It must have been evident that a voice raising a banner suggestive of a radical moment, warts and all, was bound to arise over northern Nigeria in the context of events of the past two decades. As an apt observer put it, there is bound to be rupture with what happened. For him, what happened is how the people lost out after putting their faith in the PDP for 16 years but only to be losing out again after transferring that faith to the APC. It is an observation that the series of letters to President Buhari by both insiders, observers of the corridor and outright outsiders have confirmed. As they say, nature abhors a vacuum or a near vacuum, with particular reference to the region that has been traumatised by a distressing modernisation in the face of a badly managed heterogeneity.
In a deeply fragmented world but still a world fundamentally driven by an emancipatory consciousness, a voice is bound to rise, trying to raise a banner. In northern Nigeria, two voices can be heard. Boko Haram is speaking but speaking the language of blood and destruction. Poverty may not explain much about Boko Haram but such cannot thrive in any other environment. The Emir of Kano is the second voice being heard, saying something which, in the present context, has an emancipatory ring to it. That is to the extent that his rhetoric can be enriched to form the basis of the politics of “the pursuit of bread or material well-being, or freedom from Nature and scarcity; the pursuit of knowledge of Truth, or freedom from ignorance, superstition and lies; and the pursuit of justice, or freedom from political tyranny and economic exploitation”
Of course, his claims must be subject of never ending interrogation in the spirit of the ‘civilised conversation’ required for democracy to function. In other words, failure to read the Emir in the context of a distressing modernisation is to read his message in a non-strategic sense. It is to miss the point and to repeat, in a different way, similar mistakes in the past. Two of such mistakes are of interest to this newspaper. The first is the failure of both the left and the right to take a more strategic view of what the late Sultan Dasuki did to local government in Nigeria in the 1978 reform thereto. The second is failure to build on the gains of the Second Republic as it applies to the region. In terms of a plausible interpretation of the Dasuki Report, Intervention is reproducing without editing what it published November 16th, 2016 during the Sultan’s death and which brings out the irony of the Dasuki Report in relation to the error of throwing out the bathwater and the baby as well, both by the radicals and the establishment in the north.
Sultan Dasuki: The Forgotten Dimension
The passage of Alhaji Ibrahim Dasuki, the 18th Sultan of Sokoto, last Monday provides an occasion for reflections on a forgotten dimension of his life but which rings too much of a bell in national life. It is his landmark intervention in the administration of local governments as a tier of government in Nigeria when he served as the chairperson of the committee which wrote the 1976 “Guidelines for Local Government Reform”. It was that report which, paradoxically, took power from the aristocracy and handed it over to the children of the Talakawa throughout Nigeria. It is unthinkable that a prince of the Sultanate of Sokoto (as he then was) would carry out such a bloodless revolution but he did. As the Chairperson of the committee, there is no way such would have been possible if he did not personally agree with it. It is certainly unthinkable that the report would have seen the light of the day if the troika running the country at that time, (Generals Obasanjo, TY Danjuma and Shehu Musa Yar’Adua) as well as other members of the Supreme Military Council did not see the point about the report. However, that does not reduce the import of the late Sultan in this matter since the framework and the specific submissions contained in the report came from the committee he chaired and which dissolved the Native Authority system throughout the country.
Hitherto, emirs and chiefs were the chief executives of what are today called the local governments, from Sokoto to Borno, Bauchi, Katsina, Zaria, Ibadan, Onitsha, Lagos and everywhere else. From these emirs and chiefs who were unelected, he took away the authority over local administration and, instead, brought the traditional authority under the control of children of commoners. He, therefore, not only democratised the local government system, the democratisation was so profound that it has the status of a revolution, bloodlessly executed by a prince and a future Sultan. Some analysts go as far as noting how, by implication, even the Oba of Lagos, the Obi of Onitsha, the Shehu of Borno, the Tor Tiv, the Sultan, the Emir of Kano, the Ooni of Ife, the Oba of Benin, the Gbong Gwom Jos and all the very powerful traditional rulers in the system are, in theory, lacking the executive authority a councillor has today. The traditional authority are still powerful today because power itself is very diffuse and comes through sources beyond executive authority.
The question which has worked up analysts is how Ibrahim Dasuki came to author the landmark intervention even as a prince with ambition to mount the throne of the Sultan of Sokoto? One line of argument on this has been the claim that his formal training in local government administration, his experience in the Native Authority system where he was the Permanent Secretary and his overall exposure gave him tremendous knowledge that overcame his princely background or constituency consideration in favour of such a profound democratisation. In other words, he had by training and experience, become highly modernist in orientation that no background could halt the genie. And his reconstruction of the Sultan’s Palace when he eventually became the Sultan is also cited to support this analysis.
Not only did his report underpin the dissolution of the Native Authority system and eradicated the tinge of colonialism embodied in the nativity in the name, it also recommended the quality of people to whom local government administration should be handed over. Only experienced, tested hands did his committee recommend, people whose pedigree the traditional rulers would reckon with. It is argued that this recommendation explains the emergence of certain persons as heads of local governments after 1976. The most notable example in this regard is Alhaji Shehu Shagari who became the chairperson of Shagari Local Government Council from the pedigree of a former Minister for Economic Planning and later of Finance under the Gowon administration. It was from the Chairperson position he went on to become the president of Nigeria in 1979. In other words, Dasuki tried to safeguard his ‘revolution’ in the hands of people with pedigree, character and balance to run the local government system if it was being taken away from chiefs and emirs. That provision did not reduce the profundity of the democratisation engineered by his 1976 report.
Today, it t is generally accepted as a matter of regret that a prince of Sokoto will occasion such degree of democratisation of access and power only for elected governors and local government chairmen to make a mess of the local government system. It is an anti-climax for a scion of the aristocracy to have brought a revolution to the Talakawa but for the Talakawa to undermine it by the corruption, arbitrariness and ineptitude that are found in LG administration in Nigeria now. Pundits fear that if care is not taken, the contradiction could produce a surprise for everyone. The freewheeling democracy Nigeria practices without a care for leadership recruitment and testing is feared to be capable of producing a Nigerian equivalent of a Donald Trump sooner than later
Meanwhile, in time, when the revolutionary import of his intervention in local government administration is more studied and reflected upon, his place in history might overshadow that of many others, notwithstanding whatever other human failings.
May Alhaji Ibrahim Dasuki’s soul rest in peace!