By BASHIR ADEFAKA
•How Abubakar rules Sokoto, oversees millions of Nigerian Muslims
Anyone who has spent at least one hour with the Sultan of Sokoto and Amirul Mu’mineen of Nigeria before will want to have it again and again. That is a monarch so much loved, not only by his subjects but also by people from afar. His people of the Caliphate live their lives based on the Qur’anic injunctions, ‘Obey Allah, His messenger and those in positions of authority among you.’
This, like it has always been, again manifested the moment I arrived the seat of the Caliphate on Saturday, 4 May 2019 as a guest from Lagos on a mission to watch the efforts the Sultan, assisted by his aides in the Sultanate Council Moon-sighting Committee and the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (NSCIA), makes to ensure that the over 90 million Muslim faithful he leads in Nigeria are properly guided, particularly on the commencement (and termination) of the all-important Ramadan fasting.
Inside the palace
60 hours with the Sultan further threw light on why and how the people are deep in selflessness, accommodation and hospitality.
In many parts of the world, especially Nigeria, some monarchs do not sleep in their palaces. They operate in the palace during the day time but relocate to their private homes in choice areas of town in the night to sleep.
This is attributable to the remote areas in which the palaces in many towns are located. But Sultan Sa’ad Abubakar does not only choose to relate with his people at the various levels, he also sleeps in the palace located in the heart of Sokoto metropolis, and surrounded by over 142 houses of such people who are so much attracted to him and this is not unconnected with his disciplined but amiable personality.
The Sultan’s neighbours are not those you can refer to as the cream of the society or the affluent; they are peasants. “We are okay with where we are and who we are. We may not be rich or so rich, but we are highly comfortable,” one of the neighbours, who simply wanted to be addressed as Amisu, once said.
These are people whose houses could not be said to be palatial beside the palace of the revered head of Muslims of Nigeria, Africa’s fourth most influential monarch and world’s number 17 most influential Muslim leader.
The Amirul Mu’mineen of Nigeria is the younger brother of the late Sultan Ibrahim Muhammadu Maccido Dan Abubakar, who was, in his life-time, referred to as Muhammadu Maccido, and who died with his son, Badamosi Maccido, and many others, aboard ADC Flight 53 that crashed in Abuja on October 29, 2006, at the age of 78. Sa’ad and Maccido are both sons of the 17th Sultan who ruled Sokoto for 50 years before his demise, Sir Siddiq Abubakar.
Husband of Hajia Nabila and father of Fatimah, Wali, Amir, Amira, among others, Sa’ad Abubakar, a disengaged Brigadier-General of the Nigerian Army, was called home to become the 20th Sultan, on March 3, 2007, at a ceremony attended by then President Olusegun Obasanjo and several former Nigerian leaders, including the late Alhaji Usman Aliyu Shehu Shagari.
The Sultan is a leader with multiplicity of responsibilities. Apart from being a monarch overseeing the seat of the Caliphate, he is also the President-General, Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs, NSCIA; Chairman, Nigeria Inter-Religious Council (NIREC); Chairman, National Traditional Rulers Council (NTRC) and President-General, Jama’tu Nasiril Islam (JNI). All these, coupled with the wealth of experience he acquired in the course of his military career, have made him one of the most influential monarchs in Africa.
Meanwhile, Sultan Abubakar does not deny his subjects in the Sokoto Sultanate the attention they need.
The Muslim leader and moon-sighting
The trip to the Sultanate coincided with the Eve of the commencement of Ramadan 1440 AH when Muslims were expected to look out for the new moon. Muslims were given telephone numbers – including that of the Sultan – to be called in case the new moon was sighted anywhere in the country.
That night, the Sultan had been engaged in a series of meetings with members of the National Moon-sighting Committee and the Sultanate Council Moon-sighting Committee charged with the responsibility of directing the deployment of gadgets and human resources in moon-sighting and collating information from outside Sokoto for announcement by the Sultan.
Since Sa’ad Abubakar became the Sultan and leader of Muslims, Nigerian Muslim Ummah is generally believed to have started living up to expectation with Muslims across the tribes and regions accepting his leadership. This acceptability paid off beginning from 1439 AH (2018) Ramadan commencement and termination when ovation greeted his introduction of ICT into the announcement of moon-sighting that usually comes late thereby causing division among Muslims over when to start or end fasting.
That was a great deal of achievement as Muslims, again, had a uniform commencement of the fast this year. That gives an insight into how the Sultan administers the affairs of Muslims in Nigeria as President-General, NSCIA.
For such a busy man as the Sultan, what does a typical day in his life look like? The first thing he does when he wakes up in the morning is to say, “Alhamdulillahi llazi ahya’na ba’da mo amaotana wa ilayhi nushuur”, meaning, “Praise be to Allah who has given us life after he made us a dead and unto Him shall be we return”.
He then performs ablution and goes to pray around 5.00am. In a nutshell, his day starts with worship and ends with worship of Allah.
Even at a time of serious security and political challenges when media reports said a plot to kill him was foiled, Sultan Abubakar never altered his daily schedule, going outside the comfort of his palace to observe his prayers with the rest of the people in the neighbourhood. He returns to the palace, relaxes a little in his room where he attends to his family till about 8.30am when he comes down to his office and engages in official matters till 10.00am. A large number of his subjects usually throng the palace as early as 8.30am when he enters the office to attend to them.
To those people, leadership is a great deal not because of what they want him to give them but also because they love their leader with passion and want to see and exchange greetings with him before they go about their daily activities.
At 10am, the Sultan leaves the office for the palace auditorium which is spacious enough to accommodate a large number of his subjects. Inside the auditorium, the monarch sits between turbaned chiefs on two lines to his left and right frontward.
Two security officers stand at the main entrance of the auditorium. They are assisted by two turbaned palace guards (Dongaris) dressed in red-green light-stuff babaringa. The officers and the Dongaris, it was gathered, are there mainly for crowd control and organization.
As heavily guarded by the security officers and men as the Sultan’s Palace is, the unwritten rule is that no subject of the Sultan should be deprived the opportunity of seeing him. So, everybody is allowed but to do only one thing, “Enter, go down on the carpet and just greet. No extra talk and then come out”.
When a subject enters, he utters, “Salam alaykum Sariki”. And the Sultan lifts his arm and thumbs up in acknowledgement, answering, “Amin wa alaykum salam.” The chiefs seated on his two sides join in answering the greetings.
The greeting session that has become traditional since Abubakar mounted the throne 13 years ago is well managed such that under 20 minutes, the hundreds wanting to see and greet the leader have taken their turns one after the other and gone away.
The new moon of 1440 (2019) Ramadan had been sighted according to a declaration by the Sultan Abubakar, making the declaration in his Sultan Abubakar Road, Sokoto Palace Sunday night.
Monday 6 May was therefore the first day of Ramadan 1440.