President-General of the Afonja Descendants Union of Ilorin, Alhaji Abdulkareem Olola Kasumu, tells TUNDE OYEKOLA that something must be done about the alleged suppression of Yoruba people by the Fulani in Ilorin
Recently you said the Fulani in Ilorin were trying to obliterate the role Afonja played in the establishment of Ilorin, why are so convinced of that?
The Fulani people in Ilorin are trying to belittle Afonja. They felt that Afonja’s name should be forgotten in Ilorin and that is why they made all efforts to ensure that no public institution, edifice or even street is named after him. For example, when the late General Abdulkarim Adisa established a Microfinance bank and named it after Afonja, the Fulani people did not like it; they asked him to change the name but he said no. He told them there was a bank named after Alimi and that it was not a crime to name the bank after Afonja. He named it Afonja Community Bank which later became Afonja Microfinance Bank. Also when Muhammed Lawal, a descendant of Afonja, came in as the governor of the state, the Fulani people, through diabolical means, set him against Adisa and started to fight him. Lawal stopped Adisa from constructing a building in the GRA which he said was opposite the Government House. Till today, the building has not been completed. Adisa is dead now.
Another thing which the Fulani group did to ensure that Ilorin people would forget Afonja was the introduction of Durbar Festival by the Emir. Last year, the Emir brought the Durbar idea, which involves horse-riding. It is against the tradition of the people because Ilorin was not established by riding on horses. Ilorin was established through “Yemoja”, which was brought from Oyo. There are lots of evidence to show that Ilorin is a Yoruba town and Alimi was brought to Ilorin by Afonja. Now, there are so many streets in Ilorin named after Alimi but there is no single street named after Afonja. Mogaji Are, Baba Isale and Isokun are the three Yoruba traditional chiefs in Ilorin, but we have Emir’s Road while unknown personalities who are not connected with Ilorin have streets named after them in the town. So, we felt that the government must do something about this. There is Kwara State Stadium and other institutions that can be named after Afonja. Speaking of Ilorin without Afonja’s name is zero; we want to remind the government that Afonja has many sons and daughters. We have Mohammed Lawal, a former governor of the state, whom no edifice is named after. Ilorin is a prominent town in Yorubaland and it has a founder in the person of Afonja. Something must be done to correct past mistakes.
Who do you think is responsible for all this?
It is the Emir and the Fulani group in Ilorin that are behind this issue. They don’t want Afonja to be remembered and that was the major reason why he brought the idea of Durbar Festival which he copied from the North. The Emir knows about our tradition but when we wanted to celebrate Yemoja Festival after Sallah, he attempted to stop it. Our people said no. They organised themselves and there were radio and television programmes about the risk of (celebrating) the festival. We celebrated Yemoja after Sallah. Kudos must be given to the police who protected our people during the peaceful conduct of Yemoja Festival in Ilorin.
For those who did not know who Afonja was, can you mention the role he played in the establishment of Ilorin?
Afonja was one of the princes of the Alaafin in Oyo. He was the one that brought Al-Salihu, aka Alimi, to Ilorin to assist him in fighting a war. When Alaafin Abiodun died, there was a vacancy on the throne and Afonja contested the position with his brother, Aole, who later became Alaafin. When he could not occupy the position, he left Oyo to settle in Ilorin as the Are Ona Kakanfo because Alaafin Aole sensed that Afonja was planning to overthrow him. History has it that Afonja was planning to organise a revolt against Aole and was recruiting soldiers. In the process, he learnt of a powerful Mallam with mystical powers by the name of Al-Salihu, a Fulani man, through one of his allies, Oju-Ekun. Al-Salihu was the grandson of Jinata, a cattle rearer from Niger Republic, who was one of the 14 people trained by Usman dan Fodio in Gwandu. Al-Salihu left Gwandu and settled in Alaafin’s kingdom. He first settled in Ogbomoso and later in Oyo before moving to a town called Kuo, a town in present-day Oyo State and not far from Ilorin.
Afonja learnt of his powers and sent Olufadi, a Fulani man in Ilorin, to go and bring him so that he could help him to fight the war. When Al-Salihu came to Ilorin, Afonja encouraged him to bring his family along, including his two sons; Abdulsalam and Shita. Afonja’s army invaded Oyo and out of frustration, Alaafin Aole committed suicide by opening a symbolic calabash called Igba Iwa. Afonja liberated Ilorin from Oyo but the Oyo army was not dealt with. They accused Afonja of treachery and decided to punish him. Afonja ran to Ilorin and started to govern the town. But before Aole died, he put a curse on Afonja by shooting four arrows to the four corners of the earth that Afonja and his sons would be slaves in their domain. However, the curse has been reversed by the present Alaafin, Oba Lamidi Adeyemi. We thank God today that things have changed positively for us and as a sign of the positive change, our son, Lawal, became the governor of Kwara State and many of our sons have been appointed to occupy prominent positions in both the public service and private sector.
After the war, Al-Salihu and his followers started Islamic preaching; explaining the Quran, known as Tafsir. After the war, the soldiers started to misbehave, perpetrating evil acts against the people and it was in the course of their preaching that the followers of Al-Salihu became notorious and were molesting people. The two sons of Al-Salihu; Abdulsalam and Shita, were the leaders of these groups. This led to civil unrest in the town and in the process, Afonja was killed as earlier predicted by Al-Salihu. Before then, Ilorin was a well-established kingdom led by Afonja. But after the civil unrest in which Afonja was murdered, there was confusion and this led to the takeover of the town by the two sons of Al-Salihu in 1831.
Are you saying Afonja founded Ilorin?
Ilorin was founded by Yoruba people who were hunters. First, there was Emila from Ila-Orangun in Igbomina axis. Later, Ojo-Isekuse came and later Laderin, the grandfather of Afonja, came from Oyo. Laderin gave birth to Pasin, the father of Afonja. It was during Laderin’s reign that there was a real settlement in Ilorin. Afonja was the last ruler of Ilorin.
The Fulani have given the Yoruba three traditional titles as you said, are you not satisfied with this?
Magaji Are, Baba Isale and Isokun, which are the three titles, are not the creation of the Fulani. They are the traditional titles of Yoruba which the Fulani met on the ground. When Afonja was killed in the uprising in 1831, eleven years after, precisely in 1842, Abdulsalam went to Gwandu to tell the Emir there what he had achieved after his Islamic education. He said he was able to spread Islam to Ilorin and because of the fracas; he was able to conquer Afonja and take over the territory from him. He then told the Emir that he wanted Ilorin to be annexed to Sokoto. The Emir of Gwandu then told him that it was not possible to annex Ilorin to Sokoto. He instead pronounced him as the Emir of Yoruba in Ilorin, which means “Oba Fulani” in Yorubaland.
He said that though you are the Emir, the land belongs to the Yoruba people. This was stated clearly on page 34 of a book titled “Ilorin: The journey so far” written by a Historian, L.A.K. Jimoh, which was acknowledged as a real book that delved into the history of Ilorin. It was written in the book that the then Emir of Gwandu, Mohammed Ibn Abdullahi, wrote a letter to Abdulsalam that you are the Emir of Yoruba in Ilorin, meaning that all the land belongs to the Yoruba people. He did not say that the land belonged to the Fulani people. But the Emir of Ilorin is now saying that his forefathers had conquered Ilorin and all the land owned by the Yoruba people belongs to him. That is why there is no recognised traditional title in all the Yoruba territory from Ilorin to Jebba. No traditional chief was graded in the five local government areas designated as Ilorin Emirate. The Oba of Jebba, Ohoro of Shao, Oba of Apado and other traditional rulers that fall within the five local government area are not recognised. That means the Emir said that the Yoruba have no say in their own affairs in their land. That is why they refused to name any street, structure or monument after Afonja and his descendants.
Now, what is your demand?
This is Yorubaland; they should allow the Yoruba to have a say in their own affairs. The Emir is suppressing all Yoruba people; he is oppressing Oba Jebba, Shao, Apado, etc., by not allowing them to be recognised. The man who gave him the title made it clear that he is the Emir of Yoruba and that the land belongs to the Yoruba.
What do you think can be done to stop the killings being perpetrated by the Fulani herdsmen across the country?
The general insecurity in the country was caused by Fulani herdsmen but it was as a result of maladministration and unemployment. For example, there is neck-deep corruption in the police force and bad police translate to bad government and good police mean good government. The police are like the shadow of the government. When people see the police, they feel that they have seen the government. But our police take bribes openly. People cannot be disciplined unless the police are disciplined. That is why we cannot find a solution to the problem of insecurity in the country.
Some people have alleged that the Fulani herdsmen are the cause of insecurity in the country, how do you view this?
This is an exaggeration. Long ago, the Fulani people were seen with sticks and cutlasses and were perpetrating evil, but it was not as much as it is now. Our boundary is porous now; people commit crimes, do what they like and run away. Fulani people hail from Niger Republic, Chad and other places and there are lots of crises at the borders. So, people commit crimes and escape to other countries. I told you that there is indiscipline in the police; that is why we have a breakdown of law and order. If you have money, you can commit a crime and escape. They bring various types of weapons into the country freely. In fact, they are more equipped than our police and soldiers. Another thing is that the police and soldiers in the country are not being treated well. They are poorly remunerated and are not happy. They are ill-equipped, so they cannot face those people who are perpetrating crimes in the country.
What other challenges do Yoruba people in Kwara State have?
There are other challenges, for example, in Ilorin here, the Emir dabbles into politics. Why should the Emir say that Oba of Jebba, Oba of Shao, Oba of Apado and other Yoruba communities in the Ilorin Emirate should not be graded? The people of Jebba are Yoruba and the traditional ruler is Yoruba, why should the Emir say that he should not be recognised? Even during the colonial era, Oba of Jebba wore a crown, so why should the Emir of Ilorin say that he should no longer be recognised? When you go to Jebba, you will see Alaafin’s picture and emblem there. Emir of Gwandu said it that the land from Jebba to Ilorin was occupied by Yoruba people, so why is the Emir blocking their recognition and the grading of their traditional rulers? Does he want the Yoruba people to change overnight to Fulani? He has jettisoned what the Emir of Gwandu told him that the land from Jebba to Ilorin belongs to the Yoruba people. The Emir of Ilorin is creating a crisis in Yorubaland.
Do you want another traditional ruler in Ilorin?
What we now want is a Yoruba traditional ruler in Ilorin and not an Emir. We want traditional chiefs in Yoruba territory of Ilorin Emirate and they should be recognised and graded as first or second-class chiefs and given the staff of office as it was done in the past. Even during the colonial era, Ohoro of Shao and Oba of Jebba were graded even when the Emir of Ilorin had not been graded. If it is peace that we want, we should do justice by grading the chiefs. When the politicians were campaigning, the members of the All Progressives Congress were using the slang “O to ge” (Enough is enough). That slang should apply to the rulers; the slang affects the Emir too. We are saying “O to ge” to the Emir of Ilorin too. We don’t want Fulani people to rule us again; we are in a democratic society. Yoruba people want to be governed by decisions and not by force.
And do you think that can happen?
Let me not deceive you, we have started the agitation long ago and the plan is still on. Very soon, we will have a Yoruba Oba (ruler) in Ilorin. The Igbomina are Yoruba people and they have graded traditional rulers as first, second or third-class monarchs. We will like to have a Yoruba Oba as a first-class chief in Ilorin Emirate and as the chairman of the state traditional council of chiefs. We are also agitating that the chairmanship post in the state traditional council should be rotated among the first-class chiefs.
The Fulani rule in Ilorin must end now. We have told the government that we have had enough of Fulani rule in Yorubaland. We are saying enough is enough; it must be done within the first four years of the present administration because we cannot wait for another four years again.
Do you agree that Yoruba people in Ilorin are suffering from an identity crisis and don’t know whether they belong to the South-West or the North or are in Yorubaland or Fulaniland?
No, Yoruba people in Kwara State have no identity crisis. Yoruba people are unique; the majority of the people in 12 out of 16 local government areas speak Yoruba language; that is our official language. Quran is translated into Yoruba, the language of communication is Yoruba, we use Yoruba language to teach in schools, and preaching in churches and mosques is done in Yoruba. When you are in Kwara State, you will definitely know that you are in Yoruba territory. So, there is no identity crisis for the Yoruba in Kwara state.
Do you think Kwara is more to the North or the South?
Kwara is part of the South and it is not in the North. The population of Yoruba in Kwara is more, so it is the majority tribe and you cannot place the minority over the majority. So, Kwara should be considered as one of the southern states belonging to the Yoruba.
There have been agitations for the creation of more states in Kwara, some people have in the past agitated for the creation of Oke-Odua, Ibolo, Oya and Igbomina states. How many states do Yoruba people really want out of Kwara State?
Well, I am not very convinced about that agitation; what I know is that originally we were fighting for the creation of Oya State, which includes the Yoruba-speaking area of Kogi and Kwara states. We feel we should merge the Yoruba-speaking people in the two states and those who do not agree with this arrangement should go away. We want Oya State to be created from the amalgamation of Yoruba people in the two states.