I have just read Dare Babarinsa’s typically disrespectful piece about Ilorin, which he titled “Ilorin and the crisis of identity”. He actually should be pitied. This is because he made a futile effort to stroll the shores of the history of our people, with an arrogance that left little, for the manner that we, the Ilorin people, understand ourselves; who we are; our aspirations and what we make of our own history! When he started by describing Ilorin as a “Yoruba” city, he assumes that it’s an uncontested fact, especially after he regaled his readers with the over-cited history of how the historical events if the 19th century, in the making of Ilorin, have impacted on precolonial state formation, in what became Nigeria. Ilorin’s people: Yoruba; Fulbe; Hausa; Gobir; Kanuri; Gwari; Nupe; Barba and Kamberi, have never been overly worried about the origins of our hometown, because we know it better than the Babarinsas of this world.
Reading our history, evolution and coming to being, from the narrow prism of ethnicity (hence his delusional statement that Ilorin is a “Yoruba city”), misses completely the dialectics of developments, that made Ilorin the strong military; political; cultural and social force that it evolved into, all through the various phases of warfare against different combinations of pagan Yoruba groups, until the eve of the British colonisation of our home in February 1897.
The reality that is lost to the pitiable Dare Babarinsa is that Ilorin’s ascendancy was built upon the values of Islam and it was and remains, the basis of the unique values that weld our people together. Let me tell this ignorant man, that in Ilorin, we have compounds like Ile Offa; Ile Oyo; Ile Osogbo; Ile Ila; Ita Egba; Ile Ijesha; just as much as we have compounds belonging to Fulbe; Kanuri; Gobir or Nupe groups. The Yoruba elements that I mentioned earlier, were Muslim people who came to join the Muslim city that Ilorin was evolving to become, soon after the triumph of Sheikh Alimi and creation of the Frontier Emirate of the Sokoto Caliphate, that our hometown became. So the different Yoruba groups became part of an expanding multi-ethnic, multicultural, Islamic melting pot, that defined Ilorin into the future. It was the reason, that Ijesha warriors, who are the holders of the traditional title of Ajiya Ijesha till today, used to protect the flanks of the Emir of Ilorin, in all the wars that our people fought throughout the 19th Century.
If the basis of the relationship was ethnic, the Ijesha would have no reason to defend the Fulani Emir. But the main identity that has continued to define the Ilorin person, has been sourced from the values of Islam. We don’t owe anyone an apology for that. So Dare Babarinsa is right to talk that Ilorin was historically a “Yoruba” city. The beauty of things here, was that we evolved from those origins, into becoming a Muslim city! So in Ilorin, we all know our origins, and we are proud of these origins, but we value those origins, along with the eternal and liberating values of Islam!
That cannot make much meaning to Dare Babarinsa, who probably has an idolatry root. And it was therefore no surprise, that he would wonder why an Ilorin man of Yoruba origins would have Islamic names. For your information, it’s the same reason, that an Ilorin man of Hausa, Gobir, Kanuri or Fullo origin, like this reporter, will have a Yoruba name (I’m also proudly Olanrewaju). Our values are just completely different from those that you valorise Dare Babarinsa. And your arrogant refusal to have a nuanced understanding of these values, is actually the basis of your poor judgment about Ilorin.
And that arrogant assumption is not new. It can be traced back to the times of Obafemi Awolowo and his futile effort to get Ilorin to be excised from the North and be joined to the West; not minding what we the people of Ilorin want or desire. He was stoned in Ilorin in the 1950s, when he came to campaign and started insulting our Emir. And the story about the Ilorin Talaka Parapo (ITP), has been over hyped. I just finished reading Billy Dudley’s account in his seminal Political Parties in Northern Nigeria. Yes, the ITP won local council elections in Ilorin in the 1950s, largely because of the yearning in the community for democratic local administration. At the beginning, the ITP had sought alliance with the NPC, before internal schisms and resistance to the democratic demands, led to an alliance with the Action Group. When demands emerged that ITP should accede to the Action Group demand to join the West, majority of leaders like Jimoh Ajikobi, Ibrahim Laro and others, left the ITP for Sule Maito and JS Olawoyin of Offa. Before long, ITP became irrelevant in Ilorin, except for the deluded in the Southwest, who think we would one day become part of their territory in the Southwest, or those agitating for a so-called Oduduwa Republic! The truth, Dare Babarinsa, is that our fate in Ilorin, will NEVER be determined by Ijebu; Egba; Ondo and Ekiti Christian members of the Ogboni Fraternity; the way they dominate the Muslim majority of the Southwest. NEVER!
Ilorin’s people have never had a crisis of identity. We valorise our multiple identities and have never played up those identities for any political gains. There has never been a need for that. If f you know a little, about the Order of Proceedings of Northern Nigeria, you will know that the Emir of Ilorin is number 8 in the Sokoto Caliphate and No 9 in the North. And in the civil and public services of the old Northern Nigeria, Ilorin was at the heart of expertise, that was valued by all our Northern brothers and sisters. You can have four citizens of Ilorin seated together, and each from different ethnic backgrounds, some with facial marks denoting their origins, but all would be united by Islam. That’s who we are!
Dare Babarinsa ignorantly dabbled into the controversy about the use of Hijab in public schools, that he claimed were mission schools. They stopped being mission schools since 1974; and the judgments of the High Court and Court of Appeal on the issue are very clear. They’re public schools; and Muslim students have the right to use the hijab, as part of their dressing. You cannot hide your anti-Islamic posture, but facts are stubborn things! That’s what is lost to the “magisterial perspective” of Dare Babarinsa.
You have the right to your delusions, but you should also have the modesty to respect us as a people. You will not define us. Never! We know who we are and we are very comfortable with our history, our values and our identities. After over two hundred years of relationship of warfare; diplomacy; trade; Islamic religious missionary enterprise by our people amongst yours; trade and even intermarriages, it’s a reflection of the poverty of your knowledge, that you’d write what you just did about Ilorin. Ilorin is as much a “Yoruba” city, as it is also a city of the Fulbe; Hausa; Gobir; Nupe; Kanuri; Barba; Gwari and all it’s component peoples. But far more significantly, it is a Muslim city!Ilorin does not have a crisis of identity. You’re the one that suffers a pitiable crisis of arrogance, built on a foundation of Ignorance!!!
Modibbo Kawu: Broadcaster, Journalist, Political Scientist and Fellow of the Nigerian Guild of Editors, is a patriotic son of Ilorin.
Thursday, March 25th, 2021