fine-tune their tools (cutlass, hoe, arrow, knife)." Bamidele was the man, a Yoruba whose house was used for the trade.

Several reports say the relics of the historical stones still lie in the courtyard of Ile Bamidele to date.

Historians as quoted in said "before the Fulani came to Ilorin, there was no single king for the town because the inhabitants recognised only the Alaafin of Oyo as their king. They said Ilorin was a conglomeration of hamlets with each of them having its own ruler. They pointed to Oke Suna, where Solagberu was the ruler and Okelele with Ojo-Isekuse as its head. They also referred to Idi Ape where Afonja was the head. Other hamlets were Gaa with Olufadi as its ruler and Gambari, where Sarkin Gambari was the ruler.

Furthermore, they said when Sheikh al-Salih (Alimi) arrived at Ilorin, the then citizens of the town persuaded him to become their king, but he refused saying that his only mission was the propagation of Islam.

Later, they invited his first son, Abdulsalam, from Sokoto (where they think the sheikh’s hometown is) to take the title of king of Ilorin. The sheikh, however, continued his missionary activities and converted many people to Islam. He invited several people from different areas to help him in his mission and they came to Ilorin with several devoted followers, whose descendants are still in Ilorin till today, occupying important positions.

Why the Yoruba's have not ruled Ilorin?

Alhaji Olola Kasum, the President of the Afonja Descendants Union in a 2018 interview with The Punch said that Alimi, who was one of the first set of Fulanis to settle in Ilorin came to the town as a helper who could assist Afonja resettle and regain his empire following his displacement by Alaafin Awole.

He said while he spoke on the topic "relationship between the Yoruba's in Ilorin and the ruling Fulani" that both men became alies until there was a disagreement in the long run.

He said Alimi who knew the way of Allah, taught the people the power of God and how to get closer to Him. He combined religious powers with politics and within a short period, he converted the Yoruba to Muslims and made sure they act and behave like the Fulani.

According to him in the same interview, Alhaji Kasum said: "there is an erroneous belief that the Ilorin people never celebrated the egungun (masquerade) festival. We actually did before Alimi came with his group. We used to celebrate egungun as an annual festival.

Because Afonja was a kind-hearted man, he gave the Fulani freedom to conduct their Islamic activities without any form of restriction. The Fulani built mosques and established Quoranic schools. Afonja even appointed Al-Salihu as his special adviser.

During a particular annual egungun festival, the Fulani Muslims were also conducting Tafsir (teaching of Islam). The Muslim cleric preached against the celebration of egungun and described it as idol worshipping. The people who were celebrating egungun were not happy because the Islamic adherents were laughing at them; so, they started throwing stones at the cleric and his members.

The Muslims fled from the spot of their open crusade and they ran to their community but the egungun worshippers followed them there. There was a big fight which snowballed into a big conflict and it consumed our area, Idi-Ape. Some people were killed.

Also, when Alimi died, there was a clamour for a system of government whereby one person, who would combine religious and traditional role, would be the ruler of Ilorin. So, the position was contested by the Fulani, the Hausa and the Yoruba. So, the Fulani Muslims, who were Alimi’s family, the Hausa (bag and rosaries’ makers) led by one Bako from Kano and the Yoruba, who are the Afonja descendants based in the Okesuna area of Ilorin, conducted an election.

When Alimi and Hausa people were alarmed with the threat posed by the Okesuna people based on their intimidating population, they combined their votes to beat the Okesuna group led by a Yoruba man, whose dynasty was leading the community even before the Fulani came. That was how the Ilorin royalty shifted from the original Afonja family to the Alimi family till today. That was how the Fulani came to power in Ilorin.

This article was written by Novieku Babatunde Adeola. Quotes and materials from and||Twitter: @NoviekuA