That Saturday, January 19 attack on the entourage of His Eminence Alhaji Ado Bayero, the Emir of Kano must rank as one of the saddest and most incongruent acts; and more than all the attacks before it—the attempt on the Shehu of Borno in July and the one on the Emir of Fika in August last year—it has highlighted the vulnerability of Sarauta, this system that is still wrongly called feudal.
But it is not the mere fact of the attack that is the issue; it is the fact of the failure of our collective reaction to it that is. The spirit of a nation—any nation—dies the moment it is overwhelmed by fear, especially the fear of the gun, as in fact does that of a region, a state or a city. While an individual may take to his heels in the moment of overwhelming fright, a city must take its stand; because, to begin with, it cannot run away, and it is not allowed to fear what it doesn’t understand or allow itself to be frightened by the mere flickering of its own shadow.
Unfortunately, that is our situation today: the North has already taken to its heels, as have its cities and towns and the countryside. And it is really all too pitiful; and after such a flight there is really no use crying over, or attempting to mop up, the spilt milk of prestige. The deed is done, the untouchable has now been touched, and the cow is no longer sacred—it is an altogether new India, and Ganges is dry.
Alhaji Ado Bayero is a much loved monarch in the city of radical politics and revolutionary irreverence to authority, including the traditional system that he represents and which Kanawa sometimes exaggeratedly venerate. But perhaps these contradictions are a part of the contrariness that makes Kano Kano—this urban wilderness with its never-changing, though sometimes dignified, metropolitan provincialism; a foremost centre of traditional scholarship existing side by side with heartless organised syndicates of the most violent, criminal underclass steeped in its irredeemable ignorance.
The story of this enigmatic city is simple and straight backward—and, Kano is Kano because Kano is Kano—and that’s all; for, it is its own reason for being. It is a true melting pot, the proverbial elephantine alimentary rumen, that devours, digests and denatures whatever is ingested into it, and alters whoever decides to settle in it until it has made a full Bakane out of him. It is the city of rebellion that yet cherishes and adores Ado, this foremost representative of conservative traditionalism; but, in the end, in his greatest hour of need, it would all prove a Rome that deserted Nero.
Alhaji Ado Bayero who, though not the supreme authority of the Sultanate, has come to personify its stiff upper lip aristocratic dignity with gravitas that is all too visible in its literalness; and by the power of majestic silence, he has come to represent the epic of its traditional charisma; and, by the colour of the originality he has added to royalty, this monarch has come to symbolize the quintessence of Hausa-Fulani pageantry.
And suddenly, despite all the glory, His Eminence Alhaji Ado Bayero was alone and humiliated, and in need of help on the streets of Kano. In the end, of course, it was not Ado Bayero in person alone who was beleaguered, targeted and abandoned at that Zoo Road spot: it was the Sarauta system itself that has been pulled down to its nadir.
Though like all the others, Alhaji Ado Bayero is conscious and respectful of and deferential to traditional hierarchy, he has, almost without trying, and, indeed with conscious attempt not to, come to permanently eclipse all other turbans in Nigeria today and his Kano all other cities. An attack on this figure is clearly an attack on the institution, whatever the stated motives of its perpetrators; and if only dogarai are left to defend Ado Bayero in Kano, the time for soul-searching for Sarauta has finally come—if it has not, perchance, already passed.
But with this passing even as its fortunes suffer a reverse, the world is witnessing acts that are the stuff of fairy tales with all the hallmarks of the makings of traditional legend. If Sarauta is really at its nadir, why are people ready to give their lives for it? Hello, what really is happening?
If there is often only anonymity in sacrifice; for martyrdom, there is assured immortality. And from that late morning of January 19, Ado Bala and Ahmadu Dogari have become an inextricable and unforgettable part of the history of Kano in a way that only its famous kings could have previously hoped for and despaired of. And we marvel because, ensconced as we are in our little psychology of selfishness, we are incapable of grasping the true meaning of bravery that beats death. And even if martyrdom cannot be bettered, not because there is nothing to offer better than life nor yet because there is nothing nobler than a life sacrificed for others; in this case it has been worsted, and not because the deed is incomplete, but because its aftermath has become incongruent.
How could anyone have done this to an Emir in the North, and not just any Emir; but to an Ado Bayero, and not just anywhere, but right inside his Kano? Where were the people of Kano who always say they love their Emir so very much? Where was that so-called pre-eminence and pioneering spirit that told you Koda mi kazo an fika? Fire is no hotter—and neither is the lure of the desire for freedom, nor the taste of life any sweeter—than it was before; and isn’t the grave of the great teacher Bakin Wake less than 200 kilometres away in Katsina? And couldn’t Kanawa have come down from the high horse and borrowed and sustained the great lesson in the exploits of the Boys of the Guddiri Brigade in Azare, a mere 200 kilometres?
At the crack of gunfire on December 16, 2012, the youth of Azare, who have had enough, didn’t take to their heels, scampering headlong into any available open homestead. Instead, they rushed outside and took a stand. And with bare hands, they surrounded, confronted, fought, overpowered and disarmed the gunmen who had made Azare their killing field. They kept charging even as they kept shooting them dead; and six youths and four security men were to fall dead with several others injured before they could be overpowered. There was nothing you could do with someone who had conquered the fear of death.
A week after this episode, a police undercover agent who got careless such that his gun showed in public, tested the vigilance of Azare youths; and the next minute only his official identity card would save him from certain death. And a week after, soldiers who thought they could clear a traffic logjam that they had helped cause by firing their gun in the air, got the shock of their lives. A shot to scare people attracted more; and a second shot created a multitude—and the soldiers had to take to their heels. The people of Azare had conquered fear—and in their good fortune they would never, and ought never to, forget Abubakar Dan Jakada, Sabiu Sale, Muhammadu Dan Sokoto Maidoya, Mustapha Tasiu, Magaji Aminu General, Mahmud Sani Adamu Gire who, by conquering the fear of death, made all this possible.
A life given in such a manner cannot be in vain. While in some theological traditions martyrdom requires the fact of death, with hatred for the religion of the martyr being the main motive for its cause, and must itself be welcome, and in some cases must even be unresisted, by the sufferer, the reality is that each community knows its heroes, and must know how to honour them.
The martyr is the ultimate true believer in the cause, able to offer the ultimate sacrifice—of himself and that which is dearest to him—at the altar of that which he believes in and loves, whatever that idea is. And for earthly reward, he joins mankind’s caravan of honour and sits at the heart of all great history; for martyrdom is perhaps the only cause for true immortality.
The nature of the sacrifice offered by these brave dogarai is for Kano almost an absolution for the cowardly indifference of its streets; and really puts to shame the claims of the idea of the modern democratic nation state to peoples’ allegiance; because democracy—along with all the modern misfortunes that accompany it—is incapable of creating an institution that can elicit this type of unforced loyalty.
For the Emir of Kano, these people have paid the supreme price; and for this uncommon devotion to duty, their families must be compensated. The Emir must himself see to it that this is done, or, better still, that from his own resources, he undertakes to consecrate and immortalise their names, not as mere tokenism but as a sincere and inadequate payback to the memory of their devotion to him; for, there is no prize to award to their families to compensate for what they surrendered, nor is there a price to pay for that which they offered. What they offered was to him as a person, and only indirectly to the Sarauta system that has now been thoroughly bastardised.
[Author’s note: The unedited version of this column was published inadvertently last Friday.]