The western societies that invented the Christmas should be envious of the Igbo people of Nigeria for having easily re-invented and appropriated what used to be an oyibo festival and for having adapted it into a festival that has become uniquely Igbo, and during which period things that are most special, happy and worthy of celebration take place. In Europe, the Christmas is heralded by and celebrated under the snowy weather of the winter. No wonder most of them look forward to a ‘white Christmas’. Our Christmas in Igboland is a period of great expectations and especially of happy re-unions, when friends and relatives who had been separated by distance are pulled together, not just to eat and carouse, but to re-unite to chart new courses for development and communal progress. It is a time of ‘thinking home’ for peace, unity and progress. It is a period when the Igbo host and show friendship to their most worthy visitors. For the Igbo, no matter how bad the economy had fared during the year, we always find a way of affording this massive home-coming to celebrate a re-union and to, hand-in hand, plot for the future, progress and wellbeing of the society.
It is not unusual for the Igbo to invite guests and families from far and wide with which they had shared fellowship, friendship and kinship over time. This aspect of Christmas is becoming the most prominent because the Igbo are easily the most travelled in Nigeria and are, therefore, the group of Nigerians that enjoy the fellowship of other Nigerians outside Igboland where they sojourn most. At Christmas, more and more Igbo people feel obligated to invite these other Nigerian friends and associates who have been the part of their existence to come ‘home with us to celebrate this season of goodwill. More and more, the huge mansions which most of us erect in the villages have started to experience warmth, as we make it a point of duty to invite home our friends from other parts of the country. The role of these invitations in furthering greater friendship, trust and understanding needs no further elucidation. This Christmas, the Governor and people of Enugu State are taking this laudable practice a notch higher as they welcome ‘home’, a very illustrious ‘guest’ they are very proud to call one of their own.
On being commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Nigerian Army on completion of his training on the 18th Regular course of the Nigeria Defence Academy, a 21-year old 2/Lt had his first military posting to the university town of Nsukka. That was in 1977 and was to serve there for the next four years or so. At that impressionable age, the young officer, who by nature, is of very affable and attractive personality easily melted into the community as if he was born there. He was of the same age group as most of the university undergraduates, and so, easily mixed up with and became an integral part of the university community’s social mosaic, as much as his military profession and discipline would allow. More importantly, not only did he like the town and its people, this likeliness spilled over to the entire Igbo land and the region, where he developed lasting liaisons and friendships. In his childhood and boyhood days, he had also had the opportunity to mix up with Igbo and other Nigerians. In summary, in body and spirit, the young military officer, Sa’ad, in spite of several military postings that later took him to all parts of Nigeria and the world, was never weaned of the impact of his Nsukka and Igbo experience.
In December 2006, Sa’ad retired as a brigadier-general of the Nigerian Army, and was crowned as the 20th Sultan of Sokoto, following the death of his elder brother, Sultan Ibrahim Maccido, who had died in that sad ADC plane mishap which occurred shortly after the plane took off from Abuja on that fateful Sunday morning.
In his ten years on the throne of his fathers and as the president of Nigerian Supreme Council of Islamic Affairs, Sultan Muhammad Sa’ad Abubakar III has turned out to be the most Nigerian Sultan, and hardly a monarch of the Fulani people of Nigeria. He has become the ultimate apostle of peace, unity and justice, as well hard worker for the peaceful co-existence of Nigerians of all ethnic backgrounds and faiths. He has, at every opportunity boldly spoken out against injustice wherever he sees it. His love for Nigeria is nothing like anything I have seen or read before. He has worked with Nigerians of every background and conviction in search for peace, justice and religious tolerance for Nigerians. He has left no stone unturned in his battles against the elimination of poverty, ignorance and disease.
Hs work within this short span of time for peace and harmony, shoulder-to-shoulder with other Nigerians of goodwill, has attracted the attention of the world, to the extent that in 2012, he was nominated for the Nobel Price for Peace, alongside John Cardinal Onaiyekan of the Catholic Church, who is like a Siamese Twin to him in their search for peace and interfaith harmony in Nigeria.
In spite of his very tight schedules and engagements which span the global space, Sultan Sa’ad Abubakar III finds time and space for Enugu State and Igboland in his daily thoughts and programmes. I know, because I am there. Some serious works on this great leader and soldier of peace are in the pipeline, but I cannot fail to chip in this one as it forms a part of the present article. One of the most visible items in his office at the Sultan’s palace, Sokoto, is a framed black-and-white photograph of Sa’ad, as a young officer wearing his second lieutenant rank. On the photograh is a bold stamp in blue of: “Photo by BBC PHOTOS, 50 Ofulonu Road, Nsukka. That the Sultan who has posed with kings, presidents and queens all over the world still displays and treasures this photo with pride and places it prominently in his office is an indication of the fond memories he reserves for that time and place. Needless to say that he retains contact and relationships with most people he encountered during his sojourn in Enugu State. I also know this as a fact.
Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi of Enugu State, an equally remarkable person, has decided to build on this wonderful legacy and decided to invite the Sultan to a symbolic home-coming to Enugu State during this Christmas season. The Sultan had gratefully agreed to come and will be in Enugu State between the 19th and 21st December, that is from next Monday.
He will spend a whole day at Nsukka, meeting old friends and visiting old landmarks that he was associated with. Remarkably, when he comes to Nsukka, he will meet a greatly transformed city, different from the dusty and ragged one he used to know and live with. He will notice that, courtesy of the new affable and grassroots governor, the infrastructural face of the university town has been transformed for the better. Sultan Sa’ad Abubakar III will be, no doubt, pleased with becoming a part of making this new history of a town that is responsible for building over 60% of Igbo intelligentsia.
During the three day working visit, the Sultan will also meet with traditional and religious leaders, the youths and ordinary people who will host him to a civic reception. Most expectedly, he will meet with the Northern community and their leaders, and no doubt, the vexed issue of the clash between Fulani cattle herders and farmers will be on the front burner.
Merry Christmas in advance to the “home-coming” illustrious leader to Enugu State, the place where he was formed.
We shall all be there to welcome and honour him, both at the capital of our region and to the lion’s den where we were taught on how to ‘restore the dignity of man’.