I have always been clear in mind. Kwara State has no business being in the North; because it does not belong there. Not even North Central. It was originally created as West Central State. But some northern apologists in the state would want none of this. They were pained that the state was being lost to the West.
So? They went to their old drawing board; all of Ilorin origin. They were able to convince the naïve General Yakubu Gowon military junta otherwise. Gowon caved in and they picked Kwara, a Nupe word for ‘big river,’ referring to River Niger, as its new label. And it sticks. SAD!
The reason I am yielding this space to Dr. David Atte this week. He served as a commissioner in the administration of Senator Cornelius Adebayo, Governor of Kwara State, between October 1 and December 31, 1983. His piece settles it all. And it’s for good, though slightly edited:
“Let me address them by delving into some historical perspectives. Kwara State is complicated. Only Ilorin made a submission at various public hearings that they want to stay in the North. By saying that, they think they are speaking for the Ilorin Emirate as a whole, But 90 per cent of Asa and Moro want to go to the South-West.
“Remember that Ilorin’s origin is Yoruba. When the Fulani came, they intermarried extensively to create an elite class that calls the shots and identify with the North to maintain their privilege.
“The Oba of Ilorin before Sulu Gambari the first had the title, Oba Aiyelabowo the second. Other people called him emir but, realising his strong Yoruba roots, he called himself Oba Aiyelabowo II.
“In the 80s and 90s onwards, the elite of Ilorin began to identify with the North more and more. Most of even these elites bear Yoruba names and can’t speak any Hausa at all. The current Emir of Ilorin ascended the throne as Kolapo Sulu-Gambari. In order not to be called a Yoruba man by his fellow northern emirs, he later dropped the Kolapo.
“The present Chief of Staff to the President is Ibrahim Agboola Gambari, he can’t speak Hausa. You heard of Lanre Kawu, Olanrewaju Suleiman etc, etc. Virtually all of them have a Yoruba name because Ilorin is Yoruba. Is there any other language in the whole of Ilorin Emirate except Yoruba? No major one.
“The father of the present Governor of Kwara State was from Ilesa (Osun State). He was the first Northern Nigerian lawyer. I knew him very well. I remember in the ’80s that some Ilorin elite opposed his ambition to be governor because ‘he was a non-indigene.’
“There are even some of these elite who have Yoruba first, middle and surnames. The rest of Ilorin Emirate’s population is still 90 per cent indigenous Yoruba.
“The whole of Kwara South, Igbomina (Ifelodun and Irepodun LGAs), Ekiti and Oyun (Ibolo Offa, Erin, Ojoku, Ipee) have firmly declared to go to the South-West. Both Eruku and Koro are in Ifelodun LG.
“Lokoja was part of old Oyo Empire and is originally an Oworo settlement. The current Maigeri is a Kano man. That is the manipulation of the Caliphate of Northern Nigeria. The Olu of Oworo lives on Oworoland (Lokoja). There is currently a court case between the Maigeri and the Oworo people to establish the fact of ownership.
Unfortunately or fortunately, the two lawyers (names withheld) representing both sides are Okun. It is hoped that the case will be settled in favour of the owners of the land. Suffice to say that, apart from Igala and Ebira who are in Lokoja mainly as workers and will go back to their own native homes, Lokoja is 70 per cent Okun/Oworo and other Yoruba.
“Now, for Nupe population of Abugi (originally Abuji), Buddon, Patigi (originally Patiji) and others south of the Niger River. Except Pategi, which originally is a mix of Yoruba and Nupe as a trading post between the Oyo Empire and the Nupe, but became more predominantly Nupe after the collapse of the Oyo Empire and the Nupe invasion, all the other settlements post-dated the Nupe invasion.
“Now what will happen with these Nupe settlements, Ilorin and the Yagba settlements in Kwara? We Okun are demanding the implementation of the Report of the Willink’s Commission that all minorities who find themselves cut off from their majority tribes should be given the right, through a referendum, either to remain as a minority in the place where they find themselves or to be merged with their majority tribes.
“We in Okun say we are Yoruba and the land on which we dwell is Yorubaland. We are, therefore, not northerners. We want to re-join the southwest Yoruba as a state of our own.
“I still saw a Yoruba document, which lists all the states in the South-West as Ekiti, Kwara, Lagos, Ogun, Okun, Ondo, Osun and Oyo. After the referendums, there will be boundary adjustments to reflect the reality on ground. What applies to us will apply to others too.
“I expect that Pategi, Abugi, Buddon, etc, which are predominantly Nupe, will vote to join Niger State, while some other minorities in Niger State will leave too. I expect the Gbagyi to demand an autonomous state of their own, while the Nupe have their own. Borgu will likely leave too.
“The Yagba in Kwara State by that same referendum process will decide whether they want to remain there or join Okun State. I have no idea about the current feelings in Eruku and Koro but I am sure Agboro and Co will join the rest of Yagba.
“The indigenous population of Ilorin Emirate will outvote the Fulani elite, if a fair and free referendum is allowed, in which case Ilorin’s preference for the North will not hold.
“There remain two other areas of Kwara. The Lafiagi Nupe will likely vote to merge with a Nupe State or feel that they are getting benefits in Kwara, which they cannot get in Nupe State. Finally, there is the Baruba who border with Niger. They border Oyo State to the South and Benin Republic (Parakou Borgu) to the West.
“Those in Kaima LG and include settlements like Okuta, Yashikira, Ilesa Baruba, Babana, etc, are Baruba people. The people of Kaima itself and surrounding settlements are Kemberi.
“I was in Ilesa Baruba sometime in 2019. It is like any other Yoruba town. In fact, the tarred road from Saki stops less than 1km from Ilesa Baruba. Some 11km away is Igboho, Oyo State.
“The Baruba people have never been part of the Sokoto Caliphate. What is interesting to note is that the Baruba army fought on the side of the Yoruba against the Jihad army and helped to defeat it.
“Another interesting thing is that a lot of Ogbomoso people are Baruba. In fact, the Oriki and praise songs of the Soun of Ogbomoso make mention of ancestry of the Ogbomoso Ruling House to be Baruba.
“Baruba area is the most neglected part of Kwara State. Most of the bit of civilisation and facilities they get come from Oke Ogun of Oyo State. My permutation is that the Baruba of Kwara State may vote to join Oke Ogun with whom they have far more affinity than the rest of Kwara.
“Geography also dictates that the Baruba are really cut off from the rest of Kwara so development has not reached them. The prospects from Oyo State are better. Remember that Oke Ogun too has been agitating for Oke Ogun State. If this works, it will be to the great advantage of the Baruba who will promptly leave Kwara.
“I have gone into some detail to enlighten our young people. The powers that be in the North abolished the teaching of History in schools so that details of the minority status of the Fulani will be kept hidden.
“Ignorance of facts on the ground will also prevent agitations for freedom. The new masters will not want people to know that they are impostors. That is why I tell histories whenever there is an opportunity.”
Thanks a great deal, Dr. David Atte. This is insightful and revealing.