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Power is a game of loopholes

by Ahmed Yahaya Joe
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Ahmed Yahaya – Joe

This is the erstwhile Bebeji fort, the major defensive bastion of the southward flanks of Kano.  From there, Captain George Abadie would write to his mother back in England, “We had a small fight at Bebeji. We are all in the king’s house of 200 horses and men, so you can imagine the size of it. It covers 16 acres and is well built.”

Abadie was part of a contingent under command of Colonel Thomas Morland that had, “24 officers, 12 NCOs, 2 medical officers, 772 rank and file made up of 551-foot, 71 artillery and 101 calvary men with four 75mm and four Maxim guns.”

 The defeat of Kano on February 3, 1903 facilitated the fall of the 94-year-old Fulani caliphate at the Battle of Kwatarkwashi (in present day Zamfara State) on February 27, 1903 which enabled Morland to overrun the gates of Sokoto by March 15, 1903.

How did the worst of military enemies eventually become best political friends?

According to Sir Frederick Lugard in, Instructions to Political and Other Officers in Subjects chiefly Political and Administrative (1906) – “Always leave for yourself a loophole”

 Abadie who still has a street named after him at Sabon-gari in Kano since 1913 would write to Lugard marketing the leadership potential of the head of the defeated Kano calvary at Kwatarkwashi, Muhammadu Abbas,

“I received the letters of the Wambai Abbas saying that he had collected the people again and begged to be allowed to return in peace as they had quite enough of war.”

 Abbas was then installed as emir in 1903. But the Resident of Kano who assumed office on March 1, 1903, Featherhill Cargill, a Scottish army doctor who had been part of the military contingent that captured Muri (in present Taraba State) from the French in 1902 created a “loophole” compelling Sarki Abbas to swear by the Qu’ran as follows;

“I swear in the name of Allah and of his Prophet, to well, and truly serve his Majesty King Edward VII and his representative the High Commissioner of Northern Nigeria.

To obey the laws of the Protectorate and the lawful commands of the High Commissioner and of the Resident, provided that they are not contrary to my religion. And if they are so contrary, I will at once inform the Resident, for the information of the High Commissioner.

 I will cherish in my heart no treachery or disloyalty, and I will rule my people with justice and without partiality. And as I carry out this oath, so may Allah judge me.”

In 1999, the Northern Muslim intelligentsia willingly conceded power to the South. There was no Lugard-like “loophole” to teleguide OBJ who, “deliberately set out to inaugurate his own hegemonic agenda”, notwithstanding the February 27, 1999 presidential poll figures which;

“in the six predominantly Yoruba states of Lagos, Ogun, Ondo, Ekiti, Osun and Oyo, Obasanjo got only a total of 1.09 million votes, this is less than the 1.29 million he got in Kaduna State alone, and barely higher than the 0.96 million he got in Katsina State. He “lost his deposit” by scoring below 25% in five of these six states getting as low as 12% of the votes in Lagos and 16.6% in Ondo.”

Farooq Kperogi observes;

  “When cries of ‘northern marginalization’ greeted (OBJ’s) appointments, he decided to appoint northern Christian minorities in positions of authority, positions they had never occupied during the period of northern political ascendancy.

When the southern power bloc was kept out of governance in the past, it used its newspapers as sites of contestation – ‘northern caliphate,’ ‘feudal northern oligarchy,’ and ‘Kaduna Mafia,’ became powerful catch phrases in the mobilization of popular, usually ethnic-based, sentiments against the northern Muslim ruling class.

The northern power bloc had no such elaborate institutional props to support it. And so, when they dislodged themselves from power through their own temporary, strategic, if contingent, miscalculation, the only option left for them was to invoke Islamic theocratic populism in the service of their expansive hegemonic agenda,”

See details in, “Sharia or Death”: The Mass Mediated Hegemonic Rhetoric of Theocratic Populism in Nigeria’s Muslim North (2020)

 The Northern Muslim intelligentsia since the colonial era have never been particularly religious. They are however much more politically adroit than other segments involved in our recurring national power. The political South has always relied on the press and now Social Media as its propaganda “loophole.”

The recent statement by a director of Kano State Hisbah Board, Aliyu Kibiya in reaction to that organization’s turning blind eyes to non-Sharia compliance at wedding events involving the upper classes especially during the “royal Wedding” at Bichi is a classic “loophole” when the Hisbah generalissimo openly declared, “Although we call on everybody in the society to do the right thing, we make the call on a case by case basis. It is against the tenets of Islam to mount the podium and call out leaders. There are ways to caution a leader without criticizing him in public.”

In his own words, President Buhari explains in introspect how a “loophole” before its time identified by the great grand uncle of his son’s bride, the 11th Fulani monarch of Kano influenced his choice of military career;

“The emir of Kano (Muhammadu Sanusi I) told one of us that if soldiers could overthrow a line of kings descended directly from the Prophet, it could happen anywhere. So, we should go and join the army.”

See details in page 18 of, Shehu Musa Yar’adua: A Life of Service (2004) by Jacqueline W. Farris

What “loophole” was demanded of “change” in 2015? That is the political lesson for all Nigerians ahead of 2023.

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