Three years ago, a registered nurse, Alhaji Ibrahim Bello, ascended the throne of his forefathers by becoming the Sarkin Katsinan Gusau (Emir of Gusau). He tells ADENIYI OLUGBEMI about the prediction of his late father that has come to pass, what the throne has denied him and the insignificance of the ceremonial presentation of the staff of office
Can you tell about your background?
I am from the royal family. I am a descendant of Sambo Dan Ashafa and I was born in Wonaka in 1954, where the late Sambo was buried. After completing my primary school education in 1966, I proceeded to Birnin Kebbi Secondary School and was there till 1970. From there, I went to Gusau Secondary School, where I concluded my secondary school education in 1971. In 1972, I went to a school of nursing and graduated from there in 1976. Then I served at Gusau General Hospital in 1977.
Later, I returned to the School of Nursing and Midwifery in Sokoto, where I taught from 1985 to 1986. In pursuit of further academic knowledge, I went to Bayero University Kano in 1987, where I had Diploma in Education. From there, I went to Manchester University and graduated from there with a Master’s degree in Primary Health Education.
So when did you return to Nigeria? Take us through your career path before you ascended the throne.
When I returned to Nigeria, I continued from where I stopped – teaching at the School of Nursing until I was transferred to Jennifer Town in Sokoto State. I was made the Zonal Health Coordinator in charge of Zuru, Wasagu, Yauri, Tambuwal, Yabo and Gunmi local government areas. Then I was posted to Jega till around 1991, when Kebbi State was created, then I came back home to Sokoto. Later, Sokoto State School of Heath Technology was created in Gwadabawa, and I was fortunate to be the pioneer Director of the School. I was there till 1996 when Zamfara State was created and I was made the Director of Primary Health Care, Ministry of Health, Zamfara. As a Director of Primary Health Care, I was already on Grade Level 16 and was later made the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health.
I served there for many years and was later appointed as commissioner under the previous administration in the Ministry of Animal Health. The succeeding administration made me a Director-General and later made me Secretary to the Emirate, but that was for a brief period as I returned to my position as Director-General. And when my brother, who was the Emir of Gusau died and the contest for whom to succeed him began, I was also encouraged to contest and God willing, I became the Emir of Gusau.
When you were young, did you know you would get to this position one day?
Once you are from the royal family, you cannot say you can’t be an Emir, but I was not that zealous. I was too involved in my career and health related cases, but as God would have it, He made me to be what I am today.
How did you emerge among all the contestants that were interested in the position?
There were criteria set for certain numbers of contestants from each ruling family. Three of my brothers and I, who were from the same lineage, were initially in contention, but it got to point that all other contestants felt that I would be more suitable for the throne and they withdrew from the race for me. The names of those of us still in the race were taken to the Government House and the state government called the Ulamas (Muslim scholars) and other people to identify who was the best suited for the position among all of us.
The selection process took some time and on that day I was chosen, at about 2am, I received a phone call that I had been chosen as the new Emir of Gusau. It will be interesting to point out that the people in the emirate kept vigil because they were eager to know the new emir and when the final announcement was made, the crowd that thronged my house at that time of the day was unprecedented.
So when were you given a turban and presented with the staff of office as the Emir of Gusau?
What you referred to as presentation of staff of office is the ceremonial aspect of giving me a turban as the Emir of Gusau. The most significant aspect is the official pronouncement by the government. I was given my letter of appointment, then they gave me a turban and I resumed office. I assumed the position over three years ago and with or without staff of office, I have been performing my duties as Emir of Gusau.
The significant thing is for me to have a letter confirming me as the Emir of Gusau and on that very day, I received my turban.
So are you saying the staff of office is only ceremonial?
There are many that came before me and have yet to receive that.
In your opinion, why is it that selection of traditional rulers has become very competitive these days?
What you have described as competitiveness could be narrowed down to individual perception and understanding. Many believe that they are competent, while some think it is their inheritance since they belong to the royal lineage. There are some others who are pressurised to join the contest, which means it is not of their own volition. To some, the urge to contest is based on their perception that If they don’t contest, someone who is less qualified may emerge as their traditional ruler.
You have spoken about how the people thronged your house after the announcement. How did you feel when you received the news that you had been chosen as the new Emir of Gusau?
When the news was broken to me on the phone, I received it with calmness. I was advised to carry everyone along and to be a just and fair monarch. Immediately I got off the phone, I thanked God that I emerged victorious because no one wants to fail in life. Later, I invited all other contestants and told them it was a family affair and that the choice was from God. It was God that made me to become the Emir of Gusau and tomorrow anyone of them can also become the emir. I asked for their support and cooperation. So I offered an olive branch to them and for those who accepted it, I assigned roles related to the palace to them to perform.
Do you mean that some of those that contested the throne with you did not accept the outcome of the selection?
Whether they are few or not, it does not make any difference to the declaration of the government. What mattered most was that the government made a pronouncement after painstaking scrutiny, and the outcome was acceptable to the vast majority of people in the emirate. We picked up from there and the support, cooperation and testimonies of our people, including those who are not indigenes, have been tremendous. So we do not know anyone who has a grudge against us.
How prepared were you for the role?
I was not prepared in any special way. As a Muslim, I believe in what Allah says in the Holy Quran. Allah says what you will become, you will become, no matter what. That is my position.
Were there times you wished you were not the Emir of Gusau?
Such a time has never come and I am convinced such a time will not come because my emergence and being given a turban were destined by Allah. I am not lacking in the capability and wisdom required to direct the affairs of Gusau Emirate, and my people have been reciprocating with their support and cooperation.
You were once a teacher and now you are king. Are there any comparisons between your teaching experience and the one you have had on the throne?
They are entirely different roles. As a tutor, my activities basically involved going to classroom, mentoring and helping students to learn. I have travelled to different places to attend conferences and so on. But here, one is always confined to the throne, basically to welcome people and attend to problems, including domestic and marital issues. The regimented life of the palace is so demanding such that these days, I hardly have time to read newspapers. After going through the dailies briefly, it is the job of someone else to read the newspapers and give me the details therein.
As a registered nurse, do you miss working in the hospital?
(Laughs) It has been long since I left nursing and I cannot say that I miss the wards. I have since left the wards and gone into administration, before I ascended the throne.
Can you recall your first proclamation when you ascended the throne?
At the Government House when I was given my letter of appointment, what I said before everyone was, “Glory be to God, we are thankful to God for making me the Emir of Gusau. I ask for Allah’s guidance and wisdom in the discharge of my duties as the emir. I also promise not to betray the trust and confidence reposed in me.” When we arrived at the palace, I said it in the presence of everyone that my administration would have an open-door policy, and that anyone with advice or a superior opinion was free to come to me. I assured them that people with advice for me would have my attention. According to our religion, if you are an Imam and you make a mistake, the followers will point it out to you so that you can make corrections where necessary, so that everyone’s prayers will be answered. So I also told them that they were free to point out my mistakes to me.
How do you relax?
I hardly have time to relax and that is why I do not often come out to attend to people till midday. This is because the early part of the day is the time I share with my family, have some discussions and rest. I don’t go on vacation.
Your position must have deprived you of many things you used to do before; what are some of those things?
The office has deprived me of going around the town freely to see my friends or going to places I used to go to chat and laugh with people. I cannot do that anymore. I am not allowed to walk to the places I could just walk to before and this is depriving me of the physical exercise that such used to be. If I venture to go out all alone, everyone will be asking: what is happening to the emir? When I was not the emir, I could easily move around without anybody taking notice of me and I had no security operatives protecting me. But now, it is a different scenario. If I have to go out, it has to be with a horde of security operatives. My friends can come here but I cannot go to them as I used to do before.
Like we have in some kingdoms and emirates, is there any taboo in your emirate?
We don’t have any taboo here because the throne I inherited is from my great grandfather who was an Islamic scholar. He worked with Usman dan Fodio. They believed in God and didn’t believe in taboos. So here, we believe in reciting Quranic verses. Our belief is in Allah and not in any taboo.
Traditional rulers are considered as the custodians of our culture and traditions, so some people are clamouring for constitutional roles for monarchs. Do you also subscribe to that view?
To be honest with you, I am learning about so many things now. Like I said, I was a healthcare professional and I was dedicated and devoted to my job. At the palace here, we engage in events like horse-riding, Durbar festival during Sallah and other festivities.
Can you mention some of the developments that have happened in your emirate since you ascended the throne?
It is universally acknowledged that where there is no peace, there can never be development. Peace enterprise is paramount and we never treat it with levity. We have made remarkable achievements in this area. This applies to all our villages and districts, where every identified new settler is profiled and monitored. We have been able to curtail youth restiveness. Recently, some of the restive youths, through the efforts of the palace, repented and laid down their arms with a promise to turn over a new leaf.
A lot of our young graduates are gainfully employed through concerted efforts from the palace, while those who desire to further their studies are also realising their dreams. Those who are not academically gifted will all be privileged to acquire some skills at the skills acquisition centre that is about to be completed.
How did Gusau Emirate come into existence?
Gusau Emirate came into existence in the early centuries. It was Sheikh Usman dan Fodio who invited our grandfather, Sambo Dan Ashafa, who was a settler at Dotondaji, to help him in propagating and teaching Islam because he was an Islamic scholar. That was as far back as the eighteenth century. He assisted Shehu Usman dan Fodio to take the flag (symbol of Islam) to many places and therefore lived here before moving to Wonaka, where he later died. Based on the trust that Shehu Usman dan Fodio had in him, he gave him the flag and appointed him his lieutenant. The word ‘Gusau’ means to get better.
What is a typical day like for you?
A typical day for me in the palace starts after midday when I come out to pray. Then I will sit down here and attend to people from all walks of life.
What would you consider as your most memorable period?
There are many memorable things that have happened to me and memorable moments that I cannot forget. The first was when I got married. I didn’t worry much about marriage; it was my grandmother that found my wife and introduced her to me as my wife. It was just like a joke and this happened when I was still a student at the School of Nursing I attended. My parents bought so many dresses for me. I cannot forget how my friends and a lot of people were there to witness our marriage and since then, we have been happily married.
Another memorable event in my life was when I first wore a nurse uniform. It reminded me of a prediction made by my late father. There was a day he took to me to General Hospital, Gusau. Then he held my hand and said, “One day, you are going to be among those who will run this hospital.” I always remember that statement as I was later in charge of Surgical Ward and Outpatient Department of General Hospital, Gusau. I didn’t only work in the hospital, I also trained people to work there up till the time I became the Director of Health and Technology.
Source : PUNCH Newspaper