Sultan Abubakar III (1903-88): Born In The Throes Of Invasion, Saw Change As Inevitable

The Oasis Reporters

May 8, 2019

Sultan Abubakar III.
Photo: Daniel Laine
By Mike Odeh James

ABUBAKAR III, Sir, Siddiq (1903-88)
Nigerian Muslim leader, traditional ruler (sultan) of Sokoto. Saddiq Abubakar was born at Dange, some 60 km from Sokoto, om 15 march 1903, the same day which the British also subdued the Sokoto caliphate.
Siddiq Abubakar III was the son of Usman Shehu, an eminent personality whose father Mu’azu, was the Sultan of Sokoto (1877-81)and a direct descendant of Usman Dan Fodio (q.v.) who founded the caliphate in 1809.
Siddiq Abubakar had an Islamic education; he attended the local koranic school and held several administrative posts before succeeding his uncle, Hassan Ibn Muazu, as the Sultan of Sokoto at the ealy age of 35. He first came to Sultan Hassan’s attention when he was district scribe, and in 1931 he was appointed a local authority councilor of the Sokoto Native Administration. Later, as head of Talata Marafa, a most important district which includes the commercial town of Gusau, he distinguished himself by his administrative competence over village heads.

In recognition of his ability and usefulness to the Emirate, Siddiq Abubakar was appointed Sardauna of Sokoto, a position he held until 17 June 1938 when he became the Sultan of Sokoto, Abubakar III.

As the 17th Sultan of Sokoto and Sarkin Muslim (Commander of the Faithful) he became the most important Islamic personality south of the Sahara and was highly respected. Not only was he the descendent and successor of Usman Dan Fodio, whose grave still attracts pilgrims form all over the world, but he was also the leader of 50 million adherents of the islamic faith who live in West Africa, and who looked to him for the definitive dates on which Islamic observances, rituals and ceremonies were to be held.

Although he did not occupy a visible political position in Nigeria, his de facto political influence was considerable and throughout his life, he worked towards the promotion of Nigeria’s unity, using his decisive influence over public affairs for the political and social advancement of Nigeria as one nation. In this regard he contributed a great deal to the maintenance of order and calm among the population of the then Northern Region after the 1966 coup in which Sir Ahmadu Bello (q.v.) was killed. Later during the civil war he helped to mobilize men for the Federal Forces.

Abubakar saw the development of his country in a different light from many of his more conservative co-religionist. He encouraged females and promoted the idea of giving women in purdah the right to vote , and urged the liberation of women in these respects. As a result the Women’s Teachers’ Training College in Sokoto was founded. His faith in and identification with the quest for knowledge led to his appointment as Chancellor of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, which awarded him an honorary LID degree.

During his life time , however, Abubakar in common with other traditional rulers, witnessed several inroads into power bases of traditional authorities , such as loss of control over local courts, prisons and police. But because of his mature outlook, he did not allow this development to affect his concern for the welfare of his people. He saw these changes as inevitable in the wider context of the country’s politics and in the overall interest of Nigeria’s development. So when the Northern People’s Congress was formed in 1951 and his support was needed to launch the new party and mobilize the Northern people for the independence movement, he readily gave it.

Similarly, Abubakar took the post of minister without portfolio in the Northern Regional Government in order to give the new administration headed by Sir Ahmadu Bello the stamp of religious acceptability. And yet his involvement was never such as to identify him with the partisan politics of his time. He stood head and shoulders above the hues of politicians, in such a way that allowed him to be accessible to all.

When party politics became really divisive, he stepped out of it to safeguard his goal as the spiritual leader, but continued to be looked upon by other leaders concerning governmental issues.

Abubakar III was a much honoured and respected man. He was knighted by the British in 1944 and after Nigeria attained independence was made Grand Commander of the Order of the Niger by the Federal government.

He had a great love for poetry and, as a traditionalist kept the culture of his people alive while recognizing the need to develop their potential and achieve progress in the modern world.
He ruled the emirate for one of the longest reigns in its history, from 17th June 1938 to 1 November 1988 when he died having celebrated months earlier his fiftieth year on the throne. He left behind 52 children and 320 direct grand children.

Sultan Abubakar III is best remembered by his compatriot as a religious leader who rose above the religious dissensions of his day and throughout his life played the role of peace-maker and father of all.

Greg Abolo

Blogger at The Oasis Reporters.

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