The line in our National Anthem “The Labour of Our Heroes Past Shall Never Be in Vain” apparently does not refer to “our’ heroes such as Ahmadu Bello Sardaunan Sakkwato, Premier of the Northern Region, Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, Federal Prime Minister, and Brigadier Zakariya Maimalari, among other Northern Stars who were callously murdered on January 15, 1966.
The day (yesterday 15th January was the 55th Anniversary of this Great Martyrdom or, to put it bluntly, one-sided assassinations of our leaders) has now effectively been ‘buried’ inside ‘Armed Forces Remembrance Day’, noble though such a commemoration is. This ‘forgetfulness’ even affects people who shouldn’t forget. But, in sha Allah, this Column will NEVER forget as long as it and its author breathe. This is no ‘old wounds’; this is an everlasting, unforgettable wound.
We shall never forget. And we shall never forget also that neither APOLOGY nor REPARATIONS were ever said or paid on these deliberate murders. This Column continues to call on the Nigerian Government to rename January 15 ‘National Heroes Remembrance Day’ so that our young ones will remember all Our Heroes Past alongside our fallen soldiers – and may Allah forgive them all and continue to console their bereaved.
On occasions such as this, this Column reminds Arewa to remember its heroes such as Sardauna, Balewa, Maimalari and others, even if the Nigerian Enterprise tries to bury their memories. Don’t let anybody befuddle you with talk of the Counter Coup of July 29, 1966; ask them WHO STARTED IT? Don’t let them put you on the defensive on so-called atrocities of the Nigerian Civil War of 1967 to 1970; ask them WHO STARTED IT? In fact, ask them WHY were those killings so one-sided, lopsided and selective? Tell them that the January 15 injustice started EVERYTHING about our sorry state. Tell them!
On this occasion, this Column never forgets to remind Arewa of reminiscences of that close confidante of the Sardauna, the late Grand Khadi of Northern Region Shaikh Abubakar Gumi (died 1992) in his biography “Where I Stand”, as he told our senior colleague Prof Isma’ila Tsiga of Bayero University, Kano (at pages 112-118). Here is an abridged, somewhat paraphrased, narration:
Around 4 am on Friday, the telephone rang. It was Alhaji Isa Kaita, Education Minister in the Northern Region; he wanted to let me know there had been a coup and the Sardauna’s house had been attacked. He had spoken with Major Hassan Katsina who explained that he was actually at a meeting with the rebels at that time. Alhaji Isa concluded with the request that I should go to the Sardauna’s house and assess the situation.
I got ready and said my Subh prayer and went out. I found the residence of the premier completely destroyed. It had been shelled and burnt; strings of smoke were still rising into the air from some sections. There was destruction everywhere. A few soldiers stood idly with weapons in their hands. All was quiet. I walked into the house silently and found the body of Sardauna lying on the ground in the courtyard. He had been shot a number of times. His wife, Hafsah, was also killed with him.
I arranged for their bodies to be taken to the house of the Sultan in Kaduna, a short distance away, to prepare them for burial. Details of the incidence soon got round and gradually a little crowd of senior government officials and other sympathisers assembled. It was then announced that the Sardauna had requested that on the event of his death, he should be taken to Wurno and buried beside Sultan Muhammad Bello, his late great-grandfather. I explained this could not be carried out as, in Islam, martyrs are always buried at the site of their death. I felt that was the highest honour we could accord the Sardauna – to bury a martyr where he fell.
With all the preparation completed, we set the body in position for the burial prayers. I stood in front to lead while the rest of the people formed neat rows behind me. There are no ceremonies to observe during burials in Islam. It was altogether a very solemn and touching occasion. For me, it was the end of an era which I could not possibly forget. I had been lucky to know the Sardauna and help influence a little of his life. Reflections of this day and many others came back to me as I stood over the fresh earth marking the grave after the funeral.
I was in the office late in the morning when a military van pulled up and soldiers came down and were shown into my office. They explained they had been sent to invite me for a meeting with the leader of that morning’s coup, Nzeogwu. I was to go in their van, they said, although I could ask someone to follow in my own car so that he would bring me back. We drove to Nzeogwu’s military barracks.
I was brought before Nzeogwu and he received me with no ceremony. First, he wanted to know where we had hidden the weapons. The question really surprised me as I had not met Nzeogwu before, and had never dealt with him in any capacity. I, therefore, felt I had to seek further information before I could answer him. He explained that he heard we had bought weapons from the Middle East, which we planned to use to wage Jihad against non-Muslims in Nigeria. That was why he wanted to know where they were.
In my prompt response, I told him that as far as I was aware, no such plans had ever been considered by any Islamic group in this country. I spoke with authority because I was the closest adviser to the Sardauna on religious matters, and at no time did he visit the Islamic countries in the Middle East without me, since I became Grand Khadi. I had never known him to have discussed any war in Nigeria, much less purchase weapons.
This prompted Nzeogwu to take me to task concerning my own appointment. He could not understand, he said, why there had to be a separate court for Muslims outside the country’s judicial system. After all, Muslims were also Nigerians, and must, therefore submit to the law of the land like everyone else. ‘As for Grand Khadi, of what use is he, since there is already the Chief Justice?’ he concluded.
‘Well,’ I answered, ‘In Islam, there are very specific laws in respect of all social matters which must be observed correctly. They include those concerning marriage, divorce, rights to offspring and inheritance. In this regard, only an Islamic court, with a judge versed in the science of the Qur’an and the Prophet’s traditions, could properly administer such justice. As for my position, it is only a natural complement to the Area Courts. The appeals that come to me cannot be handled by the Chief Justice because he has no knowledge of Islamic Law.’
Allahu Akbar! May Allah forgive them all.