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The Emir of Yauri: 25 Years of Service to the People, By Abdullahi Yelwa

The great Niger River, the third longest river in Africa, had existed for time  immemorial. Though the audacity and impudence of European historians had credited Mungo Park, a Scottish explorer, with discovering the River Niger, the river, about 4,180 kilometres in length, had for centuries meandered its way from its source in the Guinea Highlands in south-eastern Guinea, into the Atlantic Ocean.

It runs in a crescent shape, through Mali, Niger, on the border with Benin and then Nigeria, discharging through  the Niger Delta to the ocean.

It was along this litoral highway of kaleidoscopic ecosystem that the Yawuri Kingdom was born over 600 years ago.

The Kingdom since 1411 has maintained a history of sustained leadership, with each passing decade and century creating a chain of hegemony that had continued till date.

From Tafiraulu, its first King, to Sarkin Yawuri, from whose name the kingdom derived its own  name, and became prosperous and popular, the kingdom had evolved as an important kingdom in the waters of Niger River. It had witnessed the advent of Islam, lived through slave trade, saw the coming of the Whiteman, endured colonial rule, celebrated independence, lived through military rule and now relishing in the  threshold of democratic governance.

In its more contemporary history, the Kingdom has come under the ruleship of some of the most powerful traditional rulers in Hausaland. Sarkin Yauri Abarshi, Sarkin Yauri Abdullahi and Sarkin Yauri Shuaibu have all left their marks on the sands of time,  not only in the development of the institution of traditional authority but in modern governance as well.

Inarguably, the emir of Yauri that has made the greatest contributions to the development of Yauri Kingdom and who positioned it as a critical building block in modern Nigeria, however, is the present Emir of Yauri, His Royal Highness, Dr Muhammad Zayyanu Abdullahi, CON.

A scientist, university administrator and former Vice chancellor of Usman Danfodio University, Sokoto, Sarki Zayyanu, as he is fondly refered to by his subjects, was born in Yauri in 1946 to the family of the then Emir of Yauri Abdullahi, Maiyawuri Bangon Duniya. A great grandson of Sarki Abarshi, who was a descendant of the Jerabana 1, Dr. Muhammad Zayyanu Abdullahi was appointed as the Emir of Yauri in1999, after the death of of his uncle, Emir Shuaibu Yakubu Abarshi.

In the annals of the history of the Nigerian traditional institution, very few emirs had come to the throne of their ancestors with the level of pedigree, competence and preparedness he possesses.

On assumption of office, Sarki Zayyanu saw the need to retool the traditional bureaucracy with a crop of elites who are expected to bring new ideas to an other wise ancient institution. His meticulous and delicate balancing of the old with the new has been the secret behind the success of the monarchy in Yauri.

I have known and interacted with His Royal Highness all through my adult life. It was, however, in my traditional capacity as the Ajiyan Yauri that I witnessed first hand his  commitment and dedication to his people.

Since his installation as the 42 Emir of Yauri, Sarki Zayyanu has continuously strived to maintain the integrity of the institution, even as he consistently laboured to evolve it into a vital tool for democratic governance and modern statecraft.

No wonder then that his 25 years as our Emir so far, had witnessed tremendous developments for the Emirate
At inception, he immediately identified the need to unite his people, especially the elites to provide a united front for the task of building the emirate and the state.

He has also given the various nationalities residing in the emirate a sense of belonging and self-determination. In all matters affecting their communities, their leaders are given free hand, within the ambit of the law.

Same level of administrative cover is also given to foreigners, especially traders and fishermen from Niger, Benin and other neighbouring countries.

The Niger River as the main litoral highway of the West African subcontinent has historically been a melting pot for civilizations, with Yauri as its epicenter.

One of the institutions for engendering unity and development in the emirate is the Yauri Emirate Development Association, YEDA.

It was as the Chairman of YEDA for seven years that I came close to Sarkin Yauri Zayyanu and observed closely his devotion and commitment to his people and the ancient institution he superintends.

Some of YEDA's landmark achievements under his leadership include the task of strengthening ties with other Emirates to seek common grounds for the development of Kebbi State.

The success of the reign of monarchs are measured usually by the level of social, institutional and Infrastructure development recorded during his time.

It was, however as the delegate to the National Political Reform Conference in 2005 that Sarki Zayyanu manifested his national prowess. He saw the conference as an opportunity for advocacy for the environmental challenges confronting his people. In the course of the building of the Kaiji Hydro electricity project, hundreds of his communities were submerged to create the Kainji Dam. This has left serious ecological and health challenges, especially flooding and outbreaks of waterborne diseases in his emirate. It had also affected agriculture and endangered fishing.

During his speech at the plenery of the conference which he tagged as "our demand for justice", the Emir brought to the fore the sacrifices his people have made since early independence for the provision of hydropower for the country's economic development.

He drew the attention of our restive Niger Delta compatriots that before the River Niger formed a delta in the Niger Delta, it has traversed communities, hamlets, towns and civilizations from Guinea Highlands in south-eastern Guinea to the sea.

The delegates from the Niger Delta who were at time demanding for a higher derivation formula because of the environmental degradation and economic loses they suffer, were shamed to discover that there are hundreds of communities on the course of the River Niger who daily suffer the same fate as the people of the Niger Delta.

He concluded by asking the Obasanjo administration to hasten the establishment of the Hydro Power Producing Area Development 
Commission, HYPPADEC, which was one of the earliest Bills passed by the National Assembly.

 Scholars on culture and the traditional institutions have opined that traditional institutions are more custodial, protective and hand-on on the welfare of their people than  modern statecraft.

It was at the Abuja political reform conference the emir brought this to national attention.

I have related in my book,  "Kings and Democracy: Traditional Institution in the Age of Constitutionalism", an incident that the showcased the proprietorial disposition of traditional rulers.

 The Emir was serving as the chairman of the  committee on traditional institutions and culture reform. I was the secretary of the committee.

We had gone on a coffee break and awaiting for the chairman's return from break when his personal secretary called to report that the emir was on his way to Yauri, in Kebbi State, to attend to an emergency situation that had suddenly evolved.

There was a crisis in Yauri between the police and the community, which had led to the death of some citizens. All the police operatives in the town had desipated into the thin air, some disguised as women to avoid identification. The governor of the state at the time, Alhaji Adamu Aliero, had directed the emir to return to Yauri immediately, as he wouldn't be in Yauri in the emir's absence.

All the paraphernalia of modern statecraft - the police, the local government authority and other governmental institutions have shut down, as battle ready youth in the town chanted war songs as they awaited the return of the emir.

  Nothing demonstrates the continued relevance of the traditional institution than seeing the governor and chief security officer of a state,  reluctant to visit a part of his state, until the emir of the area was available.

For a kingdom that is over 600 years, 25 years may not seem as an eternity. But for the people of Yauri Kingdom, the 25 years of Sarkin Zayyanu on the throne of Yauri so far, is an el-dorado.

Under his leadership, our emirate has assumed its leadership role in Kebbi State. It has witnessed tremendous infrastructure development, making it a modern town in the state. Its people today are more united, confident of the more prosperous future ahead.

So, as Sarki Zayyanu celebrates his 25 years on the throne, we pray that God Almighty grants him good health, strength and foresight in the service of his people.
Abdullahi Yelwa is journalist and author of Kings And Democracy: The Traditional Institution in the Age of Constitutionalism.

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