By Bashir Adefaka
Friday, January 17, 2014 was two days after this year’s edition of the Armed Forces Remembrance Day. That was the day Sunday Vanguard made its second visit to the palace of the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Muhammad Sa’ad Abubakar III.
The visit to the Sultan was without prior notice, yet the Africa’s fourth most influential monarch and Nigeria’s topmost traditional and religious leader did not allow the extraordinariness that resides in his person to deny his unexpected visitor the audience he required. And it started with observing the Jumat Service with him.
Jumat Service with Sultan
Observing Jumat with the Sultan is hectic. Aside the security takeover of the entire Sultan Abubakar Road up to the environment of the palace and the Sultan Bello Mosque where the Sariki was due to pray, the number of worshippers was massive that exiting the mosque with the leader would not be as easy as entering. A palace staff attached to me to take me to the mosque told me, “The best thing we can do is to pray outside the fence so that we can easily come back to the palace since you have to see his eminence today before you go.”
After Jumat prayer, it was time for lunch and the Sultan, usually, would always eat with people. A senior official of the palace, Alhaji Alli Maccido, told Sunday Vanguard the mode of the Sultan’s lunch: “To my knowledge, he never eats alone. Now that he has just returned from mosque, he would eat with family members and friends. It is after that you can do anything.” The aide was asked to bring me into the dining room where I was served food from the royal dish. Thereafter I was led into the presence of the main man of the Caliphate, who spoke with the reporter in a non-interview audience they both had together in his office.
Sultan: an epitome of humility and hospitality
Naturally leaders are to be revered; some people interpret “to be revered” in this regard as “to be feared.” The Sultan invariably epitomizes an enigma that people do not have to move closer to depict or figure out what he represents. Outside the North, he has been described by several eminent Nigerians as representing humility, peace, seriousness with leadership business and, in a particular case, he was described as a brilliant footballer of the military school days.
Speaking with the Sultan is a great thing that can happen to a human being especially a reporter. There is this thing about one feeling to be dreaming being in the presence of a great, very prominent personality like him and he makes you feel real and free. When he speaks, he allows you to argue and when you do, he does not spite you for doing so.
“I was told you said you sent me a text before you started coming but I have not read my text messages today. Today being Friday I was going to close when they told me you were around and I quickly asked them to let you in,” said Sa’ad Abubakar III who said he had just returned to the country and that he had not done much since his return.
For any journalist that is able to make his way into the Sultan’s palace, if his mission is to sit and pin the Sultan down for an interview session, he may end up achieving nothing. But if the motive is to stay around him and let loose his nose-for-catching-news about activities inside and around the palace, he has abundant information to work on. This is because, it was gathered that, the Amirul Mu’muni of Nigeria is an all-time activist. The only time he has to himself is bed time.
Asked what the latest was, he said, “You know I cannot speak in an interview now but if it is what we have done, you can agree with me that there is nothing that we need to do that we have not done and we will not stop to preach peace and need for justice-to-all until we actually see peace and justice to be on hands in Nigeria. Try justice and see if peace will not come naturally. I have just returned to the country after being away for three weeks and have not done much.
But I have been able to do things not only bothering on religion but also on the peace of the nation. I was in Kaduna few days ago and I was in Lagos where we did a Zakat and Sadaqat programme, an occasion that witnessed distribution of portions paid from the wealth of wealthy Muslims for the empowerment of other Muslims who are less privileged.
“You also said you need information, you said you would not sleep in town and today is Friday. I don’t think one can be able to sit down now and begin to dig out any document but whatever you are able to lay your hands on, you are a journalist and you know how to get what you want”.
When the Sultan speaks about the need for justice to restore peace, he knows what he means and what he means is not hidden from any open-truth that everybody knows, a source in the palace confided in Sunday Vanguard.
“Do not forget that this is a retired army general, who understands what crisis or war situation means. Do not also forget that the personality we are talking about here is a religious leader who knows the composition of the multi-religious entity of Nigeria. You should also bear it in mind that the Sultan is a traditional ruler who has upon his shoulders the responsibility for ensuring community peace and harmony.
How can such a man now come up to say this is what is needed to restore peace that has eluded us in the country for sometime now and somebody would rise up and say no? Those who are saying no, on what grounds are they saying so? Between the Sultan and them, whose attitude towards resolving these security challenges is more patriotic?”
Sa’ad Abubakar III, who seldom speaks publicly, had spoken on what government should do to resolve the problem of insurgency in the North. And to that effect, he called on Acting President Goodluck Jonathan before he became substantial President to address the issue of justice that the Jama’at in Maiduguri, Borno State capital, had raised as reason for the violence it had unleashed on the North including his own domain; the Emir of Kano, Alhaji Ado Bayero, who narrowly escaped death as a result of the Boko Haram attacks; Shehu of Borno who, together with the Borno State deputy governor, also narrowly escaped death in a mosque attacks, and politicians like Major General Muhammad Shua, who was killed by suspected members of the group and many others. The group has launched attacks on religious centres killing Muslims and Christians.
Recently, the group launched attacks on some military formations including the Air Force Base, Maiduguri, where military aircraft were set ablaze and scores killed.
The Sultan made bold statements on two occasions; each of the statements was countered by Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor, President of the Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN, who incidentally is co-Chairman of Nigerian Inter-Religious Council, NIREC.
As a co-chairman of NIREC, Oritsejafor is expected to work hand-in-hand with the Sultan to proffer amicable solution to the problems facing the nation, especially as regards religion. While Oritsejafor and some CAN leaders saw the Boko Haram problem as Islamic strategy to stamp out Christianity in Nigeria, the Sultan remained resolute on his stand saying, “It is not possible to Islamize Nigeria just as it is not possible to Christianize Nigeria.”
There was a meeting in Kaduna, which the Sultan referred to during Sunday Vanguard visit and where he made a statement on the solution he, through NIREC, made to President Jonathan, which, according to him, had the capacity to stop the unrest in the country.
“We wrote a memo of about nine pages or thereabouts covering various issues affecting the country and the North in particular to the then Acting President and now President Goodluck Jonathan, through the Nigeria Inter Religious Council, NIREC, where we suggested solutions to the problems of Nigeria.” It was also gathered that there was a press conference addressed by the Sultan, where he looked into the genesis of what today has become the Boko Haram insurgency.
He said during the press conference that the President should address the issue of injustice which the Jama’at alleged was perpetrated against it and its leader by the Federal Government. About a year after, he called for amnesty for the Boko Haram group.
Sa’ad Abubakar III is not the only one that holds this position on the need for justice. Former Sultan Ibrahim Dasuki and a former old Ondo State military governor, Commodore Bode George, hold the same view. Bode George was constantly speaking about injustice in the system until recently, when he got justice done to him and few others by the Supreme Court. George, who felt his imprisonment was based on injustice,said, “So long injustice continues in Nigeria, there will never be peace in the land.”
Dasuki, whose son is the current National Security Adviser, NSA, Col. Sambo Dasuki, spoke instructively on the parasitic implications of injustice especially concerning Boko Haram. The former Sultan, at a press conference to review his book entitled: “Sultan Ibrahim Dasuki 1993 Peaceful Co-Existence Plan,” held September 2012, in Kaduna, said for Boko Haram’s activities to be eliminated, government at all tiers must enforce justice.
His words: “Justice is very important, justice means everything. Everyone is entitled to justice and we must do justice. You asked about practical steps to end Boko Haram. Well, first and foremost, justice must be done, because it is injustice that brought about Boko Haram. Last year, somebody asked me how do we solve the Boko Haram problem and I said let the government from local government to Aso Villa declare justice and the problem of Boko Haram will end. But if injustice continues, I don’t think the problem will be solved.
The Boko Haram leader was killed and somebody who was responsible for it is still moving freely without any arrest, that is injustice. Only fairness, justice, transparency and honesty will solve Nigeria’s problems, including security challenges. Let the government at all levels declare justice everywhere and stand by it. Our country is in a mess.”
Sa’ad Abubakar III is also on ground playing some role in resolving other chaotic situations especially in Benue, among others.
During a recent meeting in Kaduna, he lashed out at northerners for being the cause of their own problems. He never exonerated himself as he said the present security and developmental challenges facing northern Nigeria was self-inflicted. When he identified the cause of a problem, he comes with solution.
“Let us sit and talk freely and articulate positions that will bring us out of the quagmire we put ourselves. It is important that religious and traditional rulers from our various states sit together, so that each and everyone of us will talk freely for us to articulate a position as the way out of this problem we find ourselves.
“We northerners have put ourselves in a quagmire, because whatever that is happening in the North is our own doing. This was because we did not do what we are supposed to do. And since we know that, we have to solve our problems ourselves. So, I think, it is not a bad idea that the committee was set up,” the Sultan said at a meeting of Northern States Committee on Reconciliation which was also attended by Catholic Archbishop of Abuja, John Cardinal Onaiyekan and Bishop of Sokoto Diocese, Most Rev. Matthew Kukah.
Although NIREC, established by the Obasanjo administration to bridge the communication gap between the Muslim and Christian communities has not been seen to work effectively, it has not worked at all under the Jonathan administration. This, Sunday Vanguard gathered, is responsible for the religious crisis in the country. Nevertheless, Sa’ad Abubakar III made frantic effort to close the gap by working round the clock to ensure there is no break down of law and order on religious grounds.
This, it was gathered, took him to Ibadan, Oyo State capital, where, in the presence of the governors of Osun, Oyo, Ogun and former Minister of Justice and Attorney-General of the Federation, Prince Bola Ajibola, SAN, he declared that it did not make sense for any Nigerian to take arm against another because of religious misunderstanding.
The Ibadan event was the 96th Islamic Vacation Course, IVC, of the Muslim Students’ Society of Nigeira, MSSN, B-Zone comprising the 17 states of southern Nigeria. The Sultan seized the opportunity afforded him by the occasion to call for tolerance among adherents of religious faiths in Nigeria. He said if adherents of religious inclinations could tolerate one another, there will not be religious violence. He reiterated that the act of violence being exhibited by members of the Boko Haram sect has no basis in Islam.
Sa’ad Abubakar III, who is also the head of the Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs, SCIA, enjoined Nigerians, irrespective of religious beliefs, to live in peace and continue to tolerate one another, adding that Nigeria is not a secular state but a multi- religious one, where everyone must learn to live together in peace.
Although the Sultan did not talk much as he said he was not on for interview, the information available to me spoke volumes of his activities.
His keyword is peace and the way to it, justice and tolerance. And whenever any political office holder from governor to the President comes visiting Sokoto, he would not let go until he has reminded him of the need for him to do justice so that his community of people will live in peace since peace is major tool required for any society to develop. This being the reason, according to Sokoto palace sources, when the deputy governor of Sokoto State, Muktari Shagari, paid the Sultan homage during the last Eid-ul-Kabir, the Sariki said Nigeria needed tolerance among its citizens to facilitate development.
“The Amirul-Mumuni of Nigeria observed, during the Shagari’s visit, that religious tolerance among Nigerians remains the best tool for national development.
He challenged Nigerians to see their religious and tribal differences as tools which can be used for national development. He called on Muslims in the country to always ensure unity among themselves in the interest of Islam. He stressed the need for Muslims to pursue both Islamic and western education,” the palace source said.