It is interesting that the suggestion of Alhaji Lai (Layiwola) Mohammed that the Amotekun security initiative should be extended to cover Kogi and Kwara States have been greeted with disinterest by the governors of the Yoruba states of the South-West. This is unfortunate. Since then everyone has been occupied with the more urgent incursion into the public space by the COVID 19 pandemic. But we should not forget the truly important suggestion of Alhaji Mohammed.
Alhaji Mohammed has been a participant in the leadership of Nigeria for almost two decades. He had served as the Chief of Staff to the former Governor of Lagos, Chief Bola Ahmed Tinubu, and had made a spirited attempt to become the governor of his native Kwara State. D
uring the last general elections, he played a leading role to ensure the victory of the ruling party during the governorship and presidential elections in Kwara leading to the emergence of the current dispensation under Governor AbdulRahman AbdulRasaq. Mohammed is now the Minister of Information and Culture, serving a second term in that office. He knows what he is saying about Amotekun.
Kwara is essentially a Yoruba State, controlling more than 80 percent of the state land areas and population. The Yoruba also form a substantial part of Kogi State, essentially the areas controlled by the Okun and their kith and kins, the Ogori. Since the amalgamation of 1914, the Yoruba leadership has always protested the merging of parts of Yorubaland with the Northern Region and its successor states. Leaders of the North have always replied that those areas occupied were taken by war and diplomatic alliances during the revolutionary years of the 19th Century.
At the London Constitutional Conference of 1958, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, the Premier of the defunct Western Region and leader of the Action Group, had proposed that Nigeria should be divided into more regions instead of the three at the time. He wanted Borno Region and the Middle-Belt Region to be created out of the massive Northern Region which was twice as large as the Eastern and Western Regions combined. He also wanted the Ilorin and Kabba Provinces (now Kwara and the Kogi States) merged with the West. In the South, he proposed the creation of the Mid-West Region from the West and the Calabar-Ogoja-River Region from the East.
The other two leaders, Sir Ahmadu Bello, Premier of the North and Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, Premier of the East, rejected the proposal. The British government too was not keen on creating new regions. Therefore, they advised Nigerian leaders to face the urgent task of leading their country to independence. They set up a commission to investigate the fears of the minority ethnic groups and recommend what to do with them. Exulting in his victory, Sir Ahmadu Bello fired a telegram to the Sir Siddiq Abubakar, the Sultan of Sokoto, saying they have won the battle to keep the North for the North.
In contrast, the leadership of the West, after the conference, felt defeated. They have failed to get Lagos merged with the West and it remained the Federal Capital Territory. They also failed to get the Yoruba of the North to join the West. In the aftermath, a meeting was held in Ibadan, the capital of the West. The campaign that the West should ask for independence from Nigeria was defeated. Chief Awolowo told the meeting that Africans must learn to manage large enterprises and states. He said in future, Nigeria should become the centre to create large African states by encouraging neighbouring countries like Benin (then Dahomey), Togo, Cameroon and Ghana to join the Nigerian federation.
It was at the Ibadan meeting that far-reaching decisions were taken about other Yoruba people outside Yorubaland. It was resolved that all Yoruba citizens of Northern Nigeria and those in Dahomey, shall be treated as if they were citizens of the West and have equal rights and privileges with fellow citizens. It was also resolved that all non-Yoruba and non-Mid-Westerner living in the West shall have equal rights with every other citizen. This was in response to the policy in the North where fellow Nigerian non-Northerners were given only contract employments. This led to many Yoruba, especially those of the Islamic faith, living in Northern cities like Kano, Kaduna, Maiduguri and other places, claiming to be Northerners and some of their descendants remain indigenes of those places till today!
After independence, the leaders did not bother about the creation of new regions. Only the Mid-West Region was created by the national parliament.
Till today, it is the only such region that got created constitutionally. It was an action taken to weaken the West, the political base of the opposition Action Group. The recommendation of Awolowo and his party that new regions should be created in each of the regions were ignored. Instead, Awolowo went to prison and by the time he returned in 1966, then Lt. Colonel Yakubu Jack Gowon was in power. In his attempt to stop the brooding Civil War, Gowon created 12 states as recommended to him by top civil servants. He ignored the Awolowo recommendation that Nigeria should not have more than eight regions.
Today we have 36 states in place of the original three regions. In 1967, instead of merging the Yoruba of the North with the West, Gowon created for them a separate state which he called West Central State. It was later renamed Kwara State. Today, part of the original West Central State had been excised to join Niger State and another part merged with a part of the old Benue Plateau State to create Kogi State. Yet despite this gerrymandering, the people remain the same and the areas occupied by the Yoruba have not changed for centuries.
It is necessary that the leaders of the West should always take the Yoruba of the North into consideration in their regional planning. First, the original vision of the old leadership that all Yoruba people of Nigeria should come under one regional government is still valid. This is a desirable and noble objective to be pursued. But there are some obstacles that must be surmounted. One is the position of Ilorin, now the capital of Kwara State.
Ilorin is an Oyo town now under the rulership of an oba of Fulani ancestry. The last Oyo ruler of the city was Afonja, the Aare Onakankanfo, head of Oyo Imperial forces. He rebelled against his overlord, declaring his independence. In order to sustain his rebellion, he allied with the landless Hausa and Fulani migrants who soon formed a band of lawless marauders known as ogo were. This band, mostly new converts to Islam including Yoruba revanchists, staged a bloody coup and after a fierce battle at the Afonja’s palace, killed the generalissimo. The leader of the coup, Alimi, a Fulani, became the first Muslim ruler of the city with the title of Shehu. His son, Abdulsalami, became the first emir.
The coming of a Fulani ruler in Ilorin was anathema to Yorubaland. More so, the new ruling class claimed that they had a mandate from Sokoto to forcibly introduce Islam into the rest of the Yoruba country. They tried to overthrow the Ile-Ife system that was the fulcrum of governance in Yorubaland where every ruler must be a descendant of Oduduwa or an Ife prince or princess. The Emir of Ilorin was not. He raised a formidable army, overwhelmed the capital of Oyo Empire and had the Alaafin killed in battle. The capital was then moved to a new location where it is still today, thanks to the sagacity and courage of the new Alaafin, Atiba, a descendant of the mighty Alaafin Abiodun Adegolu.
Today Ilorin remains a Yoruba town despite its turbulent history. Its Muslim ruler still holds some allegiance to Sokoto but the descendants of the old conspiracy that toppled Afonja are still the leading aristocracy of the town. Thus the first line of chiefs is the Balogun Alanamu (Yoruba), Balogun Ajikobi (Yoruba), Balogun Gambari (Hausa) and Balogun Fulani (Fulani). The system also accommodates the descendants of Afonja who holds the title of Magaji Aare. There are also the Daudus, who are mostly Yoruba, who presides over the satellite towns like Malete, Afon, Ipaye and Bode Saadu.
But the Yoruba leadership in the South-West finds it difficult to accept the Yoruba leadership of Ilorin, believing that it is tainted with rebellion and Fulani intrigues, hence the saying, Ilorin Mesu Jamba! Yet the Ilorin is the most influential Yoruba city apart from Ile-Ife and old Oyo. After the Yoruba Civil Wars, many Oyo, Ekiti, Ijesha, Igbomina and others who had fought under Ilorin standard, returned home, beaded and turbaned like Tuareg herdsmen and with the new religion of Islam. It was through these returnees that Islam spread to most parts of Yorubaland, especially the present Oyo and Osun States.
The governors and other leaders of the South-West need to take cognizance of the importance of the Yoruba of the North and their relatedness to the rest of Yorubaland. Sometimes the leaders of these communities in Kogi and Kwara feel that they have been abandoned. You get that feeling when you go to places like Jebba, Lokoja, Kabba, Ajaokuta and Isanlu. We cannot be talking of keeping Nigeria united if we are not thinking of keeping Yorubaland united. It is good for Nigeria for it would enhance security and prosperity.
Therefore, our leaders should think of the Amotekun of the North. Lai Mohammed has suggested it. Our leaders should think of implementing it by bringing into the forum Kogi and Kwara States.
– Babarinsa, a respected journalist, writes for The Guardian