Quite unusually, I am personalising this piece and I must own up to vested interest. Furthermore, I don’t know where to start. The Sokoto circuit of Appeal Court lately confirmed the undisputed and uninterrupted reign of retired Major Mustapha Jokolo, as Emir of Gwandu. The monumental judgment was either completely ignored by most media or tucked into insignificant space inside the pages of only few newspapers.
What made the Appeal Court judgment so important and what is my vested interested? Emir Jokolo is a friend even though we have not met for the last fifteen years. Yet, I don’t abandon friends, contemporaries or bosses. What I admire most in the man is his stubbornness and courage, which, truthfully, can occasionally be alarming. The last of such encounters was when as a member of northern traditional rulers visiting Aso Rock, Emir Jokolo confronted (the then) President Olusegun Obasanjo in very strong language on the perceived neglect of the three northern zones in the overall scheme of things. Only a few months if not weeks later, Governor Aliero of Kebbi State summoned Emir Jokolo to Government House, dismissed his traditional guards and deposed the Emir. It was not clear if the state governor’s illegal action was linked to the confrontation with Obasanjo.
As a diversion, Major (later Emir) Mustapha Jokolo’s military career towards the end was similarly controversial. He was ADC to the then Head of State, Major-General Muhammadu Buhari. The insecurity or imminent danger of that post (of ADC to Commander-in-Chief in a military regime) was best illustrated by the sad fate of Lt. Akintehinwa (ADC to General Murtala Mohammed) on February 13, 1976 and Colonel U.k. Bello (ADC to President Ibrahim Babangida) during the unsuccessful Orkar coup. Both Lt. Akintehinwa and Colonel U.K. Bello were killed in the military revolt against their respective Commander-in-Chief.
Major Jokolo was luckier to be alive but not without counter military moves in a failed defence of his Commander-in-Chief. According to later reports, Major Jokolo, subdued and in those circumstances, humiliated, was unrepentant before his captors. If the new Commander-in-Chief faced a military revolt and he, Major Jokolo, was the ADC, he would similarly perform his duties with counter military moves to quell the revolt. Major Jokolo’s captors could not fault his submission on the obligations of an ADC. The most lenient punitive action against Major Jokolo was, therefore, his retirement with full benefits. Many in his position would have buckled after his arrest.
As a retired military officer, it was, therefore, all clear for Mustapha Jokolo to succeed his father, who later died as Emir of Gwandu. When, ten years ago, the then Kebbi State governor, Aliero, illegally purported to have deposed Emir Mustapha Jokolo, it was time for me as his friend to return to the trenches being a veteran in opposing deposition or humiliation of traditional rulers. I was a strong critic of the defunct west regional government for deposing Alafin of Oyo, Oba Adeyemi (father of the current Alafin Oba Lamidi Adeyemi) in 1954. That particular case was politically malicious. Suspected of being a sympathiser of the banned NCNC, Oba Alafin was the subject of the Lloyd Commission of Inquiry for being responsible for the riots in Oyo earlier in the year. The Lloyd Report completely cleared Oba Alafin of any responsibility for the riots. Yet, the government of western region rejected the report of an inquiry it set up and proceeded to depose the Alafin.
A provision was inserted in the regional Chiefs Law completely ousting the jurisdiction of any court in entertaining any issue, arising from any Oba’s deposition.
The same law was employed in deposing an Olota of Ota. Obviously, the drafters of the 1979 Nigerian constitution had such matters in mind by inserting section 36, which guarantees right of fair hearing for all Nigerians, including, that is, traditional rulers who might be deposed. Either in total disregard or ignorance of the provision of the right of fair hearing in the 1979 constitution, enabling, among others, traditional rulers to challenge the legality of any purported deposition, Ogun State government announced the deposition of Oba Sikiru Adetona, as Awujale of Ijebuland. I openly supported the Awujale to successfully challenge the purported deposition, which was nullified by an Abeokuta high court in 1984.
In 2008, Alake of Egbaland, Oba Gbadebo, was similarly to be deposed by the then Ogun State governor, Gbenga Daniel. The governor was dared in this column with the futility of any such action; he piped down. In the early eighties, Oba Fatola of Igbogbo, a suburb in Ikorodu, Lagos, was politically maligned by a section of the community with the aim of getting the then Governor Lateef Jakande to depose him. Following strong opposition in this column (then on the pages of the defunct National Concord), Governor Jakande tactfully kept off the controversy until the army coup of December 1983.
The issue is not that traditional rulers must be placed above the law. Which law anyway? The only law employed to depose traditional rulers in Nigeria, even under colonial rule was nothing more than legalised political victimisation. Beneath every deposition of a traditional ruler is scarcely veiled political disagreement.
That exactly was the situation ten years ago when Kebbi State Governor Aliero claimed to have deposed Emir Mustapha Jokolo. Ten years ago? Yes. What was partly responsible for the long trial was the snail-speed of Nigerian judicial system. By the way, when the purported deposition of Emir Jokolo was announced, the general attitude of our Northern brothers was that, that was the wish of Allah. Babu! It is sacrilegious to ascribe man’s inhumanity to man to the wish of Allah. Accordingly, ten years ago, in this column, I criticised the purported deposition of Emir Jokolo, especially as clearly, his right of fair hearing under the constitution was violated.
Furthermore, through a colleague journalist, who is also a friend of the humiliated traditional ruler, I sent an urgent message to Emir Jokolo in exile to challenge both his purported deposition and restriction to Nasarawa State in a law court, both of which he won. In self-vindication, I called and congratulated him. That verdict has since been upheld by the appeal court. Emir Jokolo’s victory over his oppressors took long in coming but the waiting was worth it.
The impression created in the media was that the Appeal Court reinstated Emir Jokolo to the Gwandu throne. The real news was that contrary to the Kebbi State government’s illegal act of purported deposition, Emir Jokolo, since ten years ago, never lost the throne and remained throughout that period the Emir. The panel of judges carefully and unambiguously crafted their judgment.
The three judges unanimously held that “…The deposition of Emir Jokolo by the then Kebbi State governor contravened sections 6 and 7 of the Chiefs Appointment and Deposition Law of the state. This was because the governor neither made an inquiry into the allegations against the Emir nor consulted the states council of chiefs before arriving at his decision. The former governor’s action had contradicted section 36 of the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. The deposed Emir was not given a fair hearing before he was dethroned and as such the decision was null and void.”
Clearly, the Appeal Court’s pronouncement from the wordings was that Emir Mustapha Jokolo’s purported deposition was null and void from the beginning, ten years ago. In short, Emir Jokolo’s reign since his ascension was unbroken till today. Indeed, that was the implication when the Appeal Court ordered that Emir Mustapha Jokolo should be paid his ten years salaries and his entitlements, the period for which he was dethroned only in the imagination of those who victimised him. Otherwise, he reigned throughout.
Kebbi State government ten years ago, set out to humiliate Emir Jokolo but only succeeded in making him a man of history. The unwritten feeling in the North is that once deposed, they (emirs) never come back. Emir Jokolo has changed that anecdote. Throughout the first republic up to the second republic, former Emir Muhammadu Sanusi of Kano lived in exile. Under the present dispensation, Emir Anwal Ibrahim of Suleija deposed by Niger State government succeeded in regaining his throne, even though he has since remained virtually anonymous.
However, no big fish like the Emir of Gwandu, once taken out of the water ever even bothered to return to the pool. Emir of Gwandu is third in rank, throughout the North to the Sultan of Sokoto and Shehu of Borno. Hence, the significance of Emir Jokolo’s ten-year legal battle to remain on the throne of his ancestors. With that feat, no state government throughout the North will ever engage in rascality of toying with a major traditional ruler.
Northern traditional rulers must also take a cue from Emir Mustapha Jokolo not to be sacrosanct that every humiliation is necessarily the wish of Allah. Human beings on both sides of religious divide, commit atrocities in the name of God. They must accordingly be dared and challenged whenever occasions demand. The temptation and, in fact, the recklessness is ever there for human beings in authority to victimise the innocent. It is for the ordinary citizen to seize the upper hand by employing lawful means to check tin gods.
On his part, Emir Mustapha Jokolo must be large-hearted and ignore the little oppressors within and beyond already reduced to yesterday’s men in every aspect. More than ever, these little-minded fellows must swallow the painful reality of the source of power – God and not men.
It took ten years to determine a chieftaincy dispute at a High Court and Appeal Court at which stage, all knotty issues must have been untied. It is also the right of the appellants to exercise their maximum period in dragging Emir Jokolo to the Supreme Court. There and then, there must be no delay. The Supreme Court showed in the election petition cases that it is possible to determine cases in time.
Incidentally, that the Appeal Court ruling in Emir Mustapha Jokolo’s purported deposition case has necessarily proved that the judiciary is once again the last hope of the common man. What has happened is that the Appeal Court judges concerned have merely earned themselves individual distinction as the calibre of judges who (have) established claims eventually to the highest court in the land. It is up to others to emulate.
Last line: Why should anybody be educated on the distinction between kilowatts (as in power supply) and kilometres (as in road distance)? That was the irritating embarrassment caused this column last week.