Monday, October 3, 2022

The Pukka Sahib in late Emir Shehu Idris: A tribute

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The True Gentleman is the man whose conduct proceeds from goodwill and an acute sense of propriety, and whose self-control is equal to all emergencies; who does not make the poor man conscious of his poverty, the obscure man of his obscurity, or any man of his inferiority or deformity; who is himself humble if necessity compels him to humble another;… who thinks of the rights and feelings of others, rather than his own; and who appears well in any company, a man with whom honour is sacred and virtue safe – John Walter Wayland (Virginia Omicron 1899)

The people of Zazzau Emirate woke up on Sunday 20th September 2020 to the dreadful news of the demise of one of Nigeria’s longest reigning monarchs, Alhaji Dr. Shehu Idris. He reigned with reverence and exceptional tact to the admiration of all his subjects.

John Walter Wayland’s generous choice of words in painting the picture of a true gentleman could easily go as a metaphor for Emir Shehu Idris. His life of service which spanned a record-breaking 45 years, that saw 20 governors of Kaduna State, was laced with finesse, candour, admirable character, and genuine compassion. He was to the people of Zazzau what the Hindus would call ‘Pukka Sahib’ – a true gentleman.

Shehu’s life was as humble as his personality. Born on 20th February 1936 to the family of Mai Anguwa (Ward Head) Mallam Idrisu Autan Sambo, son of Emir of Zazzau Sambo and grandson of Sarkin Zazzau Mallam Abdulkarimu – the founder of the Katsinawa Ruling House and a student of Shehu Usman Dan Fodio.

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He was educated at Zaria Elementary School from 1947 to 1950; Zaria Middle School – present day Alhudahuda College – from 1950 to 1955; and finally earned his teaching skills at Katsina Training College which ushered him into a teaching career traversing many villages and towns within the Emirate.

In 1960, he was appointed as the Principal Private Secretary to the 17th Emir of Zazzau, Muhammadu Aminu. He held the traditional titles of Wakilin Ofis (office) and later Danmadamin Zazzau and District Head of Birni da Kewaye before his ascension to the throne as the 18th Fulani Emir on the 8th of February 1975.

His ascension was somewhat unexpected. Because Malam Shehu as he was known then, was an underdog and by many measures not in the same social class with other major contestants like Alhaji Aminu Tijjiani – Turakin Zazzau, former Chairman of NTA Board and former Commissioner for Social Development, North Central State; Alhaji Nuhu Bamalli – Magajin Garin Zazzau, former foreign minister and parliamentarian (father of the incumbent Emir); Alhaji Nuhu Bayero – Dan Iyan Zazzau, a university don and former Pro-Chancellor of University of Lagos; amongst others.

But in a twist of a fate by the Almighty, the underdog whom we were told reluctantly joined the contest, was nominated by the quintuple of the Kingmakers led by the then Wazirin Zazzau, Mallam Nuhu Yahaya. Their recommendation was approved by Brigadier General Abba Kyari, Governor of the then North-Central State.

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And lo and behold, the humble and unassuming school teacher, in person of Shehu Idris was announced as the 18th Fulani Emir of Zazzau in 1975.

The merriments of the New Year of 1975 came with a new Emir. My late father, Alhaji Ibrahim Dabo’s account of the stewardship of Idris from his early days on the throne to much later years is timeless. He was close to him right from his formative years, then as colleagues in the Native Authority and title holders in Zazzau Emirate under the cerebral Emir Muhammadu Aminu, and much later, as in-laws after God joined their children in matrimony.

The extent of their closeness was revealed by the late Emir himself sometime in January 2020, when a few family members paid His Highness a thank you visit after he conferred our father’s traditional title on one of my elder brothers. He recollected with nostalgia that on one of his visits to our dad’s office as Chief Accountant of Works Dept. at Zaria Native Authority in 1955, they both performed ablution and promised to stand by each other in joy and in difficulty till death do them apart. We can fairly say, they lived up to their words.

My dad would recall Shehu’s stint as Emir as heralding with the usual leadership hiccups that come with exuberance. He however, gradually stabilized, displaying admirable leadership traits year in, year out, like the proverbial good wine that gets better with age. This account has been corroborated by many elders, which affirms his inherent gift and wisdom.

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As Emir, he served the people so diligently and became their reservoir of succor. He was compassionate to a fault, ever there to hospital bills, and provide shelter to many. He initiated countless on his educational scholarship schemes and rescued many from the tragedies and calamities life thrust upon them. It was therefore, not surprising that his funeral witnessed an unprecedented sea of people.

On a personal note, since after my father’s death in November 1989, he was not only an Emir to me, but a father figure that embraced me with open arms and warmth.

Death is cruel. Two years has gone. Our beloved Emir – an industrious person of wealth, a devout Muslim, tolerant to a fault, accommodating and cosmopolitan, loved by his subjects – has sorrowfully become a relic of history.

Even in death however, his impactful life of service and labour of love will always be remembered and prayed upon until we meet again in the great beyond.

May Allah continue to bless his soul with everlasting peace and grant him Jannatul Firdaus. Our Shehu, our Emir, our Pukkah Sahib.

Mr Dabo wrote from Lagos and tweets @Bashir_Dabo

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