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Emir of Ilorin @ 80: Tribute to outstanding statesman

“Leadership is not about a title or about a designation.
It is about impact, influence and inspiration”
—Robin S. Sharma
The rampaging Coronavirus pandemic has no doubt caused the global community a lot of dislocations. It has claimed many souls! It is threatening the global economy in a way it never happened before!! It has also scattered many theories as it has reduced the level of social interactions across the universe beyond imagination!!!
What is in the mind of millions of people across the globe right now; is how to escape the infectious virus and survive the perilous contradictions the scourge is diffusing throughout the universe.
Amidst these unprecedented happenings in our life time; we the people of Ilorin Emirate still find a historic and happy moment to identify with our leader and father – His Royal Highness, the Emir of Ilorin and Chairman of the Kwara State Council of Emirs and Obas; Alhaji (Dr.) Ibrahim Sulu-Gambari (CFR), as he celebrates his 80th birthday on Wednesday, April 22, 2020.u
Notwistanding the prevailing and pernicious effects of COVID-19, it is true that in Ilorin, people of the Emir’s age; no matter how blessed or privileged they may be, hardly mark their birthdays with fanfare. But those of us who are children to His Highness’s generation and especially those who have benefited from the leadership of this great royal figure and his contemporaries would always feel obligated to celebrate them! That is because If we do not do that, many would not know that: “a wa na ni Baba. Shehu ni Baba wa”.
While I do not intend to repeat the stories of the illustrious birth and glorious childhood of this distinguished jurist in this piece, and while his eventful career in the bar and on the bench, from where he ceremoniously retired as the 3rd most senior Justice of the Court of Appeal, is also too well-known to be repeated here, it is also no news that the current Chancellor of the Federal University of Agriculture, Makurdi, is the 11th Emir of Ilorin and “the most royalty-rooted” of all those who had sat on that reverred stool since the Emirship of Ilorin began with the distinguished progenitor of the Emir’s lineage, Sheikh Abdulsalam ibn Alimi Janta.
It is also incontrovertible that Shaykh Ibrahim Sulu-Gambari is the most “educated or certificated” Emir of Ilorin so far! He is also the most ranked in modern public service categorisation prior to mounting the stool among all the Emirs of Ilorin in history. It is also gratifying that Ilorin Emirate under his leadership, has recorded great physical transformations and unprecedented growth in human resources as many indigenes of the Emirate have surpassed hitherto unattainable positions in politics, public administration, education, military and even in the judiciary, to mention a few; with many others emerging as extremely outstanding in their various businesses.
While asking the Almighty Allah on His behalf for more decades on the stool of his distinguished predecessors, His Royal Highness has also received the unquantifiable blessings of Allah for living beyond the age of, at least, his last three eminent predecessors.
Our father has not only been favoured with longevity of life; later in the year, he would also be marking his exciting Silver Jubilee on the venerated throne of his glorious forebears.
Having established the above, I am interested in leading my readers into some of the decisive roles His Royal Highness, the Emir of Ilorin has played; particularly since he mounted the stool of his predecessors. I am doing that, not only to give account of what I witnessed, but for you and I to learn one or two things from his exemplary leadership.
Many arm-chair critics do not know that the palaces of our traditional rulers are always busy. To them, those who are occupying the stools of their forefathers are doing nothing significant towards the smooth running of modern societies. I beg to disagree with those who share that stereotype. If others are not doing anything or as much, the Emir of Ilorin has always been a very tightly-engaged leader who often committed long time, great energy and a lot of resources towards the promotion of peace and development of his domain and even beyond. My experience has clearly informed me that the traditional rulers are doing a lot despite the fact that they are yet to be given clear-cut constitutional responsibilities.
The Emir of Ilorin, since he mounted the respected stool of his illustrious forebears, has been a very busy man who is always involved in the settlement of one crisis or the other. Many family wranglings, intra and inter-communities aggressions and religious discords, chieftaincy palaver and even institutional challenges, not to talk of land matters, to mention a few, which could have turned several parts of the community and the State into “war zones” are often resolved by His Royal Highness with the assistance of his Principal Chiefs and some of the most distinguished elders of the community. This is not peculiar to the striving people of Ilorin at home but even amongst those who are in diaspora who trusted the judgement and well-informed interventions of this distinguished Monarch.
Because we are in a “world of empiricism”, where statements must be backed with unassailable facts, I will cite a few instances.Those who are familiar with the first few years of His Highness in office would recall the efforts he successfully exerted at enthroning stability at one of the enduring contributions of Ilorin Emirate to the progress and development of Arabic and Islamic education in Nigeria. The institution, which was established by an illustrious son of Ilorin Emirate and located in the South-Western part of Nigeria, had its leadership problem resolved by the Emir. The fact that the institution is growing stronger by the day is courtesy of that royal intervention at the most critical point in its history.
In the year 2006 or thereabout, an innocuous business transaction made by an indigene of Ilorin Emirate who was based at Mokwa, Niger State, was wrongfully criminalised. He was subsequently detained on the authority of a Customary Court of the town, probably at the instance of the traditional leadership of the town. The Chairman of the Mokwa Branch of the Ilorin Emirate Descendants Progressive Union(IEDPU) and his concerned members became very disturbed by the possibility of their compatriot being manacled and spending years in gaol, and for no justifiable reason(s). They did not know what to do to secure the freedom of the man who was clearly innocent of the crime he had been accused of committing.They then decided to come home and complained to the then Secretary of the Central Zone of the IEDPU, Mallam Moshood Alfa Pakata, who wasted no time in taking the matter up with the Union’s National President of that time, the late Alhaji Ahmad Hameed.The deceased veteran journalist impeccably reasoned that the only way out was to seek the intervention of the Union’s Life Patron, the Emir of Ilorin, Alhaji Sulu-Gambari.
Without prior appointment with the Emir, Alhaji Hameed led a delegation of the Mokwa Branch of the IEDPU to the Emir along with the officials of the Union earlier mentioned to the Palace. As soon as the Emir was told that the National President of the IEDPU wanted to see him, he approved an audience with the delegation. On listening to the explanations, as eloquently rendered by the deceased accomplished Wordsmith, the Emir, being a jurist, was convinced that his detained subject did not deserve such a treatment. He sent for his Secretary, Alhaji S. A. Lawal, and dictated a communication to him. The letter, which was addressed to the Ndalile (Community Head) of Mokwa, was instantly typed and subsequently signed by the Emir. He directed that the letter should be presented to the addressee without delay; stating that if no positive actions were taken, he would take the matter up with the Etsu Nupe, and Chairman of the Niger State Council of Emirs, Alhaji (Dr.) Yahaya Abubakar,CFR.
To Allah be the glory, the Ilorin man was instantly released with apologies as soon as the Ndalile of Mokwa digested the content of the correspondence from the Emir of Ilorin. Since then, the people of Ilorin Emirate, who sojourn in that busy town, are no longer exposed to demeaning treatments by their hosts. Their hosts and compatriots from other parts of the country since then realized that if any “Nda Ilory’ is wrongly treated their father would surely come to their aid with all the forces he could marshall. Whatelse would a father do in that circumstance to restore the dignity of his depressed son?
Another instance, which this writer was also a living witness took place about a decade after the first one. That was when the appointment of a promising indigene of Ilorin Emirate was unjustly terminated by the Management of the Ibadan Electricity Distribution Company (IBEDC), which was then driven by a power drunk ex-Banker and over-domineering Deputy Managing Director of the firm at that period. The issue of the wrongful termination was brought to the attention of the Emir through a friend to the victim who also contacted a man who was close to the palace.
The Emir asked the victim to see him for him to hear from the horse’s mouth. The victim did; accompanied by yours sincerely and another friend of his; along with the link person.
On the appointed date; sighting those “greater tomorrow”, the Emir not only warmly welcomed them but also shook hands with them as their countenances expressed surprise that the Emir, despite his blue blood, could extend his royal hands to them for a hand shake as if they were his fellow First-Class Traditional Rulers! As if that was not enough, and notwithstanding their relatively younger age and lower social status, they were asked to sit on the well-decorated upholstery, which were obviously meant for distinguished dignitaries instead of squatting on the rug.
The respected jurist did not allow the victim of the IBEDC high-handedness to utter a word as he revealed that he had been properly briefed. He expressed surprise that a qualified, competent and innocent free-born citizen of Nigeria could be treated with such a disdain by a corporate organisation.
The Emir asked for what he could do or how he might intervene. Before the victim and his “advocates” could say anything; the respected Chairman of the Kwara State Council of Emirs and Obas asked for the phone number of the Company’s Managing Director. He was given; and he dialed it several times. Unfortunately, the poor communication network frustrated his attempt to talk to the succeeding Managing Director,-Mrs.Bola Onagoruwa; who had taken over the management of the outfit on phone.
Thereafter, the idea of writing a letter to the Company’s Chief Executive and its Chairman, Mr.Tunde Ayeni, was suggested by the victim, and that was supported by his companions and approved by His Royal Highness .
The Emir granted the victim an unanticipated privilege of drafting the requested letter. He asked him to pass the draft to his Secretary. The letter was handled as directed and His Highness endorsed it with a minor amendment for onward deliverance to the Company.
The Emir’s correspondence was received with awe at the Company’s headquarters. It created panic among the top management staff of the Company who were thrown into a state of confusion on perusing its content and the best way of addressing His Royal Highness’s request on his subject. The victim was called by some staff members of the Company on account of the interest generated by the Emir’s correspondence. He was seen as a very fortunate man who secured the intervention of a first class Monarch and ex-Justice of the Court of Appeal on his matter. He was assured of his reinstatement as pleaded by the Emir.
Although, the wrongful termination of the man’s employment was not reviewed by the Company as earlier anticipated but the letter marked the quality of the person and office of His Royal Highness as a caring father.
Till today, the victim keeps a copy of the letter, which reminds him of the fact that the Emir is for all the indigenes of Ilorin Emirate, not minding their geographical locations and status in life.
What amazes me till date is that on the two occasions, the Emir did not ask for which part of Ilorin Emirate the two beneficiaries came from. He never asked about who their parents were and any other pecuniary questions often asked by those who are unwilling to assist. On the three occasions and many others, which came to the knowledge of this writer; but for which space and time would not permit me to enumerate, what this distinguished traditional ruler was always concerned about was the “Iloriness”, the humanity and the propriety of issues; and those who approached him for one form of assistance or the other.
The Emir is always after the unity and progress of the people of Ilorin Emirate. His prayers and efforts are yielding as it is evidenced in the recurring progress amongst the indigenes and residents as well as across his constituency since 1995 when he became the Emir.
As if the above are not enough; just recently and in a bid to cushion the effects of the Coronavirus pandemic on the ordinary people of his Emirate, His Highness constituted a high-power Committee of eminent citizens of the Emirate to mobilise support for the less-privileged ones among his subjects. While he kick-started the fund with the sum of One Million(N1M) Naira, his Chiefs were also encouraged by his leadership by example to support the fund-raising with their widow’s mite.
Be that as it may, there is need to preserve and expand the greatness of his Emirate in the outermost areas of his geographical constituency.
May I, on behalf of my humble self and my family as well as upcoming generations of the people of Ilorin Emirate felicitate most sincerely with the one and only “Arole Alfa Alimi”; as the tireless Makama of Ilorin (Alhaji Ibrahim Saadudeen Oniye) would always describe the Emir on his momentous birthday; and for being a father in a million to all the sons and daughters of Ilorin Emirate.
I also wish His Highness a very rewarding birthday and many happy returns of the day. It is my prayers that long may he reign on the stool of his respected forefathers. As our neighbours to the South would say, “Igba Odun, Odun kan ni ooo”. I also pray that “Olohun aje ki Oba wa ope kanrin kese ni ipo awon Baba nla won. Ilu Ilorin Koni tu. Awa ti aje Omo Ilorin ati ara ibe naa koni mon inira. Olohun koni se Oba wa ni Oba ibomi. Awa naa oni di ara ilu mi ni tipa-tipa”. “(Aamin meta-meta)”.
Imam is the National Publicity Secretary of the Ilorin Emirate Descendants Progressive Union (IEDPU).

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