By Emmanuel Aziken
The true story of the dramatic encounter between President Muhammadu Buhari and the Shehu of Borno, Alhaji Abubakar Umar Ibn Garbai Elkanemi in Maiduguri last Wednesday took almost 48 hours to seep out.
Nigerians did not get to hear of what happened that day because only the cameraman of the government-owned NTA was allowed into the meeting between the president and the Shehu, the second ranking traditional ruler in Northern Nigeria and the leader of the Kanuri.
At that meeting, the Shehu had told Buhari to the face that assertions by administration officials that the war against the Boko Haram terrorists was recording major successes were untrue. The Shehu said that his people were daily being killed by the Boko Haram terrorists.
“It is unfortunate that despite all efforts put in place to restore peace in our land and the Northeast, we the people of Borno State are still under Boko Haram siege,” the Shehu said.
“Nobody can dare move out of Maiduguri by 10 kilometres without being confronted/attacked by Boko Haram,” the Shehu was quoted to have said.
That narrative as showcased by the unfortunate killing of scores of Nigerian soldiers in Metele, Borno State, indicate that the administration’s claims to have defeated, degraded, technically defeated or to have decimated the Boko Haram terrorists could be putting truth in its head.
So when it emerged that the president would visit the Shehu, it was understandable that organisers of the visit would have felt uncomfortable, perhaps having known the pains of the monarch. It was as such not surprising that reporters were locked out of the meeting.
Speaking truth to power is, regrettably, often not the inclination of many of Nigeria’s traditional rulers. Despite the overgenerous 5% provision of local government allocation channelled to them, many traditional rulers often shy away from speaking up when the interest of their subjects is the issue.
The reason is not difficult to understand. The political authorities have since the founding of the modern state, taken the power of life and death, that was at one time the exclusive preserve of the traditional rulers.
It is as such no surprise that traditional rulers suffer through the foibles of political office holders.
When Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, exited office after a mixed record in office as governor of Osun State, some of the state’s notable traditional rulers were on hand, to pay compliments to what one of them described as his meritorious service.
Traditional rulers who seek to defy the political authorities, or act independent of the government, have sometimes been punished for the indiscretion. Gen. Buhari as military head of state, sanctioned the late Ooni of Ife, Oba Okunade Sijuwade and the late Emir of Kano, Alhaji Ado Bayero after the two friends visited Israel supposedly without approval in 1984.
Some traditional rulers have even suffered worse. The 18th Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Ibrahim Dasuki was dethroned by the Sani Abacha military regime arguably on account of personal issues that flowed between him and the Dasuki family following the death in 1992 of Aliyu Dasuki, regarded as Abacha’s business partner.
Alhaji Mustapha Jokolo, the 19th Emir of Gwandu, was deposed in 2005 by the governor of the state, Alhaji Adamu Aliero, for supposedly making what was termed reckless statements. Jokolo became the first first-class traditional ruler to be removed by a civilian administration since the controversial axing of the then powerful Emir of Kano, Sir Muhammadu Sanusi.
A move by Governor Abubakar Rimi to sanction the immediate past Emir of Kano, Alhaji Ado Bayero in 1981, raised upheaval in Kano that led to the death of one of the country’s most celebrated intellectuals, Dr. Bala Mohammed.
Just as the people of Kano stood in support of their traditional ruler in 1981, some other traditional rulers have been able to stand up to the political authorities with minimal impact on them.
The anecdote of the Awujale of Ijebuland rebuffing Abacha on the indictment of Gen. Oladipo Diya is one that depicts a monarch with gravitas. Even when many other Southwest monarchs scrambled for dollars ahead of the 2015 elections, Awujale was said to have maintained a stoical grace.
Monarchs who muster the courage to speak truth to power help to endear themselves to their subjects and fortify the traditional institution as a bulwark against insipid political actors.
With daily deaths of his subjects and his empire under siege, the Shehu could not have done otherwise than reveal the truth to the president. Now it is for the president to act on what the revered monarch has passed on to him.