By Dare Babarinsa
Ilorin, the capital of Kwara State, is a Yoruba city. It is now in the throes of a self-inflicted crisis caused by the hijab, the head covering favoured by Muslim laity for their women folks. It is also loved by some Christians, especially the Catholics. It originated from the Middle-East where women are subjected to strict code of fashion. But in Yorubaland, fashion has never been a matter of contention. Now this. The case, I am told, is in the court. Some of the Muslims in Ilorin, apparently with the sympathy of the Governor, do not want to wait for the court. They would rather put the matter in their own hands.
What is surprising is that a Muslim parent, knowingly sending his daughter to a Christian school, still wants his daughter to wear the hijab. The corollary is a Christian parent sending his daughter to a Muslim school and yet does not want his daughter to wear the hijab. Luckily, there is no Orunmila High School in Ilorin. If there is one, I can assure you that no Muslim parent would insist that his daughter wears the hijab in Orunmila High School if it is not part of the prescribed uniform. But Christianity and Islam are both imported religions and we Africans we tend to be more catholic than the Pope.
What we are witnessing in Ilorin is the attempt by the government to take all powers from school authorities. Uniforms are parts of the tradition of each school. It seldom changes and when any principal tries to change it, he or she usually faces hostilities from the Alumni Association. In Kwara, the government claims to derive its power to prescribe uniform and enforce the hijab in all public schools because it is funding those schools.
When Alhaji Ahmadu Bello became the Leader of Government Business in Northern Nigeria in 1952, the government decided to support all mission schools; both Christians and Muslims. Those schools were referred to as grant-aided schools. However, there were also private schools established by individual proprietors who were excluded from this generosity. In the 1970s, all private secondary schools, including the mission schools, were taking over by the government. The government did not pay compensations for these schools. There was the understanding that though the schools had been taken over by the government, the original owners would still have proprietary interest in those schools. That understanding subsists until Governor Abdulrahman Abdulrazaq decided to have interest in the hijab.
Governor Abdulrazaq represents a new kind of change in Kwara State. Before his ascension to power, the dominant force in Kwara politics was the enduring patriarchy of Dr Olusola Saraki and his son, Bukola. The Sarakis were supposed to represent the continuing dominance of the descendants of the Fulani in Ilorin over the Yoruba majority. The coming of Abdulrazaq was a seen as a credible challenge to the old Saraki hegemony. He came in with the Otoge (Enough!) battle cry and was swept to power on the ticket of All Progressives Congress, APC, the party of President Muhammadu Buhari.
In September 2018, a seminar was held at the Ikeja Airport Hotel, Lagos, in honour of the late Chief Bola Ige. Some Abdulrazaq partisans were present in large number at that seminar. I had tackled one of his partisans that this man who claims to represent the Yoruba of Kwara State does not have a single Yoruba name. Why should a fully-grown Yoruba person bears only foreign names? He said it was because of Abdulrazaq Islamic background. I pointed out to him that bearing your native names does not make you less religious. I gave the examples of Ayatollah Rhohollar Khomeini of Iran, Gamal Abdul Nasser of Egypt, Iyanda Folawiyo of Lagos, Arisekola Alao of Ibadan, Ibrahim Dasuki of Sokoto and many others.
The truth is that many Ilorin people, especially those who are Muslims, are struggling with their Yoruba heritage. They believe wrongly that the less Yoruba they become, the more acceptable they are to what they perceived to be the power-centres of Nigeria. Yet bearing their normal Yoruba names have not deprived the Ilorin people of the ability to rise. We have the illustrious examples of the Sarakis, Major-General Abdul Kareem Adisa, Major General Babatunde Idiagbon and many others.
Ilorin is an old city with an historical burden. It was founded in the 15th Century and by 18th Century it has become a thriving commercial centre. It was one of the provincial towns of the old Oyo Empire and it belonged to the Ekun Osi District where the Onikoyi of Ikoyi was the supervising sovereign under the Alaafin. Other towns in that district include; Irawo, Ogbomoso and Iwere. As Oyo Empire waxed stronger, it annexed some of the Igbomina settlements like Oro into its fold. The Igbomina sovereign was (and still is), the Orangun of Ila. The Orangun and the Alaafin are both sons of Oduduwa in Ile-Ife and therefore co-eval under the old Yoruba traditional constitutional arrangement.
Ilorin was to change all that. Early in the 19th Century, the Alaafin appointed Afonja, a well-respected general, as the new Aare Ona-Kakanfo (the generalissimo of Oyo Imperial Army). The constitution forbade the Aare to live in the capital and share the same domicile with his overlord, the Alaafin. Therefore, Afonja stayed in Ilorin and with his new appointment, he had become senior to other generals like the Onikoyi, the Olugbon and the Aresa. Instead of keeping to his oath of office, Afonja decided to rebel against his overlord. In other to strengthen his hands, he invited a peripatetic Islamic preacher, Malam Alimi, to join him with his band of young converts called ogo were.
The ogo were, claiming to operate under the authority of the Aare, became a law to themselves. With unpalatable news coming from everywhere on the activities of this unruly band, the Aare decided to move against them. When Alimi got wind of this, he staged a pre-emptive coup and the Alimi forces were able to stage a surprise attack against Afonja in his house. The battle lasted for almost two weeks as Afonja, surrounded by his sons and other commanders gave a good account of himself. Note that none of the Yoruba top generals; Onikoyi, Olugbon, Aresa and others came to the aid of Afonja. Even Solagberu, Afonja’s old friend and the leader of Ilorin Muslims at Okesuna, refused to offer help.
The coup against Afonja had grave consequences in Yorubaland. It was that coup that led inexorably to the collapse of old Oyo Empire and the evacuation of its capital city, Oyo. Many important towns like Ikoyi and Iresa were destroyed. Owu was destroyed. When Ilorin forces finally captured Offa in 1887, they destroyed most of the town and decreed that male citizens must grow beards and convert to Islam under the pain of death. The taken over of Ilorin by a foreign power was bitter pill for the Yoruba ruling class to swallow. When the British signed the treaty of peace with Ibadan in 1888, that insisted that war must end. One of the Ibadan generals, dissatisfied, asked the interpreter: “Tell the white man to let us finish the Ilorin campaign first. Then peace!”
In 1897, the Royal Niger Company pacified Ilorin and by 1900, it became part of Northern Nigeria. All attempts by the leadership of the Western Region especially under Chief Obafemi Awolowo, to get Ilorin and Kabba Provinces transferred to the West failed at the different constitutional conferences leading to Nigeria’s independence. The agitation gave birth to the party, Egbe Talaka Parapo, which won all the seats in the Ilorin District Council elections prior to independence. Ahmadu Bello dissolved the council and clamped down on the Egbe. Respite came in 1967 when General Yakubu Gowon created the West Central State (later to be known as Kwara State) as part of the new 12 states federal structure.
It is significant that Dr Olusola Saraki’s dream was for Kwara State to be in the same political camp with the South West in 1998. He and Chief Ige had been friends since their student days in the United Kingdom. Therefore, the two of them were involved in the formation of the All Peoples Party, APP, during the final days of military rule in 1998. When Afenifere pulled out of APP, Saraki blamed Ige for it. I am not sure whether they ever reconcile on this matter. It is interesting now that it is the same party, the APC, that is ruling in most of the Yoruba States and also in Kwara and Kogi State.
This places a special burden on Governor Abdulrasaq. He has to remember his state is said to be the State of Harmony. He should allow the court to decide this case of hijab instead of him allowing an unnecessary crisis to derail his government. After all, as a child, his father sent him to Bishop Smith Memorial School, Ilorin, a Christian School, and his uniform did not affect his school certificate results. This is one storm in a teacup that should never be allowed to become a real storm. After all, Ilorin is a Yoruba city and in Yorubaland we learn to tolerate each other no matter the differences. It is time Ilorin comes to term with its identity.