Ilorin Geri-Alimi: Fading legacies and the growing vices



It is generally believed that history is the past records of events, places, including dossiers of early settlers and their ancestral homes of origin. Muhammed Salman and Imam Moromoke of Fresh Insight writes.


Linguistically, Ilorin derives its unique name from aggregations of two different words; “Ilu” which means town and “Irin” which means metal. The missing action word “lo” dictates where “Ilorin” is coined out which literarily means, where metals are sharpened.

Ilorin, traditionally, adopted the name following an historic stone traced to “Ile Bamidele” where hunters sharpened their armour in readiness for hunting.

However, there is another version that tries to domesticate the name (Ilorin), relating Ayinla (Ela), the first settler of Ilorin and the games he was fond of, Elephants (Erin) and other wild animals before the coming of Afonja, the sixth “Aare Ona Kakanfo”.

A caricature image of Afonja

Many literature affirm that “Aare Ona Kakanfo” is the highest war title conferred on any Alaafin of Oyo’s favourites with the official recommendation and appendage of Bashorun. It is neither hereditary nor bequeathed, according to records.

To the glutton of History, Sheikh Solihu Janta (a.k.a Alfa Alimi), a town—Fulani (Fulani Gida) by origin, the grandchildren of Kanata who migrated from Futa-toro in Mali to Northern Nigeria is another icon the historians should reckon with, whenever history of Ilorin is being traced or cited.

Old picture of Ilorin Emir’s palace frontage

His missionary adventure and voyage to Ilorin in 1816 and 1817 cannot be underestimated. He was the founder of the Dynasty that produced the royal family in Ilorin up till date, where we have the 11th Emir. For the purpose of record, Usman Dan Fodio and Sheikh Solihu Janta (Alimi) have the same phylogeny as they are always referred to as “Batoranke”, meaning men from Futa-toro.

Sheikh Alimi established religion of Islam in Ilorin. Being equipped with Arabic and Islamic Education, he taught many as students and disciples. This was the advent and sunrise of Islamization and Arabization of the town, and the reason why Ilorin is a cynosure of both Islam and Arabic.

However, Ilorin as a town is blessed with noble cultures that complement religion, with strict ideologies and doctrine of Islam. One can barely find a legitimate home-bred indigene of Ilorin who doesn’t read the Quran, observe five obligatory prayers and fast during the sacred month of Ramadan even right from an inappreciable age.

These and others gave the town the glow in which the first cognomen (Oriki) was derived; “Ilu toyii koleegun, Esin legun won, Oko loro ibe”. Meaning, “A big city without a masquerade, the horse is their masquerade, the spear is their cult”.

The Horse, Spear, Staff and others in the cognomen have special and contextual interpretations in tandem with Ilorin as a city, Sheikh Alimi as its Islamic founder and activities of the people of the town.

This invariably means that both Afonja and Alfa Alimi arrived Ilorin at different circumstances and this could not be variegated.

Nonetheless, history can not deny the fiasco that transpired between the Alaafin of Oyo and Afonja, and between Afonja and Alfa Alimi. The resultant effects are still devastating.

It’s not gainsaying, that Ilorin is a Mecca of religious activities and home of Islamic affairs because of numerous heritages and images of high importance and sanctity.

Mosques of high minarets, Islamic schools that produce giants of Islamic repute, sacred places of good history and milestones (Kuho, Sobi mountain, Jiji, and so on), Quran written with Old inscription, the staff and rosary used by Sheikh Alimi and many but to mention a few. This corroborates the saying that, you can not be more Catholic than the Pope, Abraham than Egyptians and more religious than the people of Ilorin. Islam runs in their veins and pumps in their hearts.

While growing up, nostalgic recollections of those days we built muddy mosques as Ramadan approached, and made the eldest and most knowledgeable amongst us an Imam. The ‘Imam’ led every prayer, including “Tarawih” (Night prayers) for a complete month. The night gathering during prayers was a means of getting money from the lovers of culture and heritage.

All Ilorin sons and daughters are potential religious leaders whenever the need arises and wherever they find the soil. Although, these are the known attributes of the Ilorin of yesterday (18th to 19th century), there is a shocking turnaround in the Ilorin of today.

The question that swings to and fro like a pendulum is: what has gone wrong? one sit and ponder in misty eyes when I see the negative transformation of Ilorin, socially, politically, morally, religiously and intellectually.

In fact, the city is losing grips and experiencing glory erosion and debilitating consequences.

It sounds rhetorical when one ask, if we can still have the Ilorin of yesterday. The influx of immigrants, westernization and social influences have positively and adversely impacted greatly in the sudden turnaround.

In history, mosques, Zawiyah, Asalatu and other places of seclusion for worship engulfed this city, but have been practically replaced with hotels, beer parlours, social centres, event centres and the likes. One can hardly go to any neighbourhood in Ilorin without catching a glimpse of an alcohol outlet where liquor is being sold both publicly and discretely.

Hotels and beer parlours where ladies dance unclad have also been reportedly sited in Ilorin. Hooliganism and thuggery are rampart amongst young people in Ilorin. Political “skull crackers” are likewise common among teenagers of this town, as abuse of drugs, incessant killings, rape and other ill-fated habits are the glitches recently recorded in Ilorin.

The town pales in comparison to the serene environment inherited from our forefathers. It’s no gainsaying that the number of religious and Islamic schools built by Ilorin forebears as compared to the hotels and beer parlours built by Ilorites of today.

A great number of the star hotels are owned by indigenes of Ilorin. Is this the town we bequeathed?

In the Ilorin of yesterday, the sacred places were used for seclusion; purposely for worship. Today, many young “Alufa” have fortified shrines in their residences, while some belong to spiritual sects and adopt evil titles as names. They are so reckless to the extent of carving a niche called “Bustaan”, meaning Jungle. They dupe wealthy victims of their hard-earned resources claiming to solve their problems.

Isn’t it glaring Ilorin is living on past glory? Many people outside Ilorin are envious of the noble knowledge and religious prowess that portray Ilorin as the centre of Islamic fountain. This is evident as they send their wards, who within a short period of time become knowledgeable in Islamic jurisprudence down here.

Today, intending Islamic knowledge seekers would rather go to “Ile-Ife” and learn about terrestrial powers than being a pupil here with few exceptions.


We have heard and witnessed from different quarters, scenarios where so-called Alfas, indigenes of this town were caught with human parts. Dealing and tinkering with human parts is grossly frowned at by scriptures.


Everybody runs after worldly possessions: Erecting gigantic, state of the art houses, exotic cars and so on. We forget that the builders of this town, the most wealthy among them lived in “Iti”, muddy houses and rode horses as exotic rides. They lived simple lives and history reminds us about them.

Ilorin was known to be an accommodating town. This act of hospitality resonated with tribes that came for trading here and later became part of us by marriage. They shared their buildings and lands, mimicking how people of Madinah did to followers of the Prophet. But today, we are hospitable to building hotels, so gullible of making money rather than religion. These are like Hydra that gnaw the glory of this town and mar the image built by the predecessors which should be quickly addressed.

Again, the question is: if this is the Ilorin we are witnessing now, what Ilorin would the unborn generation inherit?


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