How Nigeria's First Varsity Eluded Ilorin in 1948 - Belgore

A former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice S. M. A. Belgore, has revealed that in recognition of the legendary scholastic prowess of Ilorin, the colonial masters would have sited Nigeria’s first University in the city in 1948.

justice belgore

Justice Belgore, who disclosed this in his keynote address at the Second National Conference of the Centre for Ilorin Studies (CILS), University of Ilorin, last Tuesday (April 22, 2014), said that Ilorin had actually been penciled down by the colonialists to host the nation’s first university, a proposal that was however opposed by people like the late Reverend Ransome Kuti on the ground that such a novel institution ought to be sited in a fairly cosmopolitan city with social amenities like electricity and pipe-borne water. That was why the University College was sited in  Ibadan.  

The Keynote Speaker said, “When the first University was to be built in Nigeria, it was decided it would be in Ilorin; if you go to the Colonial Office records you will find it. The reason being that Ilorin was the town of scholars. The north of the Niger, you have Muslim people, the south of the Niger, you have some Muslims especially to the South West, right to Accra, to Cote d’Ivoire but there was no place like Ilorin for scholarship, for writing, and for men who fear God. The University should have been in Ilorin, but some people, like that great teacher, Rev. Ransome Kuti, said no, because Ilorin had no pipe-borne water and no electricity; so it is better to site it in Ibadan, and that is why it was named University College, Ibadan; it would have been in Ilorin.”

Justice Belgore however pointed out that the lateness by Ilorin to realise the dream of hosting a university has been adequately compensated for by the giant strides currently being recorded by the University of Ilorin, which was established some 27 years after the idea was first mooted.

The learned jurist said, “It may disappoint you but to be successful by the lateness is the greatest thing you will achieve. University of Ilorin has the largest land area in Africa. It is the only University not going on strike and it has given birth to some Universities like the Kwara State University.  Ilorin will continue to grow and go bigger.”

Justice Belgore, whose address was entitled, “Religious Scholarship in Ilorin: A Historical Perspective”, demonstrated an astounding grasp of History, as he held the audience spell-bound with his narration of the story of Ilorin from a fresh perspective.

The Guest Speaker recounted the nobility of Afonja from his maternal line and the spiritual endowment of Sheikh Muhammad Saleh, popularly known as Alfa Alimi, who assisted Afonja against his cousin, the then Alaafin, the imperial ruler of the Yoruba Kingdom.

While noting that Ilorin has produced thousands of Islamic scholars including Sheikh Mohammad Kamaldeen and Sheikh Adam Abdallah Al-Ilory, Justice Belgore submitted that Sheikh Alimi showed a latent attribute of Muslims – the unalloyed respect for constituted authority – by his refusal to hand over the Alaafin to Afonja to be sacrificed at the shrine; rather he arranged an escort that led the captured Alaafin back to his palace in Oyo-IIe.

The jurist pointed out, “But for the Alaafin, the humiliation was too much and unbearable. If not  for this Fulani man (Sheikh Alimi), Afonja would have sacrificed him at the shrine.”

            In his own presentation, Prof. Bamidele Rotimi Badejo of the University of Maiduguri, described language as a facilitator in the task of promoting religious scholarship in West Africa.

The Lead Paper Presenter, who was represented by the Research Manager (Humanities Cluster) at  the University of Ilorin Centre for Research, Development and In-House Training (CREDIT), Prof. Yahaya Imam, said, “It is incumbent on all stakeholders to ensure that all hands are on deck in the onerous task of employing, developing, promoting and ultimately reaping the benefits of our valuable natural endowment: language.”

In his opening remarks, the Chairman of the occasion, Prof. AbdulRasheed Na’Allah, extolled the oratorical prowess of the Ilorin people, saying the identity of Ilorin is inherent in its language and its religion, Islam.

Prof. Na’Allah, who is the Vice-Chancellor of the Kwara State University (KWASU), Malete, pointed out that the Ilorin people possess superior and massive oratorical powers, adding that they are also known to be master strategists, in addition to having a great sense of humour.

The Chairman told participants that the theme of the Conference should be further explored in order to ascertain the “significance of Ilorin in the way it understands itself and the way it has cast its own history”.

The Chief Host and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Ilorin,  Prof. AbdulGaniyu Ambali,  in his address, entitled “High Regards”, said that the linguistic proficiency of the Ilorin people has always been accorded high regards and due attention such that people are known to have come to the historic city mainly to acquire communicative competence and eloquence.

Prof. Ambali said, “If we understand how the Yorubas, the Fulanis, the Hausas, the Nupes, the Barubas, the Gobirawa and the rest of the groups that make up Ilorin have been able to live together harmoniously, we will appreciate that Nigeria, despite our cultural plurality, can also be a peaceful and harmonious abode for us all. I therefore call on the Federal Government to understudy Ilorin and apply the principles through which the city achieves some unity in diversity to Nigeria.”

Earlier, in his welcome address, the Director of CILS, Prof. A.G.A. S. Oladosu, traced the history of the Centre and enumerated its achievements since its establishment in August 2011. He said the Centre would continue to collaborate with local and international research centres and engage in other activities with potentials for promoting Ilorin Studies. He added that all the collections of the Centre would be digitised so that they could be easily accessed online. (UNILORIN)