The 20th Sultan Sokoto and Amir Mumini in Nigeria, Muhammad Sa’ad Abubakar 111, belongs to the group of the prominent few. He was born great, he achieved greatness and he had greatness thrust upon him. Born into a noble, aristocratic and Islamic revolutionary Sheikh Othman Bin Fodio’s dynasty, he was born great. Not carried away by the nobility of his lineage and achievement of his forbearers, he joined a noble profession and, through courage, discipline, hard work and dedication, he achieved, greatness rising through the rank to become a one-star general in the Nigeria Army.
And as he was rising to the pinnacle of his career, he had greatness thrust upon him. As he was working hard to attain the rank of a general, the Almighty Allah made him a Field Marshal.
Eight years on the throne of his forbearers as the 20th Sultan of Sokoto, he has proved that though, he may have ascended the throne unexpectedly, he was ready and prepared to build on the outstanding legacies of the over 200 years Sultanate tradition of quality leadership, knowledge, scholarship, courage, discipline and forthrightness.
Born in Sokoto on August 24, 1956, every of his eminence sojourn before 2006, prepared him for the present responsibility as the Sultan as well as the President General of the Jama’atuNasril Islam (JNI), the President General of the Nigerian Supreme Council of Islamic Affairs (NSCIA) and Co-Chairman, Nigeria Inter-Religious Council (NIREC). From his primary school education at Sultan Ward Primary School, Sokoto, to famous Barewa College in Zaria to the Nigeria Defence Academy, Kaduna, where he trained as officer cadet as a member of Regular Combatant Course 18 to his last course in the Nigerian Army at the Nigerian Institute of Policy and Strategic Studies, (NIPSS), Kuru, Plateau state, each environment and scholarly enterprise shaped the Sultan’s world view on traditional institution, leadership and followership, religion, diversity, violence, poverty, education, crisis management, security, diplomacy and governance.
In between his commissioning as a second lieutenant on December 17, 1977, into the elite armoured corps, to his last course at NIPSS as a member of course 28, he attended many professional courses and seminars, at home and abroad, such as the Armament Instructor Course (T55) in India; Junior Division (JD) at the Armed Forces Command and Staff College, (AFCSC), Jaji; and Land Force Command and Staff College, Canada for his Senior Division (SD). His interest in contemporary military strategy and Peace Support Operations (PSO) spurred him to attend other courses in Ghana, Ethiopia and Gambia, which focused on peacekeeping, disarmament, demobilization, reintegration, demilitarization, conflict prevention, management and resolution.
Speaking on his working experience, the Sultan said: “As a military officer and diplomatic representative, I have seen the devastation of war, not only in West Africa, but in Afghanistan, Iraq and other parts of the world. I have witnessed the desperate cries of widows and orphans and the exasperation of bewildered families, desperately struggling to pick up the shattered pieces of their lives.”
In fact, the professional development, command and staff appointments of the Sultan clearly reinforced those sultanate values, which he has been deploying in managing the contemporary challenges of the sultanate, Muslim umma and Nigeria.
And, so far, he has lived up to the dictates of the time, on the one hand, and kept faith with the values he inherited, on the other. He has combined the modern leadership traits required of a military commander and the institutionalized traditional values of the Sultanate in the discharge of his functions. His eminence, as a one-star general, has internalized the qualities of a military commander as espoused by German-Prussian Major General, Carl Von Clausewitz and British Spartan Field Marshal Bernard Law Montgomery. Such qualities include professional knowledge, vision and intellect, courage, robustness, self confidence, discipline, ability to obtain information, resilience, selflessness, quick thinking and good planning.
All these qualities have been demonstrated by the Sultan in his handling of intricate affairs at local, national and international levels. As a Sultan, he has shown profound understanding of the dynamics of Nigerian society as a diverse, multi-religious, multi-ethnic nation, seeking to promote peace and unity in Nigeria. Little wonder, he has been recognized, globally, as a peace maker. Writing in the Daily Trust of Thursday, November 2, 2006, Mahmud Jega in an article titled ‘From Nigeria soldier to Sultan of Sokoto’, described the Sultan as a leader with ‘intimate knowledge of some world’s most intricate crisis points’. Jega said: “Brigadier General Sa’ad Abubakar, or “Sada”, as he is called in Sokoto, spent many of his 31 years in the military as a peacekeeper.”
In recognition of his contributions to nation building, the Sultan was nominated for Nobel Peace Prize in 2012 along with Cardinal John Onaiyakan. Described as a thoroughbred soldier, strong-willed and blunt with a highly courageous personality by his military colleagues, his eminence, by his action, has left no one in doubt, about his desire to unite the Muslim umma and, above all, unite people of all faiths in Nigeria. As President-General of NIREC, he demonstrated that with the right leadership, peace, unity and stability are possible among the people of Nigeria.
In his seminal presentation on Islam titled, ‘Islam and Peace Building in West Africa: Imperatives of knowledge, justice and anti-corruption, at the Samuel L. and Elizabeth Jodidi Annual Lecture at Weather head Center for International Affairs, Havard University, Cambridge, MA USA, Monday, October, 3, 2011, his eminence discussed ‘the role of Islam in nation building, its values and the prospects for peace and prosperity in the event that the leaders and the led appreciate the significance of those values.’ He raised concern about, ‘protracted conflicts, threat of war and the rise of extremism and militancy, from all sides of the socio-religious divides’. He told the world what he has seen from his pole position as the Sultan and President-General of JNI, NSCIA and NIREC which he said include the “pain and suffering which ethnic polarization and religious misunderstanding could bring to a nation and its people; how ego and bigotry could conspire to deprive people of their rationality and good judgment and how religious leaders could set aside the teachings of their scriptures to lend a helping hand to these sectarian crises”.
At 58 years and eight years on the throne of his forbearers, the gentleman officer, now spiritual leader of the Muslim umma in Nigeria, who moved straight from, ‘the tank to the palace’, has remained true to his calling as military officer and continued to abide by the biding principles of his forbearers, which according to ShaykhFodio means that “the crown of the leader is his integrity, his stronghold is his impartiality and his wealth is [the prosperity] of his people.”
Jibrin Baba Ndace is Abuja-based journalist