The rivalry between the Fulani and Afonja descendants over the throne of Ilorin is rooted in history.
While the Fulani rest the case of their claim to the kingship of the ancient town on the fact that the monarch had from the time immemorial been produced by them, the Afonja descendants, who like majority of the people of the town are Yoruba, say since their ancestor founded Ilorin, their claim to the throne ought not to be disputed.
History appears in support of the former’s position although the progenitor of the Fulani indigenes of Ilorin, Alimi, was actually a tenant to Afonja.
The death of Afonja and Alimi, however, saw the eldest son of the latter emerging as the first monarch of what was then known as Ilorin.
Historical sources, tracing the story to the 19th Century, said Ilorin of today was actually founded by Ojo Isekuse in 1650 and later made popular by Afonja ( 1820-23 ) the then Aare Ona Kakanfo (Generalisimo) to Alaafin of old Oyo (Oyo Ile), who used the town as his military outpost. The name Ilorin (ibitiwontilorin-where iron is being sharpened or forged) on a a big stone and where every farmers and hunters fine tune their tools (cutlass, hoe, arrow, knife) in front of a Yoruba man house called Bamidele. The relics of the historical stones still lie in the courtyard of Ile Bamidele till date.
It was this outpost that he carried out his war expeditions for the Alaafin. In the usual nomadic wandering, Alimi arrived Ilorin and was hosted by Afonja. Soon after Alimi took Ilorin as his place of abode, a rift broke out between Alaafin and Afonja. When the disagreement reached the climax and the two had to take up arms, Afonja, out of regard for Alimi’s spiritual and military prowess, sought his support. Alimi helped in mobilising an army in support of Afonja leading to victory over Alaafin. The defeat led the then Alaafin migrating from old Oyo to the site now called Oyo.
Alaafin Aole and Aare Afonja case is a pathetic conspiracy and hypocritical one the led to the downfall of the duo. Oyo chiefs were envious of Afonjas war exploits and told Alaafin Aole many strange lies. Alaafin Aole had to send Afonja on a death mission to Iwere-Ile (no Aare go into war with Iwere-Ile and come back out of it alive) but Afonja sought spiritual power from a Malian Fulani man called Sheikh Soliu (aka Alimi) and won. Before Afonja came back from Iwere-Ile, Alaafin Aole had already known the truth. Aole needs to commit suicide (which he did with curses) because Afonja had returned from the death trap.
After the war, Alimi became a teacher to Afonja’s children as the latter wanted his offsprings to learn the secret of power. When both died, Alimi’s son, Abdulsalami, inherited his father’s duty of teaching Afonja’s children.
When the idea of appointing somebody to head the village came, the eldest child of Afonja wanted to have the position but met opposition from Abdulsalami who had military support from his fellow Fulani kinsmen and indigent Muslim converts. This was after Sheu Alimi’s death. His son, Abdulsalam, earnestly yearned to rule Ilorin and clandestinely plotted against Afonja. In 1824, Abdulsalam’s men shot Afonja arrows till he breathed his last. He was shot so many arrows that his dead body remained suspended in upright position for a long while.
Afonja fell indeed like a hero. So covered was he with darts that his body was supported in an erect position upon the shafts of spear and arrows showered upon him. So much dread had his personality inspired that these treacherous Jamas whom he had so often led to victory could not believe he was really dead; they continued to shower darts upon him long after he had ceased fighting. They were afraid to approach his body, as if he would suddenly spring up and shake himself for the conflict afresh.Abdulsalami ultimately became the ruler of what is now called Ilorin around 1831.
The issue now is that Afonja’s descendants believe that their forefathers were cheated and want a redress. But the Alimi people are claiming that the Afonja people never ruled Ilorin and, as such, no precedence exists to back their position.
Historical sources said in 1895, the Yoruba rose against the then emir, burnt his palace and killed him. But the revolt did not result in enthronement of a Yoruba king. In 1913, when Lord Lugard administered the northern and southern Nigeria, Yoruba were said to have spearheaded a riot over tax to bring the rulership of the then emir to ridicule. In 1936, the Yoruba, according to sources, also moved to oust Emir Abdulkadir who was banished to Kaduna but got reinstated by the colonial administration.
In 1978, the George Innih administration of Kwara State raised a judicial panel of inquiry to look into the Yoruba agitation.
The Yoruba people reportedly made a case for the merging of Kwara State with the Southwest before the commission while also laying claim to the Ilorin throne. It was said they even claimed antecedent to the throne as they allegedly said Yoruba had produced four obas in Ilorin before the advent of the Fulani. But the Alimi people, in a counter position, claimed there was no known Yoruba king in the town before their forefather mounted the throne.
Every Yoruba indigine of Ilorin are Muslims and sees Alimi as their alufa/sheikh and agreed to his philosophy of making the town an Islamic city.