The President, Afonja Descendants Union, Alhaji Olola Kasum, in this interview with SUCCESS NWOGU discusses the relationship between the Yoruba in Ilorin and the ruling Fulani
Kindly recount the encounter between Afonja and Alimi?
It was quite a long time ago. In the course of history, Afonja, the Aare Ona Kakanfo in the then old Oyo Empire, had a conflict with the Alaafin of Oyo. Afonja was accused of undermining the king. What actually happened was that when Alaafin Abiodun died, Afonja and Awole contested the throne but Awole got it, so Afonja returned to Ilorin, his base, where he was the Garrison Commander of the northern Yoruba boundary. The tradition in Oyo town then was that a new king would tell his personal guards those he considered as his enemies. Awole told his guards to see Afonja as his principal enemy. Afonja knew that something like that would happen because he had contested the throne with a lion (Alaafin).
How did it happen?
Alimi, a Fulani, whose real name was Jinnata, came to Ilorin from a town in Niger Republic in those days. He was actually Allahmi, meaning a great scholar. The Yoruba reduced it to Alimi for ease of pronunciation. He was a herdsman. He first settled in Nugusha and from there, he came to Gwandu. He had a child called Al-Salihu, who embraced the Islamic religion. Before then, they were all pagans. So, Al-Salihu went to Sokoto to learn under Shehu Usman Dan Fodio. He was a member of the 14 flag bearers, who were assigned to spread Islam all over the world. Al-Salihu took it upon himself to come down south and start the propagation of Islam in the old Oyo Empire, populated mainly by the Yoruba. He was of the view that Yoruba land was the only place that he could spread his religion by force. He first settled near Ogbomoso on his way to Oyo but the people of Ogbomosho consulted their oracle who told them that Al-Salihu’s religion would grow and submerge them. They drove him and his people away and he fled to Oyo. The Oyo people also consulted their oracle, who also warned them against accommodating the Fulani. The oracle specifically told them the man would seize their land, possession and crown if he was not immediately chased away. That was how Al-Salihu left Oyo and settled at Guwo (near Jebba), which is 60 miles from Ilorin. It was when he was at Guwo that Afonja learnt about him. Al-Salihu performed a miracle there, which actually attracted the attention of the populace. There was a big python that was swallowing up children. They prayed to their god for help but there was no remedy. Al-Salihu prayed to Allah and lightning cut that big python into two and it died. So, his (Al-Salihu’s) fame spread far and wide.
By that time, Afonja was having serious confrontations with Awule and was looking for soldiers to fight the Oyo king. So, he told some Fulani group who were already settled in Ilorin that he wanted to see their man. They went to Guwo and brought him to Ilorin. When he was coming, he came with a large number of followers and settled them in different parts of Ilorin. He put some in Idi-Ape, some in Idiakwe, and some in Okelele. They became so powerful until they invariable dominated the Yoruba in Ilorin.
What is your impression of the Fulani?
The Fulani are very aggressive, unforgiving, tactical and cunning. They plan before they act. They take you by surprise and they are enmeshed in mystic powers. I recall a story when a Fulani man was caught dropping a concoction into a well so that whoever drink it will always be thinking about him. That was what happened to the politics of Kwara State. The Fulani used their mystic powers to make other tribes in Kwara State, become their slaves. They did it to us (the Afonja dynasty) too. That was how virtually everybody became their slaves till today.
Did you also drink from the water?
I was born in Ghana; so I didn’t fall into their diabolical practice.
Those who live in the cities among them are not violent but those in the bush are very wicked and mean. Those in the bush are called the Bororos. The Fulani in the towns, who are well-bred and refined, are tactical. They would get you whenever they want to get you. They do not forgive. If you offend them, they will never forgive you until they die. They are quick to take over power. They are very clever and very cunning. They know how to trick and get somebody out of a position.
How did the Fulani become the rulers of Ilorin?
The leader of the first set of Fulani (Alimi) came to Ilorin as a helper so that he could assist Afonja to build an empire for himself. But in the long run, they had a disagreement. He was a man who knew the way of Allah and he taught the people the power of God and how to get closer to Him. He combined religious powers with politics and within a short period, he converted the Yoruba to Muslims and made sure they act and behave like the Fulani.
How did he achieve that?
There is an erroneous belief that the Ilorin people never celebrated the egungun (masquerade) festival. We actually did before Alimi came with his group. We used to celebrate egungun as an annual festival. Because Afonja was a kind-hearted man, he gave the Fulani freedom to conduct their Islamic activities without any form of restriction. The Fulani built mosques and established Quoranic schools. Afonja even appointed Al-Salihu as his special adviser. During a particular annual egungun festival, the Fulani Muslims were also conducting Tafsir (teaching of Islam). The Muslim cleric preached against the celebration of egungun and described it as idol worshipping. The people who were celebrating egungun were not happy because the Islamic adherents were laughing at them; so, they started throwing stones at the cleric and his members.
The Muslims fled from the spot of their open crusade and they ran to their community but the egungun worshippers followed them there. There was a big fight which snowballed into a big conflict and it consumed our area, Idi-Ape. Some people were killed.
Also, when Alimi died, there was a clamour for a system of government whereby one person, who would combine religious and traditional role, would be the ruler of Ilorin. So, the position was contested by the Fulani, the Hausa and the Yoruba. So, the Fulani Muslims, who were Alimi’s family, the Hausa (bag and rosaries’ makers) led by one Bako from Kano and the Yoruba, who are the Afonja descendants based in the Okesuna area of Ilorin, conducted an election.
When Alimi and Hausa people were alarmed with the threat posed by the Okesuna people based on their intimidating population, they combined their votes to beat the Okesuna group led by a Yoruba man, whose dynasty was leading the community even before the Fulani came. That was how the Ilorin royalty shifted from the original Afonja family to the Alimi family till today. That was how the Fulani came to power in Ilorin.
Is it still possible to have a Yoruba Oba in Ilorin?
It is possible now because the Yoruba are in the majority and already, there is a hybrid. The younger sister of the current Emir of Ilorin, Alhaji Ibrahim Sulu-Gambari, married my brother. She is fondly called Iya. She married the late Aare Adisa Suberu. So, my late brother was the husband of Emir’s daughter and they had many children. Our family is very close to the palace. We are friends and we cannot fight unless there is a great reason why we should fight. We are one family. When the late Emir, Sulu Gambari, was dying, he appealed to all the Fulani to cooperate with their hosts (the Yoruba) and told them that he gave his daughter to my brother, the late Adisa Suberu, as a bond of love and unity. Some people are expecting that we should fight and kill ourselves so that Yoruba could be Oba in Ilorin but that will never happen. We may disagree about who will be the head, but it will be a minor issue. The children of the Emir are married to us. The problem will be solved one day. The only problem is that the Fulani are too greedy and hungry for power. They want to occupy the position alone.
What stopped the Yoruba from installing an Oba of Ilorin?
Yoruba can install an Oba in Ilorin because we are the majority tribe. The challenge we had in the past was that we were not educated but in the present era, we are highly educated. During the colonial period, the Fulani seized the opportunity of indirect rule to educate their people in Ilorin at the detriment of the Yoruba. The Emir (a Fulani), was the chairman of the Scholarship Board (in the defunct northern region). He included mainly the Fulani in the list of beneficiaries. That was how the Belgore brothers and other Fulani youths in Ilorin studied both in Nigeria and abroad on full government scholarship. The Belgore brothers went to London and studied law and came back to hold influential positions. During the period, one of my brother, the late Atanda Kassum, applied for scholarship when he completed his secondary school education in Ghana but the Fulani denied him when they discovered that he was Yoruba. However, the current hybrid situation has solved the problem. We do not see ourselves as enemies any more.
Are you saying you have jettisoned the idea of having a Yoruba Oba?
Yoruba will still install an Oba because despite the fact that we are in the majority, we are being denied a lot of things and we are dissatisfied with the present system. We and the Fulani are now blood relations. We are a hybrid. So, it will be difficult for me to kill the son of my brother. I will not do that but I will like to aspire like my brother. The Yoruba people want their own chief so that they can promote their culture, religion and tradition. We have not dropped the idea of a Yoruba Oba in Ilorin because that is the only way we can promote our culture, tradition and values. We are not Fulani but our kith and kin in the South-West see us as Hausa simply because we are being ruled by a Fulani emir.
How do you think you can achieve the agenda?
We can achieve the agenda by utilising the opportunity of the current democratic dispensation in the country. All what we need is to move for referendum and if the majority of the opinion favour a Yoruba Oba, no Jupiter can stop it.
What was the role played by the Oodua Peoples Congress to install an Oba in Ilorin?
When the late Governor Mohammed Lawal was there as the governor of Kwara State, we tried to use the opportunity since he was from the Afonja dynasty but he frustrated it because he wanted to satisfy the Fulani interest that installed him as governor. Despite his opposition, I still led the OPC on a mission to install a Yoruba Oba but it ended up a tactical error.
Will you approach Aare Gani Adams to make fresh moves for a Yoruba Oba?
Adam’s role is not to fight but to make peace and make sure that Yoruba people are not marginalised. He is to make sure that the Yoruba enjoy the good things of life. He feels that democracy has afforded everybody the opportunity to get education, become literates read and know his or her rights. So, Gani would want us to maintain decorum and take advantage of our population in Ilorin, to move peacefully, for the installation of a Yoruba Oba. He would not allow the Yoruba to be cheated and starved to death. He would also not want Yoruba to be marginalised. Adams will fight for that. So, a Yoruba man will not allow himself to be killed by demanding Oba through violent means. The Yoruba will fight back if you fight them but they will not attack anybody for any reason. We are not asking for another person’s land, we are simply seeking a better way to preserve our forefathers’ land. If you want to take our land by force, you must face the battle. That is why we are preparing for war not that we want to engage in war. If you sit down, the enemy will kidnap you. Adams’ function is to bring peace and unity to Yoruba land so that we will jointly fight for our rights, for our self-determination and other things.
When did you join the OPC?
Adams, Fredrick Fasehun and I formed the OPC at the Century Hotel (Isolo, Lagos) in 1994. Before then, I had formed the Afonja Descendant Union. I was the Kwara State governorship candidate for the Peoples Redemption Party in 1979.
Who did you want to install as the Oba then and where is he now?
We did not have a particular person in mind to install as the Oba but we have shortlisted all those who are qualified for the position. When it is time, we shall make their names public.
What is your opinion about the current herdsmen killings across the country?
What they are doing is completely wrong. The Fulani had completely taken the laws into their hands. It is because this government under President Muhammadu Buhari is weak. Buhari is a Fulani man. There was a time he went to the West (Oyo State) and he and Lam Adesina disagreed over a crisis between some herdsmen and farmers. Adesina asked Buhari why he, a former Head of State, was fighting a tribal war. Adesina reportedly said, “You are ethno-centric and you call yourself Head of State.” In the last election, people wanted to drop Buhari, that he would fight on the side of his people but some people said we should leave him; they wanted Buhari to fight corruption. But now, Buhari is fighting corruption halfway and fighting ethnic war in favour of the Fulani. That is why many of us are saying he should go. He is not fit. He has made people hungry; there is no petrol and people are suffering. He should go because he is making things worse. Buhari is giving a bad impression about Nigeria to the world. There can be no good government with Buhari. He should go and rest and recover well. Enough is enough.
What exactly do you think is responsible for the attacks by herdsmen?
You can attribute it to so many things. In the first place, herdsmen are restless. Farmland is not easy to come by. Government aided their activities. Government did not provide grazing land for them. They have been moving and roaming for a long time and their cows have been eaten people’s crops. They have become lazy to have their own farm and if there is no farm, the cattle will not see food to eat. Cattle are difficult to control. You may not easily direct them; they go astray anywhere. The Fulani are very emotional about their animals. When you touch their cows, you have touched their lives. The government has been careless and reckless for a long period. I think the government should be blamed because the herdsmen must find food for their cows. We want government to teach the Fulani people how to respect the rights of the farmers. Food is more important than cows. There are other animals that can be used to replace them. Food is very important and government must do something urgently to prevent the impending food crisis in the country. Some top government functionaries have been quoted to have described the killer herdsmen as Fulani from Niger and Chad but Buhari kept quiet. He has exhibited nepotism. He is very close to his people and he realised their aspirations but he does not address that of other tribes. The Tivs are good farmers but today they have been chased away from farms. By supporting the cows, Buhari is voting against the right of the people. What is happening is a deliberate action by the government to destroy a particular section of the country so that they will be in greater number and subdue us.
Why do you think herdsmen carry arms?
They carry arms because they are afraid of attacks. However, there is arms proliferation in Nigeria because of bad government. If there is good government, how can arms enter the country without the knowledge of the government? All these things are still a reflection of bad government. During the colonial time, were there no cows? Why did you not see a Fulani man fighting the farmers? It was because the government then was disciplined but the present government is not disciplined.
The government should mop up arms. Government officials at the borders must be disciplined. They must be trained to be patriotic.
As an OPC leader, where do you think they got the arms from?
They got them from nearby countries like Niger, Chad and other places. Sometimes, trailers and big cars, imported by big men, carry ammunition.
How do you think the government can stop the violent killings by the Fulani?
Buhari has not called the stakeholders and address them. I was lucky to be one of the leaders of the Myetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria. I was their secretary in Kwara State and the Miyetti Allah leader in Afon, Alhaji Gambo, was my friend. We formed the group for the benefit of both the farmers and the herdsmen. We never struggled for them to be fighting farmers.
The government of the All Progressives Congress under Buhari is not performing. I am an APC stalwart but I believe in discipline. Buhari’s government is the worst I have ever seen in my life. We want Buhari to go. He is weak and being controlled by a cabal that is using his government to their own advantage. We need radical and new set of people who are faultless and have no skeleton in their cupboards, who can talk and people will follow them. Not the current crops of politicians, full of questionable characters.