The Emir and his people

(By Kolawole Oludamilare Dan)

I served in Gamji Girls College in Rabba Local Government in Sokoto State years later for my NYSC programme and I was dazed by some of the conditions in which I found people were living there, and even in the city. Of course, I am aware of the poverty in the country generally and I see a lot of it in Ibadan, too, where I now live but that of the state where I served was chronic and I can’t but be convinced that anyone living under such conditions where welfare and dignity to life is at its lowest could be capable of any act of misconduct against humanity, to put it mildly.

WHEN red light beams to mean not ‘Stop’ but ‘Run’ and eye starts witnessing smoke not from under the cooking pot but from the nozzle of a gun, then stories will not just come and go but stick in memory leaving behind scars.

I was privileged to have lived in the northern part of this country; Kano to be precise and I enjoyed staying next to one of the numerous streets in Dukanwuya that were known for the then very popular, adventurous and celebrative journey of the Emir on his yearly visitation to his mother’s house on horses. The journey used to be very phenomenal with beautiful and well-decorated stallions on which the King, his sons (from the youngest to the eldest), guards and numerous followers mounted through the journey.

The yearly activity, which comes with horse displays as a side colourful show attracts spectators from every works of life which makes the whole of the ancient city change in tone and in its atmosphere. Despite the fact that I was very young then, I marveled at the enormous love and respect the people had for their King. People mounted cars bought with their hard-earned money just to catch a glimpse of the Emir and his sons. Many more followed the king to his destination and returned with him while those living abutting the street provided water in containers and placed them by the streets for people and horses that might need it through the whole journey. It was often a memorable spectacle.

I also do remember that heated arguments did rage among the youths over who of his sons bore what names as a reasonable number of them at the time knew and indeed delighted in knowing the princes by their names. It used to be a lot of sacrifice and display of uncommon love from the people for their king and leader. This is why the recent news of the attack on the Emir and his sons gave me a rude shock.

I received the news of the attack with the certainty that a lot must have gone wrong since I left the ancient city. If the big plan of eliminating the Emir and his sons could get to the stage of execution without as little as a hint getting to the Emir before the attack then a lot must have seriously gone wrong. Where is all the love and respect? Where are all the sacrifices? It was something inconceivable in times not too far back.

There can only be one explanation for where the love and respect for the king all went. They must have disappeared in widespread and deepening poverty which is ravaging the land and which then gave rise to unmitigated anger.

I served in Gamji Girls College in Rabba Local Government in Sokoto State years later for my NYSC programme and I was dazed by some of the conditions in which I found people were living there, and even in the city. Of course, I am aware of the poverty in the country generally and I see a lot of it in Ibadan, too, where I now live but that of the state where I served was chronic and I can’t but be convinced that anyone living under such conditions where welfare and dignity to life is at its lowest could be capable of any act of misconduct against humanity, to put it mildly.

In Ibadan recently, a woman left her six kids in the house, went into the bush and hanged herself. It was later discovered that she took the action because she was no longer able to bear the abject poverty that had plagued the family since her husband passed away. It was reported that she left the kids in hunger. There was also the case of a man who went into an uncompleted building and hanged himself because he owed a lot of debt, which he had no means to pay. There are reported cases of people throwing babies into wells and young mothers burying them alive for the simple reason of not having the capacity to feed and take care of them.

In Ibadan, you don’t have to be physically challenged to beg; anybody can beg for alms on the streets of Ibadan… old, young, deformed or not and the trend is on the increase by the day. The old culture of personal and family pride has given way in the face of unprecedented and acute deprivation.

Even then the poverty level I witnessed in Sokoto was by far worse than that in Ibadan, yet people were not that desperate as to go to commit suicide for being poor. No one throws children away or bury them alive for not being able to feed them. The truth is that poverty in Sokoto and most northern states has found a way to be part of the culture of the people. It is clear that the northerners and southerners for reasons too complex to comprehend do not see poverty in the same light and thus react to it differently. This may explain the high volatility in temper of an average northerner since hunger is known to simply lead to anger at the slightest chance while an average southerner simply takes it out on himself, not on anybody else or on the state from poverty induced lack of self-esteem.

If Sokoto is similar to her sister city, Kano, in the level of poverty and degenerated human condition to the point of no dignity, then one should not look farther… hunger leads to anger and takes away all I once admired and loved about the people’s relationship with their king. The love, respect and freedom the king once enjoyed in his Kingdom has been drowned in the people’s stream of anger.

I wonder if there was any relationship between the Emir’s travel to London and the attack on him. I cannot help coming to the conclusion that a king is after all a king because his people say he is and they want him otherwise how else does one explain the seeming estrangement between the Emir and his people and in a manner totally unexpected. In my reflection I begin to ask myself how clearer can a message be to the king that there is gap to be bridged between the leader and the led.

In another development, to prove his loyalty and innocence to the king and ultimately remind the people of his powers and his ability to use it for the good of all, the governor took a quick and drastic step of stopping the activities of the commercial motorcycle riders in the state… further, impoverishing the people. Again I ask, if this line of action that obviously increases hunger is the solution to the proven decline in the love and respect the people now exhibit for their king and their leaders.

• Dan is a farmer, lives in Ibadan.

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