On his last night on earth, one of the reminders that my late father shared with me, was that Allah won’t grant him the opportunity to see his dear cousin, then Ciroman Ilorin, Justice Ibrahim Sulu-Gambari, become Emir of Ilorin.
It was a wish that he had nursed and longed for, and it surely wasn’t granted. The following day, Friday, July 7th,1995, he died. He was 65. The Ciroma was still in shock, when he returned home, wondering how he passed, within a few days of illness and hospitalisation. But that was the will of Allah!
One month and twenty-one days later, on August 28th, 1995, the Ciroma was appointed the eleventh Emir of Ilorin. The coronation took place, on the 11th of November, 1995; 11-11, entered Ilorin’s history, and the 28th anniversary is being celebrated today.
The past 28 years have been some of the most momentous in the history of our community, our state, and our country. The Emir, Alhaji Ibrahim Sulu-Gambari, was appointed, during the difficult years of the military administration of General Sani Abacha. The country was still in the throes of the struggle against the annulment of the June 12, 1993 elections, and there was a strongly authoritarian pall cast over the nation. General Abacha would die suddenly, paving way for General Abdulsalami Abubakar, and the hurried transition to civilian administration by 1999.
In all, the Emir has seen the coming and going of five administrations, military and civilian, and is presently in situ, with a sixth. The various periods have not been easy for a “traditional ruler”, who has to bear the weight of tradition, as well as reflect the sharp imprints of modernity, in a society that has continued to wrestle with the hopes for a better society, at a time when the ruling elites have become increasingly incompetent, and are so immune to the suffering of the mass of the Nigerian people.
These realities have also been cast in the context of the cloak-and-dagger proclivities of Nigerian politics, with the often bitter divisions associated with the contestation between political groups. No where has this sharp division, and the ensuing bitterness, been more pronounced than in the political landscape of Kwara State in general, and the Ilorin Emirate in particular.
The Emir of Ilorin has had to navigate the challenges adroitly, and with remarkable wisdom. And that’s been the hallmark of his reign. He never tires to preach and work for unity, amongst the people of the Ilorin Emirate, telling all and sundry, that it’s working together that can ensure the development, which in the long run, will redound to the benefit of the entire community.
It has not always been easy for the Emir. And the fact that the community has become very young, also poses it’s own unique challenges. The younger people are not steeped in the ways and mores of the community; they’re children of the age of social media, and are often swayed by the postmodernist world they inhabit. It’s this backdrop that’s challenged the Emir to rethink tradition, and the reinvention of several community festivals, like the Ilorin Grand Durbar; the very proactive turbanning of leading sons and daughters of the community; projects to reinforce the Islamic identity; collection of rare manuscripts; engagements with traditional Islamic and Western-oriented intellectuals, or the very active engagements with the Emirate youth.
These have been some of the most remarkable twenty-eight years in the history of the Ilorin Emirate, and His Highness, Alhaji Ibrahim Sulu-Gambari, has been pivotal to the evolution the community has gone through. There have been crests and troughs, as is normal for all human experiences.
The Ilorin of twenty-eight years ago, cannot be compared with the sprawling metropolis of today, where old sureties have been cast aside, by the rainbow of beliefs and ideas, which would comfound the traditionalist, but which speak to the fact that the only thing permanent in life, is change itself. It is this ability to hold this tapestry of the old and new together, that underscores the wisdom of the eleventh Emir of Ilorin, Alhaji Ibrahim Sulu-Gambari.
It is not for nothing, that members of the community, from all walks of life, go seeking his blessing, and his wise counsel, especially as part of effort to reinforce the sureties of dealing with the relentless changes all around us.
Long may the Emir reign!
Wakilin Shehu Usmanu Bin Fodiye. The Guardian of the House of Shehu Salih Ibn Janta (Shehu Alimi). Allah ya ja zamanin Sarki!!!
Abuja, November 11th, 2023.
Is’haq Modibbo Kawu, PhD; FNGE .