Revisiting Jokolo’s Continuing Unjust Incarceration
Abdullahi Usman

In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends”. - Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.


Reading through the deposed 19th Emir of Gwandu, Alhaji Al-Mustapha Haruna Jokolo’s widely circulated letter dated August 25, 2005, addressed to the Nassarawa State Director of State Security Services, one could not help recalling the above opening quote from the 2005 movie titled, Sometimes in April; a personal account dealing with the chilling details of the 1994 Rwandan genocide. Alhaji Jokolo, as most of us would already be aware, is presently being kept in solitary confinement at a maximum security prison in Nassarawa State, otherwise called the Obi Local Government Guest House, where he has been detained since June 4th, 2005, following his deposition a day earlier. Since his arrival at Obi, the deposed Emir has been denied visits by any member of his immediate family until September 1st, 2005, when one of his wives and his first son were allowed to see him.


The main thrust of this intervention is not so much about looking into the legality or otherwise of his deposition which, I gather, he has already decided to challenge through a suit filed on his behalf by his counsel, Mr. Olajide Ayodele (SAN), at the Kebbi State High Court. Indeed, I would be the first to confess my absolute ignorance on the workings of the traditional Emirate system, despite the fact that my own father had served as the second highest ranking Kingmaker in the Gwandu Emirate Council for well over thirty years, by virtue of the title he held until his unfortunate death a little over two years ago. This is because I have simply never shown any interest in such matters and thus have no clue regarding the customary procedure for the selection of an Emir, or indeed the even far less frequent deposition of one. However, if, as claimed by the Emir’s lawyer, the established procedure requiring the formal notification of charges against the Emir; the setting up of a Board of Enquiry to investigate him and, if found guilty; the subsequent mandatory consultation with the Kebbi State Council of Chiefs as required by the Chiefs (Appointment and Deposition) law, Cap 21 laws of Kebbi State, 1996, was not followed, then Jokolo has every reason to exercise his rights by seeking legal redress. Whether or not the legal system will be allowed to take its full course by the powers that be is, however, entirely another matter altogether. It goes without saying, though, that the much talked about due process campaign of the current civilian dispensation must be extended to cover all aspects of governance and not merely limited to financial transactions alone.


One recalls that in the immediate aftermath of Jokolo’s dethronement, a number of Kebbi State indigenes I spoke to, especially those from the Gwandu Emirate, expressed little or no surprise over the turn of events, with many of them claiming that they, in fact, saw it coming. The more uncharitable ones amongst them even believed that the state government did actually tolerate the deposed Emir for far too long, while a high ranking traditional ruler in the state and some few sponsored write ups fervently attempted to justify the course of action taken by the government.  However, the few discerning ones, who had the mental capacity to read between the lines, were able to put the situation in its proper context to arrive at a different conclusion, which subsequent events since the deposition have only served to reinforce. This is in spite of the series of allegations labeled against him which, even if confirmed to be true, would merely serve as contributory factors and not the main raison d'être for his removal from office and subsequent commando-like abduction, leading up to the unforgiving 18-hour journey to his current place of domicile in Odi, Nassarawa State. The Emir’s letter has already put his present situation in its proper perspective and there is no need repeating it here.


Nonetheless, the same people who initially saw nothing wrong in the dethronement are now beginning to read a different meaning to that action, a situation that his recently released letter has further substantiated. Anybody who has come close enough to the deposed Emir would readily agree that, just like the rest of us, he also has his own shortcomings, one of which is his much talked about temperament. That famed disposition, admittedly, sometimes resulted in him going a little bit over the top, as those who might recall his youthful days in the Nigerian Army would easily testify. But that is Jokolo for you and, like him or not, if you have to deal with him, you must simply learn to take his positive attributes (and he has multitude of them) with the not-so-pleasant ones, in the same manner that anyone keen on having a taste of pure unrefined honey straight from the honeycomb must simply be ready to put up with a few stings.


This writer has had his own fair share of ‘interesting’ encounters with him between 1989 and 1990 when, as a young impressionable lad, I served as a Youth Corper at the then government-owned National Salt Company of Nigeria Limited (NASCON), in Ijoko - Otta, Ogun State, where he was the Sole Administrator. I must quickly admit, though, that most of those little skirmishes we had at the time came about as a result of his resolute determination not to let me get away with certain indiscretions, such as going on extended weekend trips to Lagos, which many of my fellow corpers enjoyed in their respective places of primary assignment. Even though I did not immediately realise it at that moment, the toughness with which he handled me (just like he treated any other employee), despite my relative closeness to him, played a very significant role in shaping my current work ethics and, today, I have nothing but praise and gratitude for him for whatever position I may have attained in life.


According to Andre Gide, “it is better to be hated for what you are than to be loved for what you are not”. No matter what anyone may say or hold against Emir Jokolo, the one thing you can never take away from him is his well-known courage in speaking his mind on any issue whatsoever, regardless of what anybody might say or feel about it. An example that readily comes to mind was what one might describe as his one-man campaign for the release of General Ishaya Bamaiyi and his colleagues, who have been in detention for the past six years for various roles they allegedly played in certain events during the Abacha regime. The forgotten case of these individuals has been subjected to all sorts of legal rigmarole since their arrest and subsequent detention at the Kirikiri maximum security prison in 1999, with no significant headway recorded so far in their prosecution. All this is happening in the same country where another individual, who was arrested for the alleged cold-blooded murder of the nation’s number one law enforcement officer, was able to contest and ‘win’ an election from the prison, and is today sitting and passing laws with his fellow Senators in the upper chamber of the nation’s legislature! This, of course, remains a World Record breaking feat that will take generations to beat. Surely, as rightly observed by James Boswell (1740 - 1795): “this world is a comedy to those who think; a tragedy to those who feel”.


Whilst virtually everyone that matters, especially in the Northern part of the country, has elected to maintain a studied silence over the fate of General Bamaiyi and his incarcerated colleagues for one reason or the other, Jokolo remained steadfast in his determination to seek for a fairer deal for them, and used every available opportunity to campaign for either their accelerated trial or outright release. One of such was at the Birnin Kebbi Eid prayer ground during the last Eid - El Kabir celebration, when he used the occasion of his customary address to his subjects to speak strongly on the need to mount pressure for their release, if the government was not ready to prosecute them after six years in detention. It is rather ironic that Jokolo will now find himself in a similar situation with virtually nobody willing to stick his neck out to defend his constitutionally guaranteed rights following his dethronement, except for a few individuals such as  Col. Abubakar Umar and Mohammed Haruna, and some Islamic and Human Rights organisations.


A situation where the government would insist on applying an outdated and primitive colonial practice of banishing deposed traditional rulers to remote areas, very far away from their places of domicile, should have no place in modern day Nigeria and must simply be done away with. The unjust punishment currently being meted out to him in the form of illegal detention, without any form of contact with the outside world, such as visits by his family (until recently, when a wife and son were allowed to see him), friends, doctors and even access to newspapers, points in the direction of something more sinister than what his summary dethronement on June 3, 2005 was initially made out to be. One finds it rather baffling that his numerous pleas for clearance to enable his Abuja-based doctor visit him have so far been rebuffed under a supposedly democratic environment, especially when viewed against the fact that in other democracies, even death row inmates are usually allowed such ‘luxuries’ before their eventual execution!


John Stuart Mill had rightly argued that: “whatever crushes individuality is despotism, no matter what name it is called”. Whereas from one’s little knowledge of Emir Jokolo’s strong willpower, one can safely say that it will, indeed, take much more than the current detention to break his personal resolve, the same cannot be said when the issue of his personal health is involved, especially in view of the numerous categories of ailments he reportedly suffers from, which require regular check up to effectively manage. One is also worried about the current state of health of his 85-year old mother, who suffers from both diabetes and high blood pressure. A lot of effort was initially made to conceal the true state of affairs from her after his deposition for fear of its possible effect on her health, which has since deteriorated following her eventual realisation of his present condition. A fortnight ago, I was in Birnin Kebbi on a condolence visit to the family of Jokolo’s 83-year old uncle who died recently, during which I had the opportunity of speaking to one of his aunties about the current pathetic state of his mother. I was made to understand that she still keeps lamenting that if her son had been dead, she would have since taken heart by accepting her loss and moving on with her own life. The lack of access to him, as well as the painful feeling of having no clue regarding the real nature of his current situation, are clearly too much for her to bear, and it will be to the eternal shame of our so-called democracy if she is allowed to die without setting eyes on her son again! 


One finds it increasingly difficult to understand why, in Nigeria of today, people are increasingly reluctant to fight for the rights of others whenever those rights are being trampled upon. The deafening silence of Jokolo’s friends and former colleagues such as his old mates in the army and fellow traditional rulers across the country over his current situation is very embarrassing, to say the least! The famous Italian philosopher, Guido Bruno, had always maintained that the “truth does not change because it is, or is not, believed by a majority of the people”. What is happening to the deposed Emir at the moment, with specific reference to his detention in Odi, denial of visits by his family and friends, as well as the withdrawal of his rights to participate in the daily congregational and Friday Juma’at prayers, constitute a gross violation of his fundamental human rights as guaranteed by Sections 35, 37, 38 and 41 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 and Articles 6, 8, 12 and 18 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act LFN, 1990. These gross violations must be resisted by all fair minded Nigerians, regardless of whether one likes him as an individual or not. This is because one never knows who would become the next victim as those responsible for his current unjust incarceration will surely become emboldened by the apparent lack of courage on our part to speak out against such injustices; a situation that will surely spell doom for our society. In the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “our lives begin to end the minute we become silent about things that matter.


A famous American CIA adage states that, try as you may, you will never succeed in covering an elephant with a handkerchief! Therefore, those whose unseen hands are all over the place remotely controlling affairs from outside the state, as far as his present incarceration is concerned, must bear in mind that divine judgment surely awaits them and nothing they have attained in this life will save them from that. They must also realise that even though they may, on the surface, appear to have symbolically achieved their main objective of taking away his personal liberty which is, for all intents and purposes, external (as defined by his current solitary confinement), they will never succeed in taking away the more important internal personal freedom he possesses. As Victor Frankl, M.D., the holocaust survivor, who was subjected to all sorts of unimaginable indignities by the Nazis stated in his famous book, Man’s Search for Meaning: “The last of the human freedom is to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way”. One can safely say with all sense of conviction that the 19th Emir of Gwandu, Alhaji Al-Mustapha Haruna Jokolo, will eventually succeed in retaining his famed strong personal resolve to see himself through his current predicament, thereby denying his current jailers the personal satisfaction of breaking that last human freedom that only he has the power to determine.  In the words of Michael J. Fox, in Spring Milly, by Morton Ken Drakz (Public Affairs), “One’s identity may be assaulted, vandalised and cruelly mocked, but cannot be taken away unless it is surrendered”.


Abdullahi Usman

(September 11, 2005)