Lagos — The late Shehu of Borno, Alhaji Mustapha Umar Kyari Amin El-Kanemi, had a clear vision of his mission on earth.
While receiving his staff of office in 1975 after one year in office, he was emphatic about it: "I shall make every effort to be honest in dealing with my people and uphold justice, rule of law and fair play. I shall always work for the peace and progress of my people, irrespective of ethnic origin, religion or place of birth, and I will do my best to bring about improvement in the standard of living of the entire people of our Emirate".
Before he departed this world on February 21, 2009, he had made a success of that vow. During his 35-year reign, despite their political, cultural and religious differences, the people of Borno remained largely united. He brought his personal qualities of humility, wisdom, accessibility and steadfastness to bear on managing the diversity of his domain. He was an apostle of peace who demonstrated a rare capacity for tolerance and harmonious living, thereby setting a worthy example for his people. One of his last assignments was the counselling of some children in his palace in Maiduguri on the virtue of peaceful coexistence and honesty. That signified his preoccupation throughout his earthly sojourn.
In addition to these glowing attributes, the former vice president of the Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs would be missed by the poor because of his philanthropy and life of sharing. A man of immense national and international influence, the enormous resources that went to him were usually promptly redistributed to the needy that trooped daily to his palace for assistance.
The eulogies that have continued to grace his death from both the high and low are, therefore, expected. Senate President, David Mark, summed the encomiums up when he said that Shehu Mustapha was a leading light, patriot, bridge builder and socio-cultural crusader. In his words, "I recall with nostalgia the late Shehu's contribution to the peace and unity of the country. He was passionate about a united Nigeria that guarantees the welfare of the people, equal opportunity and protection of all citizens. He consistently preached mutual respect, human rights and peaceful coexistence between and among various ethnic and religious groups. He never shied away from speaking the truth no matter the odds."
Prior to the ascension of the famous throne of his ancestors, Mustapha El-Kanemi had distinguished himself as a public servant and politician. The fourth son of the 17th Shehu, Sir Umar ibn Mohammed El-Kanemi, had his early education at Dikwa from 1936 to 1944. Thereafter, he went to Zaria for an administrative course in 1953 and later to Potiskum in 1969 for local government training for district heads. He started his administrative career as a secretary to the Wali of Borno in 1945. From there, Shehu Mustapha was transferred to various departments of the Native Authority (NA) as the representative of the Shehu. Before he went to Zaria for the local government course, he was moved from Nguru to the central office in Maiduguri . As his public service life blossomed, he was also drawn to politics. The late El-Kanemi was elected into the former Northern Nigeria House of Assembly in 1956 to represent Damaturu/Busari Constitue-ncy and was re-elected three years later. During the First Republic, he was appointed parliamentary secretary in the defunct Northern Region. He later returned to Maiduguri in 1966 and in 1970, he was made district head, a post he held for four years before the mantle of the traditional leadership of Kanem Borno fell on him.
Although the late Shehu died at a ripe age of 85 years, the events that led to it should sober every Nigerian. He had battled with cancer of the leg and leukaemia for many years and, finally, few days before his demise, he collapsed in his palace and he was flown to Cairo in Egypt where he eventually gave up the ghost. That morbid drama is a sad commentary on the state of healthcare in the country. Only last January, another prominent Nigerian, ex-Yobe state Governor, Alhaji Mamman Ali, died in the United States where he had gone for medical attention. Now, how many more Nigerians will suffer the same fate before the health of the citizenry becomes a priority?
For the departed lover of the people and elder statesman, we wish him eternal rest. And for the living, emulating his qualities at this critical stage of the nation's development is not only desirable but pertinent.