Elder statesman, Alhaji Yusuf Maitama Sule, is not known for granting many interviews;rather, the media gets update on his thoughts from his grand public speeches. However, on this occasion, he was willing to speak exclusively to Sunday Sun. Relaxed in his Kano home, the Danmasanin Kano reflected glowingly on the leadership qualities of the late Premier of Northern Nigeria, Alhaji Ahmadu Bello, he lamented the perfected thievery of the present times, waxed rhetorically through the trials of the Nigerian state, dusting up its tensed and troubled moments. He remarked that the true story of the Civil War in the country was yet to be told. Very importantly, he spoke on the recent efforts by some people in the South-east to resurrect the Biafra Republic, saying they would not succeed. To each of these topics, he was exhaustive, incisive and inspiring. Desmond Mgboh captured the words of this legendary orator and octogenarian for The Sun…
You were an associate of the late Premier of Northern Nigeria, Sir Ahmadu Bello. 50 years after his death, we would like to share in your thoughts on the late Sardauna. What exactly marks him out as a great leader?
Sardauna was a great man. He was born great; he had greatness thrust upon him and he achieved greatness. Sardauna was a leader in the true sense of the word. All his life, he was devoted to the service of his fellow man. He lived for the people and died for the people- A great leader who led his people with the philosophy of the herdsman.
The philosophy of the herdsman, you may have observed and may have seen is that the Fulani herdsman is always in front of his cows, leading them. He is not behind them driving them from behind. He is in front leading his cattle. The Fulani herdsman hangs a stick over his shoulders. That stick is not for beating them. It is for guarding his cattle. That Fulani herdsman can make his cattle do everything he wants them to do. While he is leading them in front, if he stops anywhere, they all would stop. If he should jump into the water, they all would jump into the water. If he starts running, all of them would run after him. He names all of his cattle. If he calls any one of his cattle by his name, he would come to him. He would leave the herd and come to him. In those days when there was the cattle tax, the Jangali, and if the tax man came to count the cattle in his herds, if he did not want his cattle to be counted, he would whistle or make a tune and the cows would all disperse into the forest. After the taxman had gone, he would make another whistle and they would all come back to him. During the rainstorm, the herdsman would take shelter under the tree and these animals would come and chase him away from under the tree and bring him to the open and make a circle around him, protecting him. They would not want him to sit under the tree for the fear that thunder may fall and crush their leader. Now, why do these cows behave like that? Why are they so obedient to their leader? The herdsman has sacrificed his life for his cattle, he has sacrificed his leisure for his cattle; he has sacrificed his health for his cattle. For the herdsman never leaves his cattle. He would sleep with the cows in the forest. If any one of them sleeps in the middle of the night, he would go out and get his herbs and leaves and treat this cow. If in the middle of the night he hears the cry of a leopard trying to take away a single calf, he would rather die than allow that wild animal to take away his calf……..
That is the herdsman. Sardauna sacrificed everything that he had for his people, everything! He became their leader and he got followership, loyal and obedient followership and that was how Sardauna was able to unite the North. He united the different tribes, the different religions and the different cultural backgrounds of the North.They were all united under one leadership. During his time, the people of the North were not calling themselves by the names of their tribes, they were not identifying themselves with their faith or religion. They were all known as Dan Arewa ( Arewa People). This was because of the quality of the leadership of the Sardauna. He did not discriminate against anybody on the grounds of religion, tribe or even political leaning and inclination. This was why Sardauna became great.
Indeed, if Sardauna’s philosophy were to be implemented and adopted today, we would solve all of our problems in Nigeria – political, religious and social. Why? Religiously, Sardauna never discriminated against anybody in the North because of his religion. His best friend among the traditional rulers was the Chief of Kagoro, a minority from Southern Zaria and a Christian. This great man, the Chief of Kagoro, together with the Sardauna, built the North. The two of them belonged to different tribes and different religions, but both of them understood their religions and the teachings of their religions – both religions taught us to respect one another, to live in peace, to help another, to love one and to do justice to one another irrespective of religion. And they understood this and they implemented this. They built the North. Sardauna’s physician was a Christian; Dr. Ishaya Audu. His personal doctor was a Christian. His right hand man and indeed his next door neighbor, Michael Audu Buba, the Minister of Trade, he was a Christian from Plateau. There was a time when Sarduana went to the Kingsway Store in Kaduna to do some shopping. And he met some students going round in the shop doing some window shopping. And he asked them what they were doing and they said that they were going round looking at things. And he said alright, let each one of you go was a Christian from Plateau. There was a time when Sarduana went to the Kingsway Store in Kaduna to do some shopping. And he met some students going round in the shop doing some window shopping. And he asked them what they were doing and they said that they were going round looking at things. And he said alright, let each one of you go round and pick one item, I will pay. He asked his servants to go and settle the bills. His servants did and unfortunately, his servants asked one of the boys,’ what tribe are you?’ What religion are you following? And unfortunately for that servant, the Sardauna overheard him. And he turned round furiously “Why should you ask him his tribe and religion? What has that got to with that? He is my son. Don’t you ever do that to me again? That was Sarduana. His Chief of Security, Sunday Awoniyi was a Christian, a Yoruba man. So you could not fault Sarduana as a religious leader. Even this CAN (Christian Association of Nigeria) was formed with the knowledge, the consent and support of Sarduana. Dr Ishaya Audu, his physician and Jolly Tanko Yusuf who was provincial secretary in Zaria, a Jukun from Wukari, and a Christian, both of them went to Sardauna and told him that they wanted to copy him- he was converting the Mazugawas (pagan tribes) to Islam. They said to him that in fairness to you sir, you are not converting Christians, you are converting pagans to Islam. He said good luck to them, that there is no compulsion in religion. It is matter of conviction. Later, they came to tell him that they have formed an organization to help them promote their cause. That organization was then the Christian Association of Northern Nigeria. CAN was the Christian Association of “Northern Nigeria”, not “Nigeria” at birth. It was later when the other Christians from the other parts of Nigeria embraced the association that the “ Northern” was taken away. And they became the Christian Association of Nigeria. But originally, it was the “Christian Association of Northern Nigeria. It was formed with the knowledge, the consent and the support of the Sardauna. And mark you, at that time; Sardauna was the vice president of the World Muslim Congress, the premier of the North, a descendant of Shehu Usman Danfodio, and a Muslim reformer, encouraging Christians to come together and promote their religion, would you fault this man religiously?Politically, Mallam Aminu Kano and Tarka belonged to different political parties. Aminu was NEPU with his alliance with NCNC, and Tarka was UNCP with Action Group alliance; but these two gentlemen would always go to Sardauna to discuss issues concerning the North and if they had any personal problems, they would go and tell him also. Aminu Kano, any time he went to Kaduna to lecture, would always stop at Sardauna’s house and once Sardauna was told that he was around, he would come out and meet him. Mallam Aminu’s boys would be grumbling, Sardauna’s servants would be cursing while Sardauna and Aminu would lock themselves up in a room, talking. And at the end of it, Sardauna would escort Mallam Aminu to his car and he would even give his boys money to buy something. Would you fault him politically? Socially, if you went to Sardauna’s house in those days, you would see him sitting with his boys- his servants, his drivers, his cooks, his permanent secretaries, his ministers eating together, cracking jokes. Sardauna , he did not discriminate against anybody because he was poor or because he was ‘Talaka”. In fact, he never used the word “Talaka” on anybody because he thought that that was derogatory. Rather he would always say “My people”. Would you fault him socially? That was Sardauna. And again economically, you can’t even fault him. Sardauna used to tell his minister that you can’t run a race and scratch your buttock at the same time. Any of my ministers who wants to do business, should resign and go into business. I will help him. The people have elected us to protect their interest. It will be wrong, it will be unfair and unjust for us to bounce on their interests because that is not our area. Hence, we had a situation whenever there were people from abroad that want to establish a business, he would try to find out those who are in that business and he would introduce them to the foreigners . He would not introduce his son, his brother or a relative of his wife. His main interest was to encourage and promote the interest of those people whose business it was to do that business. He used to say that I don’t want to be remembered after my death as having accumulated wealth. Rather I want to be remembered as having served my people.
Looking at the spate of corruption charges against some members of the political class, how do you think that Sardauna would have responded to this development?
I think that he would die 10 times over and would go back to his grave over the issue of corruption in the land. This is because Sardauna and our leaders in the First Republic- Dr Azikiwe, Chief Awolowo, Sir Abubakar Tafewa Balewa, Chief Aminu Kano and Tarka- were great leaders who went to do politics but not to be served; to give and not to take. Their main interest was the country. They were always prepared to cooperate with one another in order to move the country forward. They were always ready to sacrifice their personal interest for the personal interest of the country and in those days, their main concern and their dream was a greater Nigeria. A Nigeria united , a Nigeria whose people would be their brothers’ keeper, a Nigeria that would build a good reputation , a Nigeria that would be respected all over the world, a Nigeria that would be of a buoyant economy and a Nigeria that would enable her to lead in Africa , that would inspire the blacks all over the world. That was their dream. But has their dream been realized now? In those days, Nigeria had very high reputation in the world; Nigerians were respected all over the world. Wherever they went they were admired, they were loved; they were respected. The reputation of the country was high. Indeed, because of this, there was a report in 1961, which said that Nigeria with two other developing countries, would in 20 to 50 years, be shoulder-to-shoulder with the developed countries of the world- United States, Great Britain, Germany, France and so on. …. If it had gone with the kind of leadership that it had started with. That we would be great and we would be one of the great countries of the world. Because of what these leaders did. In those days, even the country at home was calm. We had morality in our society; there was respect for elders and respect for the constituted authority. Because of the good leadership, there was in fact little corruption in the system, if any at all. I have always stated that today unfortunately, all these norms and values that were left by our founding fathers- the Azikiwes, the Awolowos, the Tafawa-Balewas, all these norms and values have been thrown away and overboard. They are no longer with us. What is happening in the country, I mean the reports of corruption, is not in our character. The institution of family has broken down, respect for our elders and constituted authority, which used to be a cardinal principle in our society is now at its lowest ebb. Honesty, where it does not pay, has become meaningless. Symptoms of revolt loom large in the horizon. In short today, there is meaningless philosophy, insecurity in polity; immorality in society, corruption in economy and even frustration in arts and lack of creativity in literature. What is responsible for this is lack of good leadership. Sardauna and his likes would not like to see or hear the story of corruption. Like I said earlier, he would die 10 times and go back to his grave if he came to life and saw what is happening today.
But what is your personal reaction?
Like I said earlier, he would die 10 times and go back to his grave if he came to life and saw what is happening today.
But what is your personal reaction to the huge story of corruption that is prevalent in Nigeria today. How do you see it?
I see it as something that is very, very bad! I have told you, I have painted the picture black, but I have not lost hope. I have faith in God. And Nigerians, both Muslims and Christians are good followers of their religions and I hope that they would practice what they have been taught in their religions: he who has faith in God does not lose hope in Him. I am, therefore, optimistic – I am not a pessimist- that all the ugly things that are now around us would one day come to an end, by the grace of God. I have seen it in the past; I saw so many crises, before Independence, on Independence and after Independence. We have been able to overcome them, by the grace of God. Sometimes, it was a miracle how we were able to overcome them, some of these crises. I saw the crisis of the Independence Motion of Chief Enahoro in 1952 or 53, which almost broke the country apart. That was during the colonial days. He brought this motion asking for Independence immediately and the Northern members of the House who were representatives amended the motion to read, ” as soon as practicable.” This did not go down with our Southern brothers and they organized all sorts of things against them. The Northern legislators were stoned, they were abused, and indeed, they had to be escorted to Kaduna by the police. Later Chief Akintola was sent to Kano to give a lecture, to explain to the people in the North that their representatives did not want Independence for the country. The lecture was never held and that was the reason we had the very first political riot in Kano. But soon after, we were able to put these things behind our back and our leaders came together and they started discussing the real issues of Independence. We overcame. Then, there was the census crisis in the House of Representatives in 1958 or so. The census figures were not accepted. For about a week, there was heated debate in the House, the country was about to break to pieces. Like a miracle , one morning the Prime Minister made a short a statement, a short statement lasting not more than five minutes. And that brought to an end the heated crisis. Again, we were able to overcome. In 1959, after the Independence elections, no one party had the overall majority to enable it form the government alone. But NPC had more seats than either of the two parties , Action Group or NCNC. People started talking or urging the two southern parties, Action Group and NCNC, to form an alliance. If they did, they would be able to form a government. But some well-meaning people waded into the crisis. They said look, if you do that, you will elbow out the North. The NPC represents the North; it is more than half of the country in size and population. If you did that, you will elbow out the North and the North might think of breaking away from the country. They told Zik, “ Look you were in the forefront for the struggle of the independence of the country and you wanted an independent , united Nigeria. If you did this , you will be breaking up Nigeria. That was not your wish.” And Zik did the right thing, he agreed to enter into alliance with the NPC. He agreed to surrender the prime ministership with the executive power to the NPC. That saved the country again. In 1964, we had a controversial election, the two main political parties – Action Group and NCNC, boycotted the elections. The NPC and the UNDP, a new party formed by Chief Akintola after he had broken away from the Action Group, went to the polls. Akintola was the premier of the West. So the West and the North went to the polls. The East and Mid -West did not and we claimed that we had won the elections. The President, Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, according to the Constitution was the one to invite the leader of the party or governing party or majority party to form the government. He said that he would not because elections were not conclusive, or the elections were not conducted properly. The country became ungovernable. Some well-meaning people waded into the crisis and they brought the leaders of the parties, NCNC and NPC together and they agreed that parties that did not hold the elections should go and conduct elections- in the Mid West and in the East where there were no elections and where the NCNC was in control. They went and held elections and brought their members, and they joined to form what was then called a broad-based government. Again we overcame. Even the coup in 1966 would not have been possible if the statement the prime minister had wanted to make the next day, if he had made it. This is because on the night of the coup, the prime minister was telling K O Mbadiwe and Festus Okotie -Eboh, when they went to discuss the Western crisis that he did not support the crisis and that he would make a statement the next day and declare a state of emergency in the West, remove Akintola and appoint an administrator. He had even drafted the speech and given it to K.O Mbadiwe and said he should go and sleep over it. That if he had any suggestions he should bring them back the next morning. That was the statement he never made. On that night, he was carried away and killed. So if he had made that statement, we would have overcome that crisis. However, after the coup, when there was a counter coup in June and July 1966, many people wanted to break out. Again some people waded into the crisis and we were able to save the country and the country remained one. Then the Civil War came. Nobody expected that Nigeria would be the same again. In no part of the world was there any civil war at the end of which the country remained the same. Here in Nigeria, we were able to make it. After the Civil War, we came back together and we are still together. God has done it. What God has brought together, let no man put asunder.
(cuts in) But the Biafran people in the East are still making noise that they want to secede?
Although they are (still making efforts), they will not succeed by the grace of God. There are people who did not know what happened during the Civil War. The story of the Civil War, the Biafran war is presented in different ways by different people. But the truth is yet to be known. Those of us that know what it was and that saw it all……. For example, no one in Lagos; no one of us in Lagos today knows about the crisis of the Civil War or about the night of the coup and the day after, no one knows it more than I do. And I have been asked severally to write about what I saw on that night. But I have told people that I will not! Were I to say or to write and tell the nation what I knew, what I saw, what I heard before, during and after the coup, I will open a fresh wound. I will not do that! Having enjoyed peace, having come together, having forgiven one another, I should not open the old wound. No!
What about your advice to the youth agitating in the South-east for the birth of Biafra?
Let them listen to their elders. Those agitating for it are young people who don’t know what happened in those days; who don’t know the history. And in any event, those, for example, in the North are not afraid, but they don’t want it. I don’t want this country to disintegrate and I don’t pray for the disintegration of this country, not because we (the North) cannot stand on our own……. I was the minister of mines and power. At Independence, I was the first minister of oil and I had served more than any other minister in that ministry having been there for almost seven years- From 1959 to 1966, I know what we have in the country; I know what we have in the North. The North has got enough. We have got diamonds, gold, uranium and even oil and minerals. We have got agricultural lands. We have got the land and we can be on our own , but I don’t want us to be alone . I want us to share these with our brothers. It is not for nothing that God has brought us together- different tribes, different t religions and different political inclinations, and even different climatic conditions. God has brought us together so that we may learn to live with one another in peace. Because of the role he wants us to play. God wants us to lead Africa; God wants us to inspire the blacks of the world. We can only do this if we are united at home and if we respect one another at home. Nigeria is big enough to accommodate all of us. We must learn to respect one another. Today, we are talking of globalization and yet people here are talking of disintegration. Europe has formed European Union. Even Africa has got an African Union. The United States of America is thinking of teaming up with Canada and Brazil to form an Economic Union in that area. We are talking of globalization and unification. Quite recently, Scotland wanted to break away from Great Britain, they had a plebiscite recently . It did not succeed. They remained one. They are still part of Great Britain. Yet, here you are talking of breaking away. No! Let those sons of ours think of Nigeria, not of themselves. It is not in their interest. Their people are very enterprising, hardworking. They are industrious. They go to other parts of the country. I want them to feel free to go to any part of the country and feel that we are together, that we are our brothers’ keeper.
What is your assessment of the administration of President Buhari?
I am beginning to see a light at the end of the tunnel with the coming of Buhari, because of his character, his track record and his achievements in the past. I think that we are beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel. We are beginning to see the end of these ugly things. Buhari is a man of integrity, a no -nonsense man. But mark you, he is a human being. I am not saying that he is not making mistakes. He is not perfect. Perfection is an attribute of God. No one person is perfect. But Buhari , by and large, is a man who can deliver. He is not corrupt, he is not greedy and he has integrity, both moral and financial. And what we need is a leader. We have a saying in Hausa that if any congregational prayer goes wrong, it is the man leading it that spoils it, and that is why I always pray that God may give us leaders and not rulers nor looters. May God grant that we may have leaders! Leaders; not rulers. Leaders; not looters. Leaders with the fear of God. Leaders who will not lie. Leaders who will accept in public what they have accepted in secret; leaders who are not corrupt. Leaders who will look at the common man with eyes of compatriots; not with the eyes of a privileged few; Leaders with a vision and not a blurred vision. Leaders who will know when they are no longer equal to the exigencies of their nation and would have the prudence of handing over to others before they forfeit the respect of their countrymen; Leaders who know that they would one day stand before God to account for what they did. We must have such leaders. We had them in the past and at the beginning of this country- the founding fathers.
We are now having one in Buhari, I say this because of Buhari’s own record. When he was a military leader, we saw it. Within the short period that he led this country, he was able to instill discipline in our country, he raised the moral tone of this country, he started fighting corruption and he gave this country a sense of direction. I strongly believe and pray that he would do the same and even more this time around.