By Mike Ebonugwo
HE was fondly called the Golden Voice from the North by reason of his oratorical prowess which he used to maximum effect to dazzle his listeners. Even in advanced old age that voice continued to resonate, impressing and even mystifying any time he opened his mouth to speak. But Sunday night that voice went silent as Alhaji Yusuf Maitama Sule succumbed to the cold hands of death shortly after he took ill and was flown to a hospital in Cairo, Egypt for treatment.
The death of the highly respected nationalist, politician, intellectual, acclaimed orator, diplomat and the Dan Masanin of Kano, is coming at a time the reality of his professed dream of Nigeria overcoming her numerous challenges is still being eagerly awaited. It would be recalled that the late elder statesman had at a public event in 2012 more or less prophesied that all the problems currently afflicting Nigeria, the root which he traced to tribalism and religion, would soon, by the grace of God, come to an end. As usual he was his vintage self as he deployed his gift of the garb and easy, unassuming flamboyance to dazzle his audience while effectively passing his message across.
According to him: “As we overcame all the crisis in the First Republic, so shall we overcome the crisis in the present Nigeria”. He did not stop there. “Therefore, I have a dream that Nigeria will soon be great; I have a dream that Nigeria will be a united country, a prosperous country that will take her proper place in the comity of nations and will lead the rest of Africa, inspire Africans all over the world. I have a dream that we will come to love one another because the problem in Nigeria is lack of love, our problem is tribalism and religion. Islam and Christian faith teach the same moral values,” he posited.
In a television interview, the Danmasanin Kano blamed the country’s many developmental woes on the shortcomings and excesses of current political and other leaders who he enjoined to turn a new leaf and emulate the leadership virtues of the Premier of the defunct Northern Region and Sardauna of Sokoto, the late Alhaji Ahmadu Bello, adding that they should see themselves as leaders and not rulers who should endeavour to steer Nigeria’s ship of state in the right direction. He said, more importantly, they should work towards demonstrating greater commitment towards the fulfillment of the dreams of the nation’s founding fathers.
It was a sentiment Maitama Sule passionately espoused in many other public gatherings. And at every moment he obviously spoke with the benefit of his experience as a notable and indeed a highly accomplished political leader, one who at 20 years became the first Vice President of the Northern Peoples Congress when it was formed in 1949. It was an experience that served him well when he formally joined politics in 1954 and was subsequently elected into the House of Representatives as the youngest member of parliament. This afforded him the opportunity of climbing Nigeria’s political ladder in a confident and surefooted manner that took him to the top in record time.
Though considered still relatively young, he was nevertheless made the Minister of Mines and Power in 1954 at the age of 29. It was in this capacity that he represented Nigeria in all the deals and contracts signed with Shell for oil prospecting and exploration in the country.
Particularly remarkable is the fact that he was to become one of the longest serving ministers in the aborted First Republic and was known to be a close ally of the Prime Minister, Alhaji Tafawa Balewa. And but for that high-wire, mystifying intrigue that has come to define politics, he probably would have emerged Nigeria’s elected president in the Second Republic.
After a keenly contested primary of the defunct National Party of Nigeria, NPN, in 1979, he lost narrowly to Alhaji Shehu Shagari who was subsequently elected President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Maitama Sule was later appointed ambassador by Mr. Shagari and posted to the United Nations. While at the UN, he chaired the United Nations Standing Committee Against Apartheid then ravaging South Africa.
Anti-corruption credential: Maitama Sule’s rapid rise from a humble background to a highly accomplished political stalwart and statesman was essentially aided by his perception by the political elite as an urbane personality possessing high level of integrity. This possibly explains why he had at different times been regarded as the right candidate for appointments requiring transparency and integrity.
For instance, as head of the Public Complaints Commission which was created in 1975, he was said to have discharged his duties with dispatch, without fear or favour as a result of which corruption among public officers was effectively stemmed at the time. He was also invited to serve in a similar capacity in 1983, as the head of an ethical re-orientation charged with tackling corruption. Unfortunately, the initiative became still-born due to military intervention.
Maitama Sule was born in 1929 at Ungwar Yola in present day Kano city. He started formal education at the primary school level by enrolling at Shahuci Elementary School in 1937. And on completion he proceeded to the Kano Middle School and Kaduna College (now Barewa College) in 1943.
Though very popular and well loved across the country, many Nigerians still find it difficult coming to terms with a statement credited to him about the characters and endowments of individuals from Nigeria’s major ethnic tribes. According to him: “Everyone has a gift from God. The Northerners are endowed by God with leadership qualities. The Yoruba man knows how to earn a living and has diplomatic qualities. The Igbo man is gifted in trade, commerce, and technological innovation. God so created us equally with purpose and different gifts.”
It is a statement that has continued to attract geo-political interrogations years after he made it. It is not likely his death will put a stop to it.