He clocked 17 years as the Magaji Nda of Ilorin in July 2017. In this interview with National Pilot MD/Editor-in-Chief, ALHAJI BILLY ADEDAMOLA and MUMINI ABDULKAREEM, the former police officer, Alhaji Saliu Woru Mohammed speaks on his crime busting activities, the journey so far, roles and duties of his office as a traditional chief and the palace spokesman, Kwara politics, his interest in police and journalism among others.
This will be the 17th year since your appointment as the Magaji Nda of Ilorin, can you tell us the story from the beginning?
I was born in the Magaji Nda compound in the emir’s palace. My father and grandfather hailed from there too. I started my education career in Ansarul Islam where I met Shehu Gafar and other notable Ilorin indigenes. From there I proceeded to Share primary school for my primary education and was a good footballer then. In most of my examinations, I oscillated between the first and second position and later attended a two- year post primary school very close to Baboko where I obtained my post primary certificates. Thereafter, I attempted my O and A levels and was lucky to have good teachers like late Magaji Are, Adisa Zubair and late Minister Akanbi Oniyangi who was my headmaster. I was nicknamed Ph.D for my flair for English, writing, reading, discussion and engaging in debates. I always prayed to Almighty God to either make me a journalist or join the police force. The Emir in the 50s used to be entertained by police parade where the local government police will come to display at the palace every week. I was moved by their smartness, drumming, the band and their parade and after my A levels, I joined the Nigeria Police and started journalism by writing a lot.
Was your joining the police facilitated by anybody?
Yes, by the late Emir of Ilorin who happened to be the father of the present Emir, Zulukarnaini Gambari. After my discussion with him, he encouraged me and called the police authorities. I came first in the test conducted. After my appointment, I was moved to Ansarul Islam where I started my education. So while the late emir of Ilorin and father of the present Emir’s mother, Sheikh AbdulKadir encouraged me on education, late Gambari assisted me to get into the police. I started as a constable but moved up the ladder over the years and served in various positions as a detective, staff officer, administration and attended many courses. At the police college, I was awarded ‘Best Baton’ during our passing out, which signifies excellence and intelligence.
What will you consider most memorable experience while in the police?
There are a lot but I will tell you of the case of one JB who was a notorious armed robber. He stole about 11 vehicles from a dealer in Offa in 1970. I confronted and arrested him alongside his boys at Ogbomoso in a hotel where they lodged using women as bait. Also there was a case of the first armed robbery along Ilorin/Bacita where the gang robbed and killed one man. I took part in active investigation of the case which led to the arrest of Abidogun, a police ASP serving in Oyo State then. It will surprise you that he was convicted for robbery by late Justice Adesina of the Kwara State Armed Robbery Tribunal. There was also the arrest of a notorious politician from whom we recovered lots of money as well as the case of Toyin Kokoro in Ilorin here.
Did you have any near death experience while in service?
There was another notorious robber, Mudashiru’s case that I handled. His gang came to Ilorin and operated at Geri Alimi and they shot about four of our men. When the team came back they were looking for somebody to confront them. We used a harlot to survey them and found out that they have a base a in Osogbo at the back of a police station. I went with about four other detectives. In those days we use women a lot because they aide detective operation very well. She went and saw them smoking Indian hemp with Ogogoro and had full loaded guns. She was afraid and ran back to us. Her narration made my boys jittery. I encouraged them by volunteering to lead. When we got there, it there was the problem of how to enter. So I prayed, I don’t believe in charm, and knocked at the door. The leader roared like lion inquiring who was at the door and I answered that it was his friend. One of them came out and I asked my detective to handcuff him and that was how they came out one after the other which later led to exchange of gunfire. The most astonishing issue that day was the story of their leader, Mudashiru who we learnt was inside but was nowhere to be found. We continued to search but saw a white hen on the table inside the house. I asked my boys to shoot it at close range but the bullets couldn’t kill it. I took the gun and shot the hen and it died, then Mudashiru jumped down from the ceiling and lifted me up and surrendered. He told me “you are indeed a man”. The story might be hard to believe because of the charm aspect but that was exactly how it happened and I recovered lot of guns, charms and ammunition then. It was during the time off CP Manifase. The arrest led us to recover about 20 stolen vehicles. After the operation, we were received with drumming and fanfare and it felt we were governors because of the reception.
While in the police, how did you develop interest in journalism?
While in the police, I obtained my diploma and post graduate in Mass Communication and went for my PGD in Public Relation and Criminology shortly after. That equipped me to serve as the PRO in the state command for 7 years. I maintained a column in The Herald during the time of IG Coomasie who gave me award and commendation for discussing various topical issues that revolves round the right of the citizens and issue of search warrants, consent in rape and many others on radio and newspaper column titled “You and the Police”. Thereafter I was transferred to Zone 8 headquarters Lokoja in command of 4 states as the zonal PRO. I organised a lot of seminars for the police and the need for policemen to equip themselves with knowledge. I was also not a praise singer as I admitted where the police went wrong.
Did you expect the appointment as the Magaji Nda and what do you think gave you the edge above others?
I completed my 35 years in service with the police on 1 July, 2000 and on 3 July, the present Emir confirmed the title of the Magaji Nda on me. It was on a Friday, I was just leaving the old central mosque when I was accosted by the secretary of the Emirate, Ajeigbe that the Emir wanted to see me and the present Galadima of Ilorin, Usman Adelodun
Did you have premonition of what the Emir wanted to discuss with you?
No, I just felt he wanted to see me. When we got to the Emir, he told me he is appointing me as the 11th Magaji Nda of Ilorin and also appointed the Galadima.
What was your immediate reaction?
I was very happy, over joyous and delighted. Maybe the Emir felt I have represented them well as a good ambassador of the emirate in the police. I was a no nonsense police officer, didn’t take bribe and never aid and abet criminals. I made great impact as the PRO. Secondly, I am also very qualified considering the circumstances I have earlier painted.
What are the functions of the Magaji Nda and what does it mean to the Emirate?
Magaji Nda can be described as the armour carrier for the Emirate. It’s one of my duties to confront anybody that tries to desecrate or insult the Emir and his stool and that answers the question by some of those that are surprised when I always talk on issues relating to the palace and emirate, it is one of my duties to protect the Emir. Secondly, the Magaji Nda’s compound is as old as Ilorin itself. When a new emir is appointed, he will not go to the palace direct but retire to the Magaji Nda’s compound where he stays and prays for good leadership. It is unconnected to anything fetish and it is not unIslamic rites. I am presently renovating the House now. Initially I learnt the duration was for about three months but now reduced to two weeks. From there, the Emir will move to Alimi’s mosque where the Turbaning ceremony will take place accompanied by the Baloguns and Magajis. Having been turbaned, he returns to the palace and if he has any cause to go out prior to that time, he will not take the frontage or go in the open but follow another route from the Magaji Nda’s compound. If the new Emir is young and still bearing children, they will all be named in the Magaji Nda’s compound. That is the history and culture. The Magaji Nda is not the same as the Balogun, but everybody has his functions.
You are the only Magaji whose residence is located within the palace?
You should be one of the closest to the Emir by interaction and….
(Cuts in) Yes I am close to the Emir and he has confidence in me and that is why I have to choose my words carefully when I am speaking on his behalf not to misrepresent, mislead or lie to him. That is also why he has confidence in me because among my duties is absolute loyalty, it is the Emir first, the Emirate and the government of the day.
Is every Magaji Nda automatically the spokesperson of the Emir?
No, this is the first time, perhaps because of my background. I don’t have to make embarrassing statements about the Emir or palace but must be very careful and selective in choosing my words when I make statement on his behalf because whatever I say represent him. And that is why I am always tough on anybody that tries to destroy the emirate system which I have to protect. The Magaji Nda should not be a trouble maker or make inciting statements that may cause mayhem or disaffection in the polity.
Since your appointment, have you had any sad moment in your dealings with the Emir?
Not at all, I have no regret in serving the Emir. He is an encyclopedia of knowledge and whenever I go to him, it’s with a pen and paper because you learn every time in the process. Remember he is a former judge and chairman of the Court of Appeal, a former DPP and Attorney General. He listens very well to advice contrary to what some would want us to believe. The patience he has exhibited on the issue of Moro and Ilorin Emirate has demonstrated that.
How has the journey been so far since your appointment 17 years ago and how have you been able to overcome the challenges?
There were many challenges but one major one was during the late Governor Muhammed Lawal administration when the then corporate headquarters of National Pilot was bombed. Many staff were wounded. With my experience, I told the police who the culprit of that incident was, but the government turned against me and I was arrested and whisked to Abuja by six policemen including a woman who is still serving now in ‘A’ Division here in Ilorin I think. They detained me and alleged I was sponsored but the incident made me very strong. They queried my interest in politics as a traditional chief but I told them there was nothing wrong in that. The Lawal government wanted to rewrite history and as the Magaji Nda of Ilorin, my duties include to protect it. They wanted me to implicate people but at the end of the day, I floored them. Thereafter I joined The Advocate newspaper owned by late General Adisa and started to expose the government. But the police never came again.
What do you make of the agitation in some part of the state and issue of grading?
Those people talking are not conversant with the history of Ilorin. They want us to have five first class chiefs in Ilorin which cannot be. The simple history is that before Alimi came, there was nothing like chieftaincy titles. His son created the titles including the Baloguns, Magajis and all the others through indirect rule. I challenge anybody to disprove this fact. Then Jihad was fought and people where captured, I mean our forefathers. How do we throw away such history as if nothing happened? It’s a different ball game clamouring for change and there are better ways of doing that?
In that regard, what do you make of the issue of grading?
I don’t believe in the issue of grading whether first class down to fourth class. They are traditional rulers and not civil servants, what is the essence of the introduction of grading. That is not needed before we take care of them as required. When we introduced grading we introduced problem. Every home in Kwara South is now clamouring for one grade or the other. I think the better way of treating the issue of grading is to call the person these traditional rulers are under to advice on how to take care of them. In a newspaper house for instance, how can the government or even the owner of the paper promote a staff without the input of the boss? All these people clamouring for grading are under somebody, ask that person who is in charge to advice how to take care of them. In Kwara State, we have two types of traditional leadership in the Emirate system and Obaship system. The latter is applicable to those in Kwara South. But the emirate system involved those who collected flags from the caliphate who are the representative of Uthman Danfodio. They are in Ilorin, Lafiagi, Shonga, Patigi, Kaiama, Kano, Katsina and all the other northern states. If you read the elementary history of Nigeria, people like the Oba of Lagos for instance was not born in Lagos, same as the Oba of Benin and other revered traditional rulers in the country. Who came first or last is not an issue, but the impact and contribution and that is where the issue of Prophet Muhammed comes in. He came last but became first because of his contribution. I have also explained many times that prince, princesses, Emirs, Obas and traditional chiefs are born and not the creation of the constitution as these agitators want people to believe.
What are those things you are entitled to as the Magaji Nda?
I am living in Magaji Nda’s compound where my parents were born. I’m entitled to human dignity and love doing my job as the Magaji. I am not begging or lobbying for any grading.
What is your daily routine as the Magaji Nda like?
Firstly I pray to my God as a true Muslim, take care of my family and enquire about previous day’s assignment from those going to school to ensure it was done. I discuss with my wife, go to my mother who is still alive for her prayers when I get wind that Emir has already retired to the palace, I go to him to pay the usual homage. If there is any complaint, I tell him about happenings in town and if he has an assignment for me or anything of interest to tell me, he does and I retire to my office. Now, I operate a school named after the Emir for the propagation of Islam. This will engage me more and serve against idleness.
What are the dos and don’ts that guide your office, do you have any kind of taboo?
I’m supposed to guide my words, not be flippant or attend functions not approved by the Emir. As the Magaji Nda, you don’t expect me to encourage violence or practice Christianity but rather behave as true Muslim because the title is religious related. I am expected to be an embodiment of peace and harmony because there is a difference between the two and I should not be disloyal to the emir. I should also be seen to be leading in the enlightenment of the programmes of government to the people in my domain on issues like Census and immunisation among others.
What is your relationship with other Magajis?
Very cordial, I’m the Secretary-General of the Magajis and Alangua Forum, we hold regular meetings and we are on the same page.
Do you engage in any sporting activities?
I play tennis and also run round the mosque 6 times daily
You have been a police officer who also has been in the media, is any of your children taking after you?
I have two boys in the police, Tunde Saliu who was the OC SARS in Kwara State before he was transferred to Ekiti. He was once a police PRO. I encouraged him to join the police because I will like to come back as a police officer or a journalist if there is anything like reincarnation. I love the two professions very much. His younger brother is the station officer in “A” division Ilorin. I am always proud of Yinka Magaji Nda who works with the Unilorin FM going by his pronunciation and communication. I listen to him whenever he is casting news. Safe to say I have my children in the two professions that I love so much. I have another one working at the computer department of the University of Ilorin. One is in paramilitary and one of them is reading law. Another one will be graduating this year from History and International Relations department among others. I thank God greatly.
What is your philosophy?
To be truthful always. I like to be called a principled person rather than a good person. I don’t quarrel with individuals but their policies and behaviours and I tell them. But once there is a change, then that is the end, we turn out to become best of friends.