As a Muslim, I believe that no one can escape the call to return to his or her creator at the appointed time. This doesn’t mean I can’t be shocked or devastated by any death. I could, and often do. I consider the death of Alhaji Ibrahim Coomassie, the former Inspector General of the Nigeria police, Chairman of Arewa Consultative Forum, Garkuwan Hausa of Daura and Sardaunan Katsina, a big loss to Nigeria, although I wasn’t close to him when he was alive.
I met Coomassie for the first time in 1985, when he was Commissioner of Police, Kano State. That was not long after I took up appointment with the University of Maiduguri and was drafted as a research assistant to its Committee on Social and Religious Disturbances in Nigeria, chaired by Dr. Muhammad Nur Alkali – my teacher and mentor – with Dr. Abdulhamid Abubakar as secretary. The committee was constituted by the Vice Chancellor, Professor Jibril Aminu, and mandated to investigate the Maitatsine disturbances, which occurred in five northern cities: Kano, Kaduna, Maiduguri, Yola and Gombe, between 1980 and 1985.
When I arrived at the Kano Police Command and presented my introduction letter to the CP, Coomassie received me very well and gave me free access to the available documents on Maitatsine under his custody. For instance, I spent three months examining the confessional statements of arrested Maitatisne followers, and taking notes at the CID, which was under ACP Baba Disa Ciroma. Luckily for our committee, Coomassie had a lot of interest in monitoring the activities of religious leaders and groups, and had accumulated rare and sensitive data on the phenomenon.
My interviews with him on the lapses of the police in handling the Maitatsine disturbances had given me an insight into the numerous challenges with which the Service was grappling. Regardless of the so-called reform initiatives, which successive governments put in place from time to time, there wasn’t the requisite sincerity of purpose or political will for Nigeria to have the type of police institution it deserves. The closest any Nigerian government came to genuinely address the problems of the police was in the Second Republic during President Shehu Shagari.
The police cooperated fully with our committee, which facilitated our research. For instance, in November 1985, when Force Headquarters organized a National Seminar for Senior Police Officers on “Religious Disturbances: The Maitatsine Experience”, at the Police Staff College in Jos, three participants were invited from each state. A.G. Abubakar, M.N. Alkali and my humble self were the delegates nominated from Borno State. The CP of Kano Command – Coomassie – made the most impressive presentation at the event. He knew the subject matter and was very articulate.
Since I parted ways with Coomassie after the Jos seminar, our paths did not meet again until sometime in 1998. He was then the Inspector General of Police. I visited Abuja especially to present my doctoral thesis to him titled, “Gardawa, Ulama and the State in Northern Nigeria: The Maitatsine Phenomenon, 1962-1985.” On the day I visited Force Headquarters, I couldn’t see him since I had no appointment. I handed over the document to his staff and promised to return the following day. On arrival at his office the next day, I met a very restless subordinate officer anxiously waiting for me. He informed me that the IGP was very happy to receive my message, and had instructed that I should be ushered in to see him whenever I returned.
On meeting Coomassie, he appeared very excited with my project and happy to see me again after about thirteen years. He explained that he thought of me the previous week and wanted to get in touch with me through the university. We spent about an hour talking in general terms about the political situation in the country. General Sani Abacha had died not long ago and the country was passing through another uneasy transition. The IGP seemed very worried with the spate of politically motivated assassinations of important figures around Lagos, which he believed was happening as a result of intra-community conflicts and rivalries. The killings, in his opinion, were locally organized and executed, but people were suspecting government for either negligence or complicity.
At the end of our discussion, he informed me that there was a recent occurrence of the Maitatsine disturbance in Lagos. He had received many conflicting reports from official sources but suspected their authenticity. The “reports”, according to him, “were dotted with ethnic and religious coloration.” As such, he wanted to commission me to go to Lagos and conduct an “independent scholarly investigation” and submit my findings to him. He called the officer in charge of Lagos Command, CP Abubakar Tsav, on the phone and informed him that my engagement wasn’t a vote of no confidence on the good work done by the Lagos Command. He further explained that I was ‘a specialist’ on Maitatsine, and he was engaging my services as a consultant.
From the way the IGP was making his explanations to the CP, I thought all was not well between them. On arrival at the Lagos Command, I noticed some uneasiness on the face of the CP who, after I had some discussions with him, turned out to be a very nice but no-nonsense gentleman. I later discovered that every police station in the state had received signal about my arrival and assignment. The CP assigned some operatives who had been covering the activities of the Maitatsine preachers in Lagos to work with me. We worked together for about two weeks. I visited some prisons and had discussions with suspects who were arrested and detained by the police. Many of them were truly Maitatsine followers. They were curious about my presence and request for audience with them. They confessed that they couldn’t determine my identity from the type of questions I was asking them. When I requested them to guess whether I was a security officer, lawyer, policeman, medical doctor or human right activist, they claimed that all the categories of people I mentioned hardly ask questions on issues relating to religious beliefs and doctrines. The Lagos assignment took about one month to complete, after which I submitted my report to the IGP.
My last encounter with Coomassie was in April 2017. This was when I travelled to Katsina in the delegation of the former Vice President, Wazirin Adamawa Atiku Abubakar, to commiserate with the Bugaje family on the death of their mother. We also visited Coomassie who hosted us to a lavish lunch, after which he took us to go and pray in the elegant Friday mosque he built at GRA Katsina. Of course, I had to introduce myself to him again before he could recognise me. It was visible that he had totally changed from the smartly dressed police chief to a flamboyantly dressed traditional title-holder and a community leader. He was in his full multi-coloured regalia with a band of courtiers, servants and drummers singing his praises. Allahu Akbar! That was the end of my meeting with a man who didn’t know me from Adam but went out of his way to give me the maximum assistance possible in my academic career.
I want to use this opportunity to offer my condolences to the family of Alhaji Ibrahim Coomassie, the people and government of Katsina State, Arewa communities at home and in the Diaspora, the Nigeria police, and indeed all peace loving Nigerians. May Allah forgive the mistakes of Garkuwan Hausa and admit him into the Garden of Bliss for being a conscientious police officer and a community leader who worked very hard to redeem the battered image of the Service, and establish peaceful coexistence among Nigerians of diverse identities and backgrounds. Amen.
Auwalu Anwar sent in this tribute from Abuja.