The axe forgets what the tree remembers – African proverb
Alhaji (Dr) Yusuf Maitama Sule, Danmasanin Kano, died three years ago.
There has been some mention of this in social media, mostly from young northerners who believe they lost an irreplaceable icon.
His compatriots in the Northern Elders Forum (NEF), the last final block he placed on an incredible legacy of service to the nation and the North would have remembered and prayed for him.
It will be comforting to know that there is a book on his colourful and eventful life because it would be a great injustice to history if the story is not told of a man with a towering intellect, a walking encyclopedia on Nigerian politics and an inimitable combination of greatness and profound humility.
It will not be entirely correct to say that Danmasanin Kano died a happy and fulfilled man.
Certainly, Allah knows best, he died in service to God, and nothing would come between him and that devotion.
But he died weighed by concerns that the North he loved and laboured for, and the Nigeria he projected and embodied with such distinction were both severely distressed and floundering.
Even in his last days, he continued to make the case for service to the North, and the demands that all leadership must be made to respect the values of justice, accountability and sacrifice. It was a message he repeated equally to the most powerful leaders and the humblest citizens, and to young Nigerians who only heard of these values as abstract concepts.
In his last few years, his beloved Kano was showing evidence of deep, simmering conflicts between systems and values that will neither die nor be born.
Like most prominent Kanawa, he had agonised over a historic incongruence: an unusual emir and a governor with pronounced paranoia over loss of power.
Danmasani felt that it was not going to end well, and Allah saved him the agony of witnessing a most unseemly outing involving the family of late Ado Bayero in a political context that tore a long, proud history to pieces.
His Northern Elders Forum (NEF) was a tear-away from the larger Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), a revolt of sorts by elderly men and women who were exasperated by the failure of the ACF to be more assertive in the protection of northern interests.
The manner northerners, particularly from the North East, appeared to have been abandoned to an insurgency by the federal administration, and the absence of a strong voice from the North, were the major catalysts behind the creation of the NEF.
The new group had solid support from very powerful personalities and looked set to change the way the North did business with power and the rest of Nigeria.
No one was more qualified to lead the NEF than the apostle of moral politics, the man who had evolved from NPC’s band of the best and the brightest into the statesman with a captivating voice.
He led it with dignity and a level of sagacity that created a healthy balance between a critical organisation of distinguished Northerners and a responsible group that was willing to help with advice and support where necessary.
President Jonathan experienced the persistence of a small group of Northerners who would not walk away from locked doors.
He met the group a number of times to discuss matters related to the security and economy of the North, including the imperatives of exploring additional options of ending the Boko Haram insurgency.
As the elections of 2015 drew near, it became obvious that the fate of the North had never been more at stake.
The NEF went through an intensive and difficult search for where to invest its considerable weight.
It was a choice between an administration that was at best indifferent over the state of the North and at worst a bungling leadership that was a threat to the entire nation, against the opportunity of replacing it with the presidency of General Muhammadu Buhari who had promised to re-secure the nation, fight corruption and fix the economy.
It was a very difficult job steering the entire forum to stand solidly behind a Buhari Presidency.
Many members had reservations regarding his track record in positions of leadership in the past.
A few were founding fathers of the PDP, and it took more than a little effort to get them to throw over the remnants of partisan loyalties.
Some of those members of the forum now shoulder responsibilities under the Buhari administration.
Once the decision was taken to support Buhari, no member looked back or dropped out.
When the campaign became dirtier and Candidate Buhari was being demonised in Western capitals as likely to be soft on religious extremism and a threat to democratic traditions in the event of a loss, the NEF did the rounds of key diplomatic missions in Abuja and the Danmasani and his loyal deputy, Paul Unongo led a strong team to Europe and the US at its own expense.
The outcome was almost dramatic in its effect: it created a groundswell of positive disposition in the West towards Buhari and a commitment to remain neutral. NEF made no song and dance about this.
Here at home, NEF organised a game-changing meeting between candidate Buhari and over 200 senior Christian clergy, an event that was vital in raising the confidence of Northern Christians under his Presidency.
Danmasani’s NEF threw itself into the campaign, hoping that its contribution would help facilitate a regime change, create an administration that would stop alarming decline in integrity levels, defeat an insurgency that had the run of the North, and provide a new lease of life for Northern political unity.
Danmasani broke down in tears while praying for Buhari’s success when NEF paid a congratulatory visit to the President-elect, the first group to do so.
Encouraged by the President-elect to support him with advice, the NEF submitted recommendations it thought would consolidate the administration with inclusiveness, and political wisdom that would build bridges where the elections showed some weaknesses.
Significantly, it advised him to work with the party and the legislature and get a Northern Christian elected Senate President, and appoint a competent Igbo person as Secretary of Government of the Federation.
It turned out that there were many keys to the new presidency. Senator Bukola Saraki who had been lurking with strong intent saw an unprotected goalpost and scored a winner.
A Northern Christian was then appointed SGF, but he was the candidate of holders of other keys to the presidency located in Lagos.
Danmasani witnessed the high and low points in NEF-Buhari relations.
Under his leadership, the doors to the President slowly closed.
The Forum watched as Boko Haram survived a major onslaught by the new administration, but clung to a territory to continue to torment the population.
It watched a president who had promised much to settle down to an unimpressive performance in the fight against corruption, insecurity and rehabilitating the economy of the North.
Barriers against advice went up.
The circle of influence became progressively narrower around a president who said he belonged to everybody, but in fact belonged to a handful.
Danmasani was spared the agony of witnessing more of the North swamped by criminals.
He did not live to see his group go back to the trenches from where it fought the Jonathan administration.
He was not alive to see the Forum publicly denounce the record of President Buhari from the perspectives of Northerners who had voted for him to defeat an incumbent president.
He had sat at the head of meetings with Ohaneze Ndigbo to improve North-East political relations, but the formation of a platform involving major regional groups to take a stand against the re-election of President Buhari occurred after his death.
Death spared him the pain of hearing some of these same leaders of ethnic organisations from the South locate Nigeria’s entire problems at beleaguered doorsteps of ‘Hausa-Fulani Northern Muslims’.
Today, Danmasani’s North is a lot more insecure than it has ever been.
Its insecurity is compounding its poverty at a frightening rate.
He will be proud of his compatriots who have stood solidly in defence of fellow Northerners.
His NEF is now the northern frontline in the fight to secure the region, manage ethno-religious conflicts better and arrest increasing poverty.
It is the reference point on discussions on the future of the nation.
It is in familiar territory: it took up the Jonathan administration for the North, and it is taking up the Buhari administration for the same North.
Danmasani’s NEF is neither friend nor foe.
It will only fight or work for a North that lives with dignity and justice in Nigeria.