Yusuf Maitama Sule (1929-2017)
Elder statesman, diplomat and politician, Alhaji Yusuf Maitama Sule, Dan Masanin Kano, who died on July 3, 2017 barely 90 days to his 88th birthday was one of Nigeria’s true patriots and bridge builders. He died in the fight for a united and prosperous Nigeria. Hence, his passage, even at such an advanced age came as a rude shock to many, especially in the political and diplomatic circles, who expected him to be one of the healing hands at such times as these. He will be sorely missed.
News of Sule’s demise expectedly elicited instant reactions from notable Nigerians among whom were the ailing President Muhammadu Buhari, Acting President Yemi Osinbajo, Senate President Bukola Saraki, Speaker, House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, the APC national leader, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu and many others.
The Acting President, Yemi Osinbajo appropriately observed that Maitama Sule was a great Nigerian leader and committed nationalist who positioned himself as an agent of unity.
Governor Abdullah Umar Ganduje of his native Kano State described his death as a huge loss not only to Kano but the entire nation and declared a work-free day in honour of the late sage.
Born on October 1, 1929, his father served the then powerful Kano kingmaker, Madaki Mahmudu. Under the benevolent guidance of Madaki Mahmudu, the young Maitama Sule was enrolled in Shahuci Elementary School in 1937. He subsequently attended Kano Middle School and later Kaduna College (Barewa College) where he excelled.
Sule taught at his alma mater, Kano Middle School and played significant roles in social mobilisation, touring villages with the then Emir of Kano, Muhammadu Sanusi throughout the emirate, on health, literacy and tax campaigns.
It was not surprising, therefore, that the emir turbaned him Dan Masanin Kano in recognition of his wisdom and role in public campaigns. Maitama Sule was an acclaimed public orator with a sharp wit. He was a great repository of Kano and Nigerian history.
Maitama Sule was indeed a servant’s son who was liberated by education. He rose from a humble beginning to attain national and international prominence. He was one of the longest serving ministers in the truncated first republic and a favourite associate of the then Prime Minister, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa.
He was the chief whip of the Federal House of Representatives from 1955 to 1956. In 1960, he led the Nigerian delegation to the Conference of Independent African States in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. He became the Federal Commissioner for Public Complaints in 1976, a position that made him the nation’s pioneer ombudsman and a job he executed too well.
Maitama Sule was the preferred presidential candidate of the defunct National Party of Nigeria (NPN) in 1979 but, through some internal intrigues, lost to Shehu Usman Aliyu Shagari who eventually won the presidency. He was subsequently appointed Nigeria’s permanent representative to the United Nations. While there, he was the vocal chairman of the United Nations Special Committee against Apartheid. He was made the Minister for National Guidance, a frontline portfolio designed to tackle corruption in Nigeria upon Shagari’s re-election in 1983.
The Public Complaints Commission he earlier headed was created in 1975 to tackle complaints from the common man in a simple and efficient manner. Sule, as head of the commission was known to have taken his job seriously.
As minister of National Guidance, though, short-lived, Maitama Sule also invested time in ethical re-orientation of Nigerians. His appointment to that office could not have yielded much result for assessment within so short a time as Shehu Shagari was removed in a coup in which the soldiers who seized power cited corruption as one major reason for their incursion.
Alhaji Yusuf Maitama Sule, of course, did more than a little damage to his pan-Nigerian and nationalist reputation when he was once quoted to have said: “Everyone has a gift from God. The Northerners are endowed by God with leadership qualities. The Yoruba man knows how to earn a living and has diplomatic qualities. The Igbo man is gifted in trade, commerce, and technological innovation. God so created us equally with purpose and different gifts.” This was interpreted to mean a preference for northern political domination of the country and riled so many who had seen in him a true Nigerian and one of those beyond sectional definition. But his subsequent moderation in thoughts and speeches as well as decency of conduct redeemed him. Until his death, he was a reverred figure and Nigeria will miss him.