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7.2 Correspondence: Extracts from letter from an ex-colonial officer to Ann O’Hear, 1983. Information on the Metropolitan Districts.

The letter, dated 14 December 1983, is from Mr. M.J. Bax, replying to a letter which I had sent to him and to various other former colonial officers who had worked in Ilorin Province. I was encouraged to send out the letter by the Librarian at the Bodleian Library of Commonwealth and African Studies at Rhodes House, Oxford, where materials arising from the Colonial Records Project and/or the Development Records Project were held (they are now located in the Weston Library, formerly known as the New Bodleian). A number of individuals replied to my letter, but only Mr. Bax’s response contained substantial information on the Metropolitan Districts around the city of Ilorin.

I am most grateful to Mr. Bax for giving me permission to include the following extracts from his letter.

Extracts from letter from Mr. M.J. Bax, 14 December 1983, sent from Chelmsford, Essex:

My own comments are based on the four years 1956-1960 (immediately prior to independence) when I was based in Ilorin as an Assistant District Officer, responsible for the “Central Area” which included Ilorin town with touring responsibilities in the province generally. I had a one-man station for about six months at Alapa at one stage. My recollections are, with the passage of time, necessarily very patchy. As an historian by original discipline, the reliability of my own oral tradition must be in doubt!

[Mr. Bax included suggestions for documents that might be useful. These included a Map showing Ward Boundaries in Ilorin Town which, unfortunately, I was never able to locate; however, Mr. Bax’s discussion of the map is still of value]:

This [map] was put together in early 1957 and is pretty accurate—I walked the blessed thing myself. The value is that it shows the contiguous links between the Balogun wards and the metropolitan districts, which the Baloguns ‘held’ from the Emir in what was in effect classic feudal style. Specifically Balogun Adjikobi took me to the edge of his ward and identified the whole of the landscape as far as Sobe Rock and beyond as “mine.”

In practice this ownership seemed to be exercised in various ways:-

  • The Baloguns would always be keen to settle even minor disputes personally, this usually involved the village or district head feeding the Balogun and his retinue.

  • The Baloguns would normally appoint District Heads and Village Heads. These tended not to exercise much initiative because of the close attention which the Baloguns paid to their fiefs

  • The Baloguns also tended to allocate the rights of harvesting individual trees (locust beans particularly) to individuals who were almost invariably not native to the village in which the given tree was growing. The Alkali courts invariably supported the legitimacy of this practice when it was contested, usually by spokesmen provided by the ITP [Ilorin Talaka Parapo, commoners’ party active in Ilorin and the Metropolitan Districts in the 1950s]. The ‘owner’ in all the cases which I dealt with was usually resident in the Baloguns ward [the ward of the relevant Balogun] in Ilorin town.

[Migration; tax; and “tithes”]

Some emigrants to the south . . . made it a point to continue paying tax in their villages of origin, but this was more common in the southern part of the province (Offa, Ekiti typically) than in the Metropolitan Districts.

There were signs that the traditional “tithes,” usually a headload or two of yams, depending on how good the current crop was, were being converted to cash. A number of District Heads tried to combine this with tax collection and ended up in jail following spot checks by . . . unsympathetic ADOs. In some cases, the Balogun in question to whom the DH looked would make up the missing money; towards the end of the period in question the ITP were beginning to involve themselves, although rarely on behalf of the District Heads.

[Poverty of the Metropolitan Districts]

Generally the Metropolitan Districts were poorer than the rest of Ilorin. The most obvious measure of this was the incidence of pan (corrugated iron) roofs. They were rare in the Metropolitan Districts, universal in Offa and Ekiti, and about half and half in Share and Afon. Cash crops tended to be rare, standard practice seemed to be to interplant corn and yams, and there was a good deal of cassava, a poverty crop. Onions in Balah and Bode Sadu. Poor crop of rice just south of Jebba. Surpluses tended to be sold in the Ilorin markets, almost as a catch crop and were Mammy-waggoned south. The scale did not seem to be large from the Metropolitan Districts, the main assembly points seemed to be in Afon and Balah.

[Joining the ITP]

People’s reasons for joining the ITP were mixed. Joining, outside Ilorin town, tended to be a community decision, everybody or nobody. Effectively the ITP was seeking to move in to replace the feudal system which was shakey if not on its last legs. Villagers were content not to have to pay the traditional dues, but the ITP had to convince the community that the ITP could protect them from the wrath of the traditionally appointed District Heads and the Baloguns who stood behind them, help them to get better services (medical and educational), and get rid of some of the more unpopular traditional village and District Heads. Generally they were able to convey the impression that they were backed by powerful men in the Western Region, as indeed they were, and made a pretty good showing of protecting their ‘client’ people when the inevitable clashes occurred.