Opinion: Ilorin, the city wrapped in a crisis of identity

Date: 2013-06-30

By Femi Owolabi and Akeem Adio

The clan of Ayeigun's compound of Itakure in Ilorin - where my Ilorinship is rooted - believes its members are descendants of the warrior, Afonja. Folks from the opposite compound believe they are descendant of the Islamic cleric and warrior, Sheik Alimi.

The Aiyeguns argue that it is a distortion of history to say that Ilorin is considered to be one of the Banza Bakwai, or copy-cats of the Hausa Kingdoms. This clan claims that at the start of the 19th century, Ilorin was a border town in the northeast of the Oyo Empire, (this, of course, is today geographically obvious) with a mainly Yoruba population but with many Hausa-Fulani immigrants or slaves. It was the headquarters of an Oyo General, Afonja.

Anthropologists have generally attributed the formation of personality to a complex interaction between an individual's generic inheritance and his life experiences. Community integration and the growth of mutually meaningful identities are created out of the idiosyncrasies of the numerous individuals of that community.

Today, Kadir my friend would say God forbids he's Yoruba. He's proudly Fulani. Amuda, my other friend would say it is over his dead body that he would be a Hausa/Fulani. And both friends share the same Ilorin origin.

On this identity wahala; we recall that in the mid 90s when the reigning Emir of Ilorin was crowned - or turbaned - he asked that Kolapo, a Yoruba name be removed from the line-up of his name. From records, Afonja had been the only ruler with the full Yoruba identity. He was 'Oba' Afonja. Names not identified with Yoruba continue to predominate the rulership after Afonja's assassination.

From; Abdusalami dan Salih Alimi, Shita dan Salih Alimi, Zubayro dan Abdusalami, Shita Aliyu dan Shita, Moma dan Zubayru, Sulaymanu dan Aliyu, Shuaybu Bawa dan Zubayru, Abd al-Qadiri dan Shuaybu, Zulkarnayni Gambari dan Muhammadu Laofe "Aiyelabowo V", Malam dan Abd al-Qadiri, and to the present Ibrahim Kolapo dan Gambari, only Zulkarnayni maintained a Yoruba name, 'Laofe, Aiyelabowo'. Ibrahim erased his.

For years, I have been trying to understand the bane of the identity crisis with people from Ilorin. And today, the socio-cultural critic and my guest columnist, Akeem Addio, leads us into a fresh perspective on this lingering debate.

Mentioning the name Ilorin, majority of people interested in socio-political or cultural issues will take their precious time hearing more in addition or subtraction to what they already hold in view of the city. However, there are some interesting parts in the history of Ilorin and its people; the cultural mix-up, political monorailed (Sarakism), foreign indigenous polity, religion (Islam) which has been the distinct trademark of the city in the country especially in the Yoruba speaking populace of Nigeria.

The truth of the matter is that Ilorin is naturally a Yoruba speaking settlement. The fact is that Afonja, once a Generalissimo, Aree Ona Kankafo of old Oyo Empire was the first ruler or Lord of Ilorin being the second in command to Alaafin, the great Emperor of Oyo Empire which was located somewhere around Bacita, Kwara Sate. Ilorin was his place of birth; he did not found Ilorin by himself, he was a citizen even by birth. His great grandfather, Laderin who was a popular elephant hunter from Oyo–Ile first settled in Ilorin alongside other Yorubas like Ojo Sekuse and Emila.

The name Ilorin was coined from WHETSTONE used by hunters and farmers then. Another version of the etymology of Ilorin is the Land of Elephants (Ilu Erin) which was later metamorphosed to Ilorin from ILU-ERIN. Perhaps, there are some historical remnants of this story still remaining. At present, there is a neighbourhood in the city called OKO ERIN meaning Elephant Forest. This was where the popular elephant hunter, Laderin used to stay in his hunting adventure. Even the name Laderin was elephantine coinage (a panegyric coined from elephant) to refer to his personage. Alugbin was Laderin's son who begat Pasin and Afonja was Pasin's son.

Studying the genealogy meticulously one would find out that Afonja was a fourth generation in the lineage from whom Ilorin historically became relevant in the Yoruba History.

Afonja became a warrior like his father, Pasin. Pasin met his untimely death following the row between him and the then Alaafin who insisted that Pasin should return to Oyo having committed political crime against the authority of the empire. Therefore, Bashorun Gaa (Oyo Interior Minister) was ordered to arrest him dead or alive. Although Pasin was a brave man, he was mowed down by the army of Oyo militants.

Afonja later became one of the most formidable warlords of Oyo Empire through ambition or determination. With this drive, he extended the glory of the entire empire that spread across four West African countries today; Nigeria, Benin, Togo and Ghana. Afonja ultimately grew stronger even than the authority of the emperor. He afterward decided to create his own kingdom in his Ilorin home where he would be overseeing the affairs of the empire. This was probably around late 18th century. With seemingly uncontrollable obsession, political conspiracy ensued. This was practically, the beginning of the flaws of the hero that led to fall of Ilorin to the hand of the slave warriors – Fulani warriors who were harboured by the great warrior, Afonja as ally in fighting or incapacitating the sanction or dominion of Alaafin.

Afonja was power-drunk and started scolding his warrior kinsmen in favour of his friend, Alfa Soliu Janta's jihadist army. Ironically, he never knew he was drawing his end through his political power infatuation. So he continued falling to the seductive bait plotted by his visitors who later not only ousted him from his home but also murdered him.

The great warlord was killed in a schemed riot in the city by the Fulani loyalists of Sheik Alimi's son, Abdulsalam who was also hypnotized by political power but under the guise of religious holy war. By this time, the General had grown aged but energetic and never thought of any internal coup that could ever bring an end to his throne. This was how it cropped up: the General eventually realized his past mistakes against his kinsmen while wrestling with the Alaafin and turned his gracious face to the Fulani warriors led by Alfa Soliu Janta aka Sheik Alimi. The Fulani had gained ground at the expense of the citizens. They were living a life of indulgence. Therefore, the General wanted to halt their indulgence by secretly sending war invitation to some Yoruba states like Ikoyi, Ogbomoso among others to invade Ilorin and disperse the Fulanis who had choked the people by their recklessness. Unfortunately, the opposition got hold of the secret and plotted against him secretly. The general was ambushed and killed. They killed their benefactor to protect themselves and promote their political ambition rather than religious propagation in the foreign land.

Therefore, Abdulsalam became the first Fulani ruler or Lord of Ilorin after Oba Afonja's demise. However, the Fulanis won the war against Afonja amidst Yoruba internal disintegrations. For instance Alaafin was in conspiracy against Afonja because he was a major threat to the authority of the empire under the control of Alaafin. So Alaafin used an enemy to fight an enemy.

Consequently, Ilorin became a colony of Sokoto Caliphate in the early 19th century immediately after the death of the first lord of the city. However, what lost was political power not a pinch of Yoruba indigenous cultural power. The Yoruba government was overtaken by the Fulani radical jihadists as a result of Afonja's political flaws but the way of life of the Yorubas in the city remained the same like others e.g. language, tribal marks, music, beat, dress, greetings, dance except the traditional religions which were discarded for modern religion of Islamic monotheism.  Even the visitors who by nature have become naturalized (Yorubanized). Fulanis, Hausas, Nupes, Ibaribas, Kanuris and Malians are now Yorubas by the law of naturalization. This transpires anywhere contact is made. Imagine how German tribes of Vandal, Anglo and Saxon became English in United Kingdom today.

As in every mixed society, Yoruba of Ilorin as a language has blended with some flavours of allied origins like 'Fa` (morpheme) which was of Fulani extraction among others. This has given Ilorin a neo linguistics distinction from its original parent dialect; Oyo Dialect of Yoruba Language.

Thus, the issue of identity crisis in Ilorin is more historic than natural. The land is Yoruba as its aboriginal settlers were also Yorubas. Therefore, the majority of the people of the city are Yoruba descents who have submitted to Allah in the religion of Islam as preached by the prophet Mohammed (SAW). Cutting to the chase, Ilorin is a Yoruba state imprisoned by the Fulani oligarchic imperialism of Sokoto Caliphate or Gwandu Emirate. Therefore, Yorubas still maintain their cultural identities. Even, Islam as a religion is popularly propagated by the Yoruba stocks of the city e.g. Sheik Taju L-Adabby, Sheik Kamaldeen, Sheilk Adam Al-Ilori, Sheik  Folorunsho Faagba, Sheik Baba Oniwiridi of Ita Egaba, Sheik Sulyman Onikijipa, Sheik Buhari Omo Musa just to mention but a few.

In conclusion, Ilorin is Yoruba land naturally which harbours visitors like other Yoruba settlements as hosts who have become yorubanized by language and some other cultural ideology garnished by Islamic faith making it a land of distinction especially in Yoruba world in all area of endeavours relating to knowledge. 

Akeem Addio is a Socio-Cultural and Political Critic, from Ilorin.


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