By Tunde Olusunle
Whenever I’m privileged to visit Ilorin the Kwara State capital, I include in my itinerary a visit to the University of Ilorin, Unilorin, as is popularly abbreviated. My passion, maybe obsession with the institution is informed by a number of reasons. Principal among these is the fact that I had two academic excursions to the revered school, during which I obtained a bachelors honours and a masters degree in English, respectively. I was graciously offered a place on the doctorate programme by the university but had to weigh up the cost of shuttling between my home in Abuja and Ilorin. This was years before information technology truly broke down physical hedges and activated the options of real-time, virtual communication. What with Skype, zoom, video call, and similar possibilities?
The security situation in Nigeria hadn’t degenerated as much back then, but I had to give consideration to the long drive from Abuja to Ilorin before the latter day restoration of flights in and out of Ilorin. But who dares to shuttle by air between Abuja and Ilorin today with the preposterous costs of air tickets across the country? You will equally excuse my attachment to Unilorin for the cogent reason that it was on the earth and dust of the primordial “mini-campus” of the institution that I met my beloved friend and wife, when I was a postgraduate student 36 years ago! I should equally add that four of my siblings attended the same institution at various times. Not forgetting the fact that many of my most enduring friendships and acquaintances were cultivated in Unilorin.
And so on my visit to Ilorin in August this year, I undertook my usual tour of Unilorin. Chauffeured by my good friend, Segun Sobogun, I observed to the right side of the road as we approached the densely developed section of the campus, a novel signboard which popped up in my eyes. Inscribed on the signage was *Centre for Ilorin Studies, (CIS).* My curiosity was aroused. Why such an institute in a tertiary institution wholly established and funded by the federal government? Does Unilorin intend to create such centres for as many ethnicities and cultures as are represented in the university community? I mean, should my kith in the Okun country in Kogi State, one of the principal catchments of Unilorin expect such a creation in my *alma mater* sometime soon? Impulsively, I turned to Sobogun who is also a “stakeholder” in the institution. His wife, Bukola schooled in the university. Segun himself received a masters in business administration from Unilorin. *Man mi,* I asked him in Yoruba. “What are you guys up to here?” He is from Lagos State but resident in Ilorin. He was as bemused as I was at that discovery.
Signs of looming attempts at the wholesale appropriation of the sociopolitical space in the old Kwara State by a specific tendency were already evident several decades ago. I’ve referenced elsewhere how I was denied a job as “current affairs officer” at the erstwhile Kwara State Broadcasting Corporation, aliased as “Radio Kwara” back in 1986, four decades ago.The chairman of the panel which interviewed me told me for a fact that I led the pack of post-NYSC applicants on that occasion. The fact of being of the Christian faith with the biblical name “Emmanuel,” however, was my albatross. The Okun people who straddle six of the 21 local government areas in present day Kogi State, were enthusiastic at their excision from the old Kwara State and incorporation into the new geo-polity. They presumably fled from the stranglehold of the proverbial “Egypt,” the dominant ethnicity in the former state, during the August 1991 states creation exercise. That the Okun people are worse off today, 32 years after exiting Kwara, and wilfully trampled upon by the Igala and Ebira respectively, is stuff for another expository.
It emerged on “Boxing Day,” December 26, 2023, that an association which goes by the name “Ilorin Emirates Descendants Progressives Union,” (IEDPU), has called for the renaming of the University of Ilorin after the founder of the Alimi Dynasty, Sheikh Alimi ibn Solihu ibn Janta. President of the IEDPU, Aliyu Otta-Uthman made the admonition at the 58th national conference of the union in Ilorin. Otta-Uthman noted that the request for the rechristening of the university is made as a mark of honour to Sheikh Alimi, founder of the Alimi dynasty. He alluded to the former University of Sokoto which is now “Uthman Danfodio University” after the founder of the Sokoto caliphate, and the Modibbo Adama University, Yola, named after Adama ibn Ardo Hassana, founder of the Adamawa Emirate. Otta-Uthman enjoined the Kwara State government to work with its federal parliamentarians towards the actualization of this desire. Otta-Uthman equally requested an official directive to all ministries, departments and agencies, (MDAs) in the “Ilorin Emirate” to display, henceforth, the portrait of the Emir of Ilorin, Ibrahim Sulu-Gambari, alongside those of the president and governor, in their offices!
Of all the concerns which should engage Nigerians at a time like this, it is amusing that mundane issues like the change of a brand of 50 years is what pre-occupies the mind of Otta-Uthman. Spiralling inflationary trends; pervading economic dysfunctions; real and crippling hunger;
festering insecurity; decrepit infrastructure and mass despondency among others aside, the leader of the IEDPU is principally concerned about the renaming of Unilorin. While Otta-Uthman has alluded to federal universities in Sokoto and Yola, he is definitely oblivious of the fact that most federal universities actually still retain the names they had at inception.
*Jeremiah Obafemi Awolowo* the charismatic Yoruba leader was deservedly honoured with the rechristening of the former University of Ife after him. This was in acknowledgement of his visionary endeavour in conceptualising and developing of that iconic institution which once held the record of arguably the most beautiful university campus in Africa. The erstwhile University of Ife, was one of Awolowo’s several heroics in the consummation of the growth of the old Western region. Students and stakeholders of the University of Lagos, resisted and rebelled against the attempt by the government of former President Goodluck Jonathan, to re-designate the school after Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola in 2012. They voted loud and clear for the retention of the preexisting name and brand.
What does Otta-Uthman have to say about the University of Ibadan; University of Nigeria Nsukka, (UNN); University of Benin; University of Calabar; University of Jos; University of Maiduguri; University of Port Harcourt, and so on? For his pioneering role in perspectivising African literature, why has UNN not been renamed *Chinua Achebe University?* Why hasn’t the University of Ibadan changed name to *Wole Soyinka University* an alumnus of the citadel for being the very first African recipient of the coveted Nobel Prize for Literature? Despite the dominance of the *Binis* in the ethnocultural life of Edo State, why hasn’t there been a request for the change of the name of the University of Benin, to that of the *Oba of Benin?* Why haven’t the federal government-owned universities in Jos, Abeokuta or Minna been re-labelled after Yakubu Gowon, Olusegun Obasanjo and Ibrahim Babangida respectively for their various roles in national development?
Aren’t there sufficient institutions within the sphere of the Ilorin Emirate which can be baptised after Sheikh Alimi? There is the Kwara State University, (KWASU); Kwara State Polytechnic and Kwara State College of Education, among others. There are conversations around the imminent establishment of a “Kwara State University of Education” even as Otta-Uthman also canvasses the establishment of a “Kwara State University of Science and Technology.” Left to him all these proposed institutions should be sited within Ilorin Emirate, without a thought about the continuing marginalisation of other sections of Kwara State. Indeed, questions are not being asked about the capacity of the state government to adequately fund these spawning citadels on a sustainable basis. This is the specie of powdery thinking, exclusivity, greed and avarice consuming this country.
That the very same Otta-Uthman also advocates the display of the portrait of the Emir side-by-side with those of the president and the governor of Kwara State is another laughable distraction. In what way does the hoisting or not of the Emir’s portrait, impact the prices of foodstuffs in *Ogbondoroko,* *Baboko,* *Eiyenkorin,* *Ganmo,* *Opo Malu,* *Gaa Akanbi,* *Mararaba* and similar outlets within Ilorin Emirate? How does it positively affect the socioeconomic development of the Ilorin Emirate and Kwara State at large? Will it boost the gross domestic product, (GDP) of the state or improve the per capita income of Kwarans? We need to get serious in this country away from needless drift into the outrightly absurd, comical, farcical, even idiotic.
Dreamers and conjurers of whatever scheme it is to baptise the University of Ilorin, our own *Better By Far* citadel, better perish the thought. It won’t happen. The last time I checked, that institution has produced and blessed the whole wide world with over 300,000 well trained and properly skilled manpower. “Great *Unilorites”* as we hail ourselves will be found excelling across callings and professions, across all continents of the world. The denominator we all know is the University of Ilorin. It stays at that. Ours is a global designer brand which cannot, on the eve of its golden jubilee in two years time, be minimised into a local archetype. If push comes to shove, Senior Advocates of Nigeria, (SANs) in our ranks and their very experienced professional colleagues will lead the way to the courtrooms. Sanity and status quo should be maintained, please.
*Tunde Olusunle, PhD, FANA, poet, journalist, scholar and author is a Fellow of the Association of Nigerian Authors, (ANA)*