Friday, 19th September 2003 it was. The Kwara State Government through the Commissioner for Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs, Chief Victor Bisi Oloruntoba, at a Press Conference, touched the abscess on the heart of Ilorin history. This was by the announcement of the dethronement of the incumbent Magaji Aare, Alhaji Busari Alabi Alasa, father to the immediate past governor of the state, Mohammed Alabi Lawal.
His words: "With the repeal of Chiefs (Appointment and Deposition) Amendment Law 2003, the old law of 1930 on the appointment and Deposition of Chiefs applicable in all Northern states of Nigeria is thus still in force" he had read at the conference.
Oloruntoba quipped that, "It follows therefore that the mass grading and upgrading exercise of traditional chiefs carried out by the immediate past administration which took effect from 2nd August 2002 and 13th March 2003 respectively which were done without complying with the due process of law and without consultation with the Kwara State Council of Chiefs, are declared null and void. Therefore, all the chiefs affected by the last mass grading and upgrading exercise are reverted to the status quo and so also their salaries and entitlements".
Continuing, he said, "in the light of the foregoing and in the interest of peace and tranquillity in the state all the mass grading and upgrading exercise which took effect from 2nd August 2002 and 13th March 2003 are declared null and void".
The Emir of Ilorin, Alhaji Ibrahim Sulu Gambari according to him is expected to appoint the new Magaji Aare and perform the necessary rites that go along with it as soon as he can. "This translates to mean that Alhaji Alabi Alasa remains an ordinary indigene of Ilorin by the repeal of the traditional institution law and the grading of traditional rulers by the state House of Assembly". With that statement, Oloruntoba had announced the dethronement of Alhaji Alasa as the Magaji Aare.
Alhaji Ibrahim Adisa Zubair, the last Magaji Aare died on 31st October 2000. Eligible candidates were said to have fizzled out in fear and would not come forth. 2nd August 2002, Lawal announced his biological father as Magaji Aare. Complimentarily, he announced upgrading of some monarchs and chiefs including the Baba Isale. But things have changed.
With the 19th September 2003 government fiat dethroning Alasa, some names have started coming out to bid for the stool. Meanwhile, some salient problems remain cogs in the wheel of progress. The Emirate Council has since 1996 been comatose.
Some sources added that, "the six chiefs in the Emirate had a pact with the Emir to be upgraded when the latter was aspiring to become Emir".
A source further submitted, "he promised to upgrade the chiefs thorough a childhood friend of his friends, an oil magnate and Dan Madami of Ilorin, Alhaji Bayo Alaiya. He influenced the Baloguns who agreed. His refusal led them to Lawal."
Now, the government has degraded the Chiefs. It is obvious that rather than tempers to cool down, emotions will rise. One question is can the community come out with a solution. Ilorin deserves peace having lost thousands at the last transition from civilian to civilian transition.
Head or tail, the situation is dicey, complex and contentious. Which is the way forward?
Whence the 15th Magaji Aare?
Nature, like the Emir's palace and the government are wont to argue, abhors vacuum. That explains why Alhaji Busari Alasa vowed at the press conference of 24th September 2003 addressed by Alhaji Abdulkarim Olola Kasum as the President of Afonja Descendants Union (ADU) "to continue to recognize Alasa as our authentic and legitimate Magaji Aare pending the outcome of a legal action we intend to institute immediately".
The question is, who becomes the next Magaji Aare? The only name being touted is Alhaji Aremu Zubair. He is a nurse by training. He had served as Secretary of Ilorin local government as it then was before it was split into three. Later, he was chairman of Ilorin-East local government area. He is a younger brother to the 13th Magaji Aare. A keen follower of Dr. Olusola Saraki and an acclaimed member of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), he told THISDAY at his Wahab Folawiyo road office, "if it is the wish of my family, Ilorin emirate and the state government, I am ready to serve my people but I am not desperate to become Magaji Aare".
In an earlier interview during the week, Zubair was quoted to have told journalists: "the names of prospective candidates for the stool has to be submitted by the Baba Isale to the Emirate Council".
Two issues as a result remain worrisome: since the Emirate Council has remained comatose, what next? Or will the Emir unilaterally make the appointment of a Magaji Aare without recourse to the Emirate Council in view of the difficulty of summoning one? Even if the council is bye-passed, Baba Isale, Alhaji Saka Aleshinloye (former Chief Press Secretary to former military head of state in General Olusegun Obasanjo) is said not to be too keen on the expected nomination? Also, the relationship between him and the Emir is said to be anything but cordial.
If the words from the four members of the existing ruling houses are anything to go by, Alhaji Busari Alabi Alasa remains, irrespective of the government's position, the Magaji Aare. Jimoh Olowo Zubair, a brother to Aremu Zubair said: "please somebody should let him know that he is alone. He does not represent our ruling house nor our family. Did he forget that he led the Zubair ruling house to pay
homage to the Magaji Aare when he ascended the throne? It was him who collected the N20,000 money meant for prayers the Magaji Aare gave all of us. He shared it. As far as I am concerned, he is a lone ranger".
Speaking with the representative of Omo-Ekefa ruling house, Mohammed Nuhu Adebayo, "it is true we protested the choice of Alhaji Alasa initially. We were pacified and thereafter we went to pay homage to him, the Baba Isale and accepted our fate. We were all at the turbaning ceremony including Aremu Zubair who is aspiring to be a Magaji Aare in diaspora" to which Bolaji Ajuwon of Ajuwon ruling house consented.
Currents of History
In two separate Press Conferences, the Afonja Descendants Union through its President and Secretary, Alhaji Abdulkarim Olola Kasum and Hassan Amao respectively, on one hand and the Arileyanka ruling house's Alhaji Aremu Zubair contend the history of their family.
Alhaji Abdulkarim Olola Kasum and Hassan Amao alleged the state government wants to forcibly eject Alhaji Alasa from his "palace". This position was contained in a one-page 13-item coloured flyer in circulation in Ilorin from the Afonja Youth Movement titled: The Die Is cast. They interpreted the government's move from an ethnic perspective.
They ask: "Fulani Emirs came on the throne and reigned in peace, why won't Yoruba oba stay and rule in peace?" On the seventh item, they referred to Alasa as "His Royal Highness". They promised, "we shall oppose the moves with all constitutional means available and, where possible, we are ready to shed our last blood to preserve our cherished throne and tradition".
Kasum and Amao said, "The Magaji Aare was second in command to the Emir of Ilorin as far back as 1913. This development is the climax of an action plan based on a well-articulated script masterminded by the ruling Fulani dynasty in Ilorin".
However, Zubair deposed that Alasa is not from any of the four ruling houses of Afonja dynasty saying, "Afonja had six children. Four of the six had children while two produced no issue, thus, four ruling houses: Ajuwon, Ladeja, Arileyanka and Omo-ekefa".
A peep into the history books according to the authoritative book, Rev Samuel Johnson's "The History of the Yorubas" and L. A. K. Jimoh's "Ilorin: The Journey So Far" shows certain issues central to both parties.
"Ilorin, as a Yoruba settlement, is widely believed to have been built in the 17th century by an itinerant hunter from Gambe, near Oyo-Ile. The hunter was called Ojo Isekuse".
Johnson added, "when Ojo arrived Ilorin which was a virgin land, he met a hermit Baruba. Incidentally, he made a hut as abode beside a well positioned rock that was suitable for sharpening cutlasses and other tools. The rock was called "Ilo-irin" (from sharpener). Therefore, Ojo's camp was referred to as Ojo who lives in Ilo-irin which eventually became Ilorin."
As a matter of fact, Baruba quarters and the old "Ilo-irin" rock still exist today at Idi-Ape in the metropolis of the ancient Ilorin.
L.A.K. Jimoh puts it this way: "However, members of the Alaase family of Idi-Ape quarters are remnants of the family of Ojo Onisekuse, the first Yoruba settler in Ilorin. As for Baruba hermit, nothing else is known of him.
"After Ojo came another formidable hunter called Emiola who chased Ojo away for the act of promiscuity he allegedly committed before leaving Oyo. The great grand father of Afonja, Laderin arrived the town in the early 18th century from Oyo-Ile. After his death, Pashin, a brave formidable and gallant warrior was picked after his father. Without mincing words, he challenged Basorun Gaha's despotic and authoritative rule in Oyo openly which eventually led to his demise."
After Pashin's death, Alagbin followed and later Aferiya before Afonja surfaced on the throne. L. A. K. Jimoh recounted Afonja's reign: "It was also not very long after the death of Alaafin Aole that misfortune began in Ilorin. Although, the Kakanfo gained some prominence initially after Alaafin's death, and acquired additional territory after subjugating Iresa and the Igbominas, he lost the friendship of the Jamas (muslims) in Ilorin who formed the backbone of his military strength.
"The accord between Kakanfo and the Jamas turned into animosity and ended up in a civil strife. Afonja was killed in the strife and the Fulanis took over the reins of power and established an ever-enduring Fulani dynasty in Ilorin. However, the establishment of the Fulani dynasty did not obliterate the Yoruba factor in Ilorin which has remained till today".
Symmetry of Positions
Despite the diametric poles on which the two Idi-Ape brothers are standing in view of the latest government action, one fact they hold jointly includes that they are bad and sad at the cancellation of the grading of the Magaji Aare's position while appealing to the government to rescind the decision.
This portence is obvious to followers of the history of Ilorin. Wherever and whenever the Magaji Aare matter decides to cool off, the facts are, they will still agitate endlessly for what their fore-fathers had stood for which they had once achieved and feel can still be achieved. The long struggle is still there hanging heavily in the air.
In so much as the grading remains a contentious factor between the Emir and his chiefs, so much will it be a factor that will continue to threaten and tear the monolithic bond that had been Islamically holding the community since 1733. Where do we find the solution?
To make matters worse, or so it seems, the Emir was advised in a press release signed by the Magaji Nda, Alhaji Salihu Woru Mohammed, to replace the four Baloguns? He wrote: "we note with great concern the nefarious activities of four chiefs who are behind incessant chieftaincy crisis in the state, noting that the embattled chiefs are insignificant number (and) have in the past three years
abandoned their traditional roles for errand boy dirty jobs but yet continue to draw wages and allowances".
Alhaji Salihu Woru Mohammed called on: "His Royal Highness, the Emir of Ilorin to take decisive action against the chiefs noting that a dismissed civil servant turn chief can hardly be an asset in any organization".
Statements like this from Magajis, occupying a lower stratum to the Baloguns, are expanding the frontiers of the matter that is supposed to be within the Idi-Ape family to the entire community. This will further tear apart the affected compounds whose jurisdictions are the same the Emir governs. In view of the foregoing, can Ilorin be the same again?
Origin of the Crisis
Historical pundits point to the origin of the current crisis to 1976 when the then military governor, George Agbazika Innih set up a judicial panel to look into the upgrading of monarchs in the state under the chairmanship of Justice Anthony Ekundayo. It was an exercise carried out to ensure justice and fairplay in the grading of traditional rulers in the state. But notwithstanding the fact that a thorough job was done by the panel, successive administrations, for purely political expediency ignored it. Until the coming of Mohammed Lawal, that report never got the eye of any government. Infact, "the report was what consumed the brilliant career of the judge who was sacked in circumstances that are controversial alongside justices Gilbert Obayan and Bisi Adegbite".
The second leg of the crisis was identified to be in 1996 courtesy of the directive of the then Federal Government under General Sani Abacha when local government council's were to forfeit five per cent of their allocation to the monarchs. This gave the Ilorin Emirate Council five local governments: Ilorin-West, Ilorin-East, Ilorin-South, Asa and Moro."
The Emir was alleged to have single-handedly expended the money which brought him and his six chiefs (Magaji Aare, Baba Isale, Balogun Gambari, Balogun Alanamu, Balogun Ajikobi and Balogun Fulani) into collision course. At a point, our source who pleaded for anonymity said, "the sum collected monthly was about N10 million. The chiefs petitioned the Emir. When that did not work, they set him aside and boycotted all events. Since then, the Emirate Council has not met till today".
The seeming third phase was the coming of Mohammed Lawal. He re-visited the Justice Ekundayo Report, upgraded 77 chiefs and monarchs and elevated the six of them in the Emirate Council. To the palace, this was seen as an affront on the Emir's position, which Lawal restated, as the paramount chief in the Emirate and the state. Opponents saw Lawal's move as a political statement.
Lawal's father happened to have been installed, through some scheming, the Magaji Aare. This was alleged to have become possible because of his office as the governor of the state then. Now that a Pharaoh who knew not Joseph is on the throne in Kwara, Lawal's father has been sacked. But that is only the beginning of the problem.