OBITUARY: Maitama Sule: A servant’s son who almost became Nigeria’s president

Former Nigeria Permanent Representative to United Nations, Alhaji Maitama Sule died in a Cairo Hospital at the age of 89 years.
In 1976, he became the Federal Commissioner of public complaints, a position that made him the nation's pioneer ombudsman. In early 1979, he was a presidential candidate of the National Party of Nigeria but lost to Shehu Shagari. He was appointed Nigeria's representative to the United Nations after the coming of civilian rule in September 1979. While there he was chairman of the United Nations Special Committee against Apartheid.
03284/3/7/17/Jones Bamidele/NAN
Former Nigeria Permanent Representative to United Nations, Alhaji Maitama Sule died in a Cairo Hospital at the age of 89 years. In 1976, he became the Federal Commissioner of public complaints, a position that made him the nation's pioneer ombudsman. In early 1979, he was a presidential candidate of the National Party of Nigeria but lost to Shehu Shagari. He was appointed Nigeria's representative to the United Nations after the coming of civilian rule in September 1979. While there he was chairman of the United Nations Special Committee against Apartheid. 03284/3/7/17/Jones Bamidele/NAN

But for high-level scheming during the National Party of Nigeria, NPN, nominating convention in 1978, Yusuf Maitama Sule who died on Monday would have picked the party’s princely ticket ahead of close opponent, Shehu Shagari.

Though the two frontline candidates served in the cabinet of Nigeria’s first Prime Minister, Tafawa Balewa, some two decades earlier, Mr. Sule was seen as more urbane, outgoing and better connected than his major opponent. Those qualities earned Mr. Sule support and distaste in equal measure.

While he wooed delegates with his oratorical skills and flamboyance, he was mistrusted by power brokers who viewed him as too independent and unwilling to be controlled.

However, as was later recounted by Dahiru Yahaya, a professor of history who was NPN secretary in Kano State, Mr. Sule’s charge at the ticket was truncated by a conspiracy, with his own kinsmen from Kano at the centre of it.

When it was apparent that the politician may pick the nomination ahead of Mr. Shagari at the re-run primaries, politicians, some very close to him, were mobilised overnight to launch a door-to-door sophisticated de-campaigning exercise.

“Those politicians moved round delegates’ rooms. They would give some money to each delegate and say; ‘Maitama appreciates your support but he said you should vote for Shagari tomorrow,” Mr. Yahaya recollected.

The next day, Mr. Shagari emerged victorious and went on to win the general election to become Nigeria’s first executive president in 1979.

In what was seen as a move to take the flamboyant politician out of the political cycle, Mr. Sule was appointed ambassador by Mr. Shagari and posted to the United Nations.

While at the UN, he chaired the United Nations Standing Committee Against Apartheid then ravaging South Africa.

A servant’s son liberated by education

Mr. Sule had risen from humble beginnings to attain national reckoning as one of the longest serving ministers in the truncated first republic and a favourite of the prime minister, Mr. Balewa.

The two shared a striking history. While Mr. Balewa’s father was a servant of Madaki of Bauchi, Mr. Sule’s father served the then powerful Kano kingmaker, Madaki Mahmudu.

It was after his master’s father that Mr. Sule’s father named his only son, born in 1929, Yusuf.

Mr. Sule often made references to his family background and described education as what placed him shoulder high with the emir, instead of serving him.

Under benevolent guidance of his father’s master, Madaki Mahmudu, young Sule was enrolled at Shahuci Elementary School in 1937. He subsequently attended Kano Middle School and Kaduna College (now Barewa College).

Mr. Sule taught at his alma mater, Kano Middle School and played significant roles in social mobilisation, touring villages with then Emir Muhammadu Sanusi throughout the emirate, on health, literacy and tax campaigns.

The emir would later turban him as Dan Masanin Kano, in acknowledgment of Mr. Sule’s knowledge, wisdom and roles in public campaigns. True to his title, Mr. Sule remained a repository of Kano and Nigeria’s history as well as acclaimed public speaker with sharp wit.

PIONEER OIL MINISTER

Mr. Sule, who became minister of mines and power in 1954 at the age of 29, signed deals and contracts with Shell for oil prospecting and exploration in Nigeria.

He saw to the establishment of the Nigeria oil company and nominated Nigerian businessmen on the Nigeria/Shell joint board. Among Mr. Sule’s nominees were Louis Ojukwu, a prominent businessman and father of late Biafran leader Emeka Ojukwu, as well as Aliko Dangote’s maternal grandfather, Sanusi Dantata.

For his fondness of the late politician, Mr. Balewa nominated young Sule to stand-in for him in a ball dance with visiting Queen Elizabeth. The young man had already started his rehearsals when the then powerful Finance Minister, Festus Okotie-Eboh, opposed the idea as disrespectful of the queen.

Mr. Sule relished telling this story and had his picture in bowtie bought for the purpose to show for it.

The octogenarian, also known by his traditional title, Danmasanin Kano, died in the early hours of Monday while on admission at a private hospital in Cairo, Egypt.

He was flown to the Egyptian hospital on Saturday after doctors at Kano’s Nasarawa Hospital diagnosed him of pneumonia and chest infection.

Mr. Sule’s corpse is expected to back in the country by 2 p.m. on Tuesday for burial at 4:30 p.m. at the Kano Emir’s Palace.


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  • Eyo

    Thank god, one of Nigeria detractor is dead

    • Lukman Asifat

      You speak evil of death person but out of your ignorance and lack of wisdom you open your insanity to wide.

  • zacchaeus Akinleye

    He was a patriot and wanted the best for his country. R.I.P.

  • Fadama

    Rest in peace great Nigerian.

  • Bakanridi

    RIP Baba

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  • George

    For him to associated with Balewa means he is evil personify.

    Hell fire direct monkey see his useless face looking like the ghost buhari on his way back to london.

    • Abu-Abdurrahman

      No wonder a baby factory product will never show mercy to someone’s dad because he has none at all.

      • George

        The 500,000 child your tribe just produced in IDP camp plus the ones your islam emir are producing for cattle rearing and those that ate with Cow in same plate.

        The worst person from the South is far better than even your emir whose wife’s has VVF.

        • Dan Arewa

          3,000 not 500,000……and there is no official in the thousands of baby factories in the SE to count the millions of babies being produced there. The reward was tempting I heard.

    • bashwaziri

      I have been reading your comments online and wish to pass an advice to you. Pls, endeavor to visit the nearest Psychiatric Hospital. You seriously need help

    • Dan Arewa

      Many people hate Buhari, Murtala…General Mamman Shuwa and co, why? Because they kicked Ojukwu’s ass so hard that he had to run for his life. What about his comrades? Sad…Shame! The coward was not even there to surrender! The biggest and strongest legacy he left for his people is cowardice! Outa here>>>>>>>>>>>

      • BABUYANMA

        You are RIGHT

    • BABUYANMA

      He was not an Ibo?

  • FreeNigeria

    29 years old as a minister, signing deals with shell, now I understand how these multinational companies took advantage of us.

  • emmanuel

    I beg make this man wait for za aza room man for junction before he proceeds further. Maitama Sule has brain, this aza man nor get brain. One should lead the aza at the exit gate.

  • Aliyu Musa

    The dead should be respected. At the end, we will all go to same place. They have contributed their best for this country. RIP Dan-Masanin Kano.

    • emmanuel

      God forbid, i nor fit go the same place with the man. I am working very hard to go to heaven, where there are no sevty asewo’s.
      In heaven it only worship of the most high God, where saints become Angels and no more sex or earthly identity
      I dey beg Baba God make he wash my bad mouth clean so that i go i fit reach the heaven wen nor get aza room! I beg, not mention that again.

      • Dan Arewa

        Yeah! What you have said above clearly confirm you are not going to the same place with him. Never!!