Alhaji Ibrahim Sulu-Gambari: All Hail the Peoples’ Emir @ 84

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By Abubakar Imam

Monday, April 22, 2024, marks the 84th birthday anniversary of His Royal Highness, the Emir of Ilorin, Alhaji (Dr) Ibrahim Sulu-Gambari, CFR. This year’s commemoration of the birth of the revered Chairman of the Kwara State Council of Chiefs, is quite unique as it divinely coincides with the very day of the week he was born to a royal couple, who were also first cousins.

I doubt if Monday is not always a special day in the life of this highly respected monarch. This is because, apart from being born on a Monday, his appointment as the 11th Emir of Ilorin was also announced on Monday, August 28, 1995. Alhaji Sulu-Gambari was appointed in succession to his maternal uncle, Shaykh Aliyu Baba-Agba Abdulkadir, who had died 11 days earlier.

Alhaji Sulu-Gambari, who is also the Chancellor of the Bayero University, Kano, was born exactly 84 years ago on Monday, April 22, 1940 in the “Emirate City of Ilorin” and to the then Prince Muhammad Alabi-Opo Sulu Gambari, who eventually reigned as the 9th Emir of Ilorin, between 1959 and 1992 and his senior-most wife, Princess Aishat Bolanta Sulu-Gambari. His beloved mother was the eldest daughter of the 8th Emir of Ilorin, Shaykh Abdulkadir Shuaib Bawa, who reigned from 1919 to 1959; while his father was also the eldest son of Prince Muhammadu Laofe Shuaib Bawa (Aremo Bawa), who served as the District Head of Lanwa (Daudu Sa’adu) from 1920 to 1956. The 11th Emir of Ilorin is the first born of his parents.

To say that the former Chancellor of the Federal University of Agriculture, Makurdi, and the erstwhile Chancellor of Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, has an illustrious royal pedigree would be stating the obvious. His Royal Highness is an epitome of royalty and embodiment of dignity. This can be gleaned from his birth, upbringing, marital life and the entirety of his life.

The facts of his enviable life right from infancy through his education and career are too known to all to be repeated here. His biographical information is in almost every book written; and songs composed on Ilorin before, and since his coronation in 1995, and safely-kept in the memory of virtually all his subjects and admirers all over the world.

I would, therefore, be disappointing my esteemed readers by disturbing them with what they know far better than I do. In other words, repeating his biography here would be absolutely unnecessary.

Emir Sulu-Gambari, a respected jurist and outstanding statesman, has recorded so many accomplishments that are either absolutely unreported or undeservedly underreported. It is this aspect, I believe, that would interest most of my compatriots and our friends across the nation and beyond who would come in contact with this tribute.

What I, therefore, intend to do in this piece is just to provide some illuminations on his personal impacts on others before; and since his historic ascension to the prestigious throne of his illustrious forebears about 29 years ago. This period is quite eventful as I believe that thousands of contributors would have no qualms writing volumes of pieces on divergent perspectives of his reign so far and his personality.

A consistent positive collaborator of mine and former President of the influential Third Estate Group of Ilorin Emirate, Dr Yusuf Bolakale Lawal,fsi, told this writer that the official residence of the then Justice Ibrahim Sulu-Gambari as a Judge of the Borno State High Court was an “Ilorin Embassy” in Maiduguri. Dr Lawal, who was a student of the prestigious University of Maiduguri at a point during this period, said that the then Justice Sulu-Gambari’s home provided accommodation for many indigenes of Ilorin, particularly children of members of the Ilorin royal dynasty and others, who were studying in one institution of higher learning or the other in Maiduguri.

Dr Lawal also recalled that the Emir was always pleased to play host to Ilorin people who were either permanently or briefly sojourning in Maiduguri. He added that the then crown-prince of Ilorin was like a rallying figure for leaders and members of the then Ilorin Descendants Progressive Union (now Ilorin Emirate Descendants Progressive Union IEDPU) in the North East as he had served as the Solicitor-General and Permanent Secretary in the then Gongola State in the same region.

Honourable Justice Ibrahim Sulu-Gambari, as he was then known and called and the first University graduate to sit on the throne of the Emir of Ilorin, played the same fatherly role when he was in the ancient city of Ibadan as a Justice of the Ibadan Division of the Court of Appeal. History has it that the Emir encouraged the formalisation of the establishment of the Ibadan Branch of the IEDPU in the largest indigenous African city.

Available facts also revealed that the Emir was not tired of the same patriotic service when he became the Presiding Justice of the Lagos Division of the Court of Appeal. Dr Yusuf Lawal also confirmed that between 1993 and 1995, even as Ciroma of Ilorin, the then Honourable Justice Ibrahim Sulu-Gambari was a regular face at several meetings of Ilorin people usually held at the residence of Alhaji A.G.F AbdulRazaq, SAN, in Lagos with other prominent indigenes like Honourable Justice Mustapha Adebayo Akanbi, Honourable Justice Mahmud Babatunde Belgore, Alhaji Aliyu Kola Belgore, Engr Tunde Yusuf Aiyelabegan, General Abdulkareem Adisa, Admiral Mohammed Alabi Lawal and virtually all members of the Third Estate Group in Lagos. Dr Lawal served as the Secretary of the Forum and the reports of the Forum were usually submitted to the then Emir, Shaykh Aliyu Baba-Agba Abdulkadir, by Alhaji AbdulRazaq because the late traditional ruler mandated the Forum.

Equally, Alhaji Abdulmumini Ayo Abdulmalik, the current National President of IEDPU, who was a senior official of the Nigeria Immigration Service in Lagos as at that time, told yours sincerely that the Emir was always there for the people of Ilorin living within and around Lagos.

Alhaji Sulu-Gambari is also a leader who does not lose hope in his subjects, notwithstanding their stations and situations in life. He always believed that the worst of them could be rehabilitated and nurtured to live a very useful life. I recall that on December 26, 2008 while addressing the delegates to that year’s edition of the IEDPU national conference at the Union’s secretariat, his speech was rudely interrupted and repeatedly interjected by an unruly individual, who the Union did not know where he came from. An attempt by the Conference Planning Committee to get the man apprehended and whisked away by the security agencies for constituting himself into a nuisance at the event was halted by the Emir.
The Emir ruled that the man should be left alone. He added that the man was only playing his own role at the event, which, he explained, would make it somehow memorable.

This conviction must have also encouraged His Royal Highness to support the efforts of the Kwara State Government and the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) to provide rehabilitation services for drug addicts collected across Ilorin Emirate about a decade ago. It was a commendable fatherly role that only very few took notice of.

There is a saying among the Yoruba speaking people that: “Enikan kigbo gberumi laafin” (The palace only receives. It doesn’t give). This may be true of elsewhere but certainly not always so at the palace of His Royal Highness, the Emir of Ilorin. The Emir has been giving and has continued to give.

Apart from declaring publicly on several occasions that he doesn’t take money from those he conferred one title or the other on, I was also reliably informed that the Emir has turned down money voluntarily given to him by some of his subjects who he believed deserved to be assisted. I was told the story of a book launch that the Emir supported with the invitation to and attendance of many of his colleagues from sister Emirates across the Northern part of the country. The event was not only eventful and well attended but the author also smiled to the bank at the end of the day.

Having taken stock of the difference between the expenditures and the amount realised at the book presentation, the author, who is a distinguished Professor of Arabic, was said to have taken a fraction of the difference to the Emir through a titled chief, who was the Chairman of the Planning Committee, in appreciation of the wonderful fatherly support of His Royal Highness. The Emir didn’t only reject the money, he was also said to have warned against the repeat of such an attempt in future.

Alhaji Sulu-Gambari was quoted to have further said that the success of the event, which was organised by one of his “children” (subjects) in honour of the past scholars who hailed from his Emirate, had given him enough satisfaction and that whatever money realised therefrom should go to the author as a reward for the sweat and resources deployed in making the publication a reality. This contentment is nothing but a display of selflessness and leadership par excellence.

The Emir is also a royal father who always encourages his subjects to be the best they can. On more than one occasions, he had encouraged yours sincerely to enroll for a doctorate degree programme. I was told that that has always been his advice to those who come before him and who he believed are capable of updating their academic qualifications for their personal growth and pride of the community.

For the love of his people and the Emirate, Alhaji Sulu-Gambari recently donated a large portion of land he had previously acquired for a different purpose to the Nigeria Police for the building of the new site of the Police Training School, Ilorin. He did this in response to the appeal of IEDPU for his royal intervention towards ensuring that the School is retained within and around Ilorin, the Kwara State capital, as obtainable in other States of the Federation.

His Royal Highness has also been serving effectively as the “Chief Marketer of the essential characteristics of the people of Ilorin Emirate”. His humility and generousity have been extended beyond the shores of Ilorin Emirate.

A friend of mine, who is an aide of a first class traditional ruler in the Southern Senatorial District of Kwara State, told me that, for more than ten years, Alhaji Sulu-Gambari has always given him and his family a bag of rice for Christmas. To him, if the Emir could do that to a Christian like him then every well-to-do indigene of Ilorin Emirate thinks of others around them.

Many may also not know the sacrifices that the Emir had continue to make in the projection and advancement of the interests of his people. Shortly after his ascension, he was negatively branded by the Lagos-Ibadan press for demanding that female indigenes and residents of Ilorin Emirate should always dress decently. What about the unprintable names he was called for imploring the government of Kwara State to relocate churches encircled by the growing expansion of the indigenous segments of Ilorin? Have we also forgotten his appeal to the government of Kwara State, while addressing the Committee on the Restoration of Ilorin City Master-plan, to abrogate the naming of a section of the city as Government Reservation Area(GRA)? To him, such segmentation is segregation, which would always work against proper integration of the people.These, to me, are some of the important community development services offered by the Emir of Ilorin that are often glossed-over.

The Emir has always taken care of the welfare and wellbeing of the ordinary people of his Emirate in words and actions. For instance, he initiated a Fund through which money was raised to address the immediate needs of the downtrodden people and residents of the community. The Fund was chaired by the Danmansani of Ilorin, Engr Sulaiman Ayinde Yahaya Alapansanpa, FNSE, while the immediate past National President of IEDPU, Alhaji Aliyu Otta Uthman, fsi, was the Alternate Chairman. Over 15,000 individuals from all the nooks and crannies of Ilorin Emirate benefited from the Fund during the course of the perilous COVID-19 epidemic, which rocked the humanity about five years ago. It will also be recalled that the Emir purchased 400 bundles of corrugated iron sheet, which was distributed to the less privileged members of the community who were affected by a devastating rainstorm in 2021. The then IEDPU President was given the task of getting the item delivered at the footsteps of the victims of the natural disaster.

Perhaps, the greatest personal support yours truly enjoyed from the Emir and for which he and his family would forever remain grateful was the royal support and endorsement he received from him on his work titled “Ilorin Emirate’s Frontliners”, which was presented to the public on July 1, 2023. The Emir was obviously delighted when the manuscript of the book was presented to him by the immediate past IEDPU National President, Alhaji Aliyu Otta Uthman,fsi, who took and introduced the author to him. The Emir was enamoured when the author effortlessly provided answers to his questions on the book and personalities covered therein. He was so satisfied that he not only blessed the effort but also agreed to write a foreword to the book and also appended his signature on that page of the book.

As His Royal Highness celebrates his 84th birthday, I join other sons and daughters of Ilorin Emirate in wishing him many more years of peaceful, healthy, prosperous and rewarding reign on the throne of his celebrated progenitors.

Imam is National Secretary, Ilorin Emirate Descendants Progressive Union

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