Dedicated to Nigeria's socio-political issues
October 3, 2007 - December 2, 2007
Needles In Sultan’s Turban
culled from Daily Trust, November 6, 2006
Alhaji Muhammadu Sa’ad Abubakar will find the Sultan’s palace in Sokoto a welcome departure from the Army barracks, with its drab walls, finely pressed uniforms, polished jack boots, inedible food rations, strict life regimen, unserviceable Armoured cars and dangerous ammunition depots. At least, the Sultan’s palace has white walls, wide courtyards, airy reception rooms, large ornamented audience halls, elegantly dressed courtiers, long limousine cars and endless rows of awe-struck visitors. Nigerian soldiers used to talk of intensely political appointments in Government Houses and ministerial chambers as “military posting”, but for the former Colonel Mohamed Sa’ad, this isn’t another military posting to an Armoured Corps unit. The Sultan’s throne is a traditional, historical, religious, cultural, political, administrative, security and mystical one. It is full of power, influence and grandeur, but lodged there in Sultan Sa’ad’s new turban, there are 10 small and large needles that he must learn to live with or to carefully pluck out.
The first one are his own, fairly numerous family members. When Sir Abubakar died in 1988, he left behind more than 50 children [the new Sultan’s brothers and sisters], and the late Sultan Maccido also left behind numerous children. Together with their own children, wives and in-laws, that’s an “inner family” of at least 1,000 members. That’s smaller than the Saudi royal family, which has about 3,000 princes, but without similar oil royalties, the Sultan must find a way to manage all of them. In so far as Sir Abubakar and Sultan Maccido together occupied the palace for 60 of the last 68 years, many members of this family have developed an unhealthy “entitlement complex”. Sultan Sa’ad was not one of them; he chose to make a career in a very difficult calling, namely the military, and he would know how to call any spoilt prince to order.
Next, Sultan Sa’ad must sort out his inner council of senior councillors. Two members of the Sultanate Council which meets every day, namely the Magajin Rafi and the Alkalin Alkalai, also died in the ADC plane crash. Two of the remaining senior councillors, the Magajin Gari and the Galadiman Gari, are very young, while two other members, former President Shehu Shagari and former minister Alhaji Ibrahim Gusau, are in their 80s and do not attend meetings regularly. Given his own relative youth, the new Sultan must shop around for some experienced hands.
Next, there are the people of Sokoto. Sultan Sa’ad is lucky because they love every son of Sir Abubakar, but that is because Sir Abubakar was simple, very accessible, very open, had little protocol, had a lot of charm and a lot of wisdom. Sir Abubakar is a very tough act to follow, but then, given the immense benefits that his personal character brought to the family, it is an act worth trying to follow.
Next, there are the politicians. Even before Sultan Sa’ad sits properly on his throne, every presidential aspirant in Nigeria and every gubernatorial aspirant in the Sokoto, Kebbi and Zamfara axis will come to greet him, seek his blessing and ask for his prayers. Posing for a photograph with a presidential aspirant is okay, but even posing with a governorship aspirant may cause some problems for the Sultan, because his supporters will carry the picture around and say the Sultan endorsed them. What is the Sultan to do when an aspirant asks for prayers? There was the example of the late Emir of Gwandu, Haruna Rasheed. In 1992, Major General Shehu Yar’adua’s presidential campaign team visited the emir in his palace at Birnin Kebbi, and the delegation leader asked him to pray for Yar’adua’s success at the polls. The old emir then sat upright and said, “Let us say prayers for peace in Nigeria”.
The next needle in the Sultan’s turban is the endless stream of visitors. Almost every government, business, academic, political, social, student or trade union delegation that visits Sokoto must call on the Sultan. That’s a lot of visitors, as is seen on local television every day. What should the Sultan say to all of them? Sir Abubakar used to listen patiently to whatever they had to say, and then made a wise crack that people would remember for many years. For example, when a delegation from the state fire service visited him and explained at length their fire-fighting techniques, Sir Abubakar said, “Masha Allah. May Allah never show us the day when your services will be needed”. On the other hand, Sultan Ibrahim Dasuki often lectured visitors at great length about their own work, drawing from his long experience in government, foreign service, business and politics. Sultan Sa’ad may have to find a middle way.
Next, the Sultan must contend with the state government, which appoints and sometimes removes sultans. As Alhaji Sa’ad will soon learn, every new government comes to office with a promise to reform and clean the society. In 1975, when the new military governor Colonel Umaru Alhaji Mohamed arrived in Sokoto and told Sir Abubakar that he had come to clean the rot left behind by the former governor, Sir Abubakar said, “Even the other governor, that was what he said when he first came here”. Of course by then Sir Abubakar had been on the throne for nearly 40 years and was too powerful to worry about anything. Since Alhaji Sa’ad is only 50, he may be on the throne for another 30 to 40 years and by the year 2036, he may tell governors whatever he pleases.
Next, there is the Jama’atu Nasril Islam [JNI] and the Nigeria Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs [NSCIA], both of which Alhaji Sa’ad is now the President General. In both organisations, he would find emirs who have been on their thrones for many decades. The Lamido of Adamawa, for example, has been on the throne for 51 years, the Emir of Kano for 43 years, the Emir of Daura for 38 years and the Shehu of Borno for 32 years. One day soon, Sultan Sa’ad will also chair a Conference of Northern Emirs and Chiefs. There he will probably meet the Sarkin Kagoro Malam Gwamna Awan, who has been on the throne since 1945. And for the first time in his life, Alhaji Sa’ad may find his military superiors deferring to him. The Emir of Gwandu and the Emir of Zuru were both Major Generals, military governors and GOCs in the Army, but they will now greet him with deference. The Etsu Nupe too was a Colonel on the day he was appointed, though he became a Brigadier General some days later. Colonel Sa’ad’s promotion to Brigadier is already impending, too. To what purpose, is, however, not certain.
Next, there is the big needle of the problems of the larger Nigerian, especially Northern Nigerian, Muslim community. As this community’s new leader, Sultan Sa’ad, who was described by all his former military colleagues as a strict disciplinarian, cannot be proud of street begging, the modern method of almajirci, loafery, high rates of divorce, too early marriages and VVF, resistance to western education, disorderly conduct at the hajj and violent clashes between Muslim sects over preaching venues.
Next, the new Sultan has the Federal Government and its many programs to contend with. Many of these programs are unpopular and poorly conceived, but when they are being launched, the government usually invites the Sultan and other big traditional rulers to grace the occasion in order to confer on it some respectability. Many people in the Sultan’s palace were angry, for example, that the day before he died, Sultan Maccido sat at the [so-called] education stakeholders’ summit for four hours, on a straight-backed chair that had no side supports, despite his age, 81. President Obasanjo apparently did not know that the Sultan was even there, until he glanced around and saw him, then asked him to organise the opening prayer. Although he is much younger and has a military bearing, the new Sultan still needs to control his schedule.
Finally, Alhaji Muhammadu Sa’ad’s personal character traits may be a small needle in a sultan’s turban. His old Army colleagues say he is very blunt and likes to “tell it as it is”. That is normally an honourable thing to do, but when presidents, governors, ministers, ambassadors and even Army Generals now come seeking the Sultan’s advise, discretion may well turn out to be the better part of valour.
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This page was last updated on 10/27/07.