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The Mis-education Of The Sultan Of Sokoto By Rudolf Ogoo Okonkwo

On Monday, the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Muhammad Sa’ad Abubakar III delivered the Samuel L. and Elizabeth Jodidi Lecture at Harvard University. Sponsored by the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs and Harvard Divinity School, the Sultan spoke on “Islam and Peace –Building in West Africa.” The organizers’ promised that the Sultan would confound many “American stereotypes of both sub-Saharan Africa and the Islamic tradition.”

On Monday, the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Muhammad Sa’ad Abubakar III delivered the Samuel L. and Elizabeth Jodidi Lecture at Harvard University. Sponsored by the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs and Harvard Divinity School, the Sultan spoke on “Islam and Peace –Building in West Africa.” The organizers’ promised that the Sultan would confound many “American stereotypes of both sub-Saharan Africa and the Islamic tradition.”

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I had planned to be at the lecture but had a last minute interruption. My plan to go was not because the Sultan was giving a lecture. After the Sultan’s reaction to the controversy surrounding Islamic banking, I had no interest in driving 200 miles to Harvard to listen to him.
Mind you, I had no problem with Islamic banking. But I had problem with a person in the position of the Sultan saying, “Islamic Banking has come to stay in Nigeria and there is no need to quarrel over the issue because we shall realize what we want. I want to assure you.”
So much for a general groomed in peacekeeping, sitting pretty on the 200-year-old throne of Usman dan Fodio! If the Sultan speaks this way, how does he want Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor to speak?
My interest to go to Harvard was pretty much because Gov. Muazu Babangida Aliyu, the governor of Niger state, was going to speak during the two-day event.
I recently picked interest in Gov. Aliyu after a speech he made at a meeting of Northern Traditional Rulers Council held in Kaduna. Speaking on the Boko Haram threat to Nigeria, he told the traditional rulers, amongst whom was the Sultan of Sokoto, that, “We cannot drag our feet any longer. We can't continue to double-speak in our handling of the issues, saying one thing in the open and acting differently in private. We must categorically say no to the recurring wave of bombing, terrorism and crime in our communities."
I soon discovered that it wasn’t the first time that Gov. Aliyu had taken the ball inside the 18-yard box. In December of 2008, at a symposium on poverty eradication in the North, Gov. Aliyu said that traditional rulers, especially in the Northern region of Nigeria were “corrupt, support corruption and have lost the respect and moral authority to correct their subjects.”
Please bear with me. I will return to the Sultan.
Each time I read extracts from Gov. Aliyu’s speeches, I remember an inaugural address for a governor of a Northern state that I wrote in 2007.
I don’t know if the governor ever used my speech. Till date, I haven’t heard from an acquaintance, a friend of the governor, who asked me to write the speech. But I don’t forget a paragraph in the speech where I wrote about the responsibility of the state to its citizens, especially those who came from other parts of the country but had called their new state home.
In my speech, I made the governor to acknowledge the state’s responsibility for the lives and properties of all those who reside in it. The speech vowed to hold accountable the citizens of that state for any thing that happened to anyone within it.
The motivation for the whole exercise was to see if the governor would accept that paragraph. I saw it as an important premise needed to break the back of recurring violence in the state and the lack of accountability towards the lives and properties of others in many parts of the North.
Going to Harvard would have helped me to assess how much of Gov. Aliyu’s rhetoric was real and how much was publicity stunt. I specially hoped for an opportunity to ask him questions and hear what he had to say without a written script.
Unfortunately, I did not make it to Harvard. But a friend of mine who was there reported that the Sultan gave a glowing speech about how he had been working hand-in-hand with Christian groups to build understanding with Muslims. The Sultan gave ample examples of different collaborating projects going on between Muslims and Christians in the North.
On the issues of recurring religious crises in Nigeria, the Sultan blamed poor leadership that created unemployment and dis-enfranchisement as the main cause of the disturbances. He said that the media had the tendency of referring to every riot in the North as religious.
I wasted no time in challenging that usual excuse. If the riots had nothing to do with religion, why do those men always aim their anger at Christians? Why won’t they attack their own rulers whose responsibility it is to provide for their welfare?
My friend was impressed by what he heard from the Sultan. Then, in a lighter mood, he added that the Sultan said something funny.
“What was that?” I asked.
“While answering a question on the relationship between Muslims and followers of other religions in Nigeria, the Sultan said there were only two religions in Nigeria – Christianity and Islam.”
No kidding!
My friend is a Muslim from the South-West. He found the Sultan’s answer funny. I considered it as being at the heart of what is wrong in Nigeria. One way I looked at the Sultan’s answer was that, like the British, the Sultan had surveyed all of Nigeria and everything not Christian or Muslim was beneath his acknowledgement. Another way I looked at it was that the Sultan is so consumed with the on-going battle between Christians and Muslims that he does not see millions of Nigerians who do not care about Rome or Mecca.
In another answer to a question about the Nigerian Constitution, the Sultan said that he did not recognize any Nigerian constitution. He said that the only constitution he recognized was the Quran.
Boko Haram expressed a similar position this week.
Several alarms blew in my head over the Sultan’s unscripted answers to these simple questions. The first one was a shocking realization that the colonization of Northern Nigeria has not ended. If it had ended, the Sultan would have known that before his forefathers brought Islam to Northern Nigeria, the same way the British brought Christianity to the South, the indigenous Nigerian people had their own religions. Do we need to translate Things Fall Apart into Hausa for the Sultan to know that?
Frankly, it is good to know that the Sultan does not have much regard for the constitution of Nigeria. The Sultan is not alone. MASSOB doesn’t. OPC doesn’t. Boko Haram doesn’t. MEND doesn’t. So the Sultan is in good company. What is surprising is that the Sultan is not leading the demand for a Sovereign National Conference. Other than the Sultan, all the other groups are ready to dialogue. Some of them have listed their demands and conditions for talks.
The Sultan should list his.
Like I told my friend, the greatest fear the Sultan has is that one day, the impoverished masses of the North will realize that their problems are not caused by the Yoruba taxi drivers, the Igbo traders, or the church choir or the hotel workers in their midst but by the same people to whom they bow to everyday.
Some signals from the violence after last April’s election showed that some of these poor masses have begun to sense it. After the fall of Mubarak, covering a problem with distractions has stopped working. Also more and more ineffectual is the trick of channeling the anger of your own people, at your failure, towards something else. The masses are getting harder to fool. The Sultan and the Northern elite that he leads are the ones responsible for the poverty of their own people.
At Harvard, the Sultan delivered lecture on the five core values that catapulted the caliphate to where it is today. But even the Sultan is not following the teachings of his great grandfather, Usman dan Fodio. Writing in his book, THE PURIFICATION OF THE HEART FROM KIBR (Pride), Usman dan Fodio warned of the danger in being proud and arrogant. He wrote that self-exaltation does not make anyone arrogant as long as one sees that another person is greater than him or his equal. What makes one arrogant, dan Fodio wrote is when, “he exerts his own value in relationship to someone else, he despises the one below him and put himself above others’ company and confidence.” To this kind of people, dan Fodio warned; “You own neither your heart nor yourself. You desire something while your destruction may be in it, and you detest something while your life may be in it. You find some foods delicious when they destroy and kill you, and you find remedies repugnant when they help you and save you. You are not safe for a moment, day and night. Your sight, knowledge, and power may be stripped away: your limbs may become semi-paralyzed, your intellect may be stolen away, your ruh may be snatched away, and all you love in this world may be taken from you.”
The Sultan needs to acquire some of these level 101 lessons now. Or as Gov. Babangida Aliyu said, otherwise, he will lose it all.

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