Emir of Suleja Opens Up:My Desire For Service Led Me Into Politics
The 8th Emir of Zazzau Suleja, Mallam Awwal Ibrahim, recently celebrated his 20th year on the throne. In this interview, the royal father tells GRACIA OBI his vicissitudes in the journey of life, his reason for going into politics, the deposition that followed his enthronement and also reveals that the federal government is yet to give his people compensation for ceding their land for the nation’s capital city, among other pertinent issues.
Failed impeachment bid as governor and Buhari’s coup
That is all for the historians to determine. I wouldn’t want to tell you what banners show in view of history, but history is really historians’ perception and explanation. This might not be totally true but by and large, I feel my life has not totally been wasted particularly in my concern and my desire to help my people and my nation. Even from my student days, I used to feel concerned on the issue of unity to achieve progress. So, I played a very significant role in students politics and the desire to further continue with this service to humanity propelled into seeking peoples mandate as governor of Niger state, which my people graciously gave me. When I was in public office, my concern was always to serve my people to the best of my ability. Alhamdulillahi (praise be to Allah), I will say history has not been totally unkind to me in that respect.
I am not too sure whether it was General Sani Abacha who deposed me but because late General Sani Abacha was then the Head of State, so you probably think he was responsible for deposing me. But I am sure the governor of my state at that time must have taken note of the kind of crisis going on and perhaps listened to his advisers and Representatives in arriving at the decision to depose me.
But if you remember before then, there was a matter in the court. Let’s take a better perspective of the whole thing. Initially, when I was appointed, my cousin and the king makers then later filed a suit seeking redress through the court of law, so they were the first people to go to court and file a case against my appointment. Of course, we must be law abiding, we had to await the decision of the court and then I lost the case. But giving the Nigerian legal system which gives you a right of appeal, I appealed. The case ran through all to the Supreme Court, which in its wisdom established my appointment as valid. . While awaiting the execution of this so-called judgment, the military governor that was out then, decided to defile the judgment of the Supreme Court and deposed me. They illegally banished me to a remote area in Niger state. When I came to Kaduna, I heard about it. I had a house in Kaduna so I stayed in Kaduna.
Niger state’s committee on integration of non-formal education
Normally, for sure we call it integration of Quranic education with the western education.
It was only yesterday that we had pre-session with my committee. I would have said we should have made some giant strides in the past 3 years but for some constraints. However, we are doing the best we can to ensure that in the next 10 years or before 10 years, we will be able to accommodate those itinerary Almajiris who come looking for Quranic education and give them some kind of western education to help them develop so that at the end of certain period,they will be able to integrate with the western education. We have recorded some successes through SUBEB or UBEB which put in place necessary structures. Besides, let me state here that we certainly have problem of identifying the pupils, teachers and accommodation. But giving the huge number of the Alimajiris, it will take us a long time and a larger chunk of resources for us to achieve our goal. Small beginning, yes, but we will get there. So, I will say so far so good, but we need to do a lot better. We sincerely hope that the present support from both the federal and state governments will be sustained.
We really hate the way these Almajiris are being used. When we talk of the Almajiris, you include all the blind men, lepers and so on, even some lazy people who go round begging for alms. All these are not in the class of those we are targeting. We are talking about 6 or 7 years child sometimes 10 year old that roam about.
Resettling the displaced Suleja residents
I was involved in the early days of establishing a new FCT. I was then in the ministry of education as the permanent secretary and was made the chief resettlement officer of Niger state.
Because I come from this part, I was instructed to join some of the professionals we had in the government to ensure we were able to smoothen the way towards establishing a new FCT. We were also involved in taking census of the people that were initially supposed to be moved out of the territory then to their states of origin. But there was a change in policy because of the enormity of the compensation that the government would have to pay these people. But those that were able to move out and settled within our own domain here, we struggled for the payment of their compensations which at that time were based on the economical realities of that time, but we never thought of the progress of these people wherever they might find themselves settled.
If we had the foresight, perhaps our demand from the FG would have been different. The good people that we are, we thought we were and I believe that we are, we wanted to help the country to establish a new capital city. The leaders then called upon us and we talked to our people to cooperate with the government. But I am aware that till date, the kind of compensation that ought to have been paid to our people have not yet been paid. I am also aware that our government, especially in Niger state, is up and doing to ensure that the FG fulfils its promise to compensate our people.
Like I said, these people have been uprooted from their natural habitat and brought up here. We struggled, welcomed them, settled with them but they should have been well looked after to ensure that they see progress themselves.
A Wuse man who has been uprooted from the old Wuse in Abuja, living in our ramshackle resettlement area, cannot go to his farm in Wuse and claim a piece of land because the cost will be so exorbitant. How much was he paid for that piece of land? So, there was gross miscalculation, I would not want to call it outright injustice, but then, we were all so patriotic then we felt Nigeria deserved a new capital and we joined hands with the governors to have a new capital. We even offered them a place so that they can take off here.
But the satellite home is nothing to write home about. So, the question of compensation is still on the table, I am sure Niger state will do something about it to ensure at least some justice is done to the people’s resettlement.
Coping with increase in population
What the Emirate can do is to advise the government – both at the state level and local levels – to tackle the legal issue of environmental problems, population explosion, social life, cost of living and the rest of that. At the level of the traditional institution, we have been invited by government to be part of measures to see us out of this challenge.
For example, if the government wishes the people to behave in one way and we are told about it, we will summon our district heads, administrators and make sure the message goes to the people. We also in our own time do try to ensure that the government policy is well executed but in terms of the practical execution in the policy, it depends on what kind of
resources or attention is decided by the government. But we are doing our best under the present circumstances. I tell you, we play a major role in terms of the security of this nation. Some of us find ourselves even playing the vigilante members by going round the town in odd hours and whatever information we have to ensure Suleja is peaceful. We also enjoy some cooperation with the law enforcement agencies to ensure maximum security in and around Suleja and to arrest some social ills.
Constitutional roles for traditional institutions
I know my role as a leader. The higher traditional rulers have been fighting tooth and nail over the statutory roles and I wish them best of luck. There is justification for this role considering the fact that even at the moment we carry out our role conscientiously. For instance, almost on daily basis, we give succor to the people, involve in conflict resolution among warring parties by establishing justice. I do believe we require some kind of legal backing. If you look at the issues today, the country is dotted with cases that otherwise could be easily resolved at our traditional level. If there is a legal channel by which our action can be sustained by the law court, I think that will be good for this nation, giving the level of our poverty, the level of our education and whatever it is. This should be situated within our constitution.
My 20 years on the throne
Alhamdulillah, life has been up and down. I would not want to talk about my achievements. I leave it to people who have eyes to see or people with good sense to judge for themselves. But I have been faced with a lot of problems, particularly when it comes to security, social ills that abound around the youth, unemployment, and the abuse of our hospitality particularly by the people who have come to settle with us here to seek a living. We do the best we can to bring these peoples to appreciate and to understand our values, to cooperate with us to the best of our ability. We are by nature very peaceful people and whoever wishes to live with us, what we beg of you is to understand us, respect us and cooperate with us.
I know my only interest has always been in the areas of general health and education. I have contributed towards the establishment of schools, classrooms, hospitals provision of potable water that will improve the general life of the people.
Secret of my success
Okay, I will give you a straight answer to that. I was once a public servant, I held a public office, I once held political office and I am bound to be with the people. This is why I tell you today the life of a typical northern traditional leader which includes going the people, serve them, be with them and meet with them is what I live. Besides, my role model in life is for me to be just simple and humble and believing that one day, I have to account for my stewardship with these people.
My day begins at 1pm or 2pm and I don’t retire home earlier than 9pm. I hardly see my family but because I had to start very early, I also try to wake up very early to be with my God and to fashion out my life in the day. Ordinarily, I like to help at least one or two, just take a rest by the way, hoping my body will rebuild itself. But I also take pleasure in going to farm but these days I find it very difficult to go there. But I am trying to see if I can take my time and relax there.
My God is the secret behind it. My kind of stature…, if I may tell you; I clocked 72 recently on September 8, just a few days ago. Will you say I look 72. If I should shave my gray hair maybe I will challenge you. But Alhamdulillah, God has given me a very good stature and I try to look after it.
Interview first published by Blueprint Newspaper