25 March 2003

Nigeria: A Traditional Ruler Speaks Out on Nigerian Elections and Education for Girls


Dutse, Jigawa State, northern Nigeria — The Emir of Dutse, His Royal Highness, Alhaji Nuhu Muhammadu Sanusi, is the traditional leader of Dutse, the state capital of Jigawa in northern Nigeria.

Dutse, one of five emirates in Jigawa, is rural and rocky - The word 'dutse’ in the regional language, Hausa, means rock. Giant boulders are a dominant feature of the landscape and form a dramatic backdrop to the Emir’s Palace. Agriculture is the main means of subsistence in the emirate.

During an interview with Bilkisu Labaran Ohyoma and Mannir Dan-Ali of the BBC and AllAfrica’s Ofeibea Quist-Arcton at Dutse Palace, the Emir described an average day in his life, discussing his hopes and ambitions for his people and the Dutse emirate.

First though, the Emir shared his thoughts on the upcoming general elections in Nigeria, scheduled for mid-April.

The run up to the nationwide polls in Nigeria has seen violence in some areas including the oil-rich Niger Delta region - and, notably, the assassination of a number of senior political personalities in a number of states. The killings have rekindled fear and concern among Nigerians about insecurity during the ballot, due to the role of what many have dubbed gangs of 'political thugs’.

The dates for the elections have already been challenged in court by one political party, which has accused the Independent National Electoral Commission (Inec) of being ill-prepared and failing in its duties.

Your Royal Highness, general elections are around the corner, how do you feel about the forthcoming polls?

Our greatest concern is that the political parties are yet to understand the need to have a peaceful election. It is in the best interests of this country that democracy is left to work itself out.

However, the only people who are responsible for making democracy work are the operators of democracy. So, we are appealing to them to sink their differences and face elections squarely, devoid of any malpractices. The idea of having anyone win 100 percent does not arise. If they know they have done their homework, then they should just face the will of the people at the polls.

Are you more concerned about the politicians themselves or the organisation of the elections?

Both. I am worried about the organisation of the election. There are already court cases pending regarding the date of the polls, which is not good.

Secondly, the organisers of the election are not prepared, like what happened here in Jigawa State. Forty percent of the people who went out to register do not know their fate.

How do you mean?

They are not listed in the voters’ register - including the Chief Imam [Muslim religious leader] of Dutse and his family. So, how do you expect an election to be held within three or four weeks when you have not even reassured these people that they are going to be on the voters’ register and be able to vote?

Do you foresee problems?

Greatly, because people who are not allowed to vote will be disenchanted and feel disenfranchised. So, there will not be free and fair elections.

So are you looking forward to the elections in April or are you a little anxious?

We are looking forward to them. We are praying that God will take our anxiety away, because really there is some anxiety about how this thing will be conducted. But I think God will answer our prayers that this will be a free and fair election.

As Emir, do you mix politics with your royal duties, or do you have to keep the two apart and stay out of politics?

We have to, in a way, but at the same time we are civil servants and we have to work with the government in place. They are our bosses. At the same time, we are the leaders of the community and the fathers of the community. So we have to be seen not to be partisan.

Moving onto the running of Dutse, what about the role of women in your emirate?

Personally, I believe that women play an important role. I don’t know whether you want me to say they are in active politics. But they have a role as mothers and also as our wives. They have an important role in deciding who rules and who does what.

But, if you are talking about partisan politics, we do not have many women who are either interested or keen or with good enough education that will benefit from the arrangement now in place.

If a woman does not have a good education, she is as good as nothing. So I would encourage women to get education first, face their lives and then they can compete with the men.

But is that because women are not given the opportunities?

They were given the opportunity. Some of them were given the opportunities. Since I became the Emir, we have opened several women’s education schools. We have encouraged women’s education beyond secondary school and, as an Emirate Council, we are doing everything we can to encourage them.

Would you say fostering women’s development is close to your heart, I mean encouraging women in society?

Of course! All my children have a good education. So, I don’t see why my children would have a good education, as women, and others would think they are not entitled to it. I believe that if you educate the women, you have the best in your society.

What future do you see in Nigeria for your children, especially the female children you mentioned?

Once they have education - lack of education is the barrier to every success. Once a woman is educated, she will be a better housewife, she will be a better civil servant, she will be a better businessperson and a better politician. Education is the key. We are trying to educate them. We are doing our best. We have opened private and secondary schools for girls and I am personally taking care of the schools.

Would you say that your views are rather radical in this part of the country in conservative and predominantly Muslim northern Nigeria?

It is not radical. Islam encourages education for all, not for men alone. Islam is a religion which says everybody should be educated, it does not say just men or women. One of the first verses of the Koran says everybody should be educated.

Your Royal Highness, this may seem an impertinent question - but what is it like being an Emir?

(Burst of laughter) I don’t know! Normally you wouldn’t ask a journalist what it’s like being a journalist! But let me tell you, it’s an exciting job. There are a lot of responsibilities and it is a job that, really, if you try your best, people will be grateful for what you do. And this is the nice thing about being an Emir.

Please talk me through a day in the life of the Emir of Dutse?

I start with morning prayers. After that I do my rounds. There are some schools I have a keen interest in. I go around them in the morning, to check on attendance and so forth and find out about their problems and so on. That’s when I’m in town.

Then I come to the Palace and I’ll sit with my Council. We will go through what went on in the emirate over the past 24 hours. If there are cases of crime, or other issues that are likely to upset the peace of our communities to be brought to our Council, we will discuss them. If there is a crime, or a criminal aspect to it, we will take it to the police or advise the police to take care of whatever it is.

If it is a civil matter we will resolve it or call the communities together and resolve the issues. We also appoint community leaders - village heads, district heads, ward heads and so forth - who run the affairs of the villages.

I understand that we are about to witness the 'turban-ing’ of a new village head in a ceremony that you will conduct. And let me just say that you are wearing a wonderful mid-blue turban, which is beautifully wrapped - or should I say 'tied’?

(Laughter) Thank you very much! What we do normally, when there is a vacancy in the village, there is a committee and the Council of Elders will elect a replacement of the village head. He will then be confirmed by me, through the district head.

So, what we are doing today is that I am going to confirm the title of that village head to the person who was duly elected or nominated by the Elders’ Council.

And, what does a 'turban-ing’ ceremony involve?

The turban-ing ceremony means that he is given the staff of office, as it were. He is given the authority to oversee and you will see that he will swear an oath in Hausa that he will do certain things. What he says is that he will take responsibility for what happens in the village and that he will guide his people in the right way and will not connive with criminals to upset the community and so forth.

He will append his signature and duly become the village head.

When did you become the Emir of Dutse?

Seven years ago.

How did you feel?

I felt good that I succeeded my late father, who died at the age of 84. I had worked with him as a Senior Emirate Councillor for five years before I became the Emir.

Did you feel it was an enormous responsibility you were taking on?

It was. The very day I was appointed the Emir, I had sleepless nights and I felt that I cannot take on these responsibilities. But, with prayers, I have been able to move forward.

And seven years on, have you settled into the job?

I am settled, very settled, and in fact, I have contributed a lot to the upliftment of the emirate and to the people of this emirate and I will continue to do more. Particularly, in the case of 'Zakat,’ which is dues for the poor, we collect poor dues every year. The first year we started three years ago we collected 27m Naira (about $200,000 ) worth of goods and cash. The second year we doubled that amount to 52m Naira (nearly $400,000). Now this year we are just starting the distribution of alms. We have over 100m Naira ($765,000 ) to be distributed to the poor in my emirate.

Do you have time to relax?

I spend a lot of time on the computer!

On email and on the internet?

On the BBC, yes! We are trying to work through the BBC to set up this programme on education, in Hausa, so that we can distribute this to the common man. We want to expand this wonderful programme that the BBC has done. It’s the best education programme the BBC has done.

What about allAfrica.com?

I am particularly interested in your website. It is quite a rich site.

The internet apart, do you spend leisure time with the family? What about sport and music?

I walk every day, 5km every evening, for two hours, every evening. I’m 60 years old and I look like you!

You look very fit! And what about the family?

I am a family man. I have time for my children once I get back home. I will sit with them and go through their homework and will do a lot with them.

Do your children feel they see enough of their father?

They see me a lot, because my job is a 24-hour job here. In the mornings they go to school. After they come back, I’ll be back by then and will stay with them until they go to their evening classes.

I can see that you’re a busy person; what would you say are your passions in the affairs of Dutse Emirate? And what have been your main achievements in your seven years as Emir?

My main achievement is that we have established a good relationship between the government and the people. We have enjoyed peace in this part of the state. Our crime rate has gone down drastically. Jigawa State is rated one of the best in the country for a reduction in serious crime. We have the least crime in this country. So I think we have achieved a lot.

In the area of education, we are working with parents to ensure that they send their kids to school. I have made it a point that every village head appointed must know that his responsibility, first and foremost, is to get his people educated. At least once a week, they must go to the primary schools and register their visit. So, whenever I go there I know whether they were there or not.

Your Royal Highness, thank you. Na Gode.

Na Gode Madalla, Thank you very much.

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