I’ve learnt, with utter shock and sorrow, about the death of Alhaji Yusuf Maitama Sule, the Dan Masanin Kano and cannot but think of it as a great loss to our people. Irrespective of your calling, tribal leaning or mode of worship, you cannot but believe that Alhaji Yusuf Maitama Sule was a peaceful man and despite the toxicity in the discourse of our national life, he had never threatened anyone; his was an influential but moderate voice in all of our affairs. He spoke glowingly of our national greatness, he was very civilised and accepted people regardless of their tribe or tongue or belief.
Certainly, I was surprised at the silence of Dan Masanin Kano considering how our national political debate recently took a turn for the worse, following the so called “Kaduna Declaration” issued by the so called coalition of Northern youths in response to the combustible rhetoric of Nnamdi Kanu of the so called Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) and when Professor Ango Abdullahi supported them. Recall that the Dan Masanin Kano was actually the Chairman of the Northern Elders Forum to which Professor Abdullahi belongs and serves as spokesman; the Vice Chairman is Wantaregh Paul Unongo. Apparently, all this while, Alhaji Yusuf Maitama Sule was battling with ill-health in Cairo, Egypt.
Born on 1st October, 1929, Maitama Sule was one of three children and the only male of his parents and had a humble background. His mother, Hauwa, died when he was only four years old and his upbringing was a really tough. He attended Elementary School, Shahuci, Kano and Kaduna College, better known as Barewa College from where he graduated in 1948 and became a teacher. Maitama Sule started politics early and in 1954 was reported to have won election at the Central Office, Kano, against his former teacher, Malam Aminu Kano. Maitama Sule’s political fortune continued to rise and during the First Republic, he served as the Minister of Power and Steel.
To say that Maitama Sule was an orator is an understatement. He spoke impeccable English. He never got tired of recounting encounters with the Premier of Northern Nigeria and Sardauna of Sokoto, Sir Ahmadu Bello and Prime Minister, Abubakar Tafawa Balewa. In the Second Republic, Alhaji Yusuf Maitama was one of those who challenged Alhaji Shehu Shagari for the presidential ticket of the National Party of Nigeria (NPN). Following Shagari’s victory, Alhaji Yusuf Maitama was appointed as Nigeria’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations from 1979 to 1983 where he honourably chaired the UN Committee against Apartheid. Foreseeably, following his re-election in 1983, President Shehu Shagari named him as the Minister of National Guidance with the mandate to lead an ethical rebirth of Nigeria. Before then, the story had been told of how he was summoned to Dodan Barracks, Lagos, by Nigeria’s revolutionary leader, General Murtala Muhammed. Amid fears for his personal safety, General Murtala appointed him as the Chairman of the Public Complaints Commission. It can be said without any fear of contradiction that Alhaji Yusuf Maitama Sule, the Dan Masanin Kano, had unhindered access to almost all of Nigeria’s Heads of State.
Maitama was a drum major for justice, a force for national unity, a tireless voice for friendship and solidarity among all the Nigerian citizens and communities. He was a great storehouse of Nigeria’s contemporary history, having witnessed its rich zenith and as well as its wretched nadir. He was an encyclopaedia of sort. If Dan Masanin Kano were an American, he would have made great fortune speaking at public occasions. Everywhere people wanted an earnest, inspiring and unifying voice at public functions, they had invited the Dan Masanin Kano.
I saw him last 13 years ago at one of the airports in the country. I first met him in 1989 or so during the convocation ceremony of the then State College of Arts and Science, Sokoto, when he served as the guest speaker. He didn’t disappoint. Almost every line he uttered was a revelation, punctuated by applause. What I took away from him that day, for the first time, was his disclosure of the hierarchy of Northern Nigeria’s traditional rulers. He said, and I have since confirmed it, that the Sultan of Sokoto led the pack, followed by the Shehu of Borno, the Emir of Gwandu and then his own Emir of Kano.
The death of Dan Masanin Kano has robbed the North, nay Nigeria, of a disciplined and wise voice, a soprano voice that had always appealed to us to be our brother’s keeper. Undoubtedly, if Maitama was himself all this while, he would have moderated our current ill-tempered exchange among sub-national groups. He would have spoken against the quit notice the Northern youths gave the Igbos. He would have definitely cited an anecdote to demonstrate our brotherliness and inseparability. He would have said things to silence our ethnic jingoists and religious bigots.
The Dan Masanin Kano had always lamented our abandonement of our values, our culture. Here is one of his many evergreen quotes: “Today, we have abandoned our culture…..Culture is the custom and costumes, the characters and characteristics, the manners and mannerisms, the philosophies and ideologies of the people. Culture is the totality of the experience of the people.”
The Dan Masani, in one of his famous quotes had also observed: “Everyone has a gift from God. 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.”
I know his funeral today will be observed by the high and low of Nigerian society. May Allah bestow his abundant mercy on our departed politician, orator and diplomat, the Dan Masanin Kano, Alhaji Yusuf Maitama Sule.
Inna lillahi wa inna ilaihi raj’un.