By Abubakar Imam
“Whatever you think you are, your life would
not be regarded as useful if you do not positively
impact on your community.”
-Shaykh Muhammad Kamaldeen Al-Adabiyy (1905-2005)
Despite what some virulent critics would regard as the snail speed socioeconomic transformation of the Ilorin Emirate in the last sixty(60) years, “the nation’s most unique traditional political unit” has also been assessed by several other painstaking observers as a very fortunate community . This is because the polity is repeatedly blessed with several patriots who neither think about themselves alone, nor the next election, but they rather devote their time, energy, intellect and hard-earned resources towards their concern for what the incoming generations of the community would “come to become”.
Yes, each time “the hyperactive Ilorites” think their community lacks real patriots, situations usually bring forth new faces who would carry on from where distinguished men and women of yesteryears stopped. No decade passes in the eventful annals of Ilorin without the emergence of a “champion of the people”.This assertion is firmly etched in the collective memory of the people and friends of the southernmost Emirate prior to and since the nation’s independence when every phase of the nation’s march to progress, often recorded the participation of one or more indigenes of Ilorin in the project. Many a man and woman of vision have played truly outstanding roles in their strive to ensure that the community emerge towards being the best it could be.
Among the “ageing generation” of the “Ilorin Greats”, which is graced with people who are variously but steadily climbing the ladder of statesmanship in their unique ways is the personality of Dr Yusuf Bolakale Lawal, whose name cannot but be mentioned in the light of glory. While the subject of this piece is neither a politician nor a “socialite” , his name has not only been ringing the bell consistently but has also been closely associated with the “Ilorin Project” in the last three decades.
Those who know his pedigree would not be surprised with the path he has taken. This is because of the truism behind the Yoruba saying that “Omo kii ba ipele Iya re ni’le ki o si aso da”.This birthday boy is simply continuing with the path taken by his illustrious father who was a major figure in the “Ao Lo West struggle” of the people of Ilorin Emirate, which picked in 1958 at the Willink’s Commission and his subsequent services as the National Publicity Secretary of the Ilorin Divisional Progressive Union(now Ilorin Emirate Descendants Progressive Union) from the late 1960s to 1972, among other alluring community development projects he shouldered.
I must say that Dr Lawal and I only met in flesh once. The meeting was sometimes in 2011 or thereabout when Prof. Hassan Ajisafe Saliu(b. 1962), the former Dean of the old Faculty of Business and Social Sciences, University of Ilorin; and one of the most accomplished public intellectuals the contemporary Ilorin Emirate is blessed with, connected me to him for the production of a work on his family. Our meeting venue was somewhere around Sarkin Zangos’ Compound in the Oja-Gboro area of Ilorin.
On that occasion, Dr Lawal and I interviewed an aunt of his. His informed questions elicited profound illuminations on their forebears while I did the scripting. The way he interacted with the unlettered woman, who must be in her 80s then, convinced me that Dr Lawal had always maintained close and cordial interactions with his relations notwithstanding their social status.
Before then, I had known his father very well. His late father would never drive through either Ubandawaki or Sooto Streets in the Pakata area of Ilorin, where my ancestral home is situated, without saying hello to my dad who was always relaxing in his roadside “fada”, during his lifetime. One day, I voiced my curiosity and asked my old man, late Mallam Jimoh Pakata(1931-2012), “who the man was”. He responded that he was Alhaji Sani Adebayo Lawal. He went further to say that the man was his senior by two years at the old Ilorin Middle School, Ilorin, which is now known as Government Secondary School. While mentioning some other contemporaries of theirs at the premier school, my dad added that the older Lawal was referred to as Sani Oke-Aluko during their school days and later as “Akowe Oba”.
Dr Lawal’s younger brother, Hassan Lawal, is also well-known to me. We were mates at the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. While he studied Geography, I received my degree in Mass Communication. We also simultaneously served on the Executive Committee of the ABU, Zaria Main Campus’s chapter of the Ilorin Emirate Students Union. He was elected as the Social Secretary while I held the position of Public Relations Officer between 1993 and 1994 under the presidency of Alhaji Tunde Olowo, who later served as a Supervisory Councillor in the Ilorin South Local Government Council.
However, I became “closer” to this birthday boy when I took a voyage into periodic writings on Ilorin and its eminent people in the course of which he has become one of my most consistent supporters, reliable sources and constructive critics. Each time I committed an error, Dr Lawal would call to draw my attention to such an error. He would not stop at that, but he will also give me verifiable instances and sources as well as the names and phone numbers of those I could contact for more clarifications or confirmation on a given issue. He is not the type that would allow anyone to continue the needless advertisement of ignorance of what he(Lawal) knew. There was a particular piece I did on the late Honourable Justice Saka Yusuf, OFR(1933-2018) in 2019, which compelled Dr Lawal to ask whether I knew or have met Alhaji Safii Adebayo Usuf Olodo(1929-2021). When I responded in the affirmative, he asked if I would not mind that he converge the three of us(himself, Alhaji Olodo and yours sincerely) on a conference call for deeper interactions on the subject matter and related issues. He did and succeeded in reconnecting me with the late elder statesman and the relationship never ended until Alhaji Olodo passed on.
There was also another day when he called on the phone to lecture me on many issues including on participants in the “Ilorin Project”. We spoke for close to an hour. While I became tired during the conversation, the man kept on dishing out more facts and figures on Ilorin. Not being a professional teacher, he did not mind whether I was assimilating the information or not. When he eventually allowed me to be, my wife asked who “the long early morning caller” was. On my disclosure of Dr Lawal’s identity, she retorted “Hummmm! Good of you. You have met more than your match in him”.
That day I had to accept the position of the illustrious Shaykh Adam Abdullahi Al-Ilory(1917-1992) when he said that many of those who talk and write less are sometimes more informed than their colleagues who restlessly do the two. I sincerely believe that Dr Lawal is an untapped resource and a blessing to Ilorin in many ways.
Dr Yusuf Bolakale Lawal, a political scientist, consummate administrator, acclaimed public examination technocrat and foremost community leader, was born in Ilorin on Tuesday, April 23, 1963, at the then Ilorin Maternity Hospital, Amilegbe. His father was a distinguished politician, popular public intellectual, foremost palace technocrat and renowned community leader, the late Alhaji Sani Adebayo Lawal, who lived between 1933 and 2011. The ancestral home of this birthday boy is Majidadi/Olopa Compound in the Oja-Iya Quarters, Ilorin. Dr Lawal’s mother was the late Hajiya Khadija Kubura Lawal, the younger and only sister of the first lawyer from Northern Nigeria, the late Alhaji Abdulganiyu Folorunsho Abdulrazaq SAN, OFR(1927-2020), who was also the Mutawali of Ilorin and Tafida of Zazzau. Yusuf is the firstborn of the blessed marriage.
Like most other compatriots of his, young Yusuf learnt the Holy Quran as a kindergarten pupil from traditional Quranic schools in his paternal Oja-Iya neighbourhood and also at Ita Elefun in Alanamu ward, as he lived his youthful years with his maternal grandmother, Alhaja Muniratu Ashabi Karatu at Ile Karatu near Ita Elefun,Ilorin. It was from those two Quranic schools that he imbibed the arts and science of the reading of the Holy Quran and was also exposed to the rudimentary knowledge of the religion of Islam.
As he was learning the Holy Quran, this illustrious son of Ilorin Emirate was enrolled as a pupil, first, at Ideal Nursery School on Oyo Bye-Pass (now Ibrahim Taiwo Road), Ilorin, and subsequently at Adeola Model School, Offa, and also at the Bishop Smith Memorial Demonstration School, Ilorin. His contemporaries at the nursery and primary school level were his cousins, Mallam Abdulrahman AbdulRazaq(b. 1960), the incumbent Governor of Kwara State; and Mallam Isiaka AbdulRazaq, the former Chief Financial Officer at the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation. Other mates of his at the primary school level were two children of the 9th Emir of Ilorin, Wuraola and Segilola Sulu Gambari, and then Miss Haleema Giwa (now Honourable Justice Haleema Salesman) as well as Alhaji Layi Maliki, Lawunmi Maliki, Monsura and Bolanle Jaji and many other children of prominent indigenes and residents of the Emirate. At Bishop Smith Memorial Demonstration School, Yusuf was a classmate of Folashade Mejabi now Dr Folashade Yemi-Esan, who is the incumbent Head of Service of the Federation. It was from that Christian Mission School that Yusuf received his First School Leaving Certificate in 1974.
Dr Lawal proceeded to the premier secondary school in Kwara State, the Government Secondary School, Ilorin, in 1974 and finished in 1979 with his West African School Certificate. Yusuf’s contemporaries at the school included His cousin, Alhaji AbdulRahman Giwa(b.1963), Mallam Ahmed Bolaji Nagode(b.1962), the Director-General, National Power Training Institute of Nigeria (NAPTIN);Engr. Toyin Asaju of the National Communications Commission, Alhaji Abubakar Olarongbe Idiaro and Mallam Isiaka Yusuf, among others.
For his first degree programme, this distinguished scholar was admitted into the University of Maiduguri, Borno State, in 1981 where he studied Political Science and Administration. He graduated with one of the best results in his Department at the premier University in the North-Eastern part of Nigeria with a Second Class (Upper Division) in 1985. He wrote the valedictory speech on behalf of his fellow graduating students. While in Maiduguri, he was under the guardianship of the Honourable Justice Ibrahim Sulu-Gambari of the Borno State High Court. His guardian is now His Royal Highness, the 11th Emir of Ilorin and Chairman, Kwara State Council of Emirs and Obas as well as the Chancellor of the Federal University of Agriculture, Makurdi, Alhaji Ibrahim Sulu-Gambari, CFR. Yusuf’s contemporaries from Ilorin at the University, which was then headed by Prof. JIbril Aminu,CFR, included late Dr Abdulkadir Babakobi Sulu-Gambari, a younger brother of the incumbent Emir;late Dr Abdulkadir Okunlola Abdulkadir, son of the incumbent Daudu Ballah,Shaykh Salman Olarongbe Abdulkadir; Alhaji Musa Bolakale Abdulkadir,a son of the immediate past Emir of Ilorin, Shaykh Aliyu Babaagba Abdulkadir(d. 1995); and Alhaji Usman Yinka Aluko,fsi, a retired Deputy Director of the Department of State Services and first cousin to the Emir of Ilorin, Alhaji (Dr)Ibrahim Sulu-Gambari, CFR. Others were Hon. Justice Mahmud AbdulGafar of the Kwara State High Court,Ilorin; Alhaji Shittu Abdullahi of the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture while the Ciroma of Ilorin, Alhaji Abubakar Sulu-Gambari, was then a student of the Federal Government College, Maiduguri. The Ciroma later studied Law at the same University of Maiduguri.
Not satisfied with the first degree,this glittering role-model returned to the classroom to acquire more knowledge to prove that though he was not an academic, he was more than prepared and well equipped to pursue higher educational qualifications. It was the University of Lagos he first went to, where he bagged his Master of Public Administration (MPA) degree in 1993.He graduated with Mr. Boboye Oyeyemi, Corps Marshall of the Federal Road Safety Corps; Mrs Kikelomo Sanyaolu, Permanent Secretary, Lagos State Ministry of Local Government and others. Yusuf eventually capped his illustrious academic credentials with a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)degree in Public Administration and Public Analysis in 2007 from the University of Abuja. His contemporaries at the University currently headed by our distinguished compatriot,Prof. AbdulRasheed Na’Allah(b. 1962), included Prof. Abubakar Olanrewaju Suleiman, former Minister of National Planning and current Director- General, National Institute for Legislative and Democratic Studies;Dr Hajo Sani, Senior Special Assistant to the President; Dr Abdulganiyu Obatoyinbo, Director-General, Public Service Institute of Nigeria; Dr Tonie Iredia, former Director-General, Nigerian Television Authority,among several others.
This distinguished intellectual luminary is currently among a few select group of top military, security and strategic experts from Nigeria and West Africa subregion under going EIMC 14, a year training at the National Institute for Security Studies leading to the award of Fellow Security Institute (fsi).
Dr Lawal commenced his most exciting working career as a Member of the National Youth Service Corps(NYSC).He offered his mandatory youth service at NYSC State Secretariat in Maiduguri, the Borno State capital, between 1985 and 1986 in the course of which he served as the Corps Liaison Officer for the Maiduguri Metropolitan Council.
Soon after his NYSC programme,Dr Lawal declined enlistment in the Nigeria Police Force in spite of being offered the opportunity on a platter of gold, whereas he would have continued in the tradition of his forebears. His great grand father, Sulu Olopa Majidadi, and his grand father, Muhammad Lawal, were distinguished policemen of the Colonial Authority.
Rather, Yusuf joined the services of the Panat Nigeria Limited, in Ilorin and moved to Lagos. He was the Administrative Officer of the Company from 1986 to 1987.After a year sojourn at his first place of work,Dr Lawal moved to the Apex Business Systems (ABS) Limited,Lagos. He served in the private establishment as a Business Executive between 1987 and 1988.
After having a taste of what working in the private sector was,this outstanding patriot joined the federal public service. He was posted to the then Federal Ministry of Finance and Economic Development where he served as a Research/Statistics Officer II in the Ministry’s Department of Planning, Research and Statistics from 1988 to 1989.
In 1989,Dr. Lawal left the mainstream of the federal civil service for the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board(JAMB).He started as an Administrative Officer I in the sensitive Test Development Department where only few staff were privileged to work because of exposure to examination questions. In barely two years, Dr. Lawal was not only promoted to the next grade, he was also appointed the Personal Assistant to the Registrar and Chief Executive of the Board, a position of extreme trust. He was an Assistant Registrar in the Board from 1991 to 1994 and later promoted to the rank of a Senior Assistant Registrar.
Dr Lawal,courtesy of his industry,relentlessness and commitment to his onerous duties, rose through the ranks in the services of JAMB. He became a Chief Administrative Officer in 2000. He was also the Deputy Director and Head of Corporate Services in the Office of the Board’s Registrar from 2004 to 2007.As a Deputy Director, he served as the Head of Office,Office of the Registrar/Chief Executive of the Board between 2007 and 2012. Dr Lawal served in the Registrar’s Office from 1991 to 2012 serving with three substantive Registrars, namely Dr Mohammed Sakiwa Abdulrahman,OON; Prof. Bello Ahmad Salim, OFR; and Prof. Adedibu Ojerinde, OON; and two Acting Registrars namely Dr Saleh Abubakar and Dr Peter Odor. Dr Lawal served meritoriously for an unprecedented 21 years in the Registrar’s Office.
In July, 2012,this hero of community development services was appointed as an Acting Director of the strategic Test Administration Department of JAMB. He held the position from 2012 to 2013.He assumed the position in substantive capacity in August, 2013,which he maintains till date.
It is significant to say that when Dr. Lawal joined the services of JAMB in 1989, there were only two indigenes of Ilorin Emirate working in the Board. One of the two was on “secondment” outside the Board at the time of his entrance, while the other person was a data entry staff. Dr Lawal, therefore, realised early that there was a need for a concerted effort to assist fellow indigenes to secure admission, gain employment in the Board and also facilitate contract jobs. With the influential positions he has held in the Board, the testimonies and achievements of this community leader speak volume. At different times, four indigenes were Deputy Directors at the same time, while two indigenes have equally been Directors the same time on two occasions by 2020. Many indigenes of Ilorin have been offered opportunities of employment in the Board. He has also facilitated the admission of many his younger Ilorin compatriots into various tertiary institutions and also assisted many indigenes of Ilorin who are contractors, especially printers, to secure contracts.
As a man who was always willing to develop himself, Dr Lawal has had the privilege of participating in no fewer than 30 training sessions,conferences, seminars and workshops both locally and at international levels across the world. To his credit,he also has 22 articles.
In the course of his stimulating public service career,Dr Lawal has served in various adhoc responsibilities. He served as the Chairman of the Organising Committees for the thirtieth (30th) and fortieth(40)anniversary celebrations of the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB) in 2008 and 2018,respectively. He was also the Chairman of the Harmonisation of Public Examination Time-Tables Amongst Public Examinations Bodies in Nigeria in 2017,2018 and 2019.
Dr Lawal,who served as the Chairman of the Committee on the Reconstruction of the JAMB Mosque in Abuja,was also a Member of the Committee which successfully organised the inauguration of the 7th democratically elected Governor of Kwara State, Mallam AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq, in 2019.
In spite of his commitment to his duties as a staff of a strategic federal parastatal, Dr Lawal has always created time to serve the people of Ilorin Emirate in many capacities over the years. He was a founding member and the first Secretary General of the Third Estate,Ilorin Emirate, an influential socio-cultural organisation whose members comprises some of the most distinguished professionals of Ilorin Emirate origin. He served as the organisation’s Vice-Chairman and ultimately as the President of the respected body between 2013 and 2017. Dr Lawal was also the facilitator of a book project on the strides of the Badari Ward of Ilorin, which not only records the historical background but also preserve the accomplishments of some of the most distinguished indigenes of the community in an effort that has since been emulated by a few other communities across the Ilorin Emirate.
Dr Lawal,an exemplary patriot and brilliant technocrat, was also one of the brains behind the extremely successful Ilorin Emirate Palliative Fund(IEPF),which not only generated about N60 million Naira, within a month of its establishment, but also successfully distributed foodstuffs to over 15,000 of the poorest of the poor people and residents of the five local government areas constituting Ilorin Emirate,namely; Asa,Ilorin East,Ilorin South,Ilorin West and Moro during the dreaded global Coronavirus pandemic in 2020. The roles he played in the success of the project in which I was also involved deserves being rewarded with an award. Though, he was in Abuja throughout the period, his involvement in the success of the effort was astonishing as one of those who encouraged the initiators to aim higher. He,according to Alhaji Aliyu Otta Uthman, fsi,the National President of the Ilorin Emirate Descendants Progressive Union,had given the projection that the project was not only feasible but also capable of generating millions of Naira,which it eventually did.
Information at my disposal include the fact that Dr Lawal also galvanised his immediate neighbourhood of Oke Aluko and led others to raise another round of funds in millions of Naira for palliatives for the needy and vulnerable during the height of the Coronavirus pandemic and last year’s Ramadan fast as he also supported the Magajin Gari Constituency initiative on similar project to assist people during the pandemic.
He has also been drawn into the Ilorin Central Jumaat Committee as a Member. He has been unrelenting in working with the likes of the Danmadani of Ilorin,Alhaji Shehu AbdulGafar,OON; and the Danmasani of Ilorin, Engr Suleiman Ayinde Yahaya Alapansanpa, FNSE,to mobilise the much needed financial support for the smooth running of the unifying edifice.
This resourceful son of Ilorin Emirate remains one of the most admired and respected members of his generation for other several interventions in starting off many youths in entrepreneurship, sports development and employment opportunities for his younger compatriots in many federal government agencies over the years. He has continued to singlehandedly sponsor for about 20 years,the annual Sulu Majidadi Cup for youth football in Oke Aluko area of Ilorin. He also sponsors and supports Squash Racket competition at the Kwara State Stadium,Ilorin.
Dr Lawal, who is widely travelled, has visited over 30 different countries across virtually all the continents of the world. He is happily married to Hajia Hassana Modupe, a daughter of late Honourable Justice Saidu Kawu,CON(1928-2013), the pioneer Chief Judge of Kwara State, who is also the first indigene of Kwara State to sit on the bench of the Supreme Court of Nigeria,and the second Madawaki of Ilorin. Hassana is also the younger sister of the current Chief Judge of Kwara State, Honourable Justice Sulyman Durosinloun Kawu(b. 1958) and twin sister of Honourable Justice Hussein Toyin Kawu of the Kwara State judiciary. The marriage is blessed with children who are also doing very well in their various careers.
Notwithstanding the fact that Dr Lawal deserves being repeatedly celebrated for his patriotism, I must say that this particular piece was inspired by the popular demand of many compatriots who asked yours sincerely in a very clear language that I should write on him as I did on a few others since this genre began some years ago. In fact,not knowing that this piece was in the pipeline, a compatriot who is also an Assistant Director at the Federal Ministry of Education,Mallam Mas’ud Ismail Girigisu, while discussing an entirely different issue,encouraged yours sincerely to put up this in celebration of the wonderful patriot Yusuf Lawal has turned out to be.
While his tight schedule would not encourage me to ask every reader of this piece to join me in appealing to him to accept the responsibility of being my editor going by what I know about him,I like to say that Dr Lawal has been a blessing to Ilorin Emirate and most especially to the present generation of our community. From the little I know about him ,I am convinced that he is one of those the future generations of people of Ilorin Emirate would not regret having as one of their forebears.
May I, on behalf of the National President of the Ilorin Emirate Descendants Progressive Union, Alhaji Aliyu Otta Uthman, fsi,and the generality of members of the Union the world-over, sincerely felicitate with Dr Lawal on his 58th birthday. I also congratulate him on all he has offered and achieved in his desire to leave Ilorin far better than he met it. He has,no doubt, proven his piety by always making his services available to his community in so many ways and on so many occasions. And so, he deserves all the good wishes that may come his way on the glorious commemoration of his “call to earth”.
While I pray Allah to enrich him with long life,sound health and wealth, it is also my prayer that may my beloved Ilorin Emirate community continue to be blessed with more of such outstanding and ready leaders who will always inspire greatness in the younger generations. Aamiin.
Imam is National Publicity Secretary, Ilorin Emirate Descendants Progressive Union.