AK Agbor argues Sokoto Governor is living up to expectations in tackling recent crisis in his state

Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, Governor of Sokoto State, is caught in a storm he never anticipated. Northern Nigeria has been known for so many years for its skirmishes over religious beliefs. But Sokoto, being the seat of the Caliphate, has a semblance of peace and calm beyond the fierce religious views found in Kano, Borno and elsewhere in the North. Even in the midst of relative peace, a serene state like Sokoto could be the center of global attention for religious opinions and acts. Thus, there is a tendency to rub shoulders with the political elites of the North in most of these crises of religious origin as culprits, sometimes unnecessarily.

The case of the gruesome murder of Deborah Samuel Yakubu, a home economics student at Shehu Shagari College of Education, Sokoto, by angry youths has precipitated a volatile situation, fanning the flames of division across the ethno-religious divide in the Nigeria. Deborah’s murder and self-immolation is condemnable in all its ramifications; there is no justification for such a barbaric act in a secular state like Nigeria. The best the government can do is to vigorously prosecute the culprits involved.

In an election season, where Tambuwal is also eyeing the 2023 presidency, efforts have been made to assuage him of guilt in coloring the crisis with politics. Some have argued that given the precarious nature of his condition, Aminu Tambuwal should be held accountable, even innocently as he is. But rather than dwell on partisan antics, we need to ask whether Tambuwal was able to seize the moment. Has Tambuwal proved the qualities of a leader in a national crisis? Has he deployed the state apparatus and state institutions to maintain law and order? Has the governor lived up to the billing of a security chief in these difficult and turbulent times? These are the salient and critical questions if we are to thoroughly diagnose the current crisis, and the imperative of a leader standing up to a national crisis of this magnitude.

Upon the murder of Deborah Yakubu, Tambuwal quickly sprang into action, summoning all the Ulamas of Sokoto and delivering them a note warning against aggravating the crisis in any form. The governor’s talks with Islamic clerics in Sokoto were seen as a strategic peacebuilding mechanism needed in times of ethnic polarization to calm nerves. Given the vexation of the youths over the incident and the palpable tension in the state, Tambuwal quickly declared a 24-hour curfew in the metropolis of Sokoto to drastically reduce any form of skirmishes in the capital of the state. At times like this, the urgency to show leadership and take the lead in ensuring peace and harmony goes a long way in repositioning the nation in a better mood.

In addressing this crisis, Tambuwal also did not shy away from the toxic effects of poor upbringing and misinterpretation of religious beliefs. He instead dodged the public hallucination for more low-key state intervention, in which the state is prepared to ensure that the culprits face the wrath of the law, in order to prevent future recurrence. Instead of focusing on facade for public applause, Tambuwal is concerned with reforming state institutions that will be able to rise to the occasion and prevent such acts of savagery in the state or elsewhere. This is how to show deep leadership.

It is the combination of all these strategic leadership interventions that the Catholic Bishop of Sokoto Diocese, Msgr. Matthew Hassan Kukah, took the time to hail Tambuwal’s efforts to stem the tide of violence following the horrific death. by Deborah. According to Kukah, by “acting quickly and declaring a 24-hour curfew”, the governor was able to take full control of the impending danger which would have escalated the crisis and aggravated Deborah’s murder to a large degree.

But beyond these short-term measures, the governor is keen to create a favorable environment where peace and unity between the different segments of society reign supreme. These institutions start with a sincere dialogue about various tribes, religious groups and set a pattern to melt punitive measures against those who cross the red line. Tambuwal understands that Deborah’s murder won’t just be swept under the rug by rhetoric. The state must go further for justice to be done. But it is pertinent that the solution lies not just in simple punishment, but in concrete steps to educate and hone the mind that is quick to resort to violence on the basis of religious beliefs.

From his antics and background, Tambuwal seems to have fully grasped these contradictions between beliefs and the existential nature of 21st century Nigeria that craves modernity, innovation, creativity and development. To redirect these energies among the youth of Sokoto State, Tambuwal was quick to refocus its political and governance architecture, focusing largely on education. He is one of the few governors in Nigeria to allocate 35% of his annual budget to education. His conceptualization of the girl child education policy has been phenomenal going for state accolades from the UN and UNICEF.

Deborah’s murder may have irritated nerves across the country, but it is also an occasion for soul-searching among Nigerian leaders. As Winston Churchill observed, “never let a crisis go to waste,” perhaps this is an opportunity for Tambuwal and others to reposition themselves, using that crisis to show capacity in a way that will rely on how to handle our troubling fault lines. Deborah’s murder for alleged blasphemy forces us to reorder our national conversation about the role of the state, religion and human rights in the right perspective and direction. In this way, we can effectively locate and situate Nigeria correctly as a secular state.

Agbor, a political analyst, writing from Abuja


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