Maitama Sule: An Eloquent Unifier Dies in Heat of National Strife


• Buhari, Osinbajo, others mourn, Kano declares Tuesday work free

Bolaji Adebiyi, Omololu Ogunmade, Damilola Oyedele, James Emejo in Abuja and Ibrahim Shuaibu in Kano

Yusuf Maitama Sule could well have been the cat with nine lives. Twice, first in 2013, then in 2016, he was speculated dead only for family and friends of the celebrated political orator from the core North-western part of the country to clarify that, though ripe in age, he was well and still kicking. Monday, however, in the faraway ancient city of Cairo in Egypt, he died. He was 88 years old. The nation mourns.

Given his age, his death ought to be celebrated having regard to his political accomplishments, three-time minister of the federal republic, a world class diplomat and a revered statesman. But the circumstances and timing of his demise are such that the nation received with shock the news of his passage. Down with pneumonia and chest infection, the nation’s foremost hospital in his native Kano city could not treat him and he had to be ferried to Cairo for proper medicare. That speaks to the hopeless and unfortunate state of the nation’s health care system, which he spoke passionately about only a few months ago. He could not return home to continue with the moderating role he had allotted himself as the nation faced the most debilitating national strife in its history.

Threatened by a religious insurgency in the North-east, separatist agitations in the South-east, militancy in the South-south, and a deafening clamour for the restructuring of the country in the South-west, Nigeria totters on the brink. One of the most influential voices from the North, urging restraint and accommodation was Sule, who located the basis of the national uprising as the absence of justice. At a conference of Northern leaders in Kano two years ago, he was strident in his call for equity and justice as the basis for peace in the country.

“The world can never be governed by force, fear and power. What governs is the mind and the weapon for conquering the mind is justice,” Sule told his audience consisting of the Northern elite and intelligentsia, contending forcefully that “justice should be given to everyone equally no matter their religion (and ethnicity). If you deserve justice, it must be given to you”.

He called on history in aid of his proposition and argued that the First Republic was relatively more stable and glorious because there was equal justice for all Nigerians, irrespective of their religion and ethnicity.

Asking Nigerians to reflect on the past as the way forward, he said: “It is necessary to visit the past so that we may know what we were before and compare it with what we are today so as to adjust to the present and plan for the future.
“Our past was glorious. Our founding fathers were excellent people. Not only in the North but in Nigeria as a whole. They were decent people who went into politics to serve but not to be served. To give but not to take.

“They had their differences. Some were Muslims and some were Christians from different cultural grounds but they were able to accommodate one another. They respected one another and cooperated with one another.”

Obviously embedded in his thought-provoking presentation, which received the traditional standing ovation that characterised his speeches everywhere, are the arguments for the review of the prevailing political and economic structures of the federation. Carefully avoiding the word “restructuring” that many Northern politicians and elite find offensive, Sule made the point that the current arrangement was crumbling and was in serious need of “reengineering” and “rebuilding”.

At other fora, the elder statesman took time to rebuke the use of religion and ethnicity as political tools to attain power, opposing them because they undermined the unity of the country.
“All religion preaches peace and love to everybody not just to people of your religion. There is no religion of God that says you should coerce people to join the religion. If we were to live the teachings of love as God wants us to, then there will be peace,” he told another gathering last year in Kano.

Born in Kano in 1929, Sule belonged to the generation of the founding fathers of Nigeria from the North, even when he was junior in line to the likes of the Sardauna Sokoto, Sir Ahmadu Bello, Premier of the Northern Region, and Alhaji Aminu Kano, who was the leader of the opposing Northern Elements Progressive Union (NEPU). He came to national limelight as a member of the Northern Peoples Congress (NPC) and was elected into the House of Representatives, becoming the Minister of Mines and Oil from 1959 to 1966.

He went into political hibernation after the military coup of January 1966 but resurfaced in 1976 as the Federal Commissioner of Public Complaints, appointed by his former student, Gen. Murtala Mohammed, who became Head of State in July 1975.
Upon the return of politics in 1978, he joined the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) and aspired to be its presidential standard-bearer in the 1979 general election but lost to Alhaji Shehu Shagari who eventually became the Second Republic president.

Sule was appointed Nigeria’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations in September 1979. At the UN, he was appointed the chairman of the United Nations Special Committee against Apartheid. He returned from there in 1983 to become Minister for National Guidance, a portfolio designed to assist the president in tackling corruption.

Enormously endowed with the gift of the gab, the late politician was known to have used his talent to mobilise Nigerians towards the path of unity and nationhood, taking care always to draw attention to the positives that tend to mold the different ethnic groups together, insisting that there was great advantage in Nigeria’s diversity.

“Everyone has a gift from God,” he once said about Nigerians, adding: “The Northerners are endowed by God with leadership qualities. The Yoruba man knows how to earn a living and has diplomatic qualities. The Igbo man is gifted in trade, commerce, and technological innovation. God so created us equally with purpose and different gifts.”

In the face of the ethno-religious crisis and separatists agitations that are threatening to break Nigeria, the old man insisted on the unity of the country, saying in spite of the challenges, he was hopeful that the nation would emerge stronger.

On one of those occasions that he was brought out to share his experience to serve as an inspiration to the younger generations of Nigerians, he was at his oratorical best:
“I have a dream not only for the North but for the entire country, Nigeria.
“I have a dream that Nigeria will be truly united one day.
“I have a dream that Nigeria will have a buoyant and strong economy.
“I have a dream that Nigeria will have the political clout that will enable it to lead the rest of Africa and of blacks all over the world.
“I have a dream that Nigeria will come to regard one another as their brother’s keepers.
“I have a dream that Nigeria will take her proper place in the comity of nations and will be one of the leading nations of the world.”

Sule was 84 when he had that dream. He was a patriot and a nationalist till his last breath. No wonder, THISDAY Newspapers honoured him with its Lifetime Achievement Award in 2010 in recognition of his outstanding contributions to the peace, unity, growth and development of Nigeria, his fatherland. He was unable to attend the awards ceremony due to his failing sight, but THISDAY was undaunted. Its Editorial Board, led by its Chairman/Editor-in-Chief, Nduka Obaigbena, flew to Kano to personally present the award to Sule. For members of the board, the two hours spent at his residence were an unforgettable experience, as he was at his eloquent best, his acuity and memory undiminished by age, and played the perfect host to the August visitors to his abode.

Sule had risen from humble beginnings to attain national reckoning as one of the longest serving ministers in the truncated First Republic and a favourite of then Prime Minister, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa. The two shared a striking history, according to online medium Premium Times. While Balewa’s father was a servant of the Madaki of Bauchi, Sule’s father served the then powerful Kano kingmaker, Madaki Mahmudu. It was after his master’s father that Sule’s father named his only son, born in 1929, Yusuf.

Sule often made references to his family background and described education as what placed him shoulder high with the emir, instead of serving him. Under the benevolent guidance of his father’s master, young Sule was enrolled at Shahuci Elementary School in 1937. He subsequently attended Kano Middle School and Kaduna College (now Barewa College). Sule taught at his alma mater, Kano Middle School and played significant roles in social mobilisation, touring villages with then Emir Muhammadu Sanusi throughout the emirate, on health, literacy and tax campaigns.
The emir would later turban him Dan Masanin Kano, in acknowledgment of Sule’s knowledge, wisdom and roles in public campaigns. True to his title, Sule remained a repository of Kano and Nigeria’s history as well as an acclaimed public speaker with sharp wit.
He left behind his wife and nine children.

Kano Declares Day of Mourning

Reacting to his death Monday, the Kano State Government declared Tuesday a work free day to mourn the death of the elder statesman.
A statement by the state Commissioner for Information Mohammed Garba added that his remains will be flown into Kano Tuesday and his funeral will take place at 4 p.m. at the Kano Central Mosque and Emir of Kano’s palace.
A family source also confirmed that the aircraft conveying his body would land at the Aminu Kano International Airport, Kano, at 2 p.m.
When the news of Sule’s death broke in Kano Tuesday morning, the metropolis was thrown into mourning, even as mosques in the city and other areas of gathering began to recite verses from the Quran, seeking God’s forgiveness and for the repose of his soul.

Commenting on his passing, a Kano resident, Alhaji Kabiru Yau Abdullahi, said the North had lost an elder statesman who spent his life serving the people.
He said the late Sule had mentored and advised the late Emir Ado Bayero.
A relation of the deceased, Mrs. Amina Ahmad, also said Kano had lost a father whose advice kept the town alive, pointing out that Maitama spent his entire life in the service of the nation and had a dream of a better Nigeria.

Leaders Mourn

In his reaction to Sule’s death, President Muhammadu Buhari also expressed shock over the passage of the former Permanent Representative at the United Nations and personally sent a letter of condolence to the Kano State Governor, Abdullahi Umar Ganduje.
A statement by his media aide, Malam Garba Shehu, said Buhari in his letter, expressed profound shock over the death of the elder statesman.

The statement, which also said Buhari described the death of Sule as a heavy loss, added that the letter would be delivered by a delegation of the federal government to be constituted by Acting President Yemi Osinbajo at the burial.
The letter read: “I have heard this morning, the death of the venerable Alhaji Maitama Sule, Dan Masanin Kano, and one of Nigeria’s famous sons. Although I knew he was in poor health for some time, his death nonetheless, came as a profound shock.

“As a Minister in the First Republic, he was one of those who assisted our founding fathers, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Alhaji Ahmadu Bello and Alhaji Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, to fashion Nigeria politically and lay the grounds of national co-existence.
“Maitama Sule was blessed by God with a wonderful voice and outstanding eloquence. He served with distinction in the First Republic, the Second Military regime, as well as the Second Republic, without him being tainted with the remotest hint of scandal.

“As a person, I found him personable with unceasing good humour. Nothing personified his faith more than the fact that on losing his sight, he did not retreat in himself sulking on account of his ill-fortune. Quite to the contrary, he honoured virtually all invitations extended to him and spoke as usual with singular eloquence and unparalleled wit.
“In my discussions with him, I greatly valued his counsel, and I never ceased to be amazed by his concern for the well-being of his country rather than his personal interests.
“Let me extend my sincere condolences to Your Excellency, family and friends, the government and people of Kano, and Nigerians as a whole, for this most heavy loss. We shall not soon see the like of him. May God forgive his sins and admit him to Paradise, Amin.”

In the same vein, Osinbajo Tuesday said he received the news of Sule’s passage with profound sorrow, describing the deceased as an orator, elder statesman, distinguished diplomat and the Dan Masinin Kano.
A statement by his media aide, Mr. Laolu Akande, said the acting president extended his deep and heartfelt condolences to Sule’s family, friends, associates and the government of Kano State and prayed to the Almighty God to comfort them all.
The statement further said Osinbajo observed that Sule would be best remembered on the global scene as one of Nigeria’s “foremost envoys whose clarity of voice and vision contributed significantly to the high esteem and respect Nigeria earned at the United Nations”.

While conveying the federal government’s condolences to the family of the deceased and the Kano State Government on behalf of Buhari, Osinbajo further described Sule as an illustrious son of Nigeria, great Nigerian leader and committed nationalist who positioned himself as an agent of unity, lamenting that his death was a loss to Nigeria.

In his condolence message, former President Goodluck Jonathan, in a statement by his media aide, Ikechukwu Eze, described Sule as a bridge builder and advocate of peaceful co-existence who worked relentlessly for Nigeria’s development.
He described him as a committed patriot and celebrated African statesman, whose efforts helped bring an end to apartheid.
The statement read: “I am deeply saddened by the passage of Dan Masanin Kano, Alhaji Yusuf Maitama Sule, who died today at the age of 88.

“He was an accomplished leader, diplomat and elder statesman who served Nigeria and Africa in different capacities to the best of his abilities. I remember him as a great leader who worked relentlessly for Nigeria’s development.
“He functioned as a reliable navigator in difficult times both at home and abroad, especially with the commitment he showed towards dismantling the last vestiges of apartheid.

“The canon he preached and lived as a committed patriot was genuine love for our nation which manifested in his sincerity, hard work and deep embrace of people and politicians from all parts of the country.
“He lived a long and rewarding life and will be greatly missed. May the Almighty grant him al Jannah Firdaus. My condolences to his family, the government and people of Kano State.”

Former vice-president and chieftain of the All Progressives Congress (APC) Atiku Abubakar also said that Sule’s unblemished public service record was one of the greatest and most indelible virtues for which he would be remembered by Nigerians and the world.

Atiku, in a statement from his media office, noted that the deceased was one of Nigeria’s greatest and most remarkable politicians whose vast experience, knowledge and wisdom were invaluable and immeasurable.

According to him, the late Sule was an epitome of selfless service to the people, adding that politicians of his generation were dedicated to service with integrity, qualities which he said, have been significantly eroded since the end of the First Republic.

The former vice-president extended his condolences to the government, the family and the people of Kano State on the death of the illustrious and remarkable politician.
In their messages, the President of the Senate, Dr. Bukola Saraki, and Deputy Senate President, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, also mourned the death of the elder statesman.

Saraki, in a statement issued by his Special Adviser, Media and Publicity, Mr. Yusuph Olaniyonu, said it was gratifying that the late Sule witnessed modest achievements in the country he believed in.

He added that the late Sule was a detribalised Nigerian, core democrat, accomplished civil servant and exceptional orator who spoke the truth at all times.
The Senate President expressed his condolences to the family of the deceased, the Kano Emirate, and the government and people of Kano State.

Saraki called on Nigerians to pay the highest respect to Sule’s legacies, by toeing the path of dialogue in addressing their grievances and eschewing ethnic tensions.
He also called on both the federal and the Kano State governments to immortalise Sule as the great icon of peace and an advocate of justice and fairness.
Ekweremadu, in a statement, lamented that Sule did not live to witness the Nigeria of his dream, which he fervently preached, prayed, and worked for.

He described the demise as a blow, not only to the government and people of Kano State, but to the entire nation.
“This is the exit of a patriot, true statesman, role model, social crusader, diplomat of an uncommon pedigree, and an orator, who served the nation and humanity in many capacities.
“Although he was popularly known as Dan Masanin Kano, some of us preferred to call him Dan Masanin Nigeria, for he had a rare national appeal and loomed larger than life itself even in his humility.

“A man of unimpeachable integrity and agent of national rebirth, Dan Masanin was true to his title, a man of the people, mouthpiece of the poor, master of words, peacemaker and diplomat par excellence.
“As a people, therefore, we owe it to his memory to bring to fruition his dream of a truly united Nigeria where everyone is his brother’s keeper, a nation that is the pride of Africa, a bastion of democracy, the citadel of peace, and an economic giant,” Ekweremadu said.

The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Yakubu Dogara, in his message, described the death of Sule as a monumental loss to the African continent.
He said notwithstanding the fact that the deceased was of age, the sad news of his death came to him as a shock.

He described him as a colossus, patriot, father to all, and a distinguished elder statesman who wrote his name in gold in the annals of Nigeria’s history.
Dogara expressed his heartfelt condolence to his immediate family, the people and government of Kano State and all Nigerians mourning his passing.