The ongoing celebration of the 10 years of coming to the throne in early November 2006 of the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Muhammad Sa’ad Abubakar III is being deservedly observed like a national event, which it is, because the ascendancy of the 20th Sultan of Sokoto is such a phenomenon that is visited on a nation, once in a very long while. This 60-year old army general, diplomat, intellectual, and more, that was providentially thrust on Nigeria under the most inauspicious of circumstances has proved to be a very special leader and human being.
Significantly, I am very enthused and very proud to be writing this serial on the Sultan because I can beat my chest and declare that I am one of the people who know His Eminence, Sa’ad Abubakar III from very close quarters. In other words, I state categorically that I am a close friend and confidante of the Sultan. To that extent therefore, I am one of the few people that are qualified to write authoritatively on what the Sultan means and stands for, and how he has affected and impacted massively on his immediate environment, the Sokoto Caliphate, and on the larger Nigerian environment on which circumstances and providence have imposed him.
This serial cannot be a biographical work on the Sultan because, as much I would have loved to use this unique milestone of his 10th year on the throne as a fitting opportunity to do a biographical word on the Sultan, but the fact remains that Sultan Abubakar III is not a man who rarely talks about himself, hence everything I know about him or the things that I know he has done were obtained on very informal basis, and even though he might not know it, the information and perspectives that I have obtained from him through our very informal interactions during these four years that we have known and collaborated, are so rich that they can easily make up more than two fat books.
In these coming four weeks or so, I will be writing, in very informal way, how, since providence brought me and the 20th Sultan of Sokoto into contact, I have come to know an unusual man who was uniquely and equipped to be a blessing to Nigeria which he loves so dearly, and to all Nigerians from all the crannies of the country, whom he respects and loves with equal affection. I will also tell how I, without much effort, but by merely remaining myself, had come to be liked and respected by the Sultan, to the extent that I have had his ears 24 hours a day, and could call or message him at any time of the day and night and receive an instant attention. Instead of writing a treatise on the Sultan of Sokoto that would look like an academic book, I rather choose to act as a natural story teller which I like to see myself as, and thus, relate, almost without any sequence – but as it comes to me – the story of my relationship with His Eminence Alhaji Sa’ad Abubakar III, and how from that rich and four-your intense relationship, I have come to gain a world of rich perspectives on different aspects of the richness that underline the history, politics and sociology of the Sokoto Caliphate. From this interaction, my readers will also gain an insight to the recesses of Nigeria’s history and politics which can only be available to someone who has observed the operators of the Sokoto Caliphate from very close quarters.
I admit that I count myself very lucky to have had the good fortune of having been trusted by the Sultan and for being taken through the labrythine mazes of the ancient and time-honoured principles and ideas that have continued to make the Caliphate both timely and ever relevant.
I must admit that when a story teller like me sets out to tell a story – especially of a memorable and ongoing relationship, it is hard to say how and when such a story would end; whether it will just end as a serial in a newspaper column, or whether it will metamorphose into a breezy book, as my attempt to tell the story of my intimate friendship with the late Ikemba Nnewi at his death did. Only time will tell. But for now, I will just, through my account of Sultan Abubakar III, whose actions and deeds qualify to be described as the Sultan of Nigeria, provide insights which might not be available to most Nigerians.
I met the Sultan by chance – or in other words – providentially, just like the Sultan who does not believe that anything happens by chance, would say. The Sultan believes that God is ominiscient and that nothing could ever happen without God’s say-so. So, because I have come to share that belief, perhaps influenced by the Sultan, that nothing happens by chance, I equally state that my meeting with the Sultan in March 2002 – a meeting which has grown like a mustard into a big oak, was providential.
By March 2002, I had written the back page column the Capital Matters in the Sun newspaper for at least three years, and was well received by the big and small, across the country and on the internet, on account of the endless reactions my topics on the column attracted. Like now, as in my present newspaper, the Capital Matters appeared on every Monday. Hence, apart from the several text messages I received between Mondays and Wednesdays every week, I also received phone calls from those who overlooked the instruction of “sms only” placed against the phone contacts of the columnists, and placed calls to our numbers.
On one Tuesday evening, just before 4pm on that Tuesday afternoon, and as I was relaxing with my friend, Eddie Emessiri of AIT at a shady garden, somewhere at Area 11 of Abuja, in March 2002, when my phone rang. I looked at the number and it was not from any number that I had stored. It was an ordinary number and did not have those special digits that warned you that it must be from somebody important or powerful.
I picked it and politely answered: “Hello, good afternoon”.
Good afternoon”, how are you?” was the non-committal reply from the other end. The voice was firm and polite, and even though it conveyed firmness and authority, it was neither rash nor urgent, which characterises the phone voice of many impatient powerful Nigerians.
“May I know who is calling Sir?” I asked in my regular tone.
The voice ignored my query and instead, asked with the same firmness: “where are you? Are you in Lagos or Enugu?”
“I am in Abuja, Sir. But who am I talking to?” I was bidding my time and not wanting to be impatient, as I might mess up if I did. Moreover, there was no need to be impatient with the owner of such an urbane voice.
He ignored my question and asked me: “you work at the Sun newspaper.
No Sir, I am only a columnist. I am an Abuja-based media consultant. But Sir please, who am I speaking to?”
He was silent. It became obvious to me that the caller was one of those who are not used to being questioned. The first thing that came to my mind was that he might be a senior military officer. Those are the people that I have come to know that are not used to being questioned.
Then, he decided to break the lull and briskly told me: “Abubakar.”
“Abubakar? Which Abubakar Sir?
“Do you know any Abubakar?” he asked me.
“I know many Abubakars, I told him. You know I live and work in the North and I have associated with mostly Northerners and Abubakar is a common name”.
“Like who?” the voice asked me, but quickly quipped before I could reel out the many Abubakars that I knew. “Do you know any Sa’ad Abubakar?”.
It was like tapping on my computer memory which happened to be at its optimal condition that afternoon, and I quickly replied: “In fact I know two people with that name; one is deceased while one is alive”
“Which living one do you know?”. The quiz was now getting exciting to me.
Confidently, I replied: “the Sultan of Sokoto.
He casually replied. “That’s the person you are talking with now.
I was overwhelmed with amazement and pleasant surprise, even as I declared: “To what do I owe this august call, Your Eminence.”
The Sultan ignored me but proceeded with a story that made me eternally self-fulfilled and which set the grounds for my friendship and relationship with the 20th Sultan of Sokoto.