By Abubakar Imam
As relations, friends and colleagues gathered this morning to pay the late Alhaji Saka Opobiyi, who died on Saturday (July 17, 2021), last respect through the 8th day prayers at his ancestral home in the Agbaji area of Ilorin, it is important to remind one another of the fact that his demise has, again, deprived the people of Ilorin Emirate the services of another outstanding statesman and unassuming patriot.
The deceased technocrat was among those who, out of personal conviction, dedicated their times, energy and mental resources to the greatness of Ilorin Emirate without much “noise”. I am too sure that his death is not only a great loss to his family but also an irreparable one to the entire Ilorin Emirate community considering his age, wealth of experience, courage and other personal qualities that are becoming rarer amongst us. We would all miss him sorely. That is for sure!
Alhaji Opobiyi was, despite been a business man with shares in the United Foam Nigeria Limited, not that rich in terms of Naira and Kobo. He was, however, rich in the realm of wisdom, influence, commitment, bravery, patience and patriotism that no indigene of the southernmost Emirate who has been very conscious of his or her sociocultural and political environments in the last 50 years or so would claim to be oblivious of his personality and contributions many of which were evidently too known to be hidden.
The above position is rested on the fact that there has been no serious work on the annals of Ilorin Emirate in the past five decades without a mention of his name and contributions. Apart from his personal contributions and accomplishments, he was also a very close associate to the late Waziri of Ilorin, Dr Abubakar Olusola Saraki (1933-2012) who was the longest serving and most influential political leader of Ilorin Emirate and Kwara State till date.
The level and quality of Alhaji Opobiyi’s influence has been on display since his death was announced as tributes from all quarters had been pouring in from far and near eulogising him and his contributions to the development of his immediate community, Ilorin Emirate, Kwara State and Nigeria as a whole. It is in that light that this tribute is tailored.
Alhaji Opobiyi, a distinguished public administrator, outstanding politician, exciting community leader and long standing statesman, was born on June 30,1932 at Ilorin. His father was Alhaji Ibrahim A!abi Opobiyi while his mother, who hailed from Atonto Compound in the Oke Anifowoshe axis of Pakata Area, Ilorin, was Alhaja Hassanat Opobiyi.
Young Saka was privileged to have been enrolled in school at an early age and in an era when acquisition of western education was highly unpopular among the people of Ilorin. He started his educational pursuit at the famous Pakata Primary School(then known as Pakata Elementary School), Ilorin, from 1943 to 1947 where he had his foundational education. At the school, he was a classmate to Mallam Jimoh Pakata (1931-2012),the father of this author; Prof. Saka Nuru, the former Deputy Vice-Chancellor of the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria; Alhaji Hamidu Gambari Erubu, MFR, CON (b.1931) and Alhaji Saka Eletu, to mention a few.
On completion of his primary education, Alhaji Opobiyi proceeded to the then Ilorin Middle School(now Government Secondary School),Ilorin. The school was the only post-primary educational institution in the entire present-day Ilorin Emirate. His contemporaries at the school included all those earlier mentioned as well as Dr Abdulkadir Salman Oniyangi (1935-2020), who was the Secretary to the Military Government of Kwara State between 1984 and 1985;Honourable Justice Saka Yusuf, OFR (b. 1935),who was the third Chief Judge of Kwara State between 2006 and 2008; Honourable Justice Abdulkadir Orire, CON (1934-2021), who served as the pioneer Grand Khadi of Kwara State from 1975 to 2001; and Dr Amuda Aluko, OFR (1935-2020), the pioneer Tafida of Ilorin and the first indigene of the community who established and ran a private hospital in Ilorin, among several others. Alhaji Opobiyi was trained at the school for a period of one year between 1948 and 1949.
As a brilliant young chap then, Alhaji Opobiyi was among the very few members of his class who passed entrance examination into the premier secondary school in the entire Northern Region, the famous Barewa College, Zaria. His Admission Number at the College was 767 .He was consequently trained at the College between 1949 and 1954.At the College, he met and became friends with some other fellow Northerners who came from other parts of the highly ethnically heterogeneous region. Among his classmates at Barewa were Alhaji Umaru Dikko, the flamboyant second republic Minister of Transport; Dr Ahmadu Ali, GCON, pioneer Director-General of the National Youth Service Corps, former Minister of Education, second republic Senator and erstwhile Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party; His Royal Highness, Alhaji Sabi Idris, a retired Permanent Secretary in Kwara State and Emir of Gwanara in the Baruten Local Government Area of Kwara State, as well as the late Etsu Pategi, Alhaji Idris Gana. His mates also included Alhaji Hamidu Gambari Erubu, who was the pioneer Registrar of the Open University. His contemporaries at the Barewa College, Zaria, also included the second Military Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon, GCFR (b. 1934) who graduated from the College in 1953; and his successor, General Murtala Ramat Muhammad, GCFR (1938-1976) who passed out of the institution in 1957.
This outstanding patriot furthered his education by attending the famous Institute of Administration of the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. At the end of his programme at the Institute, Alhaji Opobiyi received an Advanced Diploma in Public Administration. He also attended the University of Ibadan for a Senior Administrative Staff Course.
The public service career of the late elder statesman was as brilliant as his educational sojourn. He started his career at the then Ilorin Native Authority as a Revenue Officer. He held the position between 1955 and 1958. From 1958 to 1962, he was a Local Government Supervisor.
As he was advancing in experience, he was also tasked with more demanding official responsibilities. He became and served as the Local Government Secretary from 1963 to 1970.He was also the Chief Administrative Officer of the Ilorin Native Authority from 1970 to 1975 and subsequently retired from the civil service.
Following his retirement from the civil service, Alhaji Opobiyi dedicated his time to the further services of his people in the political front. He was also deeply involved in different community development services until he was slowed down by the effects of old age.
Alhaji Opobiyi was a member of the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) throughout the second republic. He was also a Member of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) during the aborted third republic. He was a card carrying member of the Congress for National Consensus during the tenure of General Sanni Abacha. This great son of Ilorin Emirate was in the All Peoples Party (APP),which later became All Nigerian Peoples Party (ANPP) from 1998 to 2002. He also served as a Member of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) from 2002 to 2012 when old age necessitated his withdrawal from active partisan politics. The history of his political participation showed a deep fraternal relationship between him and the second republic Senate Leader, Dr Abubakar Olusola Saraki (1933-2012) having been one of the most reliable, consistent and dependable ally of the late Waziri of Ilorin.
The contributions of Alhaji Opobiyi to the successes of the political parties he fraternized with coupled with his popularity, qualifications and requisite experience as well as national development earned him several political appointments which he used for the advancement of his community. He was an Honourable Commissioner and Member of the Kwara State Executive Council under the Chairmanship of the second elected Governor of the State, Chief Cornelius Olatunji Adebayo (b. 1941). He held the position of Honourable Commissioner for Commerce and Industries from October to December 1983.
Alhaji Opobiyi also had the privilege of serving at the federal level on several occasions. He was a Member of the Board of the defunct National Power Electric Authority (NEPA) between 1984 and 1986.He had earlier served as a Member of the Governing Board of the University of Calabar Teaching Hospital, Calabar, from 1979 to 1983.
This great son of Ilorin Emirate also served as the Chairman of the Kwara State Universal Education Board during the administration of Governor Muhammad Alabi Lawal (1946-2006). He also served as the Chairman of the Boards of the Kwara State Council for Arts and Culture and the Kwara State Scholarship Board at different times.
Perhaps, the greatest contribution of this great patriot to the progress and development of Ilorin Emirate was the establishment of the Ilorin Grammar School, Ilorin, in 1967. History has it that, as the Chief Administrative Officer of the Ilorin Native Authority, Alhaji Opobiyi worked with his colleagues in the Authority such as its Chief Education Officer, Alhaji Yusuf Idiaro and Alhaji Shehu Usman Mustapha, who was the Treasurer; and the leadership of the then Ilorin Students Union, which was then ran by the likes of the doyen of Ilorin bar, Alhaji Aliyu Alarape Salman, SAN (b.1942); and a former Head of Civil Service of Kwara State, Alhaji Mudi Adebayo Gold (b. 1942) and the then Ilorin Descendants Union, under the presidency of late Alhaji Mahmud Bayo Baker, to establish the 54 years old school in order to afford members of the younger generations of the community and elsewhere the right to acquire secondary education with ease and at less cost. The activities of all the mentioned patriots were endorsed and blessed by the then Emir of Ilorin, Alhaji Sulu Gambari, CFR (1914-1992) who provided the much-needed leadership which eventuated in the establishment of the school. Alhaji Opobiyi also served as a Member of the Board of Governors of the school for so many years. He was, in fact, the Chairman of the Steering Committee of the School between 1967 and 1970.
One other realm where his services would continue to be appreciated and probably his greatest contribution to the growth and greatness of Ilorin Emirate was making himself available for the activities which led to the building, maintenance and running of the Ilorin Central Jumaat Mosque. He was actively involved from 1974 until very recently. Alhaji Opobiyi was a Member of the Committee, which raised and managed funds for the construction of the edifice, which was completed and commissioned by the then President of Nigeria, Alhaji Shehu Usman Aliyu Shagari, GCFR, in 1981. He subsequently served as a Member of the Management Committee of the Mosque under the Chairmanship of the pioneer Grand Mufti of Ilorin, Shaykh Muhammad Kamaluddeen Al-Adabiyy, MFR, OFR (1905-2005) where he was ,according to the late Alhaji Sheikh Adisa-Onikoko, dubbed as “the youngest old man”.He was also said to be a signatory to the account of the mosque along with the Chairman and the Secretary of the Committee, who doubles as the(then) Secretary to the Ilorin Emirate Council, Alhaji Abdulkadir Oba Shiru.
Alhaji Opobiyi ran a polygamous home like most of his contemporaries across Ilorin Emirate. He was married to three highly regarded women who, however, predeceased him. He was also survived by thirteen (13) children including 6 boys and 7 girls with the eldest being Alhaji Saadu Adebayo Opobiyi, who retired from the Nigeria Customs Service; and of course, Alhaji Agbaje Opobiyi, who was a Commissioner in the Kwara State Civil Service Commission. He was also survived by many grand and great grand children who are doing very well.
Alhaji Opobiyi was a respected elder who not only took good care of his biological children but also extended the same patrimonial support to children of members of his extended families. He was a father figure to all and to the people of Agbaji sub-community and Ajikobi traditional ward and beyond who always consulted him on one issue or the other. To the National President of Ilorin Emirate Descendants Progressive Union (IEDPU), Alhaji Aliyu Otta Uthman, fsi, who hails from the same Agbaji Quarters as the late elder statesman, “Alhaji Opobiyi was a leader in its truest sense. He was a dignified elder and one of the most consulted leaders of his immediate community, who never denied members of the younger generations of his deep wealth of experience”. Alhaji Saka Salman Atagisoro, a retired top federal public servant and cousin to the eminent patriot, recalled that “it was Alhaji Opobiyi who enrolled me as a pupil at the famous Ansarul Islam Primary School, Okemale, Ilorin, in 1963. He also encouraged me to further my education and was always following my career like every loving father would”. The same was also true of the penultimate Provost of the Kwara State College of Education, Ilorin, Dr Isiaka Saka Opobiyi, who was one of the “children” of the deceased. Alhaji Opobiyi also provided mentorship for several others across Ilorin Emirate many of whom are today statesmen in their own rights.
This great son of Ilorin Emirate who came, saw and conquered was a man who deserved to be emulated particularly among the younger generations. He was a personification of loyalty. He also represented an embodiment of integrity. He was a study in service delivery. He also raised the bar of integrity and one can always tell which side of the divide he belongs as far as any issue was concerned. He never sat on the fence. He was also simplicity simplified and a greatly generous man. He was exceptional in counseling and a highly fraternal personality who never forgot his friends without any form of regard for social classifications. I submit that by his death, Ilorin Emirate and indeed Kwara State and the nation has experienced an unavoidable incineration of a library.
On behalf of the National President of the Ilorin Emirate Descendants Progressive Union (IEDPU), Alhaji Aliyu Otta Uthman, fsi, I condole the children and entire members of the Opobiyi family and the people of Agbaji Quarters and, of course, Ilorin Emirate on the demise of this truly great patriot. I pray Allah to forgive his shortcomings and reward his good deeds with Al-Janat Fridaouz. May the Almighty Allah also strengthen members of his immediate and extended families as they reconcile themselves with the reality of the loss of a distinguished pathfinder, strong pillar and inspirational leader.
Imam is a National Publicity Secretary, Ilorin Emirate Descendants Progressive Union (IEDPU).
By Abubakar Imam