21 December 2013

Nigeria: A Royal Radical - the Muhammad Dikko Yusuf Story


From radical politics to intellectual confrontational engagement, from popular culture to religious commitment, coming down to youth empowerment - you name it: Alhaji Muhammad Dikko Yusuf has dabbled in it, enhanced it, redefined it and glorified it. It is hard to imagine any elder northern Nigerian who has unwittingly inscribed himself on the pages of history in a so silent manner - without media rhetoric or visibility, and yet achieving tremendous kudos and far-reaching results to would last far beyond his earthly sojourn.

Muhammad Dikko Yusuf' trajectory in life would seem to be a series of cosmic accidents and encounters; ad libs in the screenplay of life. He was an accidental policeman - never imagining he would be literally frogmarched into the Police Force. He was an accidental radical, finding down within the depths of his heart and soul, the gumption to raise against the very pampered and privileged tradition that crystallized him. He was an accidental Presidential candidate, marshalling an incredibly and intellectually barbed poster campaign steeped in classical Marxist rhetoric of re-distribution of wealth. He was an accidental Gladiator - jumping into the arena and facing an incumbent who not only had the massive Federal might in his kitty, but also has the entire country, including four registered political parties, shivering and beating each other to his doorsteps to 'earnestly ask' him to become a shadowy virtual presidential contestant.

Being in these accidental positions, and coming out unscathed takes an uncommon courage. It is this uncommon courage that defines Muhammad Dikko Yusuf.

The main book on M.D. Yusuf was David Ayodeji Opadokun's The Aristocratic Rebel (Lagos: Bonafidea Nigeria Limited, 2006). Nagarta Cikin Aminci provides Hausa readers with a Hausa- language account of M.D. Yusuf's life from a northerner's perspective, although clearly referencing, even if not acknowledging, the earlier book. My review will strike a mid-path between Opadokun and Mijinyawa's account to look at M.D. Yusuf as a model upright elder statesman.

Starting with a sweep of history, the book began with a capsular history of Katsina-the birth place of M. D. Yusuf-complete with ancient maps that highlight the historicity of the town and the emirate. While neither the most erudite or accurate, containing as it does, rehashed and poorly articulated translations of more erudite sources, this short journey in the history of Katsina nevertheless provides an effective canvas on which the life of M. D. Yusuf can be painted.

The historical narrative certainly helps to explain the unique position Katsina holds in the history of northern Nigeria as being the most forward thinking of the ancient six (although general agreement, which I tend to differ from, says there were seven) traditional emirates of Hausa societies.

The arrival of the British colonial army in Kano, Sokoto and Zaria was bloody, heralding a take- no-prisoners approach of a conquering army. For instance, depending on your personal coloration of the history, in Kano the colonial army faced few foolhardy courtiers awaiting grim certain death from the guns of the British, while the emir was on a homage trip to Sokoto, knowing very well the colonial army was approaching his domain.

The colonial army in Katsina faced a decidedly less sanguine and warm, deceptively cosy reception from Emir Abubakar in 1904. With a letter from a British colonial commander in Kano detailing the gruesome outcome of confronting the British army, and to the north, the French forces decimating Damagaram, the most astute position to be taken by any commander was to study the situation and act accordingly-a strategy which not only saved thousands of lives, but also laid a favorable view of Katsina by the British. Lugard himself gushed about the reception according to him by the Emir.

It was all smoke and mirrors, though. The plan was to accept the British without opposition and then launch an attack when they are properly settled and guards down. The futility of attacking a well-co-ordinated alien force with far superior arms was what scuttled the idea and led to passive resistance. This was further fuelled by internecine palace shenanigans that made the British depose the Emir they met, exiling him to lIorin, appoint another Emir, Yero, deposing him quickly enough because of perceived lack of co-operation and insubordination and also exiling him, this time to Lokoja. They finally settled on Muhammad Dikko in 1906, who though not from the ruling house, and having suffered from the brunt of palace intrigues, had endeared himself to the British with his willingness to learn from them. By then he was already Durrnin Katsina - in charge of defending the emirate. One of his first major task was to keep guard and monitor events in the nearby Emirate of Kano where rival claimants were dueling to become Sarkin Kano. He was also involved in commanding troops against Mararni, where some Katsinawa exiled themselves after the Fulani conquest of Katsina in 1806.

The ascension of Durrni Muhammadu Dikko as the Emir of Katsina from the Sullulflawa Fulani clan as interim Emir in 1906 and substantive Emir in 1907, marked the end of one, and the beginning of another era in the history of Katsina emirate after about 100 years (1806-1906) of Dallazawa rule.

The new Emir instituted a lot of reforms and contributed to the modernization of Katsina-a process that was quite easy for him considering his favorable disposition towards the British and their ideas of nation building. Besides being the first Sullulflawa Emir of Katsina, he was also the first to visit England, perform the hajj, ride a car and an airplane and open a school for girls, as well as establishing the first treasury office. One of his most important contributions was the establishment of Katsina College, the first secondary school in Northern Nigeria, in 1922. Dikko promoted western education, giving some of his own children to study under the British, and encouraging other nobles to do so too. It was not surprising, therefore that Katsina became the showpiece of modern British education-a position that enabled it to midwife thousands of northern intellectuals.

Emir Muhammad Dikko, favored and installed by the British thus instituting a new dynasty in Katsina, was M.D. Yusuf's grandfather. Born in November 1931 in a privileged royal household, all accounts of M.D. Yusuf's life in the book, transcribed from numerous interviews with eminent personalities in Nigerian political culture, painted a picture of an unassuming young person, who was intensely studious and living an almost ascetic life-getting immersed in the two educational streams at the time: the Western and the Islamic, the latter under the personal home tutelage of a learned Arab. One gets the impression, really, that M.D. Yusuf did not pass through the mundane stages of being a child-complete with grazed knees, naughtiness and pranks. Perhaps it was the royal blood and household that prevent princes from being normal kids, or the intrinsic ascetic quality of young M.D. Yusuf. The book, however, did not provide us with information about M.D. Yusuf's siblings-for that would help to further endear him to the reader and understand further his childhood. Whatever it was, a younger life quite ordinary seemed to have begotten a latter life quite extraordinary.

M. D. Yusuf's father, Yusuf Lamba, was one of the sons of Emir Dikko, and was also the Mayor, or 'Maigari' of Katsina. Subsequently M. D. Yusuf ame to be nicknamed, 'Maigari' by his grandfather, in affectionate knowledgement of a favorite son, Yusuf Lamba. Thus we see the direct royal lineage of M.D. Yusuf. We also see now where M.D. Yusuf inherited his astute and clever gift of the gab which was to stand him in good stead years later when he locked horns with more dictatorial elements of Nigerian governance.

What followed birth and early development was standard to a person who was nurtured by an intellectual tradition leading to attending high school at the School for Arabic Studies in Kano, as it is now in 1947. The seeds of radicalism were planted in him at the age of 18 in 1950 when he finished high school in Kano.

To be continued

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