Ibrahim Sulu-Gambari: 25 Years on the Throne of Ilorin Emirate
By Abubakar Imam
AREWA AGENDA – On Wednesday, November 11,2020, His Royal Highness, the Emir of Ilorin and Chairman, Kwara State Council of Emirs and Obas, Alhaji (Dr)Ibrahim Sulu-Gambari, CFR, will mark the silver jubilee of his historic appointment and consequent coronation as the 11th Emir of Ilorin. So far, it has been peaceful. It has been prosperous. It has been eventful. It has been colourful.It has been quite well with the graceful Monarch and his subjects across Ilorin Emirate over the last quarter of a century.
To those who were around then,that historic day and date was,figuratively speaking, like yesterday. It was a day that Ilorin played host to a galaxy of dignitaries from all walks of life. The Nigerian state was represented by the late Lt. General Muhammadu Balarabe Haladu,the then Honourable Minister of Industries,who represented the then Head of State,the late General Sanni Abacha,GCFR, (1943-1998). He was accompanied by the then Minister of Works and Housing,Major-General Abdulkareem Adisa. The political class was led to the ceremony by the second republic Senate Leader and the late Waziri of Ilorin, Dr Abubakar Olusola Saraki(1933-2012). The top echelon of the military,which was in attendance, was hosted by the man who presented the staff of office to the distinguished Monarch,Group Captain Baba Adam Iyam,the then Military Administrator of Kwara State .The late Sultan of Sokoto,Alhaji Ibrahim Dasuki,led foremost traditional rulers from all over the country to the solemn event. The judiciary also had a commanding presence. The then Chief Justice of Nigeria, the late Justice Muhammadu Bello,led other eminent jurists in the Emir’s professional constituency, to the ceremony. Many other distinguished sons and daughters of Ilorin Emirate, led by the former Chief of Staff,Supreme Headquarters, General Tunde Idiagbon(1943-1999),who came in company of his alter-ego,the incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari,were also in attendance. The spiritual class was not left out with the magnificent presence of the founder of the Ansarul Islam Society of Nigeria, Shaykh Muhammad Kamaluddeen Al-Adabiyy,MFR,OFR,ORSA,FISN (1905-2005),and the Chief Imam of Ilorin, Shaykh Muhammad Bashir Saliu,OON,(b. 1950),who led the opening prayers as well as the then Chief Imam and National Missioner of the Ansarudeen Society of Nigeria, Shaykh Ali Arazim Alaaya(1930-2002),who was the Guest Speaker. It was the late Prof.(then Dr)Shehu Ahmad Jimoh,OON(1944-2014),who presented a moving speech on behalf of the Ilorin Emirate Community.I must add that yours sincerely was also in attendance along with other anonymous people from all walks of life. The expectations of all and sundry from the person, the personality and the reign of the Emir, on account of his exposure was quite high as he was officially installed as the 11th Emir of Ilorin at the 11th hour of the 11th Day of the 11th Month of that historic year.
But as it is often said, “a lot of water has passed under the bridge” of the Ilorin Emirate under the watchful eyes of Alhaji Sulu-Gambari. So many things have since happened. Those occurrences will forever continue to mark out his reign as one of the most colourful in the chequered history of this frontier Emirate
As rational beings, people see things from different perspectives. It is so because there are always two sides of a coin. Observers reserve the right to evaluate situations,tenures and personalities dialectically. There are those who would always see a cup of water half empty just as there are those who would see the same cup as half full with water. Those perceptions differentiate positivism from negativism. For me,I am seeing the reign from the side of a positivist in view of so many positive developments that were recorded since His Royal Highness assumed the respected throne.
Since we are celebrating the 25th year of the assumption of “the Lord of the Sovereign” (apologies to the late Alhaji Odolaiye Aremu),distinguished readers would permit me to refresh their memories of the 25 different positive changes that came the way of the nation’s most unique traditional political entity in the last quarter of a century.
Right from my childhood and till May,1999,the words on the lips of all the politically conscious people of Ilorin Emirate was that “the real political leadership” of the State had needlessly eluded us for too long. It was composed as songs. Discussed at various “assemblies” across the Emirate. Some clerics even mentioned the issue in the course of their public presentations. I was even present at a public event where and when Alhaji Muri Adi(b. 1951),the Principal Partner of Muri Adi Associates, and the recently deceased Alhaji Muhammad Akanbi Yahaya(d. 2020) ,who,as at the time, was the Deputy General Manager(Northwestern Zone) of the defunct Savannah Bank, raised the issue possibly to provoke the response of the then political leader of the State .As at that time, the participation of indigenes of Ilorin Emirate in the race of being elected as the “tenant of Government House,Ilorin”,was a mere dream. Efforts were made in 1979.They yielded nothing. The agitations were repeated in 1983.The result was zero. The struggles were also reenacted in 1991.We were again told by and from the outcomes of the processes that it was not yet time for an Ilorin man to govern the “State of Harmony” .No one from Ilorin Emirate was found good enough to be elected as the Governor of the State despite the brilliance,integrity,experiences and qualifications of our senior compatriots who participated in those three attempts and notwithstanding the overwhelming population of the southernmost Emirate compared with other segments of the State. But today the story has changed for good. Ilorin Emirate has produced three of the four Governors of the State elected between 1999 and 2020 through the late Admiral Muhammad Alabi Lawal,mni (1946-2006);Dr Abubakar Bukola Saraki,CON,(b.1962) and the incumbent, Mallam AbdulRahman AbdulRasaq.
Although the people of Ilorin Emirate have played multidimensional significant roles in the political evolution and development of Nigeria right from the preindependence struggles ,it was only during the reign of this foremost jurist as Emir that the community succeeded in producing its first National Secretary and later National Chairman of a major national political party,the Peoples Democratic Party(which was the then governing party) in Alhaji Abubakar Kawu Baraje,CON(b. 1951).
It is also noteworthy that the Emirate has witnessed tremendous physical transformations. Though many would say that the transformations are not great enough considering the resources and other opportunities that it has pleased Allah to avail us with, but I want to say that anyone who has not visited Ilorin in the last 25 years and decided to come now would find it difficult to identify many places he hitherto knew. The transformations might not be great enough but we have moved on so quite significantly from what Ilorin used to be.
The magnitude of prosperity many indigenes of Ilorin Emirate have been blessed with in the last twenty years has been marvelous,pleasant and assuring. The consistent prayers of the Emir for prosperity for his subjects appears to be yielding increasingly mouthwatering dividends. While many of our people are becoming extremely wealthy ,quite a significant number of others are getting more comfortable,even at home.
The appointments of several sons and daughters of Ilorin Emirate into positions of authority, most especially at the national level,are also too significant to be glossed over. Since the Emir took over,Ilorin Emirate has produced no fewer than Six(6) Honourable Ministers of the Federal Republic of Nigeria,a figure that doubles the three (3) produced between 1960 and 1995.Two of the five Chiefs of Staff to the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria are also from Ilorin Emirate,Major-General Abdullahi Mohammed, GCON,who served between 1999 and 2008 under His Excellency, President Olusegun Obasanjo and briefly under His Excellency, Alhaji Umaru Musa Yar’Adua; and the incumbent, Prof Ibrahim Agbooloa Gambari,CFR. This is in addition to the fact that,during the period under review, Ilorin Emirate also maintained headship of two courts of records at the federal level through Justice Mahmud Babatunde Belgore as the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court of Nigeria; and Justice Muhammad Mustapha Adebayo Akanbi,CFR(1932-2018) as President of the Court of Appeal of Nigeria. The reign under review also witnessed appointment of the Honourable Justice Saliu Modibbo Alfa Belgore,GCON(b. 1937) ,as the Chief Justice of Nigeria, who competently held the sensitive office between 2006 and 2007.A distinguished son in-law to the Ajikobi chieftaincy family of Ilorin was also the President of the National Industrial Court of Nigeria. It is important to add that the Emirate produced the first Muslim Senate President through Dr Abubakar Bukola Saraki, CON,between 2015 and 2019.The emergence of the former Governor of Kwara State as the Senate President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria,the highest parliamentary office in the country, was a greater development compared with the position of Senate Leader occupied by his father during the second republic.
The impressive records of Ilorin Emirate in the military and paramilitary services are also marvelous. Prior to his accession, the Emirate could boast of only four indigenes who attained the rank of a two-star General in the Nigerian Army. None of them commanded any of the foremost formations or served as a Service Chief. But as at today, one of the indigenes of Ilorin Emirate, Admiral Ola Saad Ibrahim,initially served as the Chief of Naval Staff and eventually retired gloriously as the Chief of Defence Staff of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as the the first from the North Central. Indigenes of Ilorin who attained the rank of a two-star General across the military services are now close to twenty including Major-General Abdulwahab Ayo Garuba,who served as the General Officer Commanding 1st Division, Kaduna. In addition to one of us who served as the National Security Adviser during the tenure of General Abdulsalami Abubakar, GCFR(b.1942) between 1998 and 1999 ,three indigenes of Ilorin Emirate had since served and retired as Assistant Inspectors-General of Police,one other retired as the Deputy Comptroller General of the Nigerian Immigration Service. One each also retired on the same rank from the Nigeria Customs Service and the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps while three others also retired as Assistant Comptrollers-General of the Nigeria Immigration Service. At present,the community boasts of a Commissioner of Police in-charge of a State Command and an Assistant Comptroller General in the Nigeria Immigration Service and the NSCDC . The tenure also saw the appointments of two other subjects of His Royal Highness as Commissioners in charge of State Commands at various times while many others are upcoming across all the services.
The academic world also recorded more visible and impactful presence of Ilorin Emirate-born intellectuals across all fields. Before his accession, we could count on our finger tips the number of indigenes who attained the pinnacle in the academic profession. Today,they are so many and varied that we now have an “Ilorin Emirate Professors Association” under the chairmanship of Prof. Suleiman Alege Kuranga,a former Chief Medical Director of the University of Ilorin Teaching Hospital with close to one hundred active male and female members while many others are warming up to join the league of eggheads who have attained the pinnacle of their careers. The number of those who have earned doctorate degrees in various fields are not only in their hundreds but are also on the increase.
Years back,it was rare to find an institution of higher learning located in Ilorin and headed by an Ilorin man. I do not know of any except the Kwara State College of Arabic and Islamic Legal Studies,Ilorin,which was headed by the community’s first Professor of Islamic Studies, Prof. Musa Ali Ajetunmobi(1949-2008) between 1992 and 2000.Today,such awkward instance of “Ilorin o lese” even on their own soil has been deposited in the morgue. The appointment and consequent phenomenal performance of the Talba of Ilorin, Prof. Shuaibu Oba AbdulRaheem, OFR, (b. 1947) as the first Muslim Vice-Chancellor of the University of Ilorin between 1997 and 2002, seems to have changed that perception and opened the floodgate of similar appointments. Nearly,if not all such institutions , have enjoyed the leadership of one son of Ilorin Emirate or the other at one point or another in their histories.
Before the reign of Alhaji Sulu-Gambari commenced in 1995,Ilorin Women were not seen as a force to reckon with in any realm. They were often dismissed as nitwits, rable rousers, rumour peddlers, noisemakers and uneducated party goers,which they were not. Today, two of them have served as Honourable Ministers of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. They are Arc. Halima Tayo Alao,who served in three Ministries across the tenures of His Excellency Chief Olusegun Obasanjo and His Excellency,Alhaji Umaru Musa Yar’Adua; and Senator Rukayat Gbemisola Saraki,who is currently serving as the Honourable Minister of State in the Ministry of Transportation. Two also served as Senators of the Federal Republic of Nigeria namely; Hajiya Khairat AbdulRasaq-Gwadabe,who represented the Federal Capital Territory at the Senate between 1999 and 2003,and Hajiya Rukayat Gbemisola Saraki,who not only represented Kwara Central at the Upper Legislative House but also has the record of being the longest serving federal legislator from the North-Central Geopolitical Zone. The first and only female Chief Judge of Kwara State, Justice Raliat Elelu-Habeeb, is also a proud daughter of Ilorin who served in the course of this glorious reign. One of “his daughters” ,Muinat Bola Sagaya,also became one of the most influential female entrepreneurs and movers and shakers of the political economy of Nigeria. Several distinguished daughters of Ilorin Emirate also attained the pinnacles of their careers at various times. No fewer than twenty of them are retired or serving as Permanent Secretaries of different ministries at the state level.
One other area in which Ilorin Emirate has done very well under the watchful eyes of Emir Ibrahim Sulu-Gambari is in the realm of peace building and promotion. No serious or pernicious misunderstanding has occurred amongst the good people of Ilorin Emirate and between the indigenous people of the Emirate and others who lived amongst them. Notwithstanding the recent mind boggling looting of some government facilities and business premises in Ilorin, the Emir has succeeded greatly in promoting harmonious relationships which enhanced commercial progress of Ilorin Emirate and confirmed the appellation of the State as the “State of Harmony “,which was derived from the age long tranquility of Ilorin.
It is also on record that the Emir has introduced so many chieftaincy titles,which were hitherto unknown in the traditional political lexicons of Ilorin Emirate. Those titles included Mufti,Talba, Zanna, Jarma, Wakili, Wambai,Marafa and Sardaurna, among others,conferred on some of the most illustrious indigenes of Ilorin Emirate. The significance of those titles should be seen in the appreciation of the contributions of distinguished Ilorin compatriots who were conferred with each of those titles. The conferment also served as a stimulant to other patriots to emulate the holders of such titles in order to deserve one in the nearest future.
Perhaps, the pivotal role the Emir played in the mobilisation of support for the poorest of the poor across the Emirate following the eruption of COVID-19 pandemic recently is a very significant mark of good leadership. That the Ilorin Emirate Palliative Fund,which successfully operated under the joint-chairmanship of the Danmasani of Ilorin, Engr. Suleiman Oba Yahaya,FNSE;and the National President of the Ilorin Emirate Descendants Progressive Union, Alhaji Aliyu Otta Uthman, fsi, generated over N50,000,000:00 within a few weeks and distributed palliatives to over 15,000 beneficiaries was a worthy development. As if that was not enough, the Emir also committed over N6,000,000:00 of his personal resources to the purchase of 400 bundles of corrugated iron sheets,which were distributed to the victims of the devastating rainstorm disaster ,which rocked the Emirate in September, 2020.I need not say that,that was the first time(in my lifetime) when an Emir would take up such a challenge faced by his subjects with such seriousness and commitment of personal wealth.
Before Alhaji Sulu-Gambari took over the leadership of Ilorin Emirate,the Emirate was compartmentalised into only four Local Government Areas. Today,the number had been increased to five with the creation of Ilorin South Local Government Area with headquarters at Fufu,which came into being in 1998 under the Sole Administratorship of Arc. Halima Tayo Alao.
This respected Monarch also ascended the throne when just one university,the University of Ilorin, was the only one in town. The story is remarkably different today as we now have three other functional universities located within and around the Emirate. These institutions are the Kwara State University, Malete;the Al-Hikmah University, Ilorin; and the Crown-Hill-University, Eyenkorin; Ilorin. By the time the proposed Muhammad Kamaluddeen University, Ogidi,Ilorin; is eventually licensed, the reputation of Ilorin as a major centre of learning would be further enhanced.
The number of indigenes and residents of Ilorin Emirate who are accomplished professionals in different fields of human endeavour has also skyrocketed. As at 1995,such individuals are far and few between. The magnitude and calibre of those professionals is now completely innumerable and wholesome. Take for example, the legal profession,the number of indigenes of Ilorin Emirate who were Senior Advocates of Nigeria as at 1995 was two , in the late Alhaji Abdulganiyu Folorunsho AbdulRazak,OFR,SAN(1927-2020) and Alhaji Aliyu Alarape Salman,SAN(b.1942) while the totality of Ilorin based Senior Advocates of Nigeria was not more than five. Today,Ilorin Emirate has no fewer than ten of her sons as Senior Advocates of Nigeria while the city is now the base of more than twenty distinguished learned senior advocates. In fact,during the period under review, the Ilorin bar produced two Presidents of the Nigerian Bar Association(NBA) while one of them also served as its Secretary-General. As it is among lawyers so it is in other modern professions with many accomplished medical doctors, seasoned Chartered Accountants , Chartered Engineers and veteran journalists and prolific broadcasters with several of them editing national dailies and one,Ishaq Modibbo Kawu(b. 1960) serving as the Director-General of the National Broadcasting Commission, among others.
In 1995,it is either you listen or take your stories to Radio Kwara, Ilorin,or no other radio station at all. That situation, no doubt, restricted information processing and sharing, despite being an essential ingredient of democracy and development. As at the last count,Ilorin Emirate and its environs now host more than 10 different radio stations, which afford listeners pluralistic sources and means disseminating information. It is a pleasure that the current leader in the world of radio broadcasting within Kwara State,Sobi FM,is owned by a distinguished son of the soil,Mallam Lukman Olayiwola Mustapha.
Ilorin, prior to and since the establishment of the Emirate, was known,according to Prof. Tajudeen Gbadamosi,the author of “The Growth of Islam Among the Yorubas” as a spiritual lighthouse for generations of Muslims in the Yoruba-speakng part of Nigeria. This is not just because of the large presence of renowned and resourceful Muslim scholars but also due to the availability of attractive places of worship and institutions of learning. That history was about to be negated and eroded until the comprehensive remodeling and reconstruction of the Ilorin Central Jumaat Mosque was shouldered under the auspices of the Custodian of the monument, His Royal Highness, the Emir of Ilorin. The completion of the edifice’s remodeling ,which marks it out among the best in contemporary Africa,restores that age long reputation.
The appointment of two cousins of Alhaji Sulu-Gambari as Emirs in far away Kano State is also not an episode that can be ignored. It is a worthy development that the pride of Ilorin as a melting pot of cultures was confirmed with the development. That two of the sons of an aunt to our Emir,Hajiya Maryam Adeoti Ado Bayero, Alhaji Aminu Ado Bayero and Alhaji Nasiru Ado Bayero,were,respectively, appointed as the Emir of Kano and Chairman of the Kano State Council of Chiefs and the Emir of Bichi, a first class Chief,during the reign of their cousin as the Emir of Ilorin is a big plus that would continue to be a reference point. The recent historic visit of the Emir of Kano to Ilorin is a confirmation of that truism.
The Emir has also impacted significantly on the philosophy, essence and acceptability of the main sociocultural organisation of the people of the Emirate. Before his fatherly intervention, the body was known as the Ilorin Descendants Progressive Union. It was Alhaji Sulu-Gambari, who during the tenure of Alhaji Ahmad Hameed(d. 2009) as the National President,succeeded in influencing the change of its nomeculature to what it should be and it is; Ilorin Emirate Descendants Progressive Union.
Twenty-five years ago,the number of Housing Estates in and around Ilorin were very few. It is significant to say that so many others have been built and are being operated by government and individuals over the years, thereby confirming the growth and expansion of the Emirate as well as increase in the population of the residents and people of Ilorin Emirate. Many streets within the indigenous segments of Ilorin, which no one hitherto thought will be tarred are now asphalt laid for the benefit of the subjects of this distinguished jurist.
Alhaji Sulu-Gambari assumed office with the reduced magnitude of the presence of the federal government in Ilorin following the downgrading of the status of the Ilorin Airport and the relocation of the Niger River Basin Development Authority. The two agencies were subsequently brought back and their status restored in the course of his continuously golden reign in addition to a few other federal establishments.
The introduction of the Ilorin Emirate Durbar festival in 2018 by the Emir, is another important cultural revival ,which is returning the city of Ilorin to its age long reputation as a cultural hub. Until very recently,the people of Ilorin Emirate appeared to have neglected this age long cultural fiesta,which is now a veritable vehicle of bringing them together. The reintroduction of Durbar has,no doubt, been very significant in this direction .
Those who were familiar with the palace of the Emir of Ilorin and its vicinity during the reign of the previous Emirs would attest to the transformations they have witnessed in so many instances. Many modern buildings and the operational styles of the palace bureaucracy have been introduced to meet contemporary tastes and dictates in a way that turned what the Emir inherited into antiquity.
In 1995,the number of indigenes of Ilorin Emirate working in the services of the Federal Government was disappointedly minimal. The reasons may be many and unrelated to the local situations but it is very clear that the number of senior officers of the federal government produced by Ilorin Emirate was insignificant compared with our population and qualifications . So bad ,that for more than three decades, no indigene of Ilorin Emirate attained the rank of Permanent Secretary in the Federal civil service. Happily, the number of Ilorin people working as high ranking staff of Federal Ministries, Departments and Agencies,though not yet adequate and commensurate, have expanded tremendously since 1995. It is a pleasure that prior to the eventual privatisation of the power sector, two of the PHCN succeeding companies had indigenes of Ilorin, namely Engr. Alapansanpa and Alhaji M. T. Balogun, as their Managing Directors/Chief Executive Officers. Apart from the Jarma of Ilorin, Alhaji Aliyu Kola Belgore,who served as the Managing Director of the rested Nigeria Industrial Development Bank(NIDB) prior to the ascension of Alhaji Sulu-Gambari,Ilorin Emirate has produced Chief Executives of two frontline commercial banks. The first one is Dr Shehu Kuranga Muhammad, who served as the Ag. Managing Director of the keystone Bank and the other is Mr Adam Nuru,son of the first West African Professor of Veterinary Medicine,Prof. Saka Nuru(b. 1935), is the incumbent Managing Director of the First City Monument Bank. I am quite sure that the Emir is also proud to be a “father” to Dr Shuaib Lamido Belgore, the Permanent Secretary,Federal Ministry of Interior ,32 years after the retirement of Ambassador Abubakar Garba Gobir (1934-1996) from the same status. This development is in addition to Mallam Ahmed Bolaji Nagode(b. 1962) and Prof. Abubakar Olarewaju Suleiman(b.1965), who are Directors-General of the National Power Training Institute of Nigeria (NAPTIN) and the National Institute of Legislative and Democratic Studies,respectively, among other high-ranking technocrats across various MDAs produced by Ilorin Emirate since 1995.
The criticism that Ilorin Emirate is not a fertile land for industrial growth has been seriously dismantled in the course of the tenure of this outstanding jurist. The tremendous successes and increasing expansion of the Kam Holdings Limited ,Dangote Flour,LUBCORN,Tuyil Pharmaceutical Industries and Shelter Setters Company,among others , is a testament to the fact that with the right leadership, Ilorin would continue to attract more investors and investments from indigenes and nonindigenes.
I congratulate the Emir for leading the people of Ilorin Emirate through all the above and others that circumstances would not allow me enumerate . Yes,the above are monumental but we are far from eldorado. We can and should do more under his leadership. Just as the enigmatic Alhaji Sulu Gambari often said that “Ilorin is very blessed in all resources ;all we need is to be prayerful, peaceful and patient,I enjoin the good people of Ilorin to join hands” with this distinguished 11th Emir in praying and working for more development. May the rest of the reign of Maimartaba be longer, more peaceful and more prosperous.
Imam is National Publicity Secretary, Ilorin Emirate Descendants Progressive Union.
Arewa Agenda is a Publication of young writers and journalists from Northern Nigeria towards Peaceful Coexistence and National Development through positive narratives.