Ever since the return of democracy to our shores 20 years ago, countless critics of the government and public office holders have been handed the short end of the stick for their various ‘crimes.’ Sometimes one wonders whether we are really in a democracy, given how exercising the right free speech is sometimes treated as a full-fledged criminal offence.
Lately, a number of government critics have been arrested and detained, some were even prosecuted and jailed, due to stuff they said, posted on social media or even songs they sang in favour of opposition parties.
Even as I write now, some of these opposition voices are still in detention in certain states of this federation. In the following anecdote from the life of Sir Ahmadu Bello, Sardaunan Sakkwato and Northern Nigeria’s only premier in the First Republic, we learn an ideal and interesting way to deal with critics and political opponents. Please read on:
“A story was told involving the Sardauna of Sokoto, when he was Premier of Northern region, and a meat vendor, at Unguwar Sarki Kaduna.
Those who knew Kaduna well will agree that the road from the Premier’s house to the then Lugard Hall, the seat of parliament, passed by the side of Unguwar Sarki.
This meat vendor was a staunch NEPU supporter and an avowed critic as well as a hater of NPC and all it stood for.
Every morning he would stand by the roadside and as Sardauna’s convoy passed, he would hurl the most vitriolic insults to the hearing of the Premier. Ditto when Sardaunan was returning home.
The security details told his Principal Private Secretary, PPS that they would arrest the man and charge him to an Alkali court for abusing the Premier publicly.
Knowing the Premier very well, the PPS told them to wait while he broached the issue with him. Sardauna was livid with anger when told of the plan to arrest the man and he warned the PPS not to lift a finger against him, and added that the man was exercising his right by insulting him. Sir Ahmadu Bello also said, “I offered myself for service, so the good, the bad, the lovers and the haters are now all family”.
The abuses from the man continued for so many months and suddenly the man was no longer seen by the roadside again.
After about a week, the Premier asked his PPS, “That man abusing us, we no longer see him, I hope he has not died or fallen sick. If he is sick, we will surely go and greet him, and if he has passed away we would condole the family.”
After some investigation, it was found out that the man was in detention in prison.
He apparently bought a cow on credit from a Fulani herdsman, and instead of paying after his meat sales he decided to engage in “ caca “, gambling with “cards”, hoping to double the money and therefore boost his capital. Unfortunately, he lost everything. Trust the herdsman, he promptly took him to an Alkali court and the Alkali ordered his detention for one month until his family could raise the money and pay for the cow.
That was the reason why the man no longer came out to “greet” the Sardauna.
Upon hearing this, Sardauna promptly gave the money and told his PPS, on no account should it be known that it was from him.
The money was paid and the man was released, but trust a usual offender, the very next day he was back at his beat abusing the Sardauna and his convoy. The Sardauna was very happy to see him back and sometimes even waved at him.
It was when the PPS could not stomach it any longer that he went to the house of the man and rained abuses on him and told him that the Premier you took delight to abuse was the one who paid the money for the cow and ensured your freedom when nobody could.
On Friday of that week, after Jumuat prayer, the man went to see the Premier. As was his practice each Friday, the Sardauna would sit in the forecourt and listen to complaints, and the man came and apologized, but trust a NEPU faithful, he said, “By paying for my release you did not do anything extraordinary, “kudin mu ne talakawa ake biyanka,” ( it is from our taxes that you are being paid), but for showing me kindness I want us to be friends, not you as Sardauna or Premier or NPC leader but as one person to another only. I will never be NPC or agree to your conservative exploitation”
Sardauna laughed and said “I will also never be NEPU and agree to your propensity for anarchy and boundless ignorance, but yes, we can be friends, why not? Every Friday if I am in town, come for lunch”.
The aides could not believe what transpired and up to the death of Sardauna, the meat vendor was one of the people closest to him.