FACTS: Sultan Abubakar III ‘Princep Per Excellentiam’

Today, when we discuss Sultans in Nigeria we see a king confined to Sokoto with his powers only extending to the spiritual aspects of the lives of Nigerian Muslims. That has not always been the case though, the Sokoto Caliphate was a vast empire with over 30 different emirates, over 10 million people as the most powerful state in the region and one of the most significant empires in Africa in the 19th century. And sitting at its top is the Amir of the Muslims or the leader of Muslims (Sarkin Musulmi) in the capital of Sokoto.

The end of the Islamic caliphate came with the arrival of the British. Later, there was some hope for the revival of the inclusion of ‘traditional rulers’ in governance. In 1938 when Sultan Abubakar succeeded his uncle there was an idea put forward in the 1940s that district Heads would be trained as District Officers (DO). By the 1950s it seemed as though a mega-sized Northern Emirate would emerge. However, the coups, counter-coups and later the civilian rule thwarted such ideas in favour of the present arrangement we have today.

The new ways brought their challenges to the Muslim’s number one citizen. Distanced from the decision-making process in a process where greed and speed were the essences and with the absence of the kind of authority his ancestors wielded, Sultan Abubakar did not wither, he simply transformed himself into a different kind of Amir.

He was so revered by his people that when he drives out in the evening, people ran to the roadside to greet him, not in ones and twos but by the score. Those too distant would raise their arms in salute. Jean Boyd said, “NO sensible appreciation of the Sultan’s life can be written without this mention of how he was perceived by a significant section of the population.”

He was a confident man who would not be bullied into submission. The sultan Abubakar outright refused to comply with the colonial administration’s guidelines on the composition of his Council. Jim Boyd wrote, “He characteristically never ‘jumped’ to do whatever the government of the day wanted him to do”. However, as a man of great ethics and manners, he never allowed his conflict to appear in public. In public, he maintains loyalty to the government and respected those who reciprocated.

Maishanu and Boyd wrote that “His deepest concern was always for the well-being of the ordinary man. A reporter once asked him; ‘What is your advice on how best to benefit the ordinary man? he replied: ‘In Sokoto what constitutes well-being for our peasants is a place to farm, water, a place to graze animals, and a variety of crafts to practice so that a man can make a living without falling into disgrace.’”

While that may seem like a modest aspiration, that is precisely what the people of Arewa today are desperate to have but sadly, that ambition at this point remains a distant dream yet to be fulfilled or even unattainable.

Jim Boyd and Maishanu wrote “‘Above all, Relate!’ might have served as the sultan’s motto. He neither distanced himself, lost touch with reality, nor failed to pay attention to detail.” Between 1939 and 1941, he caused one hundred and forty-eight letters to be sent to one district alone. Each bore his seal and was written in Hausa Ajami. Imagine! Just one district, I assume one will be blown away with the total number of his correspondence in all of the districts.

He was so concerned with his constituents that he even went as far as feeding them market intelligence. His first concern was to see that farmers were fed market intelligence. For instance, he was reported to have once ordered “Tell the farmers to wash their wheat, washed wheat is fetching 1.5 pounds per ton but unwashed wheat is half that price.”

The Sultan’s genuine care for his people was expressed in how he related with them. At an agricultural show in 1939, Waziri Dr Junaidu described him as “He would stand for an hour engrossed in conversation with a group of cattle rearers, champion farmers, Onion growers or blacksmiths and then move on to become totally involved with some other group. His entourage will slip away, exhausted, but the Sultan never showed any signs of fatigue.”

Finally, I will like to end this piece with a direct quote from the Amir of the Muslims, Sultan Siddiq Abubakar III. This quote will summarize the kind of person and leader the Sultan was and why leaders today need to study the past in order to gain mentorship and motivation from leaders like Amir Abubakar III. He was so concerned with his subjects that he told his district heads that;

“When on tour, if you see a sick person with ulcers, or eye infection or worms, or any other common complaint, try to explain the cause of the complaint and why he should go to the hospital. Send him there, or try to obtain medicine. If the person has no money or cannot walk, find a donkey for him to borrow. If you yourself are distrustful of modern medicine, tell me when you come to Sokoto – don’t be afraid. I will get someone to take you to the hospital so that you can see how things are for yourself.


Page (100-104)



Mallam Naini Musa is an Essayist, fiction writer, political commentator and social critic.

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