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Who we are in Ilorin

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Sir: Dare Babarinsa’s piece about Ilorin, which he titled “Ilorin and the crisis of identity,” read our history, evolution, and coming to being, from the narrow prism of ethnicity (hence his statement that Ilorin is a “Yoruba city”). He misses completely the dialectics of developments that made Ilorin the strong military; a political; cultural and social force that it evolved into, all through the various phases of warfare against different combinations of pagan Yoruba groups, until the eve of the British colonisation of our home in February 1897.

The reality is that Ilorin’s ascendancy was built upon the values of Islam and it was and remains the basis of the unique values that weld our people together. In Ilorin, we have compounds like Ile Offa; Ile Oyo; Ile Osogbo; Ile Ila; Ita Egba; Ile Ijesha; just as much as we have compounds belonging to Fulbe; Kanuri; Gobir, or Nupe groups.

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The Yoruba elements that I mentioned earlier were Muslim people who came to join the Muslim city that Ilorin was evolving to become, soon after the triumph of Sheikh Alimi and the creation of the Frontier Emirate of the Sokoto Caliphate, that our hometown became. So the different Yoruba groups became part of an expanding multi-ethnic, multicultural, Islamic melting pot that defined Ilorin into the future. It was the reason that Ijesha warriors, who are the holders of the traditional title of Ajiya Ijesha till today, used to protect the flanks of the Emir of Ilorin, in all the wars that our people fought throughout the 19th Century.

If the basis of the relationship was ethnic, the Ijesha would have no reason to defend the Fulani Emir. But the main identity that has continued to define the Ilorin person has been sourced from the values of Islam. The beauty of things here was that we evolved from those origins, into becoming a Muslim city!

Babarinsa would wonder why an Ilorin man of Yoruba origin would have Islamic names. It is the same reason, that an Ilorin man of Hausa, Gobir, Kanuri, or Fullo origin will have a Yoruba name.

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Ilorin’s people have never had a crisis of identity. We valorise our multiple identities and have never played up those identities for any political gains. The Emir of Ilorin is number 8 in the Sokoto Caliphate and No 9 in the North. And in the civil and public services of the old Northern Nigeria, Ilorin was at the heart of expertise that was valued by all our Northern brothers and sisters. You can have four citizens of Ilorin seated together, and each from different ethnic backgrounds, some with facial marks denoting their origins, but all would be united by Islam. That’s who we are!

After over 200 years of the relationship of warfare; diplomacy; trade; Islamic religious missionary enterprise by our people; trade and even intermarriages, Ilorin is as much a “Yoruba” city, as it is also a city of the Fulbe; Hausa; Gobir; Nupe; Kanuri; Barba; Gwari and all its component peoples. But far more significantly, it is a Muslim city!

Is’haq Modibbo Kawu, a broadcaster, journalist, political scientist, and fellow of the Nigerian Guild of Editors, wrote from Ilorin.

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