The first phone call I received from the Sultan of Sokoto on that March afternoon in 2012 kicked off what was to be become a very enriching relationship and experience which have continued to endure because they have continued to be enriched and manured by the unique personality traits of this most powerful king, the south of Sahara, especially by the very humanity of the man which cannot but make him an irresistible treasure to anybody, like me, who had a unique opportunity to encounter him.
As I was saying in the first part of this serial, last week, Sultan Sa’ad Abubakar III took time to explain to me why he had taken off the time to call me.
“You know the Lamido of Adamawa died last Sunday – two days ago”, the Sultan had started. “Before I left to attend his funeral yesterday, Monday, I held a small meeting with my councillors. The Sultan said that in the course of the meeting the sectarian crisis in Jos came up in the discussion and he told his councillors, among other things, that the Plateau crises were purely socio political issues, but that mischievous politicians were dressing it in religious garbs in order to lend emotive and incendiary dimensions to it, as, according to him, religion has a way of stoking high emotions, hence the penchant for politicians, who have nothing substantial to appeal to their people with, resort to religion, even when they are neither religious nor are even aware of what the holy books of their religion prescribe.
The Sultan told me that after the meeting, he had left for Yola and had returned to Sokoto that very Tuesday morning. Soon after his return, some of his councillors with whom he had held the meeting the previous day before his trip to Yola, came to him and inquired if he had granted an interview to some journalists. “Interview on what? And to whom”, he had wondered; “but you people know that I don’t grant media interviews’.
His men told him that they had read exactly those things he had told them about the Jos crises in a ‘certain newspaper’.
The surprised and curious Sultan reiterated that he had not spoken to any journalist, either off or on the record and so, had requested to see the newspaper as well as the article or news item in question. His aides brought him the copy of the Monday issue of The Sun, where in my back page column, the Capital Matters, I had treated the festering Plateau issue under the title: “Religion, what religion?(3) ” It was the concluding part of a three-part serial where I had made submissions that equated with what the Sultan had told his councillors. Actually I had done an in-depth treatment of the Jos crises, which had been sparked off by the fallouts of the election of the Jos North LGA, to evoke the vexed issue of the ‘indigenes’ versus the ‘settlers’, as well as how what was clearly a political and land issue was lent a religious cloak which then dragged in other people and sentiments that had nothing to do with the initial palaver. Incidentally, I was very versed with the understanding of the Plateau crises and had written extensively on it.
In fact, since my NYSC days in Plateau State, I had taken a deep interest in the politics of the area and had done further research on them, even outside the shores of the country. A few weeks before the providential phone call from the Sultan, I had been involved with some interfaith activities with some colleagues from the Middle Belt, especially with my very cerebral, but now demised very close friend, Homun Asaph Zadok, the late Hama Bachama. Hence, without sounding immodest, I could claim some level of expertise over the Plateau crises, and had treated the subject with some in depth information.
The Sultan had taken some time to read my article and must have seemed impressed, as he told me. And if you know how cerebral, how intellectual and how widely read and knowledgeable Sultan Sa’ad is, you will feel really elated that he had found what you had written impressive. No need to say that I felt my head growing into the clouds.
The Sultan asked after my academic background and I told him and he asked how much of Nigeria I knew and I told him that I consider myself a full-fledged Nigerian as I knew and had stayed in every corner of Nigeria. I also told him that I have indepth information, if not knowledge, of the two main religions practised by Nigerians.
Maybe to make sure of that, the Sultan asked me whether I had heard about NIREC. I answered him in affirmative, saying that I also knew that it is a voluntary body of 50 Christian and Muslim leaders, with 25 members from each of the religions. I equally told him that I knew that he and Archbishop Onaiyekan were the current co-chairmen, by the virtue of the fact that Onaiyekan was the CAN chairman, while he was the president general of the Supreme Council of Islamic Affairs.
The 20th head of the Sokoto Caliphate then told me that NIREC usually held a working meeting once in a quarter and that the meeting is rotated from one zone to another in the country, and between the North and South. The next one would hold at Zaranda Hotel in Bauchi, in less than a month from that day. According to the Sultan, during each of those meetings, two knowledgeable people deliver lectures on a burning issue of national religious interest – one from the Christian, the other from the Islamic perspective. Each of the lectures is usually for 20 minutes. Sultan Sa’ad, who I had never met, asked me whether I would be able and willing to be one of such lecturers and I told him that I was proud and felt very privileged to be considered for such an honour.
The Sultan then said that because, in his estimation, I was very knowledgeable, he was inviting me to be the sole lecturer on that day, to the effect that I would deliver a 40-minute lecture on that day, and asked again if I would be able. I answered in the affirmative. He asked me to save the number with which he had called me as that was his personal line and that I should feel free to call him on it anytime I felt like. He further said that Professor Ishaq Oloyede, the VC of Unilorin, who was also the executive director of NIREC, would contact me to work out the details of the lecture and my participation. He then texted me Oloyede’s number.
The call by Professor Oloyede, a few days later as well as what happened at Zaranda Hotel Bauchi, which was where I physically met and shook hands with His Eminence Sultan Muhammad Sa’ad Abubakar III for the first time, were the foundation stones for my very enriching relationship with the 20th Sultan of Sokoto, a relationship which has been for me, more valuable than earning two PhD degrees, as the reader would see, as this serial proceeds.
The Bauchi experience which forms the part of the next part of this serial also starts my journey towards not only understanding the Sokoto Caliphate, but also towards getting to know its amazing 20th head, the tenth anniversary of whose coronation we are celebrating between this November and March next year, from very close quarters.