Home Opinion Nigerian Arabs: As Hakeem Baba-Ahmed Takes a Hot Seat

Nigerian Arabs: As Hakeem Baba-Ahmed Takes a Hot Seat

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By Ahmed Yahaya-Joe

“In politics, an organized minority is a political majority.” – Jesse Jackson

“Sometime in 1960, two ministers and top leaders of the defunct Northern People’s Congress, NPC, the Magajin Garin Kano, Alhaji Inuwa Wada and Ibrahim Musa Gashash, visited the Emir’s Palace, Kano to pay homage to, Sir Muhammadu Sanusi. They were told the emir had traveled to his riverside castle in Wudil, some 40 kilometers away from the ancient city.

Out of respect, the duo decided to travel to Wudil to greet the Emir. At Wudil, the emir kept them waiting for over an hour. When they asked the palace aides who the Emir was meeting with, they said it was P.A. David, a prominent colonial-era contractor and businessman of Yoruba extraction.

“So just because of David,” angry Musa Gashash flared up, “the Emir is keeping us waiting, even though we are ministers? I can’t take this! Inuwa, you may wish to stay since you are a title holder. As for me, I will never pay homage to the Emir again.”

“Musa Gashash, then Minister of Land and Survey and Vice Chairman of the NPC North, a political schemer per excellence and well-connected politician, walked out on his friend. The minister thereafter started campaigning against the Emir.

 Years before the Wudil incident, the Premier of the Northern Region, Sir Ahmadu Bello, Sardauna of Sokoto himself once remarked that Ibrahim Musa Gashash, Madaki Shehu, and Nuhu Bamalli were the three most sophisticated people in the North. Although Musa Gashash never had a Western education, Sardauna said, his plots and political scheming never failed.”

“Articles soon began appearing in Gaskiya Ta Fi Kwabo that Emir Sanusi was autocrat, dictatorial, revoked ownership of lands, squandered treasury, misused cattle tax, siphoned money meant for the establishment of Bompai Industrial Area, among other allegations.

Sardauna and Sir Sanusi’s good relationship began when Sardauna was sentenced to one-year imprisonment for misappropriation of cattle tax in 1943. Sanusi (then Chiroman Kano) and Muhammadu Aminu (then Iyan Zazzau and later Emir of Zazzau), joined hands with Shehu Shagari and Malam Aminu Kano to support the legal tussle that led to Sardauna’s acquittal after serving three months of his one-year term in jail.”

“By 1962, the estrangement between the two close friends reached an alarming level, such that Sir Sanusi’s diplomat brother, Ado Bayero (who later succeeded him), had to fly to Kano from Senegal, where he was Nigeria’s ambassador, to plead with Sardauna. But a few months later, the situation worsened.

On September 18, 1962, the Northern Regional Government appointed a senior administrative officer, D. J. M. Muffet, to immediately start inquiries into the deteriorating financial position of the Kano Native Authority.”

“On March 28, 1963, after the commission sat for 144 days and invited the Emir, Northern Emirs, including embattled Sir Sanusi, were summoned to Kaduna for a meeting.

On arrival, Sanusi was ushered into the office of then governor of Northern Region, Kashim Ibrahim. According to some accounts, Governor Kashim Ibrahim then handed him the resignation letter and asked him to sign it, which he did.

From then, he was banished to Azare. But 20 years later, he returned to his riverside residence in Wudil – the place Musa Gashash began hatching his deposition plot – and died there in 1980.”

The foregoing historical preamble is necessary to contextualize not only how the windmills of politics in the North characteristically grind but also to highlight an aspect of its intricate web.

The excerpts are culled from a post written back in April 2017 by Jaafar Jaafar entitled “A Word for Emir Sanusi” – essentially an unsolicited advisory for the man formerly known as Sanusi Lamido Sanusi.

The main thrust was for the embattled monarch to never underestimate what Fela Kuti (1938-1997) described as “Gofment magic” in one of his vocal diatribes. I retrospectively find Malam Jaafar’s intervention very instructive as one reflects upon the recent political appointment of Hakeem Baba-Ahmed by President Tinubu.

Significantly, Alhaji Ibrahim Musa Gashash (1910-1973) and Dr. Hakeem B. 1955 are both Nigerians of Arab descent.

With the benefit of hindsight, Khalifa Muhammadu Sanusi II ignored Malam Jaafar’s sentinel warning as he was eventually deposed in March, 2020.

Nigerian Arabs are a minority populace albeit highly organized and influential – a demographic confederation from a wide variety of different backgrounds.

 While they are relatively few compared to other ethnicities they are mostly concentrated in major urban areas, particularly in Kano, Kaduna, Ibadan Lagos, and other large cattle markets across Nigeria.

Around the 15th century Common Era, a confederation of herders of Arabized ancestry collectively known under the generic name of “Baggara” derived from the word for cow in Arabic settled in the Lake Chad region.

In today’s Nigeria, Cameroon, and Chad up to the border with Sudan, they are described in Kanuri as Shuwa Arabs mainly concentrated in Bama, Dikwa, Mafa, Damboa, and Gere LGAs among others of Borno and Yobe states.

In neighboring Niger Republic, they are called Diffa Arabs – the ethnicity of the ousted President Mohamed Bazoum.

The surname of the most prominent Nigerian Arab could be traced to the Chadian border region with Sudan, Abeche subsequently Hausanized as Abacha.

 Other Nigerian Arabs include a one-time IGP from 1966 to 1975, Alhaji Kam Salem, and more recently the late Chief of Staff to former President Buhari, Malam Abba Kyari, Kano’s first lawyer, Alhaji Kaloma Ali (1934-2009) including onetime Defence Chief and the only non-Army commandant of NDA, Air Marshal Al Amin Daggash with his younger sibling Senator Mohammed Sanusi, a onetime Minister for National Planning and Works respectively under onetime Presidents Yar’adua and Jonathan.

Near the Onigbongbo Central Mosque at Maryland in Lagos is the residence of the Sultan of the thriving Shuwa Arab community in our nation’s commercial capital which is now arguably the current deputy capital of Nigeria.

Nigerian Arabs assimilate with remarkable ease. Take, for instance, the late General Sani Abacha though of a Fulani mother who spoke only Hausa, Yoruba, and Igbo.

While the members of the Gashash clan of Kano are originally Tripolitania Arabs from Ghadames from where the Hausa name of Badamasi is derived, the ruling line of Shehus of Borno since the early 1800s known as the El Kanemis are from Fezzan – both respectively in present-day Libya.

Meanwhile, the Baba Ahmed clan of Tudun Wada and Zaria are originally of the Talaba clan of Arab-Berbers known as Haratin. There are other Nigerian Arabs from the Magreb, Sudan, and even of Yemeni ancestry for centuries concentrated in Alfindiki, Alkantara, Dandalin Turawa, Sanka, and Sharifai including just before the British colonial era at Fagge all in Kano metropolis, “Muhammad al-Maghili (1440 –1505) was from Tlemcen, now in modern-day Algeria. He was welcomed to the court of Muhammadu Rumfa, Sultan of Kano from 1463 until 1499.”

Mohammed Adam in his 1977 B.A. History dissertation at the former Abdullahi Bayero College affiliated to ABU Zaria now BUK claims;

“While the Kanuri and Shuwa jointly defeated the Sokoto forces and eventually came to share state responsibilities in equal partnership the Fulani on the other hand wrested power from the Hausa and reduced them to mere subjects to this day.

 In Borno however, apart from adopting each other’s culture in dress, food, facial marks, hair-do, etc., the majority of the Shuwa Arabs speak Kanuri, while several Kanuri, Kotoko, Gamergu, and Mandara speak Shuwa Arabic.”

The throwback segment of the attached picture is instructive featuring the illustrious Malam Baba Ahmed sitting at the feet of the 17th Fulani emir, Alhaji Muhammadu Aminu of Zaria who held sway from 1959 to 1975, earlier mentioned in the Jaafar Jaafar excerpts as being instrumental to Sardauna’s legal triumph in 1943.

 Meanwhile, the father of the incumbent 19th monarch of Zazzau is also mentioned in Jaafar’s narrative as among the “three most sophisticated people in the North.”

From family sources, the highly esteemed and well-regarded Baba Ahmed patriarch arrived in Zaria in 1920 as a cattle dealer and cleric. He would also serve as a teacher at Government (later Barewa) College concurrently serving as school Imam for decades mentoring successive sets of Northern leaders. He passed on in 1987 at the age of 104 with an overall tally of 33 well-educated children, all from eminent Nigerian mothers.

Interestingly, the North’s first generation of military officers in order of seniority were all Barewa products during the ensuing period;

Brigadier Zakariya Maimalari (1930-1966), Colonel Kur Mohammed (1933-1966), Lt. Col. Abogo Lagerma (1933-1966), Lt. Col. James Yakubu Pam (1933-1966), General Yakubu Gowon (b. 1934) and Major Gen. Hassan Usman Katsina (1933-1995)

Maimalari and Mohammed were Nigerian Arabs. Barewa College has to date produced 5 Nigerian Army chiefs.

The coloured segment of the attached photograph features the newly appointed Dr. Hakeem currently the most senior of surviving 20 siblings with a younger brother and opposition chieftain, Datti Yusuf b.1969, child number 28 in the family hierarchy.

Sitting asymmetrically nearby at the feet of one’s principal is not only an emphatic mark of utmost respect but an unequivocal sign of complete loyalty in the traditional Hausa clientage system, “that provides for patronage, economic security and protection in a partnership of social inequality. An influential person enjoys the allegiance of less influential persons who in turn owe allegiance to a more influential person above.”

See details in Politics of Tradition: Continuity and Change in Northern Nigeria, 1946-1966 (1970) by CS Whitaker

Back in mid-September 2021, the Southern Governors Forum rising from a meeting in Enugu, The Chairman of the Forum and outgoing Ondo  Governor, Oluwarotimi Akeredolu declared the meeting had resolved that “The next president of Nigeria must come from the southern part (of Nigeria) in line with politics of equity, justice, and fairness.”

While that communique might have sounded like sweet political music to the itchy ears of then-impending Candidate Tinubu, trust Dr. Hakeem a few days later at a public lecture in honor of the elder statesman and Dan Masanin Kano, Alhaji Yusuf Maitama Sule (1929-2017) in ABU, Zaria;

“We will lead Nigeria the way we have led Nigeria before whether we are president or vice-president, we will lead Nigeria.

We have the majority of the votes and democracy says vote whom you want. Why should we accept a second-class position when we know we can buy a form and contest for first class and we will win?

Why does anybody need to threaten and intimidate us? We inherited leadership and being honest is not being stupid.

The North has pride; we are humble enough to know that we are going to run Nigeria with other people but we are not going to pay a second fiddle to anybody.”

Unlike, Alhaji Gashash of Kano whose “plots and political scheming never failed”, Dr. Hakeem of Zaria is well-grounded educationally.

If so, has President Tinubu brazenly put the proverbial scorpion in his Villa pocket?

Rambunctious, ubiquitous, and cantankerous. This writer has had cause to join issues with him nearly 12 years ago;


The often adroit and never unequivocal Dr. Hakeem has had his monumental contradictions, regardless.

Take for instance, in reacting to the Southern Governors Forum the newly appointed Special Adviser to VP Kashim Shettima then concluded, “If a candidate from the north is voted into office in 2023, anyone who does not like that could leave the country.”

Such grandstanding is rather curious against the background of;

“On Saturday, April 17 this year (2021), Hakeem Baba-Ahmed with his brothers and sister, and uncles had a family get-together in Nouakchott, Mauritania (see his Facebook post made on 18 April 2021)

 They are citizens by descent under that country’s laws. Mauritania’s Nationality Code of June 12, 1961, says any child “at least one of whose parents is a citizen of Mauritania, regardless of the child’s country of birth” is a citizen by descent.”

How long will the political pretentiousness between President Tinubu and Dr. Hakeem last?

Since the Lion of Bourdillon and the Megaphone of Zaria are both accomplished opportunists, only time can tell.

One thing is obvious though, Fela’s 1980, “Overtake don overtake, overtake” is a recurrent phenomenon in Nigerian politics. Apparently, power tussles are the oxygen of our democracy.

Can the same kind of political flanking maneuverer that Candidate Tinubu successfully applied in routing the immediate past cabal at the Villa be in turn applied to him from within?

As in the saga featuring Emir Sanusi I and Alhaji Gashash, “Audentes fortuna iuvat” – Fortune favors the bold. Indeed, the strategically imaginative.

Is the new Villa aide just another passer through the revolving door of the typical “come and chop” appointees?

Perhaps, it is also just a question of time for the Lagos template of imperial governance to gradually take a national stage at Abuja.

If so, a monumental political clash between President Tinubu and Dr. Hakeem is inevitable.

No doubt, some interesting times ahead.

Congratulations, sir.

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