Some Ilorin Reminiscences, by Is’haq Modibbo Kawu
NEWS DIGEST – I’ve just been directed to the interesting stroll that you’ve had today, on the shores of history, and of hindsight! That’s very useful for the younger members of our community.
A lot has disappeared today. Marx used to say that everything solid, melts always. Indeed, if you waited long enough, everything changes!
From music: Alhaji Ajadi, Odolaye Aremu, Jaiyegbade Alao; Oba Alabi Oole; the Ajiweres; awon oni Toobeni; etc.
Sports, especially football, table tennis, track and field, through to cycling, boxing and other sports that became part of the ensemble during the First Kwara State Sports Festival in 1973.
I stayed till 11pm watching the boxing event, with boxers like Raimi Omokanye and Ariko Timoko representing Ilorin Division, and then walking all the way, all night, from the old GTTS to GSS Ilorin!
Things worked in an interesting manner. I was privileged to watch the first game in that “mini-Stadium” which was actually the police ground. It was between Mighty Jets of Jos and Ilorin Rovers, the Ilorin town team. Mighty Jets was the most revered team in Northern Nigeria, and had such great players as the goalkeeper, Lawandi Datti, the team captain, Ismaila Mabo and of course, the most flamboyant player of that time, and for me, the best player Nigeria ever produced, Sam ‘Garba’ Okoye!
We all idolised him with the white band around his head, and the elegant manner that he played the game. The narrative has been let out in that piece I wrote in 2015, which Nurudeen Abdulrahim posted earlier.
And it was remarkable that table tennis would spread like wild fire all over Ilorin. Bayo Kadara, was the first authentic star of our community in the game. Someone mentioned the table tennis table by the Emir’s palace, which Baba Tahiru took care of. By 1976, I became school champion in GSS Ilorin, and Baba was one of the inspiring chaps, when they began to invite us to the Kwara state camp. He had a loop that was extraordinary!
And the Kwara State Academicals produced so many players for the Nigerian Academicals. Again some of the names have been mentioned in my piece: “ILORIN: MARK ONE-ONE”. Alhaji Sa’adu Laufe; the late Rev Ayo Bello; and the late Mr Asuelimen, as well as the late Omosidi Sarumi, not to forget Folly Congo, were the backbone of scouting in Ilorin. It was prestigious to be a scout. We were taught to do one good turn everyday. So we willingly helped older people to carry heavy loads!
And who can forget that Mafarosere and Owodunni Bread, were the earliest bread brands in Ilorin. Owodunni bread was owned by Kehinde Owodunni’s father, at Ita Onitangaran. On the piece of paper inside the bread was wriiten: “Omo o taja mowo rele”! I never understood what that meant!!! Mafaro Sere Bread’s building carried the sign board on Murtala Muhammed Way, until recently.
And who remembers that the Ilorin Provincial Library was by the Emir’s Palace? I lent my first book, the Ladybirds series, from that library in 1968. That library opened the world of books to us. And because radio was so ubiquitous, and I was privileged to hear the BBC Hausa Service being listened to, every night, it seemed inevitable, that my life gravitated to radio. And my mum, presented the first program for women on Radio Nigeria Ilorin. She wrote a script every week.
Then radio had a weekly sports program that the late Chief Michael Asaju presented, and Alhaji SU Mustapha, who chaired the Ilorin Football Association, was regularly speaking about football in our city.
What else? Well, the railway station! In the 1960s, it was the most well-lit point of Ilorin. And we would escort people travelling! It was a meeting point of sorts in Ilorin.
Just like the film house; Palace Cinema was the only cinema house in town: Indian Films and old American films. When the Chinese kung fu films came, they joined the line up. The Censors Board used to cut off scenes of violence and sexually explicit scenes. The people who attended each night, didn’t know this, and assumed it was the projectionist that was cutting the films! He was met with some of the most vulgar expletives: “Omo Atiro, yio ba epon baba re”!!!
Broda Dan Boyi was the mobile advertisement Board of Ilorin. He went around the city with a plywood board which announced the film for the day, and he described the films in very colourful terms; and on the days of the annual “TATIMENT” (Entertainments) of schools: United School and Okesunna Primary School especially and Oko Isale, he would wear the curved “Abdul” shoes, that we only saw in films! We used to just admire him!
And every three weeks, the Northern Regional Information Services had landrover vehicles that went round the city to announce the showing of films about developments in the North. Later, there was another mobile cinema group, that showed old American Westerns. They used the films to sell drugs, and we all converged at Center Igboro to watch.
Who remembers Sani Mai Shayi? At the junction from Princess Road; or Magnet, that sold all kinds of knick-knacks, by the Gbagede junction? What about the NA Police? Their barracks became the Ago Market. Close by was Toye Arts. He was unique. There was Kolawole Omo Oba, who was obviously of royal origins, always wearing the red cap of the NA Police.
And Ilorin had it’s fair share of mad people: Pakata mi onando; Labalaba; Iya Ijebu, by the Maternity hospital; Irun idi, who never stops writing; Adama Suke; Zorro; Eti Erin ( Jeko Meje); Olomo loma Roja, who was first on Oyo Bye Pass (Ibrahim Taiwo Road today), before he moved to the front of our house in Ikokoro and ended up on the Asa Bridge in the direction of the post office ); Lese lowa! What about Dado, who wore some of the most beautiful brass hand bangles and dressed in the most exquisite dyed dresses as one approaches the Oniyangi junction, from Isale Koto? Who remembers Iya Lali? Some kind of eccentric, who attended weddings and recited the Arabic numerals, she was light-skinned.
Ilorin knew even the thieves or alleged thieves. Around our house in Aluko, at Ode Otefan, was Sinyaba that people believed was a thief. And the mythology around Alhaji Iya Layo fa?
With it’s deep religious reputation, there, nevertheless, were brothels behind Niger Hotel; on Opo Malu Road; Taiwo Isale by Oja Gada and Sabo Oke.
I saw the reference that Yusuf Lawal made to my life as a Deejay and that competition with Yanju Adegbite and others from Ibadan. Oh yes, that was a night! We showed them what we were made of.
And Alhaji Sani Lawal read news for years with us at Radio Nigeria/Radio Kwara. His excellent diction reflected the education that their generation got in the colonial school system. The late Prof Shehu Jimoh also read news for years! He would smoke a stick of cigarette as he rehearsed the script. I followed in their wake, and by March 1980, I was sent to Lagos to be a Newsreader on the National Network News Service of Radio Nigeria. I was actually 19 years+, when I was thrown in at the deepest end! Alhamdulilah! I didn’t disgrace our hometown and state.
The Christian Youth Center on Ahmadu Bello Way was a place of meeting, and of games as well as of friendships, with non-Ilorin people who had become part of the city. These included the Ayo Ibironkes; the Oshinowos; the Obaoyes; Ijaodolas; the Oguns of Gaskiya Bookshop; the Ariyes; and kids who came from the GRA, further down the road.
Who would forget Lara Bookshop? It’s still on Ibrahim Taiwo Road, somewhere, I think. And Dayo Mejabi’s mum ran it. Dayo’s sister, Shade, is now Nigeria’s Head of Service.
Everybody was every child’s parent, in a communal sense, and one would be scolded if you dared to misbehave!
And one that we shouldn’t forget is the pilgrimage to Mecca and the holy places. It was very big! The pilgrims left by rail to Kano and then returned by the same way. From Hajj they brought zamzam; viewmasters, for kids, that we called Soju Lore. The stopover in Kano brought dried meat ( Tinko); dabino (labidun in Ilorin); and Mazakweila that was called Mazankola, in Ilorin!
And then the day of Ajoyo? The pilgrims wore Jalabiya, and the “makawiya” brought from Saudi Arabia. The women too, including the golden tooth. A crowd followed the pilgrims as they went to pay homage at the Emir’s palace. They all sang: “Gbogbo wa lao jolo; gbogbo wa laojolo, Arafa Odun tinbo, gbogbo wa laojolo”!
And in learning the Qur’an fa? When we passed the first izu, and learnt Sebi, they killed a chicken!
The one part of Ilorin’s culture that most younger people might not have experienced were Kayo-Kayo; Loilo; the construction of mini mosques just before Ramadan; the Ajisaris and the annual ‘SALENJI’ ( CHALLENGE)! The frontage of the Emir’s Palace brought some of Ilorin’s best Ajiweres: Ebobo; Adisa; Omo Abemi and others. There was the story that Ebobo had a lot of “power”, and was really feared!
There was the myth that they used padlocks to lock voices of the competing musicians. Looking back now, it must have been stage fright, coming from seeing hundreds of people converged at the spot to listen to them sing! But it didn’t matter. The winner for each year, was always so so revered. They were our first expression of showbiz superstars.
Then Wahabist Islamic fundamentalism entered our community and the SALENJI was banned! In its place, a poor annual recitation of Qur’an was instituted. It didn’t have character, and doesn’t, till today!
We also lost the twice a year visit of Fulbe nomads during the Sallah holidays. They came and performed at the Emir’s Palace. It was one of those expressions of the Fulbe elements of the rich mosaic of Ilorin cultural being. And I actually got the nomads to perform the Sharo when I got married in 1999. Are Olomo Oba has survived, Alhamdulilah. And those of us with royal roots relish its performance, when we get married. Just as the SISA IYAWO. I migrated to my father’s mum’s people in Ile Belgore, when I got married in 1999.
You see, our home is very rich in so many ways and we have a duty to remind the younger people just where we are coming from. That’s the way to appreciate today, and it becomes easier to map up the route of the morrow, because there is the surety that we carry a very rich heritage!