By Abubakar Imam
Historians would not find it difficult to build a consensus around the fact that this year (2020) is, indeed, the most challenging year of the first two decades of the 21st century. This conclusion is premised on the overwhelming challenges imposed on humanity by the yet-to-be-tamed pernicious impact of the extremely terrible Coronavirus pandemic.
Although the challenge is a global phenomenon but Ilorin Emirate has been most terribly affected with harvest of deaths (many of which had no scientific nexus with the dreaded COVID-19) of several of its prominent leaders who were among those that defined its giant strides in all walks of life in the last fifty years or so. The latest in the roll-call of such celebrated statesmen who passed on was Alhaji Abdullahi Atanda, whose death occurred on Thursday, July 16, 2020 after succumbing to an old-age related illness at the age of 84.
Alhaji Atanda, a giant in physique, intellect and patriotism, is one of the inimitable individuals the Ilorin Emirate community has been blessed with .This great son of Ilorin Emirate creditably served as the 11th National President of the Ilorin Emirate Descendants Progressive Union from the year 2000 to 2004, among other community responsibilities he shouldered since the 1960s.
Alhaji Atanda, a consummate political technocrat, outstanding public servant and remarkable community leader, was born on March 28,1936, at Accra, Ghana, where his parents were, then, sojourning. His father was the late Alhaji Alabi Kuranga (d.1972) of Kure Compound in the Popo-Igbona area of Ilorin while his mother was the late Alhaja Suwebatu Alabi Kuranga (d.1967), who hailed from the Idiagbon family of the famous Ita-Kudimo Quarters, along Pakata Road, Ilorin.
Like his many other compatriots, Alhaji Atanda studied the Holy Quran, as a young boy, for him to be exposed to the rules and expectations of his Maker, Allah. He was taught the arts and science of reading, meanings and essence of the Holy Quran by several teachers including the famous Shaykh Muhammad Jimoh Jabaje Al-Adabiyy a.k.a Zainudeen (1910-1964), the “first Missioner” of the Ansarul Islam Society of Nigeria and Alhaji Saadu Agara, under whose watchful eyes he completed his Quranic studies in 1947.
Alhaji Abdullahi Atanda attended three different schools across two different countries (Nigeria and Ghana) in the course of his primary education. He was initially enrolled as a pupil at a school owned and operated by Alhaji Ahmadu Bassa, an Hausa-speaking Islamic scholar from the Northern Region of Ghana. He was taken to the school, which offered tuition in western and Islamic education in 1944 by his father who wanted him to pursue a career in Islamic scholarship. He also schooled at the Accra Royal School in Ghana and when he was brought to Ilorin, his uncle, the late Alhaji Salau Popo, who was one of the earliest generation of teachers produced by Ilorin Emirate and the founding Headmaster of Alore LGEA Primary School, Oke-Apomu, Ilorin, took him to the School in 1948.
His contemporaries at the School included a onetime Chairman of the old Ilorin Local Government Council, Alhaji Obalowu Mohammed (Obalowu Alore); the founding Chairman of Egbe Oredegbe, Ilorin, and the immediate past Magaji Oloso-Babaita, Alhaji Shehu Babaita and Alhaji Kola Adifa.
His extremely good performances at the school earned him admission into the then Ilorin Middle School (now Government Secondary School), Ilorin.
He, however, turned-down the opportunity for the fear of meeting one of the teachers at the school, Alfa Sule Olohuntele. He had been intimated and intimidated that the said Alfa Olohuntele, who was appointed the first Grand Mukadam of Ilorin by the 8th Emir, Shaykh Abdulkadir Shuaib Bawa (1919-1959) in 1952, was a dreaded and uncompromising disciplinarian, who might visited his (Atanda) stubbornness and youthful exuberance with unbearable physical and psychological punishments. Hence, he decided against going to the school, which was founded in 1914.
The young Abdullahi, therefore, impressed it on his loving father that he should be allowed to go back to Ghana, a request that was granted. On his arrival at Accra, Alhaji Atanda was admitted into the Aditoor Secondary School, a privately-run school, where he studied between 1954 and 1958.
Following the successful completion of his School Certificate course at the school,
Alhaji Atanda commenced his working career at the same institution. He was offered employment to teach Christian Religious Studies, Health Science and History at the school. He had earlier excelled in those subjects so well that the management of the school was rightly and evidently convinced that he could handle the three subjects as a teacher. He accepted the offer and taught at the school prior to his return to Nigeria.
His destined return to Nigeria for good was unplanned. It was precipitated by the invitation of the Premier of the defunct Northern Region and the late Sardaurna of Sokoto, Alhaji Sir Ahmadu Bello, who was extremely impressed with the elaborate welcome ceremonies organised for him by the Association of Nigerian Students in Ghana led by the late Wakili of Ilorin, Hon. Justice Muhammad Mustapha Akanbi, CFR, who was the Association’s President, when the Sardauna paid a courtesy visit on the founding President of Ghana, Dr. Kwame Nkuruma. Sir Ahmadu Bello was so surprised and impressed with the courtesies and organisational abilities of the young Nigerian students of Northern origin so well that he invited them home. Those who were so opportune, along with Alhaji Atanda, were Mallam Babakekere of Popo-Giwa, Mallam Wahab Egba of Agbaji and Alhaji Sidi Ali, who ended-up as a veteran broadcaster and National President of the Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ) in the 1970s
Alhaji Atanda was subsequently appointed as the Cooperative Inspector Grade III and posted to Maiduguri, the headquarters of the then Borno Province following his success at an employment interview presided-over by the then Northern Nigerian Recruitment Secretary, Alhaji Saadu Alanamu (1912-1996) to whom he and his colleagues have been referred by the late Premier of the defunct Northern Region.On assumption of duties at Maiduguri, the capital of the present day Borno State, he met a fellow Ilorin indigene, Alhaji Memudu Kuranga of Ile Ara-Oyo in the Omoda area of Ilorin who put him through.
In order to be prepared for a successful career, Alhaji Atanda underwent a six (6) months training course at the Institute of Administration, Kongo, Zaria,between January and June,1966.
Alhaji Atanda subsequently worked at Kafancha, Kaduna State, from 1960 to 1964. He also served at Funtua, Katsina State, in 1964. Between 1964 and 1966, Alhaji Atanda was posted to Bauchi. He was later sponsored as one of the pioneer set of students on an academic programme in Cooperative Studies at the famous Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. He could, however, not pull through the course because of the negative encounter he had with one Mr. Phillip Olore who had earlier taught him at the Institute of Administration of the institution. The said Mr.Olore succeeded in forcing him out of the course as a way of taking back his pound of flesh from Alhaji Atanda who had matched the abusive effrontery of Mr. Olore in the course of one his lectures.
Sequel to the creation of Kwara State in 1967, Alhaji Atanda was deployed to his state of origin. He was consequently posted to Pategi where he assisted in meeting the food needs of members of the Nigerian Armed Forces that were fighting the civil war, which lasted between 1967 and 1970.
He was, thereafter, posted to Omu-Aran, the headquarters of the then Igbomina-Ekiti Division, where he shared the same flat with a compatriot of his, the then Mallam Saka Yusuf (later Chief Judge of Kwara State and IEDPU National President) who was as at that time a promising staff of the Kwara State Judiciary. While at Omu-Aran, his career was tremendously boosted by the cooperation he and his colleagues enjoyed from the penultimate Olomu of Omu-Aran, Oba Suleiman Durotoye Abegunde (d.1992), who gave the Omu-Aran Divisional Office of the Kwara Cooperative a large portion of land to plant yam, which was later processed to make yam-flour in large quantity at the continuous insistence of Alhaji Atanda. The enterprise became so popular and successful that it was the then Federal Commissioner for Commerce and Industries that performed its official commissioning on behalf of the Nigeria’s second military Head of State and Commander-in-Chief, General Yakubu Gowon, GCFR.
In 1972, Alhaji Atanda was sent on a course to the famous Kaduna Polytechnic, Kaduna, where he successfully ran a Diploma in Cooperative Studies. He concluded the course in 1974 and was posted to Lokoja, the capital of the present-day Kogi State, from where he retired from public service after 25 years of active and meritorious services to his fatherland.
Sequel to his retirement, Alhaji Atanda became a businessman. The operational headquarters of his business, which deals in assorted materials at a booming shop, was located at his ancestral home along Alimi Road, Ilorin.
The relationship between Alhaji Atanda and the Ilorin Emirate Descendants Progressive Union started right from his days in public service. This is because he was always working with other Ilorin compatriots in all the places he served to protect and preserve the collective and individual innocuous desires of fellow Ilorin indigenes, which was and still the essence of the Union.
On his redeployment to Ilorin in 1967, this outstanding son of Ilorin Emirate formally joined the IEDPU in its struggles, advocacies and other efforts at building Ilorin Emirate into a worthy polity that will not only be a pride to indigenes but also respected by indigenes of other towns within and outside Kwara State who sojourned or passed through the southernmost Emirate.
In the course of time, his commitment was realised by his colleagues. He was rewarded with greater responsibilities beyond mere membership.He was elected as the National Financial Secretary of the Union during which he ensured that the perennial statements of account of the Union was balanced. Throughout his tenure as the custodian of the Union’s financial records, Alhaji Atanda was never found wanting. He ensured that everything went well to the satisfaction of members of the Union and other stakeholders.
That performance in the office of the National Financial Secretary of the IEDPU might have informed the decision of the leadership of the Union to introduce him to the then major financier of the Union,the late Dr.Abubakar Olusola Saraki,who made him the Party Manager of the Kwara State chapter of the defunct National Party of Nigeria(NPN) throughout the life of the party that lasted between 1978 and 1983.The position he held,then,is what is now nomenculated as Director-General of Campaign Organisations of present-day political parties.
In 1996,Alhaji Atanda was elected as the National Vice-President of the IEDPU under the presidency of the late Alhaji Umaru Ayinla Ajao Ajikobi(d.2001).He was the Deputy to that unforgettable patriot and generous statesman till the year 2000.For those four years,he was not only an effective Deputy but also a loyal accomplice to the late Customs Officer who took charge of the Union and her activities whenever his Principal was either not in town or battling with failing health.
In the year 2000 and with the support of members and stakeholders from all-over the country,Alhaji Atanda was overwhelmingly elected as the National President of the Union. He spent the maximum two terms in office before rounding off as the Number One Member of the organisation in on December, 2004.He handed-over the leadership of the Union to another glittering patriot and veteran journalist, Alhaji Ahmad Hameed (1941-2009),who served as the President from December, 2004 to January, 2009.
While in office as the National President of the umbrella socio-cultural organisation of the people of Ilorin Emirate,Alhaji Atanda was the community’s strongest voice against the attempted invasion of Ilorin Emirate by the dreaded Odua Peoples’ Congress with the laughable intention of enthroning a Yoruba Oba on the people of Ilorin Emirate and most especially its “perplexed” indigenes. He addressed countless press conferences,which he conducted in impeccable English flavoured with a unique Ghanaian accent. He not only displayed astonishing statesmanship but also exhibited rare courage and exemplary leadership qualities,which ensured the cohesiveness of the Union and the community at large under the leadership of the Emir of Ilorin, Alhaji(Dr.)Ibrahim Sulu-Gambari, CFR.
His tenure as the IEDPU President also witnessed an extreme tension in official relationships between the incumbent Emir of Ilorin,Alhaji(Dr.)Ibrahim Sulu-Gambari,CFR,and some of his principal chiefs. Alhaji Atanda,with the support of members of the National Executive Committee of the Union,fearlessly played a yeoman’s job,which brought the tension in the Emirate to a considerable and acceptable level.
In achieving so much, he was assisted by many individuals including his Deputy, the late Alhaji Saidu Bamidele Ahmed,a son to the illustrious Sebutu family of Alore/Oke-Apomu Quarters, who had earlier retired from service as the Director-General and Permanent Secretary of the Kwara State Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning. Alhaji Ahmed eventually bowed out of his public service career as the Federal Commissioner of the National Population Commissioner in-charge of Kwara State. The National Secretary of the Union of that era was Lawyer Yahaya Kola Saadu,a Member of the popular Olodan family in the Baboko area of Ilorin.
Prior to that,Alhaji Atanda has exhibited his desire for the development of Ilorin Emirate when he, as a “low-ranking” civil servant,donated the sum of N5:00K to the fund with which the IEDPU shouldered the responsibility of tarring Oja-Oba-Ita-Ogunbo-Pakata and Omoda Road network following the alleged infrastructural neglect of the indigenous segment of the city of Ilorin by the first military administration in the State. Those who were matured enough then would appreciate what that amount in contemporary economy.
Alhaji Atanda,a quite religious person and a loyal adherent of the Tijjaniyah Order,was also a Member of the reconstituted Ilorin Central Jumaat Management Committee in 1976.He was among those who worked tirelessly and efficiently,under the chairmanship of the late Shaykh Muhammad Kamaldeen Al-Adabiyy(1905-2005), to raise funds from which the edifife was built,completed and commissioned by President Shehu Usman Aliyu Shagari in 1981.Untill his recent demise,he was also a functional Member of the Management Board of the Mosque under the chairmanship of the Wali of Ilorin, Alhaji Shehu Usman Mustapha (b.1930).
Any tribute on this unforgettable ex-President of the IEDPU,which overlooks his unusual courage would be incomplete and a disservice to his contributions to the progress and future of Ilorin Emirate. Two instances are worthy of being shared here. The first was in 1997.The Union had concluded arrangements to launch a Two Hundred Million (N200,000,000:00)Naira Ilorin Endowment Fund and simultaneously confer Merit Awards on some of the most outstanding indigenes of Ilorin Emirate. General Muhammadu Buhari,GCFR,(b.1942),the then Chairman of the influential Petroleum(Special)Trust Fund,had accepted invitation,through his alter-ego,the late Major-General Tunde Idiagbon(1943-1999), to serve as the Chairman of the occasion scheduled for December 25,1997,among others prominent dignitaries from allover the country. But a few days to the event,one of the proposed awardees ,who previously served as a Military Governor and Honourable Minister of Works and Housing,the late Major-General AbdulKareem Adisa,was implicated in a coup plot. He was consequently arrested,an unfortunate episode, which thrown the entire people of Ilorin Emirate community,both at home and diaspora, into mourning. The Union had no choice other than to cancel the programme outrightly. The cancellation did not go down well with some compatriots who thought nothing should have prevented the event from holding. Those “boons companions” contacted the Union’s greatest beneficiary,who was also one of the principal invited guests and awardees.He was reported to have fumed in view of his huge resources and enormous commitment to the envisaged colourful participation at and the success of the event. The task of persuading the well-meaning arrow-head of those who were opposed to see reasons with the decision of the Union was given to a Committee led by Alhaji Atanda. The late Alhaji Atanda did not mince words in asking that prominent IEDPU benefactor,who was most admired and at the same time respected by the greatest majority of the Union’s constituents what his reaction would be if he was the one that was arrested and the Union went ahead with the programme. The man could not say anything! And that was how that matter was resolved.
Another instance was in the year 2002 or thereabout. That was the time the late Governor Muhammed Alabi Lawal’s administration was planning to create more Local Government Areas/Development Councils in the State.The dominant political tendency of the era,which was not in the support of the exercise, expressed unambiguous opposition to the move .But the Union, under Alhaji Atanda, supported it because of the several advantages it held for the Ilorin Emirate Community. For leading the Union in support of the step,Alhaji Atanda risked friendship of an erstwhile mentor and leader. But he was able to survive the attacks visited on his personality by those who were opposed to the political exercise. Only a man of his calibre could do what Alhaji Atanda did in those instances and remained the same.
That illustrious gentleman enjoys the fraternity of many distinguished personalities. They included Alhaji Abdulmalik Babamale(b.1934),an erstwhile soccer star,who captained the Northern Nigerian football team from 1960 to 1966;the late Justice Muhammad Mustapha Adebayo Akanbi(1932-2018),CFR,the third President of the Court of Appeal of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and pioneer Chairman of the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission,who he regarded as his elder brother; and,of course,Alhaji AbdulRasheed Salman Alada(b.1938),the Second Republic Secretary to the Kwara State Government,who he saw as his younger brother,to mention but a few.
From my several interactions with that unforgettable patriot towards the end of his sojourn on earth, Alhaji Atanda believed that Ilorin Emirate would be much greater and more enviable compared to other similar polities, if the people and residents of the community can continue to live in peace with one another. He also left an advice for the younger ones that they should eschew materialism as he urged them never to take what does not belong to them, no matter the temptation.
He was also of the conviction that the people of Ilorin Emirate,particularly the younger generations, must be honest,transparent and positively daring in order to develop ourselves the more as he implored the elderly ones to always provide positive leadership while priotising the mentorship of the vast majority of younger ones,who,no doubt,require and desire right nurturing to ensure the restoration of our much-cherished value and Islamic heritage.
Alhaji Atanda,who was married and blessed with many accomplished children including Alhaji Lukman Atanda, was an outstanding patriot who worked for the greatness of Ilorin Emirate. He worked so hard and so wonderfully well that only very few patriots with the level of the limited opportunities available to him could deserve being celebrated as he was.
While I hope we would all emulate the sterling qualities of that great man,it is my prayers that may Allah forgive the “kudie kudie” of Alhaji Atanda and reward his good deeds with Al-Janat Fridaouz. May He also grant all those who are bereaved by his death the fortitude to bear his demise. Aamiin.
Imam is the National Publicity Secretary, Ilorin Emirate Descendants Progressive Union