Alhaji S. A.Onimago: The Second And New Shettima of Ilorin. By Abubakar Imam
"Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man's character give him power".
One of the commonest lessons of life is that if one does not get close to a man one may never be able to appreciate the quality of such a person. Yes, one's evaluation of a person you are too far from may lead to a wrong impression about such an individual. It is such a situation that informed the popular Yoruba saying that "isun mon eni la mon ise eni" .
Alhaji Saka Onimago, the new Shettima of Ilorin, can not pick me from a crowd. But I have known him for close to three decades. I knew him when he was still in active public service. He used to be one of those top public servants and enduring members who cultivated the habit of always attending the opening ceremony of the Annual National Conference of the then Ilorin Descendants Progressive Union (IDPU) in the 1990s.
Lately , I eventually had the opportunity of conversing with him whenever I visited a retired Assistant Comptroller-General of the Nigeria Immigration Service, Alhaji Abdulmumini Ayo Abdulmalik, whose Adewole Residence in Ilorin was the "assembly" of Shettima and other friends (all of whom are septuagenarians); where they always retired to relax, dine, and wine after observing the weekly Jumaat Prayers; particularly before the unfortunate eruption of the perilous Coronavirus pandemic. I found him to be quite civil, organised, cerebral, fraternal,humble,resourceful and prayerful.
One needs to listen to Alhaji Onimago offering supplications in the language of our culture and the saying that all Ilorin people are Alfas would become more entrenched in one's consciousness. He is, indeed ,a chip of the old block who despite his rise and rise in Public Service remains a strong reminder of Ilorin's glorious past.
Before then, I had met and interacted with him in 2006 when he was the Kwara State Commissioner for Agriculture and Natural Resources. I was then a marketing staff of the Baboko Business Unit of the defunct Power Holding Company of Nigeria(PHCN). By then, I was in charge of Oloje Estate, Ilorin, where he resides.
The day of my meeting with him was a Saturday. As I entered his premises, I met him reading the Holy Quran on an "agba ntara". After the usual greetings, I proceeded to where the electric meter was mounted. I picked the reading on the meter, entered it on the meter card as well as on the bill with my name boldly written on it.
As I was about to drop the bill beneath the meter, Alhaji Onimago asked me to give him the document. After the perusal of the document and seeing my name on it, he asked me where I came from. When I responded that I was from Ilorin, he enquired for my academic qualifications. On learning that I held a degree in Mass Communication, he was "evidently furious and disgusted". He asked what I was doing in NEPA and as a lowly Meter Reader! He then enjoined me to avail him of my curriculum vitae for possible assistance to rescue me from trekking around in the sun. I asked myself what the old man was saying. I never oblige him.
My thought then was that the best he could do was to facilitate employment for yours sincerely in the Kwara State Civil Service, which I was not ready to take. My job in NEPA was more financially rewarding as my salaries and other emoluments then as a Level 08 Officer was far higher than what those on Level 12 in the state civil service earned! I was myopic! I never thought that my engagement in any of the state-owned media outfits could be more professionally rewarding or that he could even find me a better job elsewhere. Like most other young persons, I thought money was everything!
But that singular encounter with the top technocrat left a lasting impression on me. It reminded me of the story I heard about him when I was still in the University that Alhaji Onimago was always trying to help younger compatriots to get employment at the Industrial Training Fund (ITF) where he was a topnotch. I learnt that one of those he assisted with a job in the mid-1990s, who was a friend and bench mate of mine at Pakata Primary School, Ilorin, turned down the offer simply because he was posted to Calabar, the Cross River State capital.
And so, when he was "unexpectedly" announced as the new Shettima of Ilorin, I was among those who were not absolutely surprised with his choice. I was comfortable and satisfied that the Emir must have been convinced beyond reasonable doubt about his patriotism to offer him a title that was created by his father, Alhaji Sulu Gambari, CFR, in 1979.
The first holder of the title was Alhaji Abubakar Lah, MFR, who lived between 1919 and 2013.Alhaji Lah was a consummate teacher, celebrated technocrat, phenomenal linguist, exciting cultural activist and outstanding community leader. The title, Shettima, is of Kanuri origin. And it was made exceptionally popular by the first and last indigenous Governor of the old Northern Region, Alhaji (Sir) Kashim Ibrahim, who lived between 1910 and 1990.
Alhaji Sakariyah Adedeji Onimago, a versatile Accountant, teacher, technocrat and community leader, was born in Ilorin on March 17,1949.His father was Alhaji Adedeji Onimago, who was one of those unforgettable patriots who founded the Ilorin Progressive Union (IPU) in 1941, which later witnessed many forms of transformation eventuating in the present-day Ilorin Emirate Descendants Progressive Union (IEDPU).
Young Sakariyah started off as a pupil of a local Quranic school where he was trained in the arts and science of the recitation of the Holy Quran as it was common in Ilorin Emirate. In 1957, he was enrolled as a pupil of the famous Baboko Primary School, Ilorin, from where he earned his First School Leaving Certificate in 1965.
This illustrious public servant proceeded to the famous Government Secondary School, Ilorin, where he was trained between 1967 and 1970; from where he earned his General Certificate of Education(London).He was also educated at Kaduna Teachers College, Kaduna, between 1971 and 1973 for his Teacher's Grade II Certificate.
His desire to be a professional financial technocrat made him to forgo teaching for which he had been trained in order to proceed to the then Kwara State College of Technology (now known as Kwara State Polytechnic),Ilorin. He received his Ordinary National Diploma(OND) and Higher National Diploma(HND) in Accountancy at the end of his training at the institution, which lasted between 1973 and 1977.
His passion for more knowledge and career progression took him to the then University of Ife(now Obafemi Awolowo University), Ile-Ife, in 1984 where he studied for and eventually graduated with a Post-Graduate Diploma in Financial Management in 1985. From 1989 to 1991,he was trained at the premier University of Ibadan where he earned his Master's degree in Business Administration (MBA).
As a competent Accountant, Alhaji Onimago did his ICAN Final papers in 1985. His success at the Examinations made him a Chartered Accountant of three-and-a-half decades experience.
This illustrious son of Ilorin Emirate started his exciting public service career as a Member of the National Youth Service Corps. He offered his mandatory youth service as an Accountant at the Sub-Treasury, Udi and the Federal Pay Office, Enugu,where he served between 1977 and 1978.
He subsequently joined the services of the Industrial Training Fund (ITF) in 1978. He was a Ledger Accountant at the ITF, Jos, between 1978 and 1980. He was later posted to the Ilorin Area Office of the establishment in 1980. He worked at Ilorin as the organisation's Revenue Accountant till 1981.
He thereafter held several offices across the many locations of the ITF in Nigeria as he was also steadily progressing in ranks. He was in Lagos, Ibadan, Benin, Calabar and Port-Harcourt between 1981 and the year 2000 in the course of his services to the ITF.
Following satisfactory performances in his previous assignments, this seasoned financial expert was appointed as the Zonal Coordinator, to supervise the operations of the agency in Abeokuta, Akure, Benin, Ibadan and Ilorin; all between 1986 and 1991. His scintillating successes also informed another posting as the Zonal Coordinator in-charge of Aba, Calabar, Enugu, Port-Harcourt and Uyo .
He also offered several ad-hoc responsibilities while in the services of the ITF such as serving as a Member of the ITF/CBN Fraud Probe Panel in 1993 among others. He eventually retired from the services of the Industrial Training Fund in March, 2000 after 32 years of meritorious services to his fatherland.
As if he was being awaited to retire from regular public service, the services of this great patriot was quickly enlisted by the Kwara State Government; which made him the Chairman, Committee on Verification of Contracts awarded by the Administration of Governor Mohammed Alabi Lawal, who ruled Kwara State between 1999 and 2003. He was also a Member of the Judicial Commission of Enquiry on the Activities of Certain Public Institutions and Officers in Kwara State among others during the same period .
Alhaji Onimago served as the Special Adviser to the Governor of Kwara State from August, 2005 to December, 2005. He was also the Honourable Commissioner for Agriculture and Member of the Kwara State Executive Council between December, 2005 and May, 2007. He was reappointed as a Commissioner and served from August, 2011 to October, 2013 and between February,2014 and May, 2019.
The high-point of his services at the State level was as the Secretary to the Kwara State Government between May, 2007 and August, 2008. It was during that period that he was given the privilege to be the engine-room of Kwara State Government under the leadership of His Excellency, Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki,CON.
This remarkable technocrat's last public service appointment was as the Chairman of the Kwara State Civil Service Commission to which he was appointed by the sixth Governor of the State, Alhaji Abdulfatai Ahmed. He held the Office from May, to August, 2019.
Apart from the several governmental positions he has held; Alhaji Onimago is also a very functional member of the Ilorin Emirate Descendants Progressive Union, who promotes the interest of his fellow Ilorin compatriots and indeed other Nigerians every where he serves. He alternated between the positions of National Financial Secretary and Treasurer of the IDPU in the early 1980s; among other stimulating interventions he exerted on the progress and development of the Ilorin Emirate Community in many spheres.
Alhaji Onimago, who attended many conferences, workshops and seminar, has also authored several publications, which confirmed his profound professional competence and sharpened his managerial wherewithal. He is indeed a tested and accomplished patriot.
Alhaji Onimago, who is married and blessed with children that are also doing very well in their various careers, is bound to add colour to the title with his fraternal, gentle, amiable and cosmopolitan dispositions.
I sincerely believe that as a statesman, the new title would afford Alhaji Onimago the privilege to serve the community much better than he had ever done and that he would be much more available to offer his rich insight to the progress of the community in several other ways.
It is my prayer that the new Shettima of Ilorin enjoys a very long life and enviable statesmanship similar to his predecessor. I wish him sound health, greater wisdom and every other thing he would require to discharge his responsibilities far beyond expectations.
Imam is National Publicity Secretary, Ilorin Emirate Descendants Progressive Union.