In Loving Memory of Baba Sarki

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Alhaji Ibrahim Dasuki, the 18th Sultan of Sokoto, Baba, departed this earthly realm on the 14th of November 2016. He was 95 years of age and had been ill for a while. But for the most part, his mind had remained alert and so conversations with him towards the end belied his frailty.

My mother married the late Sultan in 1969, almost three years after the death of our father, Mallam Isa Wali, who was at that period Nigeria’s Ambassador to Ghana. The late Sultan Dasuki had also at the time lost his first wife and because our two families were known to one another before the individual bereavements, the children from both families already enjoyed a close relationship.

Of course, there were some apprehensions from both sides, especially due to the fear that we might lose the love of our surviving parents to the ‘other children’. But to the credit of both Sultan Dasuki (now of blessed memory) and my mother, the relationships were managed and strong fraternal bonds were created, that survive to this date.

Not long after we moved into our new home, I recall falling ill with a fever during the night. I was shivering. Without hesitating, I went over to Baba’s bedroom to tell him that I was feeling sick. He touched my forehead and asked me to step into his room. I remember him taking out a small white tablet and a bottle of treetop, then a glass of water. He gently led me back to my room, where all the children then slept, and gave me the medication to take. He must have sat with me until I fell asleep, as I do not recall him leaving my bedside. For a little girl in a new home, that was something! He was kind and could be ‘my father’, after all!

Baba Sarki was also a firm disciplinarian. I had an age mate amongst his children, who was understandably tenaciously protective of her father’s love, as I was of our mother’s. She was then the apple of her father’s eye, but I was never one to keep quiet, when outraged. I recall how we would fall out, as young children often do. In one of such scuffles, we zealously reminded each other of where each stood: ‘Your father is gone’, was met with an instant retort: ‘And your mom is gone too!’

Even when adults intervened, we persisted, each striving to ‘best’ each other with hurtful words. Baba then came onto the scene and promptly led the two of us to an empty room (except for some boxes and some carpets, I can never forget) adjoining his bedroom and closed the door behind us. Then he told the two of us rather calmly that we could continue our tirades in private without upsetting other people in the household with our insensitivity. Left alone, we hurled nasty words at each other, hissed, glared at one another until we got tired and fell asleep.

What would appear like hours later (but probably much shorter, now that I think of it), Baba opened the door and asked if we were through. Looking repentant, both of us apologised to him, but that was never enough. He asked that we go round the entire household; to all the men and women living in the house without exception, kneel down and apologise for our bad behavior. That, he said, was the only condition under which we could be forgiven!

Since we had such a huge household, as most traditional households can be, that was some task. The lesson he imbibed in us was that all and sundry just had to be respected, from direct relatives, fostered and adopted children of close friends, to those that helped around the home, drivers and guards. Their families were ours, and their challenges were shared. He succeeded in bringing all of us together.

Baba was a man of many parts and his doors remained open to everyone. We still have so many ‘brothers’ and ‘sisters’, ‘aunts’ and ‘uncles’, ‘relatives’ from those days whose kinship to him and the Sokoto lineage I could never fathom or hope to understand.

Holidays were frequent and fun, with road travels in convoys of two or three vehicles through Zaria, Gusau, Sokoto and even to Dogon Daji; stopping every once in a while to pray, buy fruits, eat suya, drinks, all the while chatting and changing vehicles, as we felt fit. Everywhere we went, we were feted and fed with fura, roasted meat, souvenirs and regaled with stories, late into the night. Memories of a lifetime!

Baba Sarki would always find time for his family. I recall him gently admonishing my sister, when he attempted to correct her in those early days. She petulantly reminded him he was merely our ‘step father’, insinuating that his authority over her was limited. He sat her down and asked quietly what word in hausa could translate as ‘step father’, knowing that such a translation did not exist. We took the cue and from then on referred to him as our father. From then, our relationship grew stronger, knowing he would do nothing to upset us or deliberately hurt our mother.

He would tease her mercilessly about Sokoto and Kano (she being from Kano) and she would always reiterate to us, just in case we were inclined towards believing his glowing rhetoric about Sokoto and the caliphate, that there was no place like home (which for us was Kano)! Interestingly, even while my mother was worried about how I seemed to prefer, at a point in my young life, the Sokoto visits, Baba Sarki could nonetheless do no wrong, even until now.

His sense of humour was legendary, his wit always casting a fresh appreciation of the circumstances at hand. He would reduce the most complex of issues into a simple anecdote, clarifying how to appreciate, learn from and accept even the hardest of challenges. He also loved a good conversation with his impeccable command of the English language. So we learnt at his feet and leant on him, even until recent times, for his experience, wise counsel and guidance.

His sense of right and wrong was strong, clear and resolute. His trials were many, but his faith in the Almighty was unwavering. In 1988, after the demise of Sultan Abubakar the 3rd, interested parties intervened in the traditional sphere and a ‘successor’ to the Sultanate throne was announced by Daily Times even before the Kingmakers had taken a decision. In quick succession, thereafter, the Sokoto State Government announced his selection by the traditional kingmakers, and then politically motivated riots broke out in select places, obviously provoked by those who were aggrieved.

Not surprisingly, his ‘children’ from around the country hurried to Sokoto to be with him. I recall him speaking out to the massive crowds in his home, strictly forbidding anyone from lifting a hand in retaliation against those who were rioting against his appointment.

I still recall vividly his stern mien when he told everyone that could listen that we were all family. ‘How could we fight each other?’ he asked while recounting how his predecessor in office had been appointed within Military barracks and how it took him 40 days to move into the palace due to protests against the selection in those days. He appealed for patience and warned that engaging in violence would only aggravate and cause hardship to the public. His repeated reprimands went far in quelling the riots. Baba served the public with such passion, wisdom and humility.

When he was deposed as Sultan in 1996 by the then Military Administrator of Sokoto (believed to be acting under the orders of the late General Sani Abacha), Baba Sarki was taken away to solitary confinement in Zing, Taraba State for almost two years. His wives were able to see him on one occasion, even then only after filing a case for the enforcement of his human rights. Eventually released upon the demise of General Abacha, we rushed to welcome him home, only for him to be rebuking those who expressed relief at the death of Abacha. He then requested that we join him in prayer for the peaceful repose of General Abacha.

In sharing his experience, he told us the incarceration had taught him many lessons and that he was thankful for that long period of solitude as it afforded him the time for deep reflection and prayer. If anything, he was a better man for it. He had been Sultan and no one could erase that; now he could have time for family and to nurse his health. He could pace himself and apply himself to serving his Creator.

Baba Sarki subsequently remained in Kaduna, never traveling back to Sokoto, knowing he could cause division just by his mere presence in that jurisdiction. On select days of the week, he would have lunch with his grandchildren and as he grew weaker, he would sit outside on his wheelchair on Fridays, giving the little children brand new ₦10 notes, as they surrounded him with their innocent chatter. The children obviously loved the ‘sadaka’ they received and looked forward to each Friday, and he just savoured the moments he shared with them. He remained accessible to traditional titleholders and government officials from around the country, offering advice and sharing his experiences.

Watching the massive crowds as he was taken home for his final journey, I felt so proud. The sheer numbers of people who turned out for his funeral rites was testimony of the love and respect his people had for him. He had lived a fulfilled life and had broken the jinx that the Buhari line of Usmanu Ibn Fodio’s descendants could never be Sultan. Sultan Ibrahim Dasuki was buried alongside his forebears and the descendants of Usmanu Ibn Fodio, which was his ultimate wish.

He had served his people and his country in many capacities. He was the ultimate peacemaker, the bridge builder across so many divides. To his close and extended family, he was a loving husband, a doting father and grandfather – the unifier. He remained true to his Creator and it was now time for him to take a rest, In sha Allah. For each and every one of us – his children, grandchildren, wives, and relatives, we had all felt special and loved; we all had our personal stories and memories, deriving from how this unique personality made a huge impact in our lives. He would forever remain alive in our thoughts and in our prayers.

From your ‘Maryamu’, it is the small things that I will always cherish, that will keep you alive in my memory. Alhamdulillah for a life well spent. Adieu, Baba Sarki! We pray that AljannatFirdaus be your final abode in sha Allah.
––Mrs Maryam Uwais is Special Adviser on Social Investments in the Presidency