By Abubakar Imam
“When an old man dies, a Library burns to the ground”
No expression captures the feelings of the good people of Ilorin Emirate since the demise of one of the community’s highly-illustrious and extensively impactful heroes,Dr.Abdulkadir Salman Oniyangi, OFR,was announced on Thursday,January 16,2020,better than the above stated conviction,which amplifies the position of the elderly ones in a given community.
This is particularly the case among those that care for their present and future, via their past.The people of the nation’s southernmost Emirate would,among other reactions, also be ruminating on the import of that statement as they gather to pay one of their exceptional compatriots last respect through Janazah and Fidau prayers and as they play host to dignitaries and other ranks of mourners from all walks of life and across the country, who would join them in saying farewell to the deceased, who was a true public servant and unassuming figure.
The people of Ilorin Emirate at home and in the diaspora were unsuprisingly bewildered on hearing the demise of one of the exemplary flag-bearers, and also one of the most outstanding sons of the nation birthed by the Emirate, not because he was too young to transit to the great beyond ,as Africans often think, but because of what he represented in the history of his community,which he served with so much passion and dedication right from his youth.
I first knew the late Dr.Oniyangi in 1984 as an innocent secondary school pupil,while he was serving as the Secretary to the Military Government(SMG) of Kwara State under the administration of the Offa-born Group Captain Salaudeen Adebola Latinwo.As the SMG, he sometimes led teams of officials of the Kwara State Government, saddled with the responsibility of supervising the sale of essential commodities to the ordinary people of the State.
As a young boy,then,I admired his relentlessness,as he tried to ensure that whoever was on the queue and conducted himself or herself with decency, did not go home without purchasing some of the commodities.The venue for most people of my part of Ilorin, was the ancient Pakata Market,where my ancestral home is situated.
I later learnt that he was my father’s old school-mate at the famous G.S.S.Ilorin. Later in life, my father began to patronise his Hassanat Memorial Hospital,along the popular Taiwo Road,Ilorin.
What particularly struck me about his remarkable personality, was his patriotic and selfless desire to serve and cater for his patients to the best of his ability,their socio-economic status,notwithstanding.
The first time my father suffered a debilitating health challenge,we took him to his friend’s said hospital around 10p.m.Despite his age, and the fact that he had retired home that night,Dr. Oniyangi drove himself,at great risk, back to the Hospital, after one of the nurses drew his attention to the fact that a patient(friend) of his, was gasping for breath.He not only came to attend to my interests, he also refused to be paid for the services he rendered.That was, for me,an indication of genuine kindness!
Dr.A.S.Oniyangi,as he was widely known,was born to the family of the late Alhaji Salman Mahmud Oniyangi,who,himself,was a distinguished merchant,a first-class philanthropist and an eminent community leader,on 31st July,1935, in Ilorin.
His father,the late Alhaji Salman Oniyangi,was the founding Manager of the famous Ansarul Islam Primary School,Okemale,Ilorin,in 1947.He was also one of the few elites who supported the revolutionary efforts of the late first Mufti of Ilorin,Shaykh Muhammad Kamaldeen Al-Adaby(1905-2005)MFR,OFR, ORSA,DLL; the founder of the Ansarul Islam Society of Nigeria, at the time he was maligned and persecuted by many for what they erroneously considered unacceptable innovations he brought into Arabic and Islamic education, and the subsequent much hated integration of western and Islamic education at the time,which the late award-winning scholar, sage and saint, pioneered in the 1940s.
His celebrated grandfather,Alhaji Mahmud Oniyangi(d.1950),who was styled the Chief Merchant: “Oba Olowo” of Ilorin, by the 8th Emir of Ilorin and the maternal grandfather of the incumbent,Sheikh Abdulkadir Shuaib Dan-Bawa(CBE),who lived between 1887 and 1959. He was not only an extremely benevolent man,but also a great patriot,who was the rallying- figure behind the historic mobilisation of his compatriots,culminating in the establishment of the first community-owned primary school in the erstwhile Northern Nigeria,the Ilorin United School,in 1943.Alhaji Mahmud Oniyangi’s magnificent one-storey building,was also “an home away from home”, for royal and august visitors, who were guests of the 8th Emir of Ilorin,Shaykh Abdulkadir Shuaib Bawa,who reigned from 1919 to 1959,and,in fact,those of his Emirate.
Dr.Oniyangi attended Okesuna Elementary School,Ilorin,from where he graduated in 1948.His contemporaries at the oldest primary school in Ilorin included the 17th Baba-Isale of Ilorin,Alhaji Saka Alabi Yahaya Alesinloye(1933-2007);the late Alhaji Ibrahim Adelodun Yusuf(1933-2008),the duo,along with the late Mallam Rasaq Aremu,a pioneering editorial staff of the ‘New Nigerian’ newspaper ,and the late Alhaji Sheikh Adisa Onikoko(1934-2015),were among the pioneer set of media practioners produced by Ilorin Emirate, and also,Alhaji Ibrahim Adi Gada(b.1932).
Dr. Oniyangi proceeded to the then Ilorin Middle School,now known as Government Secondary School,Ilorin,where he studied, from 1948 to 1949.Among his mates at the premier secondary school in Kwara State were the late Senator Ayinla Olomoda,OON,(1938-2017);Alhaji Saadu Kawu Haliru, OFR,(b.1935),the Emir of Lafiagi;the late Justice Saka Yusuf,OFR,(d.2017),the 3rd Chief Judge of Kwara State;Prof.Saka Nuru(b.1936),the first Professor from Ilorin Emirate;Alhaji Shafii Adebayo Yusuf a.k.a Shafi Pakata (b.1929),the technocrat who established the defunct Northern Nigerian Ministry of Health;the late Alhaji Sanni Adebayo Lawal(1933-2011),a technocrat and Second Republic Civil Commissioner;Alhaji Hamidu Gambari Erubu, CON,(b.1931),the pioneer Registrar,National Open University of Nigeria and my own father,Mallam Jimoh Pakata(1931-2012).
His academic brilliance was discovered in no time and he was quickly “pruned-out” of the Middle School for the then newly-established Government College, Keffi, Nassarawa State,in 1949.It was at that school that he obtained his School Certificate in flying colours in 1954.That renowned institution was next to the famous Barewa College,Zaria,in terms of fame and prestige.The College was also the other full-fledged Government-owned Secondary School in the then Northern Region,now compartmentalised into 19 different states!
Upon the successful completion of his School Certificate programme,he was,again,selected for his A’Level Certificate course,which he did at the Nigerian College of Arts,Science and Technology,Zaria,which later metamorphosed into the Ahmadu Bello University,Zaria,between 1956 and 1958.
In 1958,Dr.Oniyangi was admitted into the University of Ibadan where he read Medicine.He graduated from the institution in 1965.Among his contemporaries at the premier University was Col.(Dr.)Ahmadu Ali,GCON(b.1936), the pioneer Director-General of NYSC,former Minister of Education,Second Republic Senator and erstwhile Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party(PDP) and Prof.Jubril Aminu,CON (b.1939),the pioneer Executive Secretary of the National Universities Commission(N.U.C),a former Vice-Chancellor of the University of Maiduguri,erstwhile Senator and Minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria,who was his course-mate, while the late Alhaji Saka Saadu OFR (1938-2017),who later succeeded him as the Secretary to the Military Government of Kwara State (between 1988 and 1990),was also their contemporary at the University of Ibadan.Alhaji Saadu graduated with a B.Sc.degree in Chemistry in 1965.
This great son of Ilorin furthered his education by going back to the famous University College Hospital,Ibadan,between 1968 and 1970,where he earned a postgraduate Certificate in Obstetrics and Gynecology.He was also at St.Bartholomew’s Hospital,London,in 1973 where he obtained another Certificate in Family Planning.
In preparation for full engagement in Public Administration,Dr.Oniyangi attended the Ghana Institute of Management and Public Administration,Accra, in 1976.
The place of Dr.Oniyangi in the history of Ilorin is firmly secured.He was among the pioneer set of medical practitioners produced by the historic Emirate.Others in that remarkable league of pioneering professionals were Dr.Yusuf Amuda Aluko OFR(b.1935),the Tafida of Ilorin,founder and proprietor of the famous Geri Alimi Hospital,Ilorin,who obtained LMS(Nigeria) in 1960;the late Dr.Abubakar Olusola Saraki(1933-2012),the Second Republic Senate Leader and 3rd Waziri of Ilorin,who obtained his MB,BS in 1962;Dr.Ishaq Adebayo Ajagbe Hassan,who also obtained MB.BS in 1962 and practised until his death in 1968(?) at the University College Hospital,Ibadan; and also,Dr.Abdulkadir Babatunde Suleiman of Okeleru(1938-2004),a grandson to the historic Shaykh Yahaya Tajudeen of Pakata(1875-1956),the pioneer Chief Imam of Ebiraland,who qualified as a Medical Doctor in 1965.The last of those gentlemen retired as a Director in the Federal Ministry of Health.
Apart from that,Dr. Oniyangi’s visions and struggles led to the establishment of the Ilorin Emirate Students Union around 1955.He subsequently served as the pioneer President of the Union,which now has branches all-over the country.This has also firmly placed him in the “Hall of Fame of Ilorin Emirate”.
Dr.Oniyangi was also the 4th National President of the Ilorin Emirate Descendants Progressive Union,a position he held between 1978 and 1981.The Union,under his watch, established six Community Secondary Schools at a go in 1980! The Union,under his leadership,was also one of the platforms with which funds were raised for the construction of an ultra-modern Central Jumaat Mosque,which stands till date.It must also be stressed that “the umbrella socio-cultural organisation of the people of Ilorin Emirate” was strengthened by the group of university graduates,who had been functional members of the IDSU,among whom were Alhaji AbdulRasheed Salman Alada(b.1938), Alhaji Mudi Adebayo Gold(b.1942),Honourable Justice Mutalub Ahmad Ambali,OFR,(b. 1940)and,of course, the late Prof.Shehu Ahmad Jimoh,OON,(1944-2014)among others,who Dr.Oniyangi led into the IEDPU,particularly after the creation of Kwara State,in 1967.
Dr.Oniyangi was,upon graduation, immediately engaged by the then government of Northern Region and he was swiftly deployed to the field.He served as a Medical Doctor in several places of the erstwhile Northern Region and would be remembered as a physician who never minded working in any location, provided there were people to be attended to! He was among the few Medical Doctors in the services of the erstwhile Northern Region who catered for the health needs of millions of people across the Region.
Dr. Oniyangi was an House Officer at General Hospital,Kano,in 1966.
He also worked at the Ilorin General Hospital as a Medical Officer Grade II.He was also the Medical Officer in-charge of the General Hospitals at Okene and Offa between 1967 and 1969,among other places and locations where he pursued peoples’ health rather than wealth.
In 1979,this great medic was appointed a Permanent Secretary in the Kwara State public service.He subsequently worked in different Ministries before his appointment as the Secretary to the Military Government of Kwara State, between January,1984 and August,1985.The appointment made him the second indigene of Ilorin Emirate who served as the S.S.G.He was only preceeded by the highly-uncompromising Alhaji AbdulRasheed Salman Alada,who served between 1979 and 1983.
Perhaps,the greatest contribution of this icon was his establishment of the Ilorin Emirate Students Union(IESU) in the 1950s then known as the Ilorin Descendants Students Union(IDSU).He was also the founding President of the Union.
The significance of that specific contribution is not only seen in its enduring nature and spread throughout the length and breadth of Nigeria, but also as a body,which promoted and accelerated the acquisition of western education in Ilorin Emirate.
Dr. Oniyangi was a model personality whose efforts and successes encouraged many members of the then younger generation, to aspire for scholarship,distinction and greatness.Many of those he inspired are themselves,today, accomplished elder- statesmen.
This great man who served as the Head,Federal Medical Team to the 1979 Hajj Exercise, was also the President,Sickle Cell Club of Nigeria,Kwara State Chapter, between 1992 and 1999.He also served as a Member of the Board of Directors,New Nigerian Developmenht Company from 1984 to 1985.He was the Chairman and Council Member,Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria from 1999 to 2003.
The late alluring son of Ilorin Emirate ,despite his elegance,pedigree and accomplishments,was one of the few”unusual”Ilorin men of his era,who was “thoroughly-monogamous”! He was married to just one woman,Hajiya Memunat Oniyangi,the younger sister to the late General AbdulBaki Babatunde Idiagbon(1943-1999).I was,therefore,not too surprised, when he told me in 2008 that,throughout his life,he never womanised,smoked or romanced the bottle.Don’t we have something great to learn from him?
Dr.Oniyangi’s contributions to human development transcended his services as a Medical Doctor to being a Community Developer,Public Servant and an Electoral Manager.He was a celebrated family man who succeeded in raising children that are not just outstanding but also are contributing most significantly to the development of our society.His sophisticated offsprings are among the most accomplished professionals who remain humble,humane and humorous,and who see everyone they come across as members of the same human family that must be accorded the respect he or she deserve.I may not know all of them,I can,however,say a little about the conviviality of Mallam Yinka Oniyangi,who was my “senior by far”at the Ahmadu Bello University,Zaria,and the infectious humility of Latundun,who regards every gentleman or lady as her sibling.
In appreciation of his contributions, Dr.Oniyangi was conferred with the national honour of the Officer of the Federal Republic(OFR) in 2010, among several other well-deserved recognitions that came his way. Prof.Ibrahim Agboola Gambari,CFR,(b.1944)Nigeria’s Ex-Permanent Representative to the United Nations, former Minister of Foreign Affairs and one of most visibly convincing Nigeria’s great exports to the international community,recalled in a tribute on the 80th birthday of this departed hero,the patriotic role of the late Dr. Oniyangi “as a one-man Counselor and Guide on the prospects for the future and a career in higher education”.He added that he and his then fellow students “were so impressed by his intellect and his passion for education and commitment to Ilorin that we all wanted to be like him when we grew up”.
Dr.Oniyangi was also an unassuming linguist who spoke Hausa, Igbo, Idoma, Igala, Tiv, Fulfude and English, in addition to his native Yoruba,among other languages,which he picked in the course of his eventful career.
The Ilorin Emirate Community remains very proud that that unassuming patriot rounded-off his public service career without any form of scandal or blemish in a position that many others would have soiled their reputations simply for mundane reasons.Despite battling with the complexity and fraility of advanced age and attendant health challenges, Dr. Oniyangi worked relentlessly with other compatriots under the Chairmanship of the cerebral Prof.Attahiru Jega,to organise an improved general elections,which midwived the emergence of General Muhammadu Buhari,GCFR,(b.1942) as the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in 2015.
While consoling and condoling with the family of that great patriot on his death,it is important to urge them to be grateful to the Almighty Allah that their grandfather,father, uncle, husband, brother and son, lived a very rewarding,exemplary and enviable life.
This tribute cannot be rounded-off without calling on youths and other aspiring leaders,particularly those of Ilorin Emirate,to emulate the sterling qualities of that great man,who despite the affluence of his progenitors,his own professional accomplishments and other advantages conferred on him by his several personal qualities, as well as “recurring temptations” of his enviroment,worked so hard to build his own greatness as a Medical Doctor and a genuine public servant who worked enormously for the progress of his community and humanity at large.
As the life and time of that great son of Ilorin Emirate exemplified,we must not always expect what the community would do for us but always belabour ourselves with what we will do for our community.That remains the only way we can effectively kill two birds with a stone through sustaining the greatness of Ilorin Emirate Community and simultaneously working for our own anticipated immortality.
May Allah grant the late Dr. Oniyangi eternal felicity.May He also afford his family,surviving friends , colleagues and his beloved Ilorin Emirate Community, the fortitude to bear the irreparable loss his demise represents.Aamiin.
Imam is the National Publicity Secretary,Ilorin Emirate Descendants Progressive Union(IEDPU).