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4.2d(iii) Notes on interview with Alhaji Sulu Gambari, Emir of Ilorin, 8 December 1982

Transcribed 2020 from Ann O’Hear’s handwritten notes, which she made very soon after the interview and which closely followed the rough notes she had written down during the interview. The 2020 transcription includes explanatory annotations inserted in square brackets.


Interview with His Highness Alhaji Sulu Gambari, Emir of Ilorin.

Place—palace reception room.

Interview arranged through—Dr. I.A. Gambari, son of Emir (Emir referred to him as “my son”) and Chairman of KwaraTech College Council [KwaraTech was an abbreviation for Kwara State College of Technology, Ilorin].

Also present—3 unidentified old men [retainers?].

—Alh. F. Kawu Agaka, Emir’s Secretary.


Interview conducted in English.

Emir had been given a copy of my letter to Dr. Gambari (including questions) of 22 October 1982. He had this letter in front of him at the interview.


Precolonial Period

1 In this period, did Emir levy taxes on caravan trade? Yes.

2 Were these collected by caravan tolls? Yes. Town walls—entrance on each side. Representative/Messenger of Emir at each. These collected dues from caravans. Submitted the money every day—directly to Sarkin Dogari, thence to Emir, thence to treasurer.

3 Necessary for newly arrived traders to apply for permission from Emir before engaging in trade? Not necessarily.

4 Did the palace engage in trade? Only very petty—retainers and household—wives etc—weaving and other petty trade.

4b Control of firearms? (reference to Mustain thesis). Emir replied that probably what he meant was that during that time the Emir waged war—had army—thus controlled firearms. [Mustain thesis: Ivan B. Mustain, “A Political History of Ilorin in the Nineteenth Century,” M.Phil. thesis, University of Ibadan, 1978]

5 How many horses did emir self keep before colonial period? 100+.

6 How many horsemen did Sarkin Baraji control? SB—controlled about 250 horsemen.

7 Costs involved in keeping horses? Not expenses—sons would cut fodder for their own father’s horse. Cost—minimum (minimal?)—say 1 naira per day. Nowadays—children go to school.

8. How long could a horse be kept? Remembers his own father’s horse lived to about 30 years old. Twenty to thirty years.


Colonial Period—Economic Effects

1 In early colonial period, when caravan trade was still continuing, did all caravan taxes have to go direct to colonial govt? Emir’s messengers were replaced by the Europeans’ messengers. He remembers one called “Bangbala Sata.”

2 Did all the tax money collected from the people have to go direct to the colonial govt? Tax and jangali—collected by VH [Village Head]—to DH [District Head]—to Emir—to Treasury. Emir laughs—i.e., Emir still taking his share before went to Treasury?)

3 Did the Emir still have to support as many retainers and horses as before? No. Reduced.

In about 1930s-40s, how many horses did the Emir keep? About 15-20 horses?

4. Early Colonial Govt reports said that Ilorin families sent many dependants out of the town to settle on the farms. Was this true? Yes. There was no more war. They went outside in safety to farm. The villagers are from Ilorin.

Were they sent out to farm because the families in the town could no longer afford to feed them? Yes. If brothers together, the junior brother would take the children (of both) for farming. Feeding people in the city.

5. Was there trade in extra foodstuffs? Yes, up till now. They went to village market and bought, brought foodstuffs in to town.

Was there trade to the south? People from Lagos came to buy?

Were Ilorin long distance merchants also involved? People from Ibadan, Lagos and the south came to buy.

7 [sic] (re question about extra expenses, demands on Emir). Colonial government only recommended new methods, e.g., licences—bicycle etc. These went to treasury. Emir and chiefs had own share or revenue—government gave estimate of yearly share for chiefs.


Decline of lantana bead industry

1 Did the Emir control the production of beads? No. Only—if people were selling too much (any product—manufactured or foodstuffs) he would tell them to reduce.

2 Did the beadmakers pay their tax in beads? No, in cash.

3 Did the Emir send beads to the Oba of Benin?

*The Oba sent presents annually—palm oil, kola, plantains (this last item of information was supplied by Emir’s secretary.

The Emir sent beads.

Trade with Benin—people came from Benin to Ilorin to buy beads.

Was Benin the most important customer for beads? Benin was the most important customer. They used more beads than any other tribe in south.

*Note—the details may have been in mind of Emir and Secretary because the Oba of Benin had recently visited the Emir