But if it had not been bastardised, they could have given Sarauta communal martyrdom of a higher order, and they would have done so for good reasons. Of the three classes of leadership to have ruled or reigned over this land, Sarauta is the one that has done the nation the least harm. Whether it is in the theft of public resources or in destroying the fabric of our society or in setting one section against the other, Sarauta has done less than either the politicians or soldiers.
And the path to power for politicians and soldiers—is the same and it is always against our consent. While sarki comes to power by inheritance, soldiers come to power by force and politicians come to power by rigging; and, if nothing else, inheritance is better than force; and force is better than rigging. So, until we are able to stop rigging and elect competent, sensible and honest representatives, Sarauta will continue to enjoy supremacy and greater legitimacy over this their so-called democracy, whatever noise our educated people make.
While it is too late in the day to do much for it, perhaps what is required is a sentry for Sarauta to goad, guard it and guide it: goad it into developing and pursuing a people’s agenda, guard it against the developing anti-royalist sentiments, and guide it to a future of greater relevance. Without this sentry, Sarauta will perpetually be out there on a limb, as if struck down by M Aminu Kano’s curse of impending irrelevance. M Aminu once prophesised that a time would come when the highest and most respectful homage that would be paid to His Highness as he sat outside his palace, would be for the particularly royalist-passerby to wave and say: “Sannu Sarki!”
There would be no disembarkation of mount, no unshod feet, no genuflections or prostrations, and there would be none of that famous honorific formula for the greeting of royals—Ranka ya dade. But the real lesson would not be so much in the perfunctory and matter-of-factness of the homage as it would be in the hint of such glaring underemployment signified by His Highness sitting outside. Is Malam’s word coming to pass?
The descent may have started when successors began to forget the sacrifices of forefathers and came to see the throne as an end in itself instead of a means to a good communal end. The qualification for ascension to the throne of forefathers by the princes came to be, and should not have been, by the mere fact of being sired blue blood. It certainly should have included some degree of Islamic scholarship, especially if they wish to put harp on its origin or continue to lay claim to leadership in Islamic matters. It must also include good familiarity with courtly etiquette; for, without this, Sarauta becomes disrobed, bereft of aura and appeal. Then, last and most important, will come good character and the upholding of values as well as having a sincere concern for the condition of the people and his ability to do something to improve them.
The mission of an Emir should not just be merely to succeed his father, brother or uncle but to do something for the people; and for Sarauta, the chief mission is to act as bulwark of protection for the Northern community against the forces opposed to it. But then they bastardised it.
This bastardisation of Sarauta is a series of four self-inflicted wounds. The first is its failure to stand out for justice for non-Muslims under its care, as it failed the Igbos in 1967 or even a non-Hausa Fulani Muslim, as it failed Chief MKO Abiola in 1993. For them and many others Sarauta ceased to be a moral force. The second is its adoption of cash nexus as its hallmark today—creating titles without rhyme, or reason or history and giving them to the highest bidder, even if he is the most corrupt in the land.
The third is involvement in partisan politics, though in reality it is not mere involvement in politics or even partisan politics per se that is the problem; it is that deep involvement in which the traditional institution becomes a part of the ruling party’s rigging machine or its enthusiastic cheerleader. It was said that during the April 2011 postelection violence, they had to tear down the wall of a house to rescue a leading traditional titleholder in Kano from the people’s wrath; and from there to the palace is—literally and figuratively—but one short step.
The fourth is the takeover of its machinery of appointment and removal by the military. Covertly it might have been the norm, but the first overt and most decisive interference with the selection process of a major traditional figure—in fact, the most important of them all—was the selection of His Eminence Sultan Ibrahim Dasuki, who, by the way, turned out to be one of the most competent in recent memory. But that would hardly alter the fact that in popular perception, he was seen as an imposition—a bloody imposition—by the Babangida administration. And his removal is widely seen—as indeed it was—at the behest of General Sani Abacha over a family quarrel.
It is no exaggeration to say that nothing before or since has damaged the credibility of Sarauta or shattered the myth surrounding it more than these two acts—the imposition and that removal. And this later made the removal of His Highness Alhaji Mustapha H Jokolo as Emir of Gwandu easy for Alhaji Adamu Aleiro. And it emboldened all those who wanted to create village heads, hakimai, chiefdoms or punish this Emir or frighten that Chief to do so; because the Emiral system had become the new plaything of politicians who no longer respect it, because it is now all a question of money.
But Sarauta is by no means a plaything. As an idea and as an institution, Sarauta holds people’s allegiance because of its Islamic origins. Sarauta is supported by the people, not as an Islamic obligation as such, but as an institution that defines their communal identity, as a cultural curiosity, and perhaps as a tradition worth preserving in Nigeria’s ethnically-competitive setting. The one has his Oba, the other his Obi; and the third other must have his Emir.
But this origin, ever subject to the vagaries of that perennial Khaldunian curse, which transforms, and thereby delegitimizes, Islam’s republican theocracy to a monarchical autocracy, has always proved a ball of contention between it and its non-Muslim subjects. And unless it stands out for justice, for that very reason of its origin alone, Sarauta should not take for granted or expect to continue to get the support of non-Muslims. Of course this denial of support has been overdone as we see otherwise remarkable people reducing themselves to a nauseating triumphalism over the coldblooded murder of their compatriots, all because of what Sarauta was supposed to have done in a distant past.
But in trying to help matters, they made them worse. The 1976 local government reform was supposed to modernise, democratise and make governance at the local and national levels more accountable. It did not. It saw the Emir as an autocrat; and, in the sense of being unelected, so he was; but through history, he had come to have and exercise a hold on people and territory no other people in the world would have thrown away in the name of reform. It took away the Emir and couldn’t find anyone to fill his place! And we could trace all the misfortunes of our society to this one fact; and there wouldn’t have been any of the current religious crises if Emirs had been in effective charge.
Now, not only can the Emir not stop a religious crisis, he can’t even sympathise properly. A very low point for Sarauta was scored with the arrival of Boko Haram, when Borno, the domain of the Shehu came under fire and the entire Sultanate family behaved as though it was all an exclusively Kanuri problem. And people in the North East failed to see the grotesqueness in accusing President Goodluck Jonathan of failing to visit and commiserate with the Shehu, the governor and people of Borno State when in fact neither the Sultan nor any Emir had so much as seen the need to call for it, let alone themselves venture there. That’s one great wake-up call ignored.
And, paradoxically, Sarauta has remained in deep royal slumber despite the many, loud and insistent wake-up calls—the expectations for it to stand up for justice irrespective of who is involved; the coming challenge by the Ulama for Islamic leadership as Emirs fail, and are indeed unable, to take a stand on Islamic issues—knowledge is not hereditary even if blood is; the April 2011 postelection violence which began looking like the last pull of the strand to unbind turbans; and now the direct attack on the Shehu, leader of the Eastern Empire and the attempt on the Emir of Kano, the most preeminent turban of the Sultanate. When will they wake up?