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Re: Ilorin is an Ethnogenesis: Response to Kawu’s anti-Saraki Ilorin purism

What follows is a response to my two-part series on the Ilorin identity and the place of the Sarakis in it. The author advances the same s...

What follows is a response to my two-part series on the Ilorin identity and the place of the Sarakis in it. The author advances the same sadly familiar reductionist and nativistic arguments that seek to police the boundaries of the Ilorin identity and exclude people who fall outside these inflexible, arbitrary, and reactionary boundaries. But the author’s arguments are worth chewing over nonetheless.

By Zakariyau Sambo
This piece is not against your write up because I, as a History teacher, agree with the historical facts you presented. It is not also in support of the said diatribe of Ishaq Modibbo Kawu because I am not obliged to do so in any ramification. The piece rather tries to clarify some of the analysis and interpretations which your piece raised as shall soon be explained.

To start with, I do not know whether you are conversant with the fact that many Ilorin indigenes have been, from time to time, questioning both Senator Bukola Saraki and his father’s claim to Ilorin origins in the print, electronic and social media due to some obvious reasons excluding politics. Prominent among such people is Alhaji A. G. F. Abdulrasaq (SAN), the fist legal practitioner in northern Nigeria. Therefore, I am very inquisitive on why you choose to only isolate and treat Kawu’s said questioning ignoring those of others that had come earlier.

Let me begin by some historical facts which you rightly highlighted. According to you, “the Ilorin identity is the product of the fusion of Yoruba, Fulani, Hausa, Baatonu (Bariba), Kanuri, Nupe, Gwari, and Gobir ethnicities and influences. The Yoruba language is the linguistic glue of this fascinating ethnic commixture, and Islam is its religious glue.” This highlight is very valid especially if we consider past developments in Ilorin. That also means that the Ilorin identity product is dynamic and not static. However, to just reduce Ilorin and how it became an ethnogeny to past developments is to be far away from reality. This is particularly true since History interplays between the past and the present which may likely determine and influence the future. That is why it is very inadequate to just use or largely use the parameters of the past to interpret the recent. Both the past and the present go hand in hand.

If we must explain the reason why the claims of origins and identity of the Sarakis remain suspicious and controversial we must not only trace their history which was birthed in the past (I personally never have issues with that) but also reveal what is happening in the present. The situation with the Saraki family, as far as identifying with Ilorin is concerned, remains an aberration. In contemporary Ilorin, the Sarakis have refused to integrate, entrench and sustain Islam and Ilorin Islamic cultures into their family to keep their Ilorin origins and identity going. This abnormality in their households has been the signature of both the father and the son. A vivid case in point, among many others, is the society wedding celebrations of Senator Bukola Saraki’s daughter this year. I, like many other Ilorin people, were mystified by the strange and unfamiliar nature of the wedding celebrations. The celebrations did not conform to the Islamic identity and norms and traditions of the people of Ilorin. In fact some of the activities were a contradiction of our religion and culture.

The argument here is that no Ilorin son or daughter worthy of his/her salt will shy away from Islam and the various Islamic cultures his or her parents bequeathed on him/her. I want to believe that this is what many Ilorin people like Kawu and I are interrogating about the Sarakis and their claims to Ilorin origins. We are not just Ilorin people because our grandparents were; we are so because we sustain Islam and integrate ourselves into Ilorin Islamic cultures.

As you also further try to prove that Ilorin people’s identity can be found in their Yoruba names, I find it quite difficult to agree with your assertion that, “I know of no Ilorin person, whatever his or her ancestral provenance may be, who does not have a Yoruba given name.” This assertion of yours is true only to an extent. The fact that virtually all Ilorin persons bear Yoruba names does not mean that they bear all kinds of Yoruba names. In other words, the kind of Yoruba name you bear can make you become an “alien” in Ilorin. For instance, Ilorin people do not bear Yoruba names that have affinity with Yoruba gods and deities. That is why an Ilorin  person will never bear popular Yoruba names  like Aborishade, Fashola, Adeosun etc.

Apart from bearing names that have affinity with Yoruba gods and deities, the Yoruba also bear names that emanate from Oluwa, the God Almighty. Olusola, Olufemi and Olukayode etc. are examples of such. In Ilorin Yoruba, God Almighty is referred to as Olohun and not Oluwa. The explanation of why this is so was given by late Shaikh Muhammad Kamaldeen Al-Adabiy in the Yoruba Qur’an translation himself and others wrote at the instance of the Saudi Arabian authorities. Therefore, it is very strange for people to bear “Olu” names in Ilorin. This is not simplistic and ahistorical as you claim. It rather explains the dynamics in the evolution of Ilorin identity.  In addition to this, many people (including some Yoruba) that are not from Ilorin use to confuse names like Idiagbon, Alanamu, Oniyangi, Aluko etc. to mean Yoruba proper names. In actual fact these kind of names, though Yoruba, are names of family compounds/areas in Ilorin that people bear.

For someone’s claim of Ilorin origin to be non-controversial you just don’t rely on enormous emotional investment in your Ilorin identity and you just don’t self-identify yourself as an Ilorin person. I dare say, obvious of the risk of being called out to have committed a crime, that you have to do much more. You have to conform to the religion, norms and traditions of Ilorin. You also have to integrate yourself to the Ilorin society both in practical and functional forms.

Sambo wrote from the Department of History, Usmanu Danfodiyo University,
Sokoto and can be reached at

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