The race to replace Alhaji Mustapha bin Umar Kyari Amin El-Kanemi, the 19th Shehu of Borno who died at a hospital in Cairo, Egypt and was buried in Maiduguri yesterday, has already begun with five top contenders for the ancient and exalted throne.
The Shehu died at the age of 85 after 35 years on the throne.
The funeral took place inside the Shehu's palace at around sunset after Alhaji Mustapha's remains arrived from Cairo. It was attended by tens of thousands of people, including President Umaru Yar'adua, Sultan Muhammadu Sa'ad, Emir of Kano Alhaji Ado Bayero, as well as Governors Ali Modu Sheriff of Borno, Ibrahim Shekarau of Kano, Isa Yuguda of Bauchi, Muhammadu Danjuma Goje of Gombe, Murtala Nyako of Adamawa and Ibrahim Shehu Shema of Katsina.
By tradition, a successor is expected to be named within 3 days after the death of any Shehu. Among the strongest contenders is the eldest son of the late Shehu, Baba Shehu Mustapha, the district head of Nganzai.
While Baba Mustapha was widely thought to be the favourite of his late father to succeed him, another favourite of the late Shehu was Abba Rufai Umar of the National Maritime Authority, son of the late Shehu Umar Sanda Kyarimi. Abba Rufai was known to be a very close of the late Shehu.
Another key contender is Abba Kyari Shehu Garbai, currently Permanent Secretary in the Borno State Ministry for Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs. He is a son of the 17th Shehu, Umar ibn Garbai, the perm sec is widely known to be very close to Governor Ali Modu Sheriff and many people in Maiduguri have long regarded him as the next Shehu.
Alhaji Abba's close relationship with Sheriff contrasts sharply with the sour relations known to have existed between the governor and the deceased Shehu. According to popularly held views across Borno, their relationship between Sheriff soured in the build up to the 2003 elections when Sheriff contested the ANPP primaries against the late former governor of Borno, Alhaji Malla Kachalla.
It was believed that Sheriff saw the late Shehu as supportive of Kachalla. Garbai was said to be the only royal family member who supported Sheriff against Kachallah that year.
Soon after Sheriff's election in 2003, he moved Garbai from his position as secretary to Ngala local government area to permanent secretary in the Ministry of finance. After the 2007 elections, Sheriff moved Garbai to Ministry for Local Governments and Chieftaincy Affairs which deals with traditional rulers in the state, including the Shehu. Speculations at the time were that the move was to make Garbai achieve his long term dream of being appointed a district head, which is a pre-requisite for contesting the seat of the Shehu when it is vacant. Indeed, Garbai was appointed as district head of Magumeri some 2 months ago.
With his appointment as a district head, suspicion heightened that governor Sheriff had concluded plans to facilitate the appointment of Garbai as successor, in the event the Shehu dies. It was said in some quarters that many Borno princes had prayed for the Shehu's throne not to become vacant during Sheriff's tenure.
Besides Abba Kyari Shehu Garbai, two other contenders are said to be vying for the vacant seat of the Shehu of Borno.
They include Abba Mustapha Sanda Kura, a son to the 18th Shehu Sanda Kura, district head of Beneshiekh in Kaga local government area. In 1974, Abba Mustapha Sanda Kura contested for the seat but was not successful. There is also Abba Kann-uma Umar, a district head and son to the late Shehu Umar Sanda Kyarimi. A new Shehu is expected to emerge within a few days.
Meanwhile, the Borno State government yesterday declared today and tomorrow as public holidays to mourn the late Shehu.