Sarkin Zazzaun Suleja, the (almost) rejected stone… By Mohammed Haruna

Mohd Haruna new pix 600Last Monday witnessed the colourful climax of the four-day celebration of Alhaji Muhammad Awwal Ibrahim’s ascension to the throne of the historic Suleja Emirate twenty years ago. Suleja, the emirate’s capital, is the biggest satellite town of Abuja, the Federal capital, bar possibly Keffi in .
The emirate was founded in the early 19th century as Abuja by Abu Jatau – Abu Ja, for short – (in English, Abu the fair skinned), the youngest of three sons of Ishaq Jatau, a prince of the Zazzau Habe dynasty ousted from Zaria by Usman Dan Fodio’s jihad. Abu Ja’s formal title as emir was Sarkin Zazzaun Abuja. Makau, the first son had died in a battle near Lapai, a Nupe town in today’s State. Abu Ja, himself, died shortly after founding the emirate and was succeeded by his brother, Abu Kwaka (Abu the dark skinned). Since then the emirship of the territory has alternated between the two houses of Abu Ja and Abu Kwaka.
In the old colonial North right up to the end of the First Republic in 1966, the emir was ranked 22nd among the region’s 31 second class emirs and 38th overall among all the 119 gazetted emirs and chiefs in the region. It was thus one of the most important emirates and chiefdoms in the region.
In 1944, one of his uncles, Alhaji Suleimanu Barau from the Abu Kwaka ruling became the sixth emir. He reigned for 35 years and it was during his time that the administration of General Murtala Mohammed took the momentous decision to move ’s Federal capital from the congested coastal city of Lagos to a virgin territory in the middle of the country. This so-called virgin territory was in Abuja emirate.
A nation-wide competition to find a name for the new capital ended with a decision by the federal authorities to simply appropriate the existing name of the territory and ask its rulers to find another name. Alhaji Suleimanu Barau who happened to be emir at the time was, like the founder of Abuja, fair skinned. The emirate simply adopted his abridged name –Suleja.
However, it was not only its original name that Abuja forfeited. About eighty per cent of today’s Federal Capital was Abuja territory, with the rest coming from neighbouring Nasarawa and Kogi States.
This was the diminished emirate whose throne Alhaji Muhammad Awwal Ibrahim, CON, ascended exactly 20 years ago last Monday. His ascension is today a classic of the old saying about a bad beginning making a good ending. It is equally a classic of how tenacity in the pursuit of one’s objective is more likely than not to pay off.
When Alhaji Suleimanu died in 1979 he was succeeded by Alhaji Ibrahim Dodo Musa from the Abu Ja ruling . Alhaji Ibrahim in turn died in July 1993, thus returning the crown – or, more appropriately, the turban – to Abu Kwaka. Easily the most prominent prince of the was Alhaji Muhammad Awwal. At that time he had been a university administrator, a secretary in State and had capped his successful public career with two-time elected governorship of the state between October 1979 and December 1983.
His career apart, he was a superb linguist who understood and spoke English, a subject he had his first degree in, Arabic and his native Hausa fluently and eloquently. He also had a deep knowledge of Islam, his religion.
As governor he, like so many prominent politicians of the Second Republic, was eventually to fall under the heavy sledgehammer of General Muhammadu Buhari whose coup truncated the Second Republic three months into its second four years: a military tribunal under General Buhari’s regime the governor guilty of abuse of power and corruption, sent him to prison practically for life and banned him from ever holding public office.
Twenty months after General Buhari came to power he was ousted by his chief, General Ibrahim Babangida, in a bloodless palace coup in August 1985. One of General Babangida’s first acts was to release many of the politicians jailed by his predecessor and grant them amnesty. Alhaji Awwal was a beneficiary of this amnesty.
As the most prominent prince from the Abu Kwaka , not to mention the fact that he was school mates at Government College, Bida, with some of the most prominent citizens of State, notably Generals Muhammadu Wushishi, one time chief, Babangida, Gado Nasko, then FCT minister, and future -of-state Abdulsalami Abubakar, many Nigerlites thought he was not only the most obvious choice. Many of us, including this reporter, thought he was the best.
Apparently we couldn’t have been more wrong in our thinking in the eyes of the four kingmakers, led by the Galadima, Alhaji Shu’aibu Barde, who met after the seventh day prayers for the repose of the soul of Alhaji Ibrahim, to choose his successor; Alhaji Awwal did not make the shortlist of three candidates they sent to the civilian governor, Dr Musa Inuwa, to choose from. Top of that list was Alhaji Muhammad Bashir, the chief librarian of University of Abuja and Alhaji Awwal’s cousin and son of Alhaji Suleiman Barau, the sixth emir.
Alhaji Bashir, it turned out, was also the popular choice. However, for some seemingly inexplicable reason, Governor Inuwa rejected the kingmakers’ choice under the pretext that they were not properly constituted.
The pretext was not without basis. The emirate’s kingmakers were Madaki as chair, Galadima, Wambai and Dallatu. All four were supposed to be appointed from the emir’s ordinary subjects. However, during his reign Alhaji Suleimanu appointed prominent princes to fill in the titles, except Galadima. There were widespread suspicions that he did so to eliminate all possible challenges to his son Bashir when next it was the turn of his House to produce the emir.
If that was his strategy, it almost worked. When Alhaji Ibrahim died in 1993, only the Galadima was not a prince. The other three, Alhaji Shuaibu Na’ibi, the octogenarian Madaki, Alhaji Aliyu Bisalla, the equally elderly Wambai and Alhaji Awwal himself as Dallatu were all princes. All three had to step down since by tradition they could only be voted for and could not themselves vote.
This meant only the Galadima was left to vote. Hence the reconstitution of the kingmakers which brought in the emirate’s Chief Imam, Salanke, the Friday Mosque Imam and Magajin Malam, who anoints and turbans a new emir. Under normal circumstances, all three played only spiritual roles in the selection of an emir and had no vote.
The Galadima as the only one with a vote on the panel left no one in doubt that his choice was Alhaji Bashir. But he was not the only obstacle Awwal faced. Others included the emirate’s tradition that only sons of emirs were eligible to contest. Alhaji Awwal was a grandson.
Another formidable obstacle was the state’s council of emirs headed by the late Etsu Nupe, Alhaji Umar Sanda Ndayako. The council played an advisory but important role in the selection of emirs in the state.
As Niger State’s governor between 1979 and 1983, Alhaji Awwal and the Etsu Nupe became estranged over the politics of the state. It therefore did not come as a surprise that the Etsu supported the selection of Alhaji Bashir as emir. In this, however, he was not alone. Minutes of the meeting of the council on September 14, 1993 which the rested Citizen magazine was in possession of and excerpts of which it published in its cover story of the July 35, 1994 edition, showed that all the other six emirs – those of Kontagora, Borgu, Agai’e, Lapai, Minna and Kagara – unanimously supported the choice of Alhaji Bashir.
Even the governor was said to have been reluctant in his rejection of Alhaji Bashir and merely bowed to intense pressure from his “ogas at the top”, i.e. friends of Alhaji Awwal in high places, to ask the kingmakers to rethink their choice.
The problem with the governor’s pretext was that kingmakers he rejected were the same ones that chose Alhaji Ibrahim as Suleja’s seventh emir in 1979, the only difference being Alhaji Awwal’s father was the Dallatu.
Instead of heeding the governor’s instruction for a rethink, the Galadima headed for the courts in October 1993. As if in anticipation of this move, another selection panel was reconstituted at the behest of the state government, this time with Santali replacing Galadima as the chair. Predictably the new panel shortlisted four candidates and put Alhaji Awwal on top and Alhaji Bashir as third.
The governor quickly announced Alhaji Awwal as the new emir on September 23, 1993. All hell broke loose in Suleja the following day and in the aftermath of the riots that followed it became impossible for months to turban Alhaji Awwal as the emir.
On November 17 1993, General Sani Abacha struck and threw out the civilian governors elected under General Babangida including, of course, Dr Inuwa. Then on May 10, 1994, the Niger State High Court sitting in Suleja under Justice Oseni Oyewo ruled in favour of Alhaji Bashir and directed that the state government “appoint him as the emir of Suleja, immediately.” The government did not comply immediately and Alhaji Awwal went to court on appeal and succeeded in getting a stay of execution.
Still the state’s military administrator, Colonel Cletus Emein, who had succeeded Dr Inuwa, seized upon the judgement of the Suleja High Court and immediately deposed Alhaji Awwal as emir and banished him to Rijau in Kontagora emirate. However, instead of Rijau Alhaji Awwal chose and was allowed to live in Kaduna.
It was from there that he appealed the Suleja High Court judgement all the way to the Supreme Court. There he finally got a favourable judgement on December 6, 1996 when the court said his selection in 1993 was valid.
However, Suleja remained without an emir until January 2000 when the civilian governor at the time, Engineer Abdulkadir Kure, took the bull by the horn and restored him as emir. Again all hell broke loose.
It’s been thirteen years since those riots and the people of Suleja have since resigned to their apparent fate. In those thirteen years Alhaji Awwal, on his own part, has conducted himself in ways that seem to have endeared him to his subjects and eliminated the initial popular opposition he faced. In the simplicity of his lifestyle and in shunning materialism, he seems today to be the nearest replication among all the emirs in the North of the much revered late Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Abubakar III, father of the current Sultan, who reigned for over 50 years.
As he celebrates 20 years of his controversial ascension as the eighth emir of Suleja he must be aware that the world is watching to see how he resolves the problem of his emirates kingmakers which has been at the heart of the crisis of his own selection. Right now all four – Madaki, Galadima, Wambai and Dallatu – are princes rather than his ordinary subjects. Were he to pass away today there will be no proper panel to choose a new emir, something that can easily plunge the emirate into a crisis worse than his own.
The emir must also know that there are indeed speculations in town that he is moving quietly to make his ruling house the only one. These speculations may be totally baseless. Even then he should not dismiss them as mere mischief. Instead he should come out openly to assure his subjects that the speculations are false.
As a deeply religious emir, probably the closest duplication of a scholar-emir in the North since the deposition of Alhaji Muhammadu Sanusi in 1963 as one of Kano’s most powerful emirs, he should know from his own experience that men can only propose but it is only God Who disposes.
He should therefore focus his mind on leaving behind a praiseworthy legacy and leave the rest to the Almighty God.
Allah ja zamanin sarki! Ya sa sarki ya gama lafiya.

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