50th Anniversary Gift To The Lamido
Dr. Aliyu Tilde
A fortnight ago, the Lamido of Adamawa, Alhaji Aliyu Mustapha, celebrated his 50th Anniversary. The celebration was attended, as expected, by other emirs and the highest serving dignitaries in the country, including the president and, of course, his vice, ministers, and so on. The masses were also there, since it was not an Eagle Square event. But I wonder why Buhari was left out. I only hope that the organizers did not avoid him, or he did not avoid them, for fear of another intifadah, like the one that happened at the launching of Ado Bayero’s biography in Kano last year.
I hereby join the millions of Nigerians who wish the Lamido good health and enduring tenure. We look forward to attend his 70th anniversary on the throne. So long as he is alive and without any deposition, that day will come. Stability of tenure is the most important part of our traditional institution. The Lamido does not need to go through the rigor of election or the shame of rigging any before he could extend his tenure for another four years. He is there for life. Cheap, simple and sensible.
In contrast, Obasanjo could only be in Aso Rock for eight years, maximum, after undergoing the humiliation of begging governors and Atiku at the last PDP convention, rigging the election and panicking over the possible consequences which have refused to disappear. By May 29, 2007, the partying over our resources and lives, dead or living – as Soyinka would put it – will be over for Obasanjo. He must then be heading to his house at Otta. Well, that is true only if the CNPP’s claim that he wants to make himself a life president is false. Hmm.
Unlike the president, the Lamido is there on the throne for 50 years so far. That is to say he was there with the colonial Governor-General of the Northern Region; with the Sardauna of Sokoto as premier of the region for twelve years; then with the plethora of other leaders who came thereafter: Ironsi, Gowon, Murtala, Shagari, Buhari, Babangida, Shonekan, Abacha, Abdulsalami, Obasanjo and possibly, beyond 2007, his son-in-law, Atiku, or Ogbe.
All these leaders of the Nigerian nation, in addition to numerous governors of Northeast, Gongola and now Adamawa states have visited the Lamido seeking for his blessing and asking for his advice on matters of governance. And the Lamido always has plenty of blessings to shower and many valuable advices to give them.
That is another privilege, a gate to an everlasting influence, in addition to the tenacity of the institution. Who in Nigeria could whisper his opinion directly into the ear of every prime minister, premier, head of state, president or governor for fifty consecutive years other than a traditional ruler of Lamido’s station? A head of state today, in contrast, will be dumped once he vacates the office tomorrow, in spite of his permanent seat in the National Council of State. His advice is listened to with a sceptical ear, and his movements are carefully watched. Often, his constructive criticism is misinterpreted as sabotaging government; that he is planning a come back; that …
Furthermore, the word of traditional rulers like the Lamido is more powerful than the press in the ears of our leaders. Here in the press, we crack our brains weekly, advising Obasanjo and his men. But we may never be sure whether they have the time to read our stuff or not. When they do, we are not sure they will not condemn it as rubbish… If we are not lucky, we could either end up having uninvited guests interrogating us over the truth we told or coming to dispatch a parcel bomb as our birthday gift. That is because we lack one element that must accompany the truth which the Lamido and other traditional rulers have: The potential to mute the masses and keep the peace.
That is something that is always dear to governments in Nigeria. Governments are always looking for people who will assist them to herd the masses, while the leaders dine and wine over our resources, commit atrocities against their citizens, or violate constitutional provisions like during the last elections. The words of emirs and those of ex-presidents or ex-heads of state always come as handy anaesthesia that will commit the masses to another long regime of deep sleep.
Anyone with this measure of influence on government will certainly not fail to gain its generous reciprocity. For example, in 1999 when Obasanjo came to power he made some noise to the effect that the 5% revenue allocation of local governments paid to traditional rulers was unconstitutional. The rulers called his fuss, with the Emir of Kano saying that they never asked for 5% in the first place. Two reasons informed their confidence. One, they knew that very soon, even long before his re-election bid, Obasanjo will commit many blunders and would rush to them, genuflecting for rescue.
Of course, the traditional rulers were right. Not far into his first tenure, his gun went silent. Obasanjo has since gone to their palaces a million times. Right now, as a reward for the role they played in 4-19 and of muting the masses thereafter, Obasanjo has set up a committee headed by one of the most senior traditional rulers in the country, His Highness, the Etsu of Nupe, to look into the modalities of how their institution will be integrated formally – or say constitutionally – into the structure of government. That is another advantage of being a blue blood and a very kind reciprocal gesture from a president! We are therefore not shocked when at the 50th anniversary of the Lamido, revolutionary Obasanjo clearly told the nation that it would be a mistake for it to contemplate abrogating our traditional institutions…
Two, the traditional rulers knew that 5% of local government revenue is only a scratch on the mountain of privileges they are sitting on, privileges that are not enjoyed even by their governors and Obasanjo – the president. For example, at the level of consumption, the president does not enjoy riding any of the limousines that the Lamido rides, not to mention those of the Sultan of Sokoto or Emir of Kano. Obasanjo does not enjoy the abundance of courtiers who entertain his ear and servants who fan his face when NEPA is out or hold his umbrella on a sunny outing. At home, our one and only First Lady cannot boast of domestic servants that would match those of our traditional rulers in number, commitment, training and length of service.
At a higher level, no president or governor can boast of personally controlling millions of hectares. If he would allocate any such land to himself, we are here to publish his scandal. A traditional ruler like the Lamido, on the other hand, has millions of hectares under his direct control, including the hills and mountains under his domain. Forget about the Land Use Decree of 1978. It only operates subject to the symbiotic relationship that exists between government and the traditional rulers. But in case the reader doubts me, let him ask the construction companies who make quarries out of our mountains and deface our laterite hills. The proceeds that return from the use of such land, when it is crushed, leased, sold, or cultivated is nothing any government official would dream of earning ceaselessly over half a century and more.
People in government these days are concerned about their social security, their future position in the society. Therefore, they build others, after building themselves, through the award of contracts or opening for the beneficiary one gate of business or the other. And in the extreme, such relationships are cemented by forging marital ties. I have not known a class of people in our society who enjoy social security in this sense better than our traditional rulers. The network of the institution in Nigeria is elaborate enough to ensure an effective collaborative support among its members.
Marriage has offered another formidable source of social security for the royal fathers and their progeny. I am sure the Lamido cannot, at a go, count his in-laws, to whom he has given his daughters in marriage, though he cannot miss the most notable of them – the Vice-President, Atiku Abubakar. And the chain of daughters will continue ad infinitum, just as that of their suitors.
The third instrument in the social security mechanics of our royal fathers is the traditional titles they give. Red bloods who are anxious to conceal a deficiency or who want to belong to the aristocracy are always sitting at the doorstep of one palace or the other asking for conferment of a title. While the title gives its owner the connections he requires for status, to the traditional ruler it is an extension of his political empire and economic estate.
We can continue enumerating the privileges that our royal fathers are enjoying quietly today but for lack of space. What really disturbs me is how they now want to threaten these privileges by bringing their status and role under the domain of public scrutiny. Instead of remaining the most influential and respected citizens, they are running after the fatal consequences of raw power.
I will advise them to desist from the bait that is intended to scuttle their enviable influence. Given the hereditary origin of their status, allocating them any definite article of constitutional power will be a clear negation of its republican basis. That aside, the advice they used to give alone in their palaces must now be given in public. Their frequent voice and traffic in public which constitutional role would demand will only erode the respect people have for them. The masses will compare their words and deeds with the obviously superior arguments of the public and make a choice. Nothing demystifies a ruler worse than his frequent comments and overbearing ubiquity.
A constitutional role for the royal fathers will also demand more discipline regarding the management of resources at their disposal, private or public. No one now may care to audit the account of the Lamido annually. But if he will be assigned a security job or any constitutional function, then his entire estate must be come under scrutiny. We will be there to report it, good or bad. The public will comment on it. And, finally, very likely, his opponent – who may one day be his governor or president – will quickly use any of his slight shortcomings to depose him. We can quickly remember the Native Authority scandals which the Sardauna used to depose some Emirs in the 1960s. Power is destructive and I am not sure whether the present effort to imbricate them is not an attempt to wrap the royal fathers into the corrupt gang that is ruining our affairs today.
My greatest contribution to the ongoing debate on the role of traditional rulers and the most valuable gift I hereby present the Lamido on his 50th anniversary is to remind them of four things which his forefathers never trusted. They used to say, in fulfulde, maayo, debbo, jemma e laamu tagu hoolataako ‘di – meaning, river, woman, the night and power, a man should not trust them.
And when that power resides in the hands of reckless and dubious people as our democracy guarantees today, there is every reason for our royal fathers to be more cautious in dealing with it.