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Why traditional authority is key to sustainable peace – 110-year-old Sarkin Beli

The village head of Beli is one of the oldest monarchs in northern Nigeria. In this interview with Daily Trust on Sunday, Alhaji Muhammadu Inuwa…

The village head of Beli is one of the oldest monarchs in northern Nigeria. In this interview with Daily Trust on Sunday, Alhaji Muhammadu Inuwa Muhammad, the over 110-year-old traditional ruler, who has spent more than 90 years on the throne, spoke on the history of his domain, value of life in Nigeria in the past and today. He also suggested ways to achieve sustainable peace in the country.

Can you tell us the history of Beli community? 

Originally, we were from the Fulani ethnic nationality called Fulata Borno. When our community came from Burmi to Misau, they divided us. Some of us were kept in Jau, some taken to Sambuwal, while some were taken to Isore. Adamami became like the slaves of the local people. We were brought here before the arrival of Europeans.

At that time, there was no emir in Azare, but later, the Emir of Katagum left for Azare.  We were living together when the Emir of Katagum was brought to Azare, which was a small town, up to the time the Europeans came to Nigeria.

Before the coming of Europeans, the traditional title of our community in Beli was district head, but when the Europeans came, they said they would create and appoint a district head in Disina.  When a district head was appointed in Disina, Beli, Isore, Sambuwal and Katabarwa were added under his jurisdiction, while Isawa people were left under Giade.

During the time of the Europeans, the Emir of Katagum brought Prince Sambo and kept him in this town when they alleged that he committed 9 different offences against them and fled.

Our grandfather was appointed as village head of Beli. He spent 12 years on the throne. He died and our father was appointed the village head. He spent 17 years. After that, I was appointed to the throne when I was 19 years old. This means that by my calculation, I was born around 1913. I was appointed to the throne around 1933 by the Emir of Katagum, AbdulQadir.

We lived with the Emir of Katagum for 12 years before he left the throne and died six months later. Emir Umaru Faruqu was appointed. We spent 35 years with him. When he died, his son, Muhammadu Kabiru was appointed. We spent 38 years with Emir Kabiru before he died. It was during his reign that the district head title was restored on Beli community.

I was the district head for four years, then we were removed by another administration in Bauchi State.  Again, after Muhammadu Kabiru, the present Emir of Katagum, Umaru Faruq II, was appointed. We live with him for five years.

I am almost 91 years old on the throne. Alhamdulillahi, we live in peace with the people. And I gave birth to 11 people. Some of them died, but there are seven of them alive – four men and three women.

How was your relationship with the four kings you lived with?

Emir AbdulQadir, who appointed me as the village head of Beli, treated me like his son. We were with him in Azare, up to the time he left the throne. When he was deposed and Emir Umaru was appointed, he too didn’t abandon me. We were at the forefront of his service. But after he died and Emir Muhammadu Kabiru was appointed, only Allah knows the kind of relationship between us. He sent me to all places in the country, from Kano to Kaduna, Sokoto, Zaria, Yawuri and Lagos. He always sent me to Lagos when Shehu Shagari was president. We received his marriage on his behalf in Daura.  We even received marriage on behalf of his son, the present Emir of Katagum, in Daura.

I think the wife of the present emir is still alive because she sends people to greet me and ask about my health. We are very proud of the emirs. They were true leaders with the fear of Allah. They ensure justice and fairness among their subjects.

The current Emir of Katagum is my Son, so also the Emir of Misau Ahmed Suleiman and the Emir of Jama’are Nuhu Ahmad Wabi , they are my sons , we are together with their parents, we are all brothers we are under the shade and flag of Shehu Usmanu Danfodio , we are happy we live in peace with people  in just and trust, I thank almighty Allah who help me because I find it difficult to commit an offence, you can go and check , you will not find a single record of offence against me, either in the book of palace or judge or in the book of any emir , I thank almighty Allah for that, the Present emir of Katagum respect us he knows we live together with his father he respect us beyond our imagination.

How would you describe rulers of the past and today in Nigeria?

When the Europeans left, whoever had superior power took over leadership. Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, Nnamdi Azikiwe, Aminu Kano, Obafemi Awolowo, Sir Ahmadu Bello (Sardauna Sokoto), took over political government. We were all happy during their rule.

There was a Council of Emirs and that of government. We were happy with the government, but a coup d’état took place and the government was dissolved. They killed Sardauna and Tafawa Balewa. Aguiyi Ironsi took over, but he was killed. After that, a Plateau man, Yakubu Gowon, took over the government and ruled for 9 years. Murtala Mohammed and Olusegun Obasanjo overthrew him and took over. In fact, the military ruled for 16 years.

The country returned to civilian rule when Shehu Shagari was elected. But he spent only four years and some months and was overthrown. We spent about 24 years before returning to democracy.

Unfortunately, however, civilians have been in power but things have deteriorated as they only engage in political game.

What about traditional leadership?

Before now, traditional rulers oversaw their subjects based on the teachings of Islam. They ruled with the fear of the Almighty Allah. They ensured justice and fairness among their subjects. In the past, emirs had the power to discipline, appoint and dethrone.  They had the power to manage everything. It was the emir that appointed even the judges. And when the Europeans came, they didn’t tamper with the powers and rights of traditional rulers. They told the people to go to them. At that time, the Emirate Council was more functional in governing the subjects. And there was the Council of Ministers. The traditional rulers were so powerful that the then security outfit (Yandokas), would go for parade with a nice music at the gate of the palace to greet the king before going to work. Consequently, the emir would pray for them.

But unfortunately, today an emir will not go out until he seeks permission from the local government chairman. Some politicians don’t respect traditional institutions because the emir can’t punish anyone. That’s the difference. But we thank the Almighty Allah that many traditional rulers today live in peace and harmony with their governors and political leaders. They are providing essential social services to the people and executing viable projects that will improve the living standard of the people and bring about development. We thank Allah that there is peace everywhere; we are happy.

How do you think we can correct these mistakes?

The situation has become very bad, but if the Almighty Allah wills it, they will return the rights and authorities of the emirs.

The Europeans didn’t deny traditional rulers their rights and authorities; they only removed an emir if he committed an offence.   Before you correct anything you have to restore their rights and authorities. We are always praying for the best. We thank Allah in every situation.

Considering your age, how are you ruling your community?

We thank the Almighty Allah that our people live in peace with everyone. The Waziri and Chief Imam are the ones doing everything for me, but they will inform of whatever they are doing. They are qualified; they know everything. The Waziri worked with the Emir of Katagum as secretary. He also worked with a onetime chief judge of Bauchi State, as well as the former governor of Bauchi State, my son, Ahmadu Adamu Mu’azu. At a time, he was appointed a village head when I was appointed a district head. He was relieved of his title when the district was dissolved, but we told him to stay and take care of the people, so also the chief imam. They are the ones who manage everything.

Is there anything that either makes you happy or sad?

Alhamdulillah, we have really enjoyed life. We have all kinds of happiness and sadness, and God has blessed us with good people. The demise of my father and younger brother always bothers me whenever I remember it. They left a very wide vacuum that will be difficult to fill. May Allah have mercy on them and grant them Jannatul Firdausi.

What kind of food or drink do you like?

I like tuwo and kunu. I don’t care about rice.

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