OBA MOMO: A RE-APPRAISAL OF THE PERSONALITY AND REIGN OF THE ENIGMATIC FIFTH EMIR OF ILORIN By- Abubakar S.Imam

Over the years, there has been a consistent attempt at reconstructing our past. This trend is premised on the growing scientific re-appraisal of previous conclusions among scholars of history, archaeology and related disciplines. The trend is being irrigated by similar contemporary occurrences as well as the deluge of evidences that consider previous accounts, mostly conjectured by colonial supremacists and arm-chair local historians, as unpardonable fallacies. Most of such haphazard “intellectual concoctions” rely on unscientific deductions which induce sacrilegious infractions against facts and consequently fail empirical evaluation and concomitantly offend objectivity.  Among such historical subjects who have been subjected to timeless misrepresentations and misjudgements, which turned otherwise glittering heroism into notoriety, is the fifth Emir of Ilorin,Oba Abdulsalam Momolosho Zubair, otherwise known as Oba Momo.         

         
A critical appraisal of the career of that enigmatic political figure, bearing the challenges of his era in mind, would show that he was clearly undeserving of most of, if not all, the erroneous allegations of barbarism and terrorism levelled against him which unfortunately led to his death in 1896. Before delving into all those pathetic allegations, it is important to note that the place of Oba Momo in the history of Ilorin is unique in a number of ways. He was a great-grandson of the founding father of the Emirate, Shehu Alimi,and was named after his grandfather, Abdulsalam, the pioneer Emir of the southern-most Emirate. He was the first Emir of Ilorin who would have a pure Yoruba woman as his mother. His mother was said to be a native of Ipapo near Iseyin in the present day Oyo State of Nigeria. 

Momo was also the first Emir of Ilorin who ascended throne at the battle-front. He was also the only Emir of Ilorin who was born in the heat of war. He was the Emir whose reign heralded colonialism. Emir Momo also had the record of being the only Emir whose reign and life was “clearly” terminated by the actions of his subjects. And prior to the tenure of the 10th Emir of Ilorin, Mallam Aliyu Abdulkadir(1992-1995), Momo had the shortest reign of five years, between 1891-1896. Momo was prematurely born as a result of the Woru-Kura War around 1830 on the day the combined military forces of Yoruba and Baruba invaded Ilorin. 
The conflagrations precipitated by the unanticipated invasion of Ilorin by those overwhelming allied forces on a Sallah Day, which was against war ethics, prompted his birth. Oba Momo was a very elegant, savvy, intelligent, stoic and uncompromising patriot who grew-up as a War-like Prince and, unlike most other princes of his days; he became an active participant in most of the wars Ilorin fought prior to his emergence as an Emir. In fact, he was unanimously appointed as the Emir at Offa in the course of the war between Ilorin and Offa, which was prolonged by the participation of lbadan mercenaries who came to defend the town, founded by Olalomi Olofagangan, against llorin between 1878 and 1889.


Following the death of the fourth Emir of Ilorin, Oba Aliyu Shitta, who ordered the war at the instance of the legendary Balogun Kaara in 1891, the Council of Kingmakers, which was at the war-front with Oba Momo and under the leadership of the outstanding Balogun Ka’ara, appointed Momo as the Emir. Momo was therefore led to Ilorin from Offa to mount the stool of his forbearers. The expectation of the Baloguns was that the newly-installed Momo would maintain his war-like spirit by not only reinforcing the Ilorin forces at Offa but by also declaring more military expeditions because, to them, that was the only way the military potency, political imperialism, cultural superiority and economic progress of llorin Emirate could be sustained.  

Oba Momo, on assuming the throne, thought otherwise. He experienced what Psychologists call “personality transformation”, probably due to his exposure to more information from either the esoteric world which was inaccessible or unacceptable to those who opposed him. He subsequently ordered the return of Ilorin forces back home given the conclusion of the Offa War. 

The Baloguns, particularly Ka’ara, was surprised, that their Comrade-in-arm, Momo, with whom they saw hell while defending Ilorin against several internal wranglings and external aggressions could suddenly turn pacific against the Yoruba who desperately desired the ruination of Ilorin as an entity.  The Baloguns accused him of biting the finger that fed him. His choice, as the Emir, was also seen as a terrible mistake as he was accused of favouring his maternal side against the interest of the people he was leading. His imperial and “unilateral” order as regards the stoppage of military campaign at Offa was disregarded. It was that misunderstanding that marked the beginning of a terrible relationship between Oba Momo and his military-cum-political lieutenants, the Baloguns and other sub-commanders who were blindly loyal to their Field Commander, Ka’ara.  

 

But why was Oba Momo against war, a stance which brought him suicidal conflict with his-Commanding Officers and, by extension, the rest of the Emirate? Momo was, no doubt, a war veteran who became weary of war for a number of reasons. Most of the wars Ilorin fought were against their southern neighbours, the Yoruba. Ilorin had completed the ruination of the old Oyo and even caused the destruction and, sometimes, relocation of many Yoruba towns and villages. Momo felt that such perpetual animosity and repeated conflict with attendant huge casualties, targeted at expanding the physical frontiers of Ilorin, should not continue in his reign as that would amount to destroying his maternal affiliations and subjecting poorly-armed members of Ilorin military contingents to the danger of the superior and more sophisticated weapons available to the advancing and conquering British Imperialists who are already firmly established in Lagos and poised to aid “enemies” of Ilorin for economic reasons. 


He was also very conversant with the Yoruba saying that “ao kin ni ile Baba ki a ma ni ti iya”. If his mother’s tribe was desolated or dislocated, where would he call his maternal home-stead? Momo was also against the continuation of war because he was a principal participant in most of the diplomatic negotiations embarked upon by the British interests who felt the economic impact of the wars among Yoruba and between them and their neighbours, particularly Ilorin. Another factor which accounted for the opposition of Oba Momo to continuous war was the fact that he was quite conscious of the circumstances of his birth as earlier explained. He had been warned that, if necessary steps were not taken, he would loose his life through the same process that precipitated his birth. Momo was also very foresighted as he believed that if continuous wars were not stopped, the emerging British Colonialists who had forcefully seized Lagos in 1861, might be tempted to subjugate the interior and that those city-states seen as aggressors may be punished severely.

 It was all those reasons and more that turned Momo from been a War-Monger to a Peace Advocate, an ideological shift, which brought him opprobrium from those who believed that their continuous economic prosperity and political relevance depended largely on conquest and maintenance of the captured territories under Ilorin. Momo also took the position in consonance with the expressed wish of his predecessor who had been prevailed upon by the Sokoto Caliphate to stop the war, a directive that was not obliged to by the hyper-active Balogun Ka’ara. All the efforts made by Momos  Baloguns, who were in the field, to change his mind were rebuffed by Momo who felt that his opinion was superior and that a King does not make mistakes,at least, before his subjects. While Momo remained a pacifist, his Baloguns were drumming for war and hence the refusal of Balogun Kaara to end his military presence at Offa. He not only refused the directive of Momo to stop the siege but sent back a message to his Commander-in-Chief that he would rather die ingloriously at the war-front than to return home “empty-handed”. He reminded Momo that the need to punish Offa for the role the town played in the and upon the catastrophic loss of Ilorin at Jalumi war remained a cardinal eternal debt owed members of Ilorin contingents who were either captured or killed as a result. 

True to his threat, Balogun Ka’ara stayed put at Offa and eventually destroyed the town which forced those who escaped his capital retribution to migrate to a site at Ido-Osun, which they later called Offatedo. Even after winning the war at Offa, Balogun Ka’ara stationed there for a very long time thereafter. That exposed him to accusations of planning to topple Momo using Offa as a base while another version was to the effect that he wanted to establish his own Kingdom, independent of Ilorin, at Offa. But after much pressure, diplomacy and contact, Ka’ara, without Momo’s outright permission, decided to return to Ilorin which also fuelled the suspicion  that he was coming home to topple the Emir. It was on his way that he died at Idofian where he had had a stop-over to pass the night. The death of the most outstanding Field Commander of Ilorin Army on his way home was received differently. While the Momo’s camp was relieved that the greatest threat to his continuous reign had been removed, the remnants of the war-lords were clearly unhappy that the life of their illustrious Commander, who lived all his life for the military glory of Ilorin, ended ingloriously due to unnecessary pressure from the community he toiled for. The fact that the power that be also showed remarkable indifference to the death  of such an invaluable General, who should be celebrated both in life and death, led to the build-up of animosity in the hearts of the surviving war heroes, their military collaborators, family members and the largely appreciative members of the Ilorin Community against Emir Momo.   Momo was subsequently accused of being a terrible ingrate and a terrific quisling. He was marked for elimination except he abdicated the throne. To deal with such a powerful man and a strong Emir, at that, required deep penetration, serious collaborations, effective political engagements and high-level pernicious propaganda as it happen in contemporary political manoeuvring. Each of those strategies was effectively used against Momo by his Baloguns who resolved to teach him the lesson of his life.  

 Knowing Momo to be a very obstinate character, uncompromising personality and highly-opinionated figure, unpardonable lies and virulent propaganda were spread against him. He was accused of being the master-mind of the sudden death of Ka’ara. He was also alleged to have concluded to submit Ilorin to the rulership of Alaafin of Oyo who had previously cultivated his friendship by exchange of gifts on his assumption of Office. Momo was also accused of so many other incriminating crimes like arson, murder and so on. Those incredible tales and absurdities about Momo have been transmitted,unfortunately, from generation to generation till date. The Baloguns, under the leadership of Balogun Alanamu(Aliyu Inakoju), for “patriotic altruism”, were unsparing in the propagation of the alleged misconducts of Momo. Instead of Momo to outrightly deny all the “negativities”spread against him by cultivating the friendship of Imams and Islamic Scholars who were the most authoritative opinion moulders in Ilorin, then and even till now, he ignored them and they too distanced themselves from him. 
Having succeeded in disconnecting Momo from the people, the Baloguns and their supporters intensified actions by further sponsoring maiming, killing and burning of houses, as they could no longer be controlled. They literally seized power from him and turned him to a titular Head. Those notorious activities were not restricted to Ilorin township but were also perpetuated in other parts of the Emirate to spread hatred for Momo and completely alienate him from the ordinary people who could have risen in his support. In each of those places, the name of Momo was dropped as the brain behind the mindless destruction of lives and property of his innocent subjects. All those activities, that went virtually unchecked, eventually exposed Emir Momo to the unredeemable scorn of the extensively manipulated people of Ilorin. That situation transformed the entire perpetually apprehensive populace of Ilorin to a resistant Army which decided to eliminate the Emir before the Emirate was “destroyed”by his “commissioned agents of destruction.

But before coming-out to finally call the bluff of Momo, the Baloguns, under their leader, Balogun Alanamu Aliyu Inakoju, who took-over the Command of Ilorin Army after the death of Ka’ara, engaged the support of a paternal half-brother of Momo by name, Alege,to polarize the ruling dynasty. Alege was persuaded to support the coup-plot with the promise that, upon the elimination of Momo, he would be made the Emir. Subsequently, the entire military forces of Ilorin, with the covert support of a segment of the Royal Family led by Alege overwhelmingly besieged the palace with the aim of eliminating Momo.  Momo, being a Warrior himself, was able to withstand the military onslaught for many days. When help came from nowhere, Momo was left with no choice than to take his own life rather than been humiliated by the same people he led for five years, thus, ending the life of one of the most remarkable leaders Ilorin has ever produced.  But before he gave-up, Momo was said to have laid curses on all those who forced him to commit suicide. And in truism to a Yoruba saying that “ogun lo mon si ni ko,epe ki si ni ja” (one may be mistakenly captured as a prisoner of war but only the target suffers the pangs of a curse), subsequent developments revealed that none of those who took part in the  rebellion against Momo escaped “the wrath of history”, possibly for their roles in his regrettable fate. 
For instance, his brother who connived with the Baloguns was promptly denied Emirship by his collaborators who enlisted his support and he never recovered from the shock. Balogun Aliyu Inakoju, who led the rebellion, was deposed and banished to Ogbomoso in 1900 where he later died about 1910. His deposition and banishment were forcefully effected by the subsequent colonial administration which could not gloss-over the continuous lawlessness he and his agents perpetuated during the reign of Emir Suleiman (1896-1915) who could not check the dreadful Balogun Inakoju in view of the experience of his predecessor at the hand of the great Military Commander.

 Another principal participant in the plot, Balogun Ajikobi Ahmadu Biala, was also deposed and banished to Keffi in the present day Nassarawa State while Balogun Gambari of the era, Adamu Kaseta, who also participated in the rebellion died of gun-shot fired at him by the British soldiers who were bent at stopping Ilorin’s “aggressions” against the Yoruba, a year after (1897) in a battle around Erinmope and was buried at Iloffa, thus, suffering the unenviable record of being the first Ilorin Military Commander who will be buried outside the city. As if to punish the rest of the town for teaming-up with the rebellious Baloguns or showing indifference to the fate of a misrepresented leader, the Emirate was subjugated by the forces of the Royal Niger Company in February, 1897, thereby, making Ilorin  lose it’s cherished independence, for the first time, since it became an Emirate. While none of those who squared it up with Momo ended-up gloriously, the fifth Emir of Ilorin’s prediction, as regards impending colonisation, came to pass. 

The great Momo was and is still honoured by the concerned authorities which renamed one of the longest streets, linking the popular commercially-strategic Agaka with the Adeta Roundabout, in the indigenous segment of Ilorin after him. The fact that he remains the only pre-colonial Emir of Ilorin who will be granted such an honour within the traditional segment of the city suggests that the previous unenviable and unsustainable stories woven around him were somehow incorrect and inexplicable.

This is not to say that the Baloguns were villains. They were patriots in their own rights who meant well. The only problem was that of ineffective communication between them and their sovereign which unfortunately frustrated understanding of their respective positions and their determination to slug it out which ended in historic tragedy.

Momo was, therefore, not a bad ruler but a thoroughly misunderstood and misrepresented one who foresaw the future and acted anticipatorily to avoid degeneration.The only mistake he committed was his inability to connect and effectively communicate his positions with his subjects which unfortunately bred wide-spread consternation among his largely-manipulated people and subsequent sorrowful, unenviable and undeserved denouement.

ABUBAKAR S.IMAM, SECRETARY,PAKATA PATRIOTS,ILORIN.                     

     

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