Published On: Thu, May 23rd, 2019

Lessons from Suleja’s royal gladiators (I)

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THURSDAY Column with Mohammed Adamu

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In 1993, the commercial gateway city and baptismal-mother of ‘Abuja’, namely Niger State’s Suleja, was embroiled in one of the fiercest royal succession tussles in the history of Nigeria. By the way, Suleja was originally ‘Abu-ja’, named after one of its earliest Zazzau (Zaria) kings, ‘Abu’ (nicknamed ‘the red one’ or ‘ja’ for courage). ‘Abuja’ ceded its name in the 70s to General Murtala Mohammed’s dream Federal Capital, and since then adopted ‘Sule-ja’, after another of its ‘red’ kings, ‘Sule’, or Sulaiman Barau. Following the demise of the last but one Emir, Ibrahim Dodo Musa in 1993, Suleja was engulfed, for years, in a bloody succession crisis after self-serving State powers attempted to tamper with the Emirate’s succession laws to accommodate a certain preferred candidate-prince who, legally-speaking, had no right of contest under the Kingdom’s Native Laws and Customs.
Reportedly, most members of the emirate’s Kingmakers’ Council and a majority of the people of Suleja –supported morally and materially by the city’s huge Igbo community- wanted Bashir Sulaiman Barau, an unassuming, not-too-eminent retired Federal Civil servant, to succeed his uncle Dodo Musa under the alternate, partially-primogenital rule of succession historically adopted by the emirate’s two recognized royal Houses of ‘Abu-Kwaka’ and ‘Abu-Jatau’. Both Awwal and Barau were from the ruling Abu-kwaka house whose turn it was to produce the king. And since the rule was that princes eligible for contest must descend directly from the last Emir in the ruling house whose turn it was to produce the next king, the not-too-eminent retired civil servant, Bashir virtually had everything going for him: he was favored by the Kingmakers, preferred by the people and descended directly from a father, Sulaiman Barau (the Sule ‘ja’) who was the penultimate king from the candidate-ruling house.
But the then Niger State civilian Governor, Dr. Musa Inuwa, allegedly in deference to the preference of Generals Ibrahim Babangida and Gado Nasko, was openly on a mission to install Bashir’s cousin Awwal Ibrahim, -a more educationally exposed, more politically-experienced and connected former civilian Governor of the State under Shagari. In all fairness although he was favored by the influence of his two ‘General’ friends, Awwal was nonetheless the more eminently qualified of the two contenders. And by the way, even Dr.Musa Inuwa’s National Republican Convention (NRC) Governorship seat was said to owe to the god-fatherly discretion of IBB and Nasko; in addition to the fact that the Governor was Nasko’s own lecturer-clansman surreptitiously pulled out of UDUS classroom only a few weeks to party primaries. Helping Awwal to the throne would be Inuwa’s first opportunity to repay his liege-ships for their patrician favor.
“The blood more stirs to rouse a lion” Shakespeare said “than to start a hare”. It was also alleged that the attempt to use state power to interfere with royal prerogatives in Suleja was also to test the waters for an upcoming task, namely the creation of an emirate back home in Nasko District where General Nasko’s District Head elder brother was scheming for the upgrade of his little borough into a fiefdom. Plus, it was alleged also that the Emir of Minna Faruk Bahago, who was a lone supporter of the State on Suleja, was hoping too, that State power could help him pull a royal chestnut out of the fire of an adverse succession rule under his emirate which favored the seven Gbagyi District heads over the lineage of a demised king. So now the irony was that, whereas Bashir had everything going for him except the support of the State, the State’s preferred candidate, Awwal Ibrahim had a fundamental legal handicap. Although he was from the same ruling house as Bashir, he neither descended from the last but one king, nor was he even descended from a father who was a king.
Like Kano’s Sanusi Lamido Sanusi only Awwal’s grandfather, Mamman Gani was king. And just like Lamido’s grandfather-king suffered a politically-motivated deposition and banishment, Awwal’s too did not die on the throne of his forefathers. They said that he was deposed and banished to Kaduna in politically-motivated circumstances. Meaning that the only thing going for Awwal was the anointing of his two powerful military friends, and the zealotry of a sitting Governor. He had neither the law nor kingmakers who would implement the law on his side. Plus he faced a strong plebeian opposition on the streets of Suleja. All the same, in a letter to the kingmakers authorizing the commencement of the selection process, Governor Inuwa was categorical, that the State expected nothing less from them than Awwal’s name making it, at least, to the list of three nominees that the Council was expected to recommend to the Governor and from which the prerogative would be his to choose one. And so, not to take any chances, he had appointed two Directors from his office and two loyal LG chairmen to serve respectively as Secretary to the Council, supervisor and observers of the selection process. Plus the Governor had earlier communicated the trimming down of the 7-man kingmakers Council to 4.
Yet the kingmakers, whether in deference to the succession rules or so not to take chances too, not only excluded Awwal’s name, but all three of their nominees were sons of the late Emir Sulaiman Barau, -with the favored eldest one, Bashir’s top on the list. Expectedly this was outrightly rejected by the Governor on the grounds, ironically, of improper constitution of the kingmaking council. Thereafter, a desperate Governor Inuwa now resorted to a most despicable self-help measure: he requested the Niger State Council of Traditional Rulers headed then by the Etsu Nupe Umaru Sanda Ndayako to assume the kingmakership and select an emir for Suleja. It was as ridiculous as when President Jonathan, a Bayelsan attempted to influence the choice of an emir for Kano; and just as it will be too if the Sultan of Sokoto, -following pressure now mounted on him- were to arrogate the right to interfere with the creation of new emirates in far away Kano.
Dr. Inuwa in a memo to the Etsu Nupe Council had cited sundry ridiculous reasons for inviting it, including the fact that the Suleja Kingmakers had openly demonstrated bias in favor of a particular candidate, and that their insistence on applying the rule of direct lineage was more discriminative than it was altruistic. And short of expressly demanding the nomination only of Awwal, the Governor had said that given Suleja’s strategic entrepot location, it required a ‘more educated, more competent and more experienced’ emir than the Suleja kingmakers were ready to admit.
Suffice it to say that almost immediately, the Etsu Nupe had rallied all the State’s First Class emirs -less only Minna’s, who was embedded with the State- to communicate their outright rejection of the idea that they should be involved in the desecration of the time-honored Kingmaking institution from whence they all came. They observed that since the role of traditional rulers in modern times was essentially one of ‘advise’, ‘mobilization’ and ‘public relations’, it was Inuwa’s unsolicited prioritization of so called ‘good education’, ‘exposure’ and ‘experience’ that was unrealistic, -because they said ‘acceptability’ and ‘goodwill of the people’ are the most crucial requirements for the making of kings, not necessarily ‘education’ or ‘experience’ which are preconditions to the making only of mere potentates. In any case the Council also argues that Bashir too was above average educationally, and that having retired as a very senior Federal Civil Servant, he was modestly ‘experienced’ and ‘exposed’ enough to be king.
If Governor Inuwa and his military godfathers thought they could ride roughshod over the royal prerogatives of Suleja emirate, with this baptism of fire they now knew this ‘game of throne’ would not only be ‘battle royal’, it would require a ‘war room’ and a ‘war chest’ to prosecute. Just as Kano’s Ganduje too, must be realizing by now, that the race is not after all to the swift; or the battle, to the powerful..!

…To be continued

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