The Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Sa’ad Abubakar III, by speech and conduct, has debunked the nonsensical notion that once a general, one remains and behaves as that, even if one strayed into other offices. Despite the famous examples of Olusegun Obasanjo and possibly Muhammadu Buhari, the Sultan has, as far as we can recall, spoken only in the manner of a man who is at a roundtable negotiating with fellow citizens or at least fellows who are independent and not beholden to him. And it is on record that the Sultan has had only one career. The guy has been a soldier all his working life. Like Obasanjo and Buhari, the Sultan also rose to be a general. In fact, it was from his duty post that he was plucked, being a prince, to be appointed Sultan, that is, Imam, or leader of the faithful.
It is thus gratifying to read about him speaking more like a conciliator than an aggressor-general for whom his audience might be no more than aides-de-camp. Expectedly, with the tenth year celebration of his reign as the Sultan of Sokoto, he has been about making speeches, and he made one of the most insightful speeches one has heard from a religious ruler. The Punch newspaper of November 4, 2016, reported about him with a headline. “Sultan carpets govs’ craze for building airports.” Quotes attributed to the Sultan in the report include: “There is need to begin to listen to the cry of the common man, to understand his needs rather than just carrying out projects. Of what use is it to be building airports worth billions of naira when the roads that the common man travels are bad?’’
Read specifically, this condemnation of serving governors is hotter than tatase pepper. But the germinal import of all the Sultan is saying comes out when we read it metaphorically. That is, airports and roads serve as mere pointers to many other things. What Governor Udom Emmanuel of Akwa Ibom State once said is also in the same league. The governor had warned that it was counter-productive to run a state or nation where the number of sport utility vehicles cruising on the roads is greater than the number of tractors at work in farms.
But would most of the governors listen? And even more, should they listen? The matter is quite complicated. It comes from a disease that has come upon us literally from nowhere. But that “nowhere” really is the recent past, only that it was disguised as patriotisms. It is just that events have so rolled on that the traces of our national leaders’ polluted lies and fraud of being patriotic seem so washed away. These leaders are mostly the coup-maker soldiers.
The point is this: In a federation, where states were to be dependent on freebie petro-dollars from the Niger Delta, it didn’t make sense anymore to be sensible. Signally, a leader like Gen. Yakubu Gowon thus thought and canvassed that the problem of (his) administration and the nation was not how to generate income but how to spend free, petro-dollars. And the petro-dollars were rolling in almost at the speed of a volcano, which encouraged more military men to be ambitious and become coup-makers. Running a state was now institutionalised to be no more than spending freebie dollars. The unstated logic in this was that oil dollars were guaranteed and one needed to do nothing to earn it. That is, to be in government in Nigeria was actually to be at leisure.
This Gowonic concession that governance was about the business of free earnings rewired our public policy brains. The consequences are all we live with. It is not really true that Awolowo, Azikiwe and Bello were greater than the current crop of leaders. It was just that for Awolowo, Azikiwe and Bello to thrive they needed their state/regional citizens to be wealthy and their states/regions rich. That is to say, to be powerful, the states/regions had to prosperct for and earn their upkeep. And Gowon came and in a dismal desperation to be despot, abolished civilisation and development. The implication is what the Sultan mourns today.
While we are with the Sultan on the same page on that, we doubt his other recommendations. He canvassed that we stop hiding behind religion, politics and tribal affiliations to perpetuate crime and that we all put hands together to help Buhari. These points are a little off the firing range. The facts are as follows: The government itself is very nepotistic and divisive, to say the least. For example, nearly all (97 per cent?) of the securities agencies have been parcelled out to be headed by northerners and/or Muslims. That is conclusion enough that canvassing the people to be united is already a chimera. The point is, this country needs to be secured jointly and severally by all. To put it plainly, neither the Fulani, the North, the South-West, the South-South nor the Igbo or just any sectional group or band of groups should arrogate to itself the exclusive franchise of securing the nation. The nation’s security apparatus must be made open to all, at all levels. A key purpose to our being citizens is in our being secure. And this security is an all-citizens duty. So no citizen-group must be excluded from it either as policy, tradition or the alleged presidential need for trust. The last one is even more curious. This is because, if you can only trust “your people,” then we are not one people and perhaps need not even be. So, preaching for unity is already a lost game.
Even after having said all this, there is still a missing link, and it is that the Sultan has made several statesman-like speeches of appealing for unity and cooperation. And he is always talking to ordinary Nigerians. Well that is as good as it goes. However, the following may need to be taken into consideration. The point needs to be made that, if the Sultan can speak to ordinary Nigerians in the open, protocol demands that he sanctions the false and forged sense of entitlement of this administration and its presidency in the open. The logic of it is as follows. The APC party and President Buhari are servants to we, the people, and thus lower in protocol. We, the people, are a sovereign and rank above them.
That is, any person who can speak or admonish the sovereign, the people, in the open must be able to sanction the servants of the people also in the open. If for any reasons, including loss of nerve, he is not able to do this, it then follows that the party is open to being charged for collusion or partisanship.
In other words, it is not meet to say that the Sultan addresses the matter of the notorious nepotism of the Presidency and the APC in camera. No, if he can speak to us, the sovereign peoples of Nigeria, in the open, then logic demands that he lashes out at the APC and Buhari, who are our inferiors, to repeat a fact, in the open too.
And this open mode of sanctioning leaders is particularly important. This is in the light of the fact that the silence or verbal prudence of our other leaders, religious, scholarly, etc., have given room for what were mere diseases to fester into cancers. It is because of the silence and prudence that the errors of Gowon were consolidated by other coup-maker generals. And it is also meet to state that they were all, like Gowon, northern coup-maker generals and heads of state.
Even more important is a certain fact that these northern generals, either acting for themselves or in concert with other northerners, have so recreated Nigeria that Nigeria is no longer a nation-state. Nigeria, as recreated by northern coup-maker generals, is now their empire-state. The proof of this has been completely demonstrated in my new book, How and Why the Yoruba Fought and Lost the Biafra-Nigeria Civil War. Perhaps, as never before we have paid detailed attention to clearing the fog between (feinted) intentions and (real life) outcome of coup-maker generals, who stole power claiming patriotism only to act regionalism. And to worsen matters, the Yoruba and the rest of the country slipped into the tragedy of the Alcibiades trap syndrome.
In other words, if the northern generals had converted our one country nation-state, into the empire-state of the North, the only way we can be one country is to do the needful. And that is the abrogation of Nigeria as an empire-state of the North and its urgent return to a nation-state of and for all. The fact of it is that it is only as a nation-state, never as an empire-state, that Nigeria can be united or developable; or would the people and the roads matter over unusable white elephant airports? Dear Sultan, this is the conclusion of the matter.
*How and Why the Yoruba Fought and Lost the Biafra-Nigeria Civil War, by Jimanze Ego-Alowes. Available at Patabah Bookshop, Shoprite, Surulere, Lagos; The Booksellers Bookshop, Jericho, Ibadan; Librarian, Sun Newspapers, Lagos.