His Eminence, Alhaji Sa’ad Abubakar III, Mni, the Sultan of Sokoto (Sakkwato), is no ordinary Nigerian, or just a traditional ruler. He is more. He leads the entire Muslim Ummah (community) in Nigeria. His word is law when it comes to observance and pronouncements, concerning Islamic matters in Nigeria. He must give the go ahead of the sighting of the moon to commemorate the commencement and end of the Ramadan fast season. Let the moon hide behind the cloudy skies, if it wishes, but the Sultan will periscope into the dark façade and labyrinthine entrails of the clouds, to sight the moon. Such are the awesome powers he wields. But, he wields them with humanity, charity and civility.
Paradoxically, this visionary, dexterous and accomplished gentleman and Military General, who attended the National Institute of Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS), Kuru, Jos, and had to voluntarily resign as Brigadier-General after 30 years of meritorious national service, to adorn the imperial turban of his forefathers ten years ago, neither wields nor terrorises lesser mortals with the potency of his redoubtable and influential throne. Rather, he admirably utilises the power of the Sultanate positively. Yes, to unite and build bridges of unity and understanding across ethno-religious and socio-economic divides within Nigeria and globally. He uses his exalted position to promote and advance religious tolerance, national cohesion, good governance, individual liberties and freedoms and respect for gender, human rights and the rule of law. Ebullient, amiable, cosmopolitan, brave, suave, debonair, cultivated, urbane but shy, Sultan Abubakar III, is at once at home with the high and mighty in the society, as he is with the down-trodden talakawas, the hoi polloi, the proverbial Frantz Fanon’s “Wretched of the Earth”. He combines the rare quintessential attributes of thoroughbred municipality, colourful royalty and monarchical splendour, with the disarming simplicity, classicality and modesty of provinciality. What a mixed combination of oxymorons and allegories! His humility, which he wears enchantingly like a second skin, is legendary and simply ineffable.
The Sultan is a direct descendant and scion of the illustrious pedigree of the great Fulani leader, Uthman Dan Fodio (Shaikh Shehu Usman Ibn Foduye), of the Sunni Maliki school of Jurisprudence and who founded the Sokoto dynasty and Caliphate in 1809.
Dan Fodio was succeeded by his son, Muhammed Bello. This monarchical genealogy has continued unbroken till date, stubbornly defiling centuries of total annihilation of lesser kingdoms and empires. Behind the Sultan’s usually immaculately spotless white veil, is an incredibly patriotic pan-Nigerian of great humour and affability, who radiates warmth and friendliness with passion. His ready wisecracks and witticism have the capacity to send professional comedians and humour merchants out of business. As his close friend and confidant, he fondly calls me “SAK”, rather than “SAN”. Don’t ask me what it means. He knows, for he invented it. I also know, for he told me.
Sitting with him, cross-legged, bare footed, on the simple Arabian mat in his Sokoto Palace, with his tasbih constantly in his hand and sharing with him, either fura da nono or miyan kuka (luru) soup, with tuwo shinkafa, any one would easily mistake his Eminence for any ordinary person, welcoming a friend. But, he is not. His position is larger than life. He even personally serves the food in your plate! Good gracious! This outstanding Sultan will not view you as a mere Kafir (unbeliever). He sees you first as a human being created by Allah; then as a Nigerian; then as a friend and brother.
Sultan Sa’ad Abubakar III, epitomises the immortal words of George Martin (A storm of swords, A song of Ice and fire): “Why do the gods make Kings and Queens if not to protect the ones who cannot protect themselves?” For this divinely bestowed role of kings, which the Sultan has continuously played towards all, irrespective of ethnicity, religion, culture, language and gender, he has many, many, many, more years on this illustrious throne of his ancestors. This, I wish you. Congratulations, sir, your Eminence, on your well-deserved attainment of ten years on the throne. Nigerians and the world celebrate you.