interviewBy Hamza Idris and Yahaya Ibrahim
Maiduguri — His Royal Highness, Alhaji (Dr) Abubakar Ibn Umar Garbai Al- Amin El-Kanemi is the Shehu of Borno and vice chairman of the Supreme Council of Islamic Affairs in Nigeria. He spoke to newsmen in his palace during the recent celebration of the Eid-el-Maulud to mark the birth of Prophet Muhammad (SAW). He also spoke on factors responsible for the lingering security challenges facing the country and the need to revive old traditional system of administration in order to address the challenges. Excerpts:
Your royal Highness, when you look at the attacks on traditional institutions by Boko Hara attacks there is this feeling the authorities are not doing enough in giving adequate support to traditional institutions. What is your take on this?
This is a very simple question. If we go back to the traditional system of administration, a situation whereby a stranger comes to your domain, his first port of call is the place of the village head who will know why he comes, what his occupation is, for how long he would stay or has he come to stay permanently?
This is done before the visitor is allocated a place to stay and a land to farm. If we have a register that we keep all these things, you would know who your subjects are. If such power is given to the village head, the ward head and district heads, most of the challenges will be over. Most of the problems we are facing are being perpetrated by strangers and I feel if we can go back to that era, things will augur well.
Our (Nigeria's) borders are so open and porous such that even aliens can come into our country and create problems here and there and run away. And one of our problems here in Borno State is that our borders are very porous. We have common borders with Niger, Chad and Cameroon. Unless there is proper control of the borders, we would continue having challenges.
We want the federal government to take this issue seriously so that some of these things will be over. We believe that with the intervention of the government and the prayers we are offering every day, our security challenges will be things of the past in the nearest future because our district and village heads are cooperating and offering prayers.
Here also at the palace, we have been offering prayers and the Borno State government is assisting us seriously, so I am sure will overcome them.
We thank the federal government for providing security and we believe it is doing its best in terms of development. The state government at the same time is providing job opportunities for the youths and idle people by providing the Keke NAPEP as well as giving soft loans them to be self sufficient. We thank both the federal and state governments for helping the people, for the protection of the lives and property.
What other roles did traditional rulers play in the olden days which gave them control over their subjects?
When Lord Lugard came to the northern part of Nigeria, he met them with a traditional administrative set of government with defined rules, regulations and policies he only modified the existing laws.
Even now, we are happy, the constitution is very good and we understand that a provision will be made for the emirs so that, may be, we would go back to the olden days.
And I feel some of the responsibilities vested in local government authorities need to come back to the traditional rulers and the emirate councils. One example and a suggestion is the issue of indigeneship. What we have now is that one person is holding indigeneship certificates of three local government areas or two or more states.
But if there is proper control in the sense that an indigeneship certificate has to be signed by the village head first, identifying that the bearer is from the area; then the district head will counter sign, then from there, the chairman of the local government council or whoever is entrusted to hold that responsibility should sign. But a situation whereby the indigeneship certificate is not properly controlled, definitely there would be problems.
We have seen many traditional rulers, clerics and commoners in this palace for the Maulud celebration. For how long have you been doing this?
In fact, what you have seen today has been going on for over 1,200 years. The palaces are traditional seats of government. In the olden days, we have our courts, the Dogaris (Police).
You see, even the way we seat in the chambers, the place where I sit is the position of the judge; the higher court judge then the rest are lower court judges. The Talba and the Wali are judges and legal advisers. So, all the traditional titles you are hearing about these days were holders of responsibilities in the olden days equivalent to those to the present day state government.
In those days, the Shehus were the governments. In those days, we had only four Sultanates in Africa or in the world I can say. We had the Moroccan Sultanate, the Ottoman Empire's Sultanate which once controlled Saudi Arabia; then the Kanem Borno Empire Sultante and I think that of Egypt. So what you have seen here today reminds you of what obtained in those days.
What is your call on the people that have fled Maiduguri because of insecurity?
For those people who fled, I am appealing to them to come back. You see, most of the challenges we are facing now had happened before. Rabi (the famous warrior) had invaded and conquered Borno from 1893 to 1900 and declared himself as the paramount ruler of Borno Empire and made himself the traditional leader of the whole place. With the help of the French forces in 1900, Rabi was defeated and an appropriate ruler was appointed. My grandfather and name sake, Shehu Abubakar Garbai was appointed as the Shehu of Borno with the headquarters of the emirate in Dikwa before he transferred his capital to Kukawa and then to Maiduguri in 1907.
Many things had happened. The Maitatsine disturbances came and gone and even before then, we had the civil war. People should understand all these things. They should study the history which will make them understand that calamity comes from God and if you go back to the Almighty God and pray, all the challenges will fizzle out.
I am therefore appealing to all the people that have left Borno State to come back and stay in their respective houses and offer prayers to Almighty Allah to avert these calamities and not to allow them happen in the future, not only in Borno but everywhere.
You see, most of these towns or states have problems in one way or the other but we believe with prayers, all these things will be a thing of the past.