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Editorial: Yusuf Maitama Sule (1930- 2017)

The death of Alhaji Yusuf Maitama Sule, the Dan Masanin Kano on July 3, 2017 is not only national but to the African continent as a whole.  

Like most great men in history, Yusuf Maitama Sule emerged from a background to become a great statesman, nationalist and traditional ruler.  He reached the apogee of his political career in the Second Republic when he became a leading presidential aspirant  and later Nigeria’s permanent representative at the United Nations where he was appointed chairman of the UN Committee Against Apartheid in South Africa.

His life was an inspiration from its beginning as the son of a servant of Madakin Kano Mahmudu, a powerful kingmaker in the Emirate. He rose by dint of education, diligence and hard work to be a national power-broker and an international statesman.

Born in 1930, Yusuf Maitama Sule was enrolled at Shahuci Elementary School Kano in 1937. He subsequently attended Kano Middle School and Kaduna College (now Barewa College), Zaria. He taught at his alma mata, lKano 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 Alhaji Yusuf’s knowledge, wisdom and roles in public campaigns. True to this title, Alhaji Yusuf remained a repository of Kano and Nigeria’s history as well as acclaimed public speaker with astounding oratorical skills.

His service to the nation began in 1954 when he became Nigeria’s first minister of mines and power at the age of 29. In that capacity, he signed deals and contracts with Shell for oil prospecting and exploration in Nigeria. He also saw to the establishment of the Nigeria oil company and nominated Nigerian businessmen on the Nigeria- Shell  joint board. Among Alhaji Yusuf’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.

Alhaji Yusuf Maitama Sule was one of the longest serving ministers in the truncated first republic and a favourite of the prime minister, Alhaji Abubakar Tafawa Balewa. To show that the love was mutual, Dan Masanin Kano was seen throughout his life as an embodiment of the ideals espoused by Nigeria’s first and only  Prime Minister. He lived a Spartan life and was never seen searching for contracts and concessions to accumulate wealth for himself or his family. He was truly a patriot. 

But for high-level scheming during the National Party of Nigeria, NPN, convention in 1978, Yusuf Maitama Sule would have picked the party’s presidential ticket ahead of  the eventual winner, Alhaji  Shehu Shagari. Though the two aspirants served in the cabinet of Prime Minister Tafawa Balewa earlier, Alhaji Yusuf was seen as more urbane, outgoing, better connected and more suitable for the job. He lost out all the same. 

After graciously losing the primary election to Shagari who went on to become elected the first executive president of Nigeria, Alhaji Yusuf Maitama Sule continued to serve his party, his country, his continent and humanity with equanimity and zeal. He turned the tide against Apartheid and colonialism when he led the UN committee against Apartheid in the 1980s.

The octogenarian, unlike most of his peers, shunned the allure of public office since the end of the Second Republic. Instead, he devoted himself to service of mankind in the best way he knew how: mobilizing the masses and the power- brokers alike to play the best role for the peace and progress of all the people irrespective of creed, ethnicity, region or race.

He was actively involved in building consensus on vexed national issues and moulding the younger generation of leaders right up to the time he answered the call of his creator in his capacity as Chairman, Northern Elders Forum. Alhaji Yusuf Maitama Sule has no doubt bequeathed the legacy of selfless service, love for country and humanity, all of which Nigeria needs today more than ever before in our March towards nationhood.

May his gentle soul rest in peace. 

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