*By Ibrahim Ado-Kurawa*
Alhaji Yusuf Maitama Sule was born in Kano in 1929 in Yola Quarters. His father was Dan Mori of Madakin Kano Mahmud who also took the young Maitama to school. He attended Shahuchi Elementary School before proceeding to the Kano Middle School where his teachers included the earliest generation of Kano western educated elite. The Headmaster was Bello Kano (later Madakin Kano), Bello Dandago (later Sarkin Dawaki Mai Tuta) and Muhammadu Inuwa (later Magajin Garin Kano), were amongst his teachers. He passed the entrance to Barewa College in 1942 at the age of 13 years along with two of his classmates Isa Wali (who later became Ambassador) and ShariffMahmud. But there were only two spaces for Kano. Hence, Bello Kano the Headmaster insisted that one must come from Madaki’s house and the other from the Emir’s Palace. Both Isa Wali and Shariff Mahmud were from the Emir’s Palace. The young Isa Wali opted out and said he was only interested in the School for Arabic Studies. Therefore Maitama and Mahmud proceeded to Barewa College. At this college Maitama met his life-time friend Mamman Katsina (later President Federal Court of Appeal and currently Galadiman Katsina). Maitama was Barewa number 463 and Mamman was number 464.
Maitama trained as a teacher while Mamman who was more intelligent as Maitama always humorously said became a lawyer. Maitama graduated from the college in 1946 but went for further training as a professional teacher. He was employed as a teacher in the Kano Middle School in 1946 where he remained until 1954. He taught many prominent Nigerians at that school including Murtala Muhammed who later became the Head of State of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Maitama Sule joined partisan politics and resigned from the Native Authority Service.
Eight young men from Kano: Abba Maikwaru, Bello Ijumu, Baballiya Manaja, Musa Kaula, Abdulkadir Danjaji, Musa Bida, Magaji Dambatta and Mudi Spikin on August 8, 1950 founded the Northern Elements Progressive Union (NEPU). It was the first political party in Northern Nigeria. Maitama Sule guided Babaliya Manaja and the other NEPU pioneers who did not have the opportunity of formal education. In fact, he was the one who suggested that the name NEPU should be adopted from the earlier NEPA (Northern Elements Progressive Association). He later moved to the NPC and became a member of the Federal House of Representatives. He defeated Mallam Aminu Kano in the City Constituency in the 1954 elections. In 1959 he was moved to a rural constituency. He was the Minister of Mines and Power in the First Republic. When Kano State was created, he was in the first cabinet, as a commissioner. He was later appointed the Chairman of the National Council for Arts and Culture. Thereafter, during the Murtala Administration he was appointed the Chief Commissioner of the Public Complaints Commission. During the Second Republic, he was one of the founding member of the National Party of Nigeria (NPN). He contested the Presidential Primaries, which Alhaji Shehu Shagari won. He was appointed Nigeria’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations and during President Shehu Shagari’s second term he was the Minister of National Guidance. Since after the end of the Second Republic he has disengaged from partisan politics and remained a statesman. President Goodluck Jonathan honored him along with fifty other distinguished Nigerians on the fiftieth anniversary of Nigeria’s independence.
Maitama Sule and his contemporaries in public service received train imbued with the values and ethos that guided the society since the era of Shehu Danfodio. They served the public without corruptly enriching themselves. He was the longest serving Minister of Petroleum from 1959 to 1966, yet he never acquired any oil block or even a filling station. He continued serving in various capacities but still lived in mud house until he left public service in the late 1980s and it took almost a decade to build his house when one of the state governors gave him a plot. To Maitama Sule and his contemporaries public service was not about wealth accumulation as it later became when the cancer of corruption overwhelmed the country.
Maitama’s life was not without challenges even from childhood. He was a man of strong faith in Allah and deep spiritual love for the Prophet (SAW) his famous prayers clearly reveal his spiritual state. Right from childhood he was self confident because of his faith in Allah therefore he never allowed any complex to over power him and died a fulfilled man. Sarkin Kano Sir Muhammadu Sanusi was the mentor of the first generation politicians of Kano and he supported Maitama in all endeavors including personal life when Maitama was going to get married he was the one who paved the way. Similarly when Maitama was selected as a candidate for election some of the NPC leaders wanted him replaced with either the son or the cousin of the Emir but Sir Sanusi insisted that Maitama must be allowed. Again he appointed Maitama as Dan Masani but rival kinsmen made sure the title was down graded to sub district head.
Maitama served with distinction in the cabinet of Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa where he was the youngest full cabinet minister. When the republic was sacked by the military he returned to Kano and he was appointed a commissioner in the first Executive Council of the State under Alhaji Audu Bako. Despite the challenges he served as a patriot. He was one of the few public who were never ever indicted for corruption hence the Murtala Administration appointed him the first Chief Commissioner of the newly established Public Complaints Commission. When the military lifted the ban on partisan political activities he joined his colleagues and associates to the found the NPN.
As a politician Maitama Sule was never bitter and he never took it as “a do or die affair” even when he defeated his teacher Mallam Aminu Kano in 1954 he continued to respect and maintain the dignity of his teacher. I have never come across anyone who respected and admired Mallam Aminu Kano as Maitama Sule. He contested for the presidential ticket of the NPN and lost to his cabinet colleague Alhaji Shehu Shagari. He not only conceded defeat but also went to even Sokoto and campaigned there. He convinced the local population of the imperative of supporting the NPN candidates at levels. His oratorical skills helped the NPN.
A man of vast knowledge and experience, President Shehu Shagari (1979-1983) appointed him Nigeria’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations. He had served as the Presidential Envoy to the Lancaster House Conference on the independence of Rhodesia that later became Zimbabwe. He was instrumental to success of the struggle against apartheid regimes of South Africa and Zimbabwe as Nigeria’s Permanent Representative when the country was on the frontline against the apartheid regimes. As a trouble shooter and mobilizer President Shagari appointed him Federal Minister of National Guidance in 1983 to pioneer the reform efforts of the administration because he was the most capable statesman to handle that ministry. It was his ministry that first pioneered the ethical reform program in Nigeria’s history and it became the inspiration of all subsequent efforts by all succeeding Administrations.
A great orator and repository of legacy of scholarship he became number Guest Speaker in Nigeria largely because of his patriotic passion for his country. Whenever he spoke he tried to mobilize people to love country as illustrated in the video clip now widely circulated. He always said in his characteristic eloquence:
“Today, as I have said we are no longer ourselves, our cultural values have been thrown overboard, if a people lose their culture – culture is the identity of the people, people often mistake culture as mere dancing and singing, it is much more than that. Culture is the customs and costumes, the characters and characteristics, the manners and mannerisms, the philosophy and ideology of a people, culture is the totality of a people’s experience, culture is the way of life of the people”.
He continued, “in those days people adhered to the values which made the society morally sound and there was little corruption”. He was an optimist therefore always believed, “we can still get out of the woods”. He said “I believe if we can revive the glories of the past by reminding ourselves of the achievements of our founding fathers and emulate their examples we can certainly revive the glory of the past”. He had “hope that the struggle will continue” because as a philosopher he saw “light at the end of the tunnel”. Senator Shehu Sani summarized the life of this icon with a simple eulogy: ‘Maitama Simply Walk Out on Us as a Nation’. The distinguished Senator noted: “He was a Teacher we listened to but never learned from. He spent half of his life serving us and half of his life lecturing us. He was our nation’s philosopher and town crier. That was a man who served as the longest serving petroleum minister but who has never had oil bloc nor a fuel station. Maitama’s life was an inspiration to the young he so much cherishes. Maitama has said enough to guide us to the right path and to eternity”.
Alhaji Yusuf Maitama Sule died on July 3, 2017. May Allah bless his soul and grant him eternal peace.