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Dele Momodu: The Elephant Falls In Kano



Fellow Nigerians, please join me as I commiserate with the good people of Kano on the transition of their great Emir who was certainly one of Africa’s greatest monarchs.

I had picked on a totally different topic for this week when the news of his death hit me like thunderbolt. It’s not that an 83-year old man is too young to die but greatness often confers on some people that supposed status of invincibility and immortality. I’ve known a few such people in our firmament that made death look so ordinary and ineffectual. One of them died recently after what seemed an eternal battle and struggle. He was no other than the one and only Madiba, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, the former President of South Africa and the world’s greatest statesman.

The second of such personalities was closer home as I grew up virtually in the ancient palace of Ile-Ife where His Royal Highness Sir Titus Martins Adesoji Tadeniawo Aderemi, KBE, KCMG, the then Ooni of Ife held court until he joined his ancestors in 1980. Kabiyesi, as we all addressed him with fondness and trepidation, was born on November 15, 1889. The merchant Prince became King in 1930 and ruled meritoriously and successfully for 50 years before he ‘ascended into the loft’ on July 3, 1980. However his death was not announced until July 7, 1980, as demanded by the esoteric tradition of Ile-Ife where about 401 deities are worshipped all year round. Ile-Ife competes with Egypt as an origin and the custodian of a robust civilisation. Oba Adesoji Aderemi effectively combined the rich tradition of Ife with the effervescent politics of the good old Western Region and the Nationalist Movement of Nigeria.
Sir Adesoji later had the spectacular record of becoming the first Black Governor not just in Nigeria but in Africa as a whole. His power and influence was legendary and mythical.

It indeed transcended and engulfed Nigeria and beyond as he was at the vanguard of the political movement for the emancipation and independence of Nigeria and was knighted twice with Britain’s highest knighthoods.  Kids like me saw him as a deity in his own right and my perception of him did not diminish even though I was privileged to meet him on a few occasions by virtue of my relationship with some Princes of the royal household. We therefore never thought for a moment that he would one day depart this world to the great beyond. At the time of his exit in 1980, which shook the entire Yorubaland to its marrows, several superlatives like ‘Ekun lo’ (the tiger has departed) and ‘Erin wo’ (the elephant has fallen) were expended by worldwide sympathisers and mourners including the political sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo and the then Governor of Oyo State, Chief Bola Ige, the Cicero of Esa-Oke. My tribute today thus stems from that background.

Coincidentally, The Emir of Kano Alhaji Dr Ado Bayero was born in July 1930, the very year Oba Aderemi ascended the throne of Oduduwa in Ile-Ife. And like the then Ooni of Ife, Alhaji Ado Bayero reigned for 50 years. He was barely 33 years old when he was crowned the Emir of one of Africa’s most populous cities. Kano occupied a special position in the country and was legendary for its groundnut pyramids. The Emir’s tenure like that of Ooni Aderemi was similarly marked by loads of traditional and political activities which saw him bestride the Nigerian polity like a colossus. Like Oba Aderemi, he was a wealthy and classy monarch.  His long reign witnessed a potpourri of triumphs and tribulations. Kano attained a glorious eminence but was also rocked and ravaged by its fair share of political squabbles and terror attacks. The highly revered monarch barely survived a gun attack last year by sheer providence. But his personal aide was not as lucky as he fell in the hay of bullets.

The Emir was an exceptionally detribalised ruler and a friend of the rich and poor. And wait for this, by a twist of fate, Alhaji Ado Bayero’s best friend was a Yorubaman and the current Ooni of Ife, Oba Okunade Sijuwade Olubuse II, making the comparisons with the erstwhile Ooni of Ife, Oba Adesoji Aderemi , even more striking indeed. The Emir was such a wonderful networker and he broke down barriers of ethnicity and religion. He was a devout Muslim while his famous friend The Ooni is a full-fledged Christian. This was never allowed to affect their relationship adversely. Their religious tolerance would later get both into trouble with the then Buhari military junta when they travelled to Israel in contravention of a ban slammed against the country that gave birth to Jesus Christ. While the ordeal might have rattled them in a way, they remained strong, resolute and united. Theirs was a bond cemented in heaven and concretised on earth; a didactic lesson for our troublesome leaders.

My first recollection of him was in 1986 when I joined the service of His Imperial Majesty, The Ooni Sijuwade, and managed the Motel Royal Limited, a massive hotel complex, owned by the powerful King. It was quite an experience for me as I participated in serving the deluge of Royal guests who flooded The Ooni’s palace. The pictures of The Emir of Kano littered different parts of The Ooni’s household. I discovered The Emir and The Ooni were like Siamese twins, almost inseparable. Their friendship was palpably solid and it extended to their children such as Prince Nasiru Ado Bayero (currently The Turaki Kano and one of the strongest contenders to the throne) and Prince Adetokunbo Sijuwade, the eldest child of the Ooni and his Crown Prince. The young Princes successfully did businesses together on behalf of their fathers and themselves. I was always touched by the humility and simplicity of these Princes who mingled freely with commoners from different walks of life.

Nasiru, like his father has a crossover appeal and is never parochial.  His mother was the daughter of a former Emir of Ilorin and many of his closest friends come from different parts of Nigeria including Yoruba and Igboland. He is extensively and widely travelled as an international businessman and ambassador of his people and schooled in Germany with his bosom friend, Prince Tokunbo Sijuwade. This was after Nasiru had bagged his first degree from the University of Maiduguri. Both Princes served their parents loyally and got introduced to who’s who in the international community.
The Emir and The Ooni gave their children good and resounding education and exposed them to both African and Western cultures in order to attain a perfect blend in a largely modern world. The influence of the Emir was felt by us as he was a keen horseman and our motel had a horse stable at the time.  There were always traditional horsemen in the Ooni’s palace whenever there was a major ceremony in the ever busy palace.

The Ooni also made his presence felt in Kano as he stamped his regal footprints in the monumental palace anytime he visited. My closest contact with The Emir was at the House of Commons in London where he and The Ooni were special guests and I found him to be a man of gentle mien and very few words.

The Emir and The Ooni spent many of their vacations together in health spas and different resorts across the world. They operated like the true Royals they were and were counted amongst the number of renowned world royalty. Many of us royal watchers were endlessly fascinated by their unique style. They loved life and lived it to the hilt as only Kings can. Their sartorial taste was outstanding and they set trends in elegance and refinement. They make kingship look so good and inviting.

The Emir of Kano, Alhaji Ado Bayero, was revered and loved not only by his subjects but also by most of those who knew or interacted with him.  He was honoured by his country and academia receiving the Commander of the Order of the Federal Republic (CFR) and honorary doctorate degree in law.  He was a former ambassador to Senegal and former Chancellor of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka.  Until his demise, he was Chancellor of the University of Ibadan.  He was politically savvy and contributed immensely to the political struggles in Nigeria in his own inimitable way. A dogged and fearless fighter for truth and justice, the late Emir of Kano set his footprints firmly in the sands of time.  Sarkin Kano, Allah ya Jikan Ado!

I’ve decided to send this open message to the Governor of Lagos State, Mr Babatunde Raji Fashola, on behalf of the teeming students of Lagos State University, LASU. I was inundated all week by these students via Twitter. I therefore owe it a duty to intervene most humbly in the combustive matter.

Let me start by letting the Governor know that I understand the reasons behind the sharp increase in school fees at the institution. I’m aware that the cost of funding education has become astronomical the world over. I also know that Governor Fashola as a man of excellence is determined to build a world class university out of LASU and that this will gulp a lot of money. I sincerely sympathise with the frustrations that must have given rise to the increase in school fees but I wish to plead with our dear beloved Governor to have a rethink.

The crushing poverty in our country today is almost beyond imagination and redemption. The main weapon against backwardness and ignorance is sound education. The State must pay the ultimate sacrifice by keeping education within the reach of the common man. No government can win this war against students as we stand today. LASU has suffered too many closures in the past and present. This does not augur well for learning. We may end up graduating near-illiterates and never-do-wells. Indeed the fear is that we already do and this should not be compounded.  These are the same kids that will grow into societal menace and constitute a total nuisance to the rest of us. A State as sophisticated and cosmopolitan as Lagos cannot afford to create, or unwittingly nurture, monsters we won’t be able to control.

It is not a sign of weakness for a government to blink first. It is a mark of exceptional responsiveness and responsibility to think through this potentially explosive decision a bit more and find an acceptable solution to both sides. Education is too important to be toyed with. At the rate things are going, the protest may escalate into a major conflagration and snowball into a tragedy of stupendous proportions. This is not the time to take such a risk.
Governor Fashola has performed so well. Even his worst critics would concede that he has taken Lagos to the next level. Ideally, we should even be looking forward to his next assignment as President or Vice President, or somewhere in the top three. But this is Nigeria, a country where two plus two is not always four. Too many primordial sentiments hold sway. Governor Fashola should not allow LASU to become his albatross and perhaps ultimate waterloo. Truth is some battles are not worth fighting no matter the justification for them. This is one of such.
We must take a useful lesson from Chief Obafemi Awolowo who made free education his first cardinal priority. His legacy has endured because it turned many of us into whatever we are today. The Liberty Stadium he built in Ibadan has become a dilapidated edifice like many of its counterparts all over Nigeria. The Cocoa House has become a sorry sight. Many of the monuments created by Awolowo and his amazing team have become virtually run down due to a lack of maintenance culture. But the many Professors and entrepreneurs he built through the introduction of free education are still standing tall all over the world. It is a great testimony to the uncommon vision of Awolowo who deployed major resources into funding education when others frittered theirs on frivolous or white elephant projects.

With less than one year for Governor Fashola to complete his full and final tenure in Lagos, he must do everything possible to be seen as a man of the people and not as a leader in a hurry to punish the poor and alienate them from himself and the political party he represents. Politics is a game of numbers and the poor always out-number the rich by many digits all over the world.
It is my fervent wish that Governor Fashola would balance his desirable quest for modernising Lagos with an equal measure of milk of human kindness. He is one of the greatest revelations of our nascent democracy. I pray his end is far better than his beginning. And the only way to guarantee that is by etching his name in the hearts and not in the bile of the people.
And to the LASU students, who sent me on this errand, I hope I’ve delivered your message well enough. I plead that you opt for dialogue instead of violence. Governor Fashola is a great man who obviously believes in legacy. He is a civilised, learned and noble gentleman who knows that education is the greatest legacy you can bestow on a child.  I am sure that both parties can iron out this issue together.
I remain your humble friend.


Dele Momodu Write the Pendulum For Nigeria’s Thisday Newspapers, Email: [email protected]


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