LET me start by congratulating His Eminence, Alhaji Sa’ad Abubakar III, the Sultan of Sokoto, leader of the Nigerian Muslim faithful and the most prestigious traditional ruler in the land. He has just celebrated his 10th year on the throne amidst great pomp and pageantry, with the-who-is who in Nigeria, including our President and his Deputy in attendance.
A retired Brigadier General of the Nigerian Army, Sultan Abubakar ascended to the throne of his forefathers on the 4th of October, 2006 after his father, Sultan Maccido, perished in an ADC plane crash. He is also rated as the 24th most influential out of 500 Muslim leaders worldwide, with President Muhammadu Buhari curiously rated higher at 20th.
The Sultan of Sokoto
Shortly after he was turbaned in one of the most peaceful transitions of the Fulani imperial stool, the Sultan began a series of shuttle diplomacies across the country, meeting fellow traditional rulers in their respective domains rather than waiting for them to come to him. He became chummy with many Christian clerics. His image as a peace-builder was taken to the global stage, as he visited many Western countries, delivering speeches and generally projecting himself as a Muslim leader whom the rest of the world could depend upon to engender genuine peace between the Christians and Muslims on the one hand, and the East and West on the other, not just in Nigeria but worldwide.
It is, however, a sad irony that the past decade of this amiable, urbane and intellectually-bent Muslim leader on the throne has been characterised by a series of happenings that sharply contrast with the image he has projected of himself as a marketer of Islam as a religion of peace. It is difficult for anyone to successfully accuse him of being a brain behind these ugly events. But, since they have continued to increase rather than diminish in scope and impact in Sultan Sa’ad epoch, those who may accuse him of not doing enough to stop his subjects (the Muslims) from perpetrating them, usually against Christians and non-Muslim groups, may have their point.
The first is the Boko Haram terror that has claimed about 30,000 Nigerian lives and brought misery to millions all over the North. The Sultan is as helpless as other innocent Nigerians because these extremists do not recognise him as their leader. He, in turn, says they are not Muslims, as “Islam is a religion of peace”. Sultan Abubakar is a very public campaigner for the release of the mostly Christian Chibok school girls abducted by Boko Haram, and a supporter of the military campaign to defeat the terrorists.
However, some emirs, traditional rulers and top Islamic clerics in Bida, Sokoto, Kano, Zaria, Katsina, Abuja and other cities in the North (the Sultan’s imperial jurisdiction) have done exactly what Boko Haram did: abducting and forcibly converting under-aged Christian girls to Islam and marrying them off, either to themselves or other Muslims in their domains against the wishes of their parents. The Police, the Department of State Security, DSS, and even the Presidency are aware of this trend. They simply allow these evil-minded Nigerians to prey on the children of hapless and powerless fellow citizens and get away with it.
I am also sure that Sultan Abubakar knows about these things. I have yet to hear of steps he has taken to call his Muslim subjects to order and restore the abducted children to their parents. I find it difficult to reconcile the fact that the Sultan campaigns for the release of the Chibok girls by Boko Haram but seemingly keeps mute about those held by non-Boko Haram Muslims. A phone call to any emir or Islamic cleric or the Presidency from this influential traditional ruler can make all the difference. We are waiting.
Again, for the past ten years, armed herdsmen have been on rampage all over the country. The Sultan’s Fulani ethnic group is known to be exclusively involved in nomadic livestock herding in Nigeria and beyond. The Minyeti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria, MACBAN, and similar groups are his direct subjects. Armed herdsmen have been attacking communities, conducting ethnic cleansing and occupying villages, killing, burning, looting, kidnapping and displacing Nigerians from their native lands, especially in Southern Kaduna, Nasarawa, Plateau, Taraba, Benue, Enugu, Abia, Ebonyi, Delta, Rivers, Ekiti, Oyo, Ondo, Kogi, Osun and even Lagos States.
Unfortunately, the state agencies that should protect Nigerians refuse to do their work. When pressed, the 20th and 24th most influential Muslims in the world (Buhari and Sultan Abubakar III) pleaded that the armed herdsmen were not of Fulani stock but “foreigners”. Whose job is it to deal with these “foreigners”? Do these armed herdsmen have the licence to invade our communities and kill our people because they are “foreigners”? Or, are Nigerians free to mobilise militarily against them? We wait for answers to these questions.
Finally, there has been a rash of “blasphemy” killings in parts of the North, directed at Christians of Southern stock. From Pandogari in Niger State to Kano and even to Abuja, seven people have been slain by Muslim mobs on trumped-up charges of insulting the prophet of Islam this year alone. Those who killed Mrs. Bridget Agbahime were freed by a Kano Court only last week.
Where would Nigeria be if we all begin to retaliate the evils these people have inflicted on their fellow citizens? Is being peaceful now a crime? Are Nigerians being tempted to “do their worst” by taking the laws into their own hands?
If the answer is no, then, Sultan Abubakar must rise and call his subjects who have gone astray to order. He should lend his powerful voice to the call for the President of Nigeria and the security forces to protect peaceful Nigerians from these agents of anarchy. This is the only way he can distance himself from perceptions of condoning threats to peace and interreligious cohabitation.