His Eminence Alhaji Muhammad Sa’adAbubakar is the sultan of Sokoto and president-general of the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs. As the sultan, he stands as the spiritual leader of Nigeria’s Muslims that number over 90 million – roughly one-half of the nation’s population.
He stands at the commanding heights of one of the two sides of Nigeria’s religious divide – the Muslim-majority north. Working hand in hand with Cardinal John Onaiyekan,Catholic Archbishop of Abuja, Abubakar has used his position so far to reduce tension between the Muslim-majority north and the Christian-majority south.
The sultan is a key figure in multi-sectoral movements and organizations, that brings together Christian and Muslim religious communities in a joint effort in handling health challenges and tackling poverty. The efforts have offered a platform for establishing trust and cooperation.
Nigeria Inter-Religious Council (NIREC), which is jointly chaired by the sultan and Onaiyekan and the Nigeria Inter-Faith Action Association (NIFAA) are examples of thepeace fostering movements.By developing the basis for cooperation, the ground for tackling societal problems has been created. These include collaborative effort towards eradicating malaria across the nation.
Abubakar is keen to see an end to situations where religious affiliation exacerbates minor skirmishes, leaving needless problems on the ground in Nigeria. He pursues this objective through cross-religious engagement and dialogue, wherein he sees the solution to intolerance. He is one of the signatories of “A common word between us and you,” an open letter written by Muslim intellectuals to Christian leaders in 2007.
He seeks the creation of peaceful and stable nation where people live peacefully beside one another. The sultan is gunning for understanding, founded in trust, collaboration and discussion as a tool to bring this about.
Before being selected as sultan, Abubakar served in the Nigerian military from 1975 to 2006. This includes terms as Nigeria’s defense attached to Pakistan with concurrent accreditation to Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan. He spent a good part of the 31 years in military service as a peacekeeper.
He commanded a battalion of African peacekeepers in Chad during the early 1980s as part of the Organization of African Unity’s force and was military liaison officer for the West African regional body ECOWAS in the mid-1990s.
Later he served in ECOWAS peacekeeping force when it intervened in Sierra Leone’s bloody civil war, leading a tank battalion.
The monarch wonders why there is such severe intolerance and violence in the name of religion. He urges Muslims to seek proper understanding of scripture, which abhors killing of a fellow man.He has given his commitment to continue to work relentlessly for Nigeria to remain peaceful, united and indivisible.
His commitment is based on his conviction that Nigerians were truly eager to live in peace and unity with one another, irrespective of religious, political and ethnic affiliations. What is then required, according to him, is to usher in dialogue, which he considers the only plausible panacea to Nigeria’s myriad of challenges.
Setting the ball of dialogue rolling is Abubakar’s idea of lifting Nigeria above the present security challenges “There is no problem in the world that dialogue cannot solve.
“We should sit down, discuss issues and problems, as well as see where we have gone wrong and what went wrong and retrace our steps, then move forward as a single, indivisible country”, he said.
He attaches great importance to the role of religious leaders as they often function as traditional leaders in Nigerian society and in a way hold greater legitimacy in the eyes of the citizenry than political institutions. He expects these leaders to act on the opportunity by setting up organizations that reach out to the common man, as they also serve to advise government.
Education is one of Abubakar’s bridge building initiatives, which he considers the most important thing to give to any child, irrespective of gender.He has thrown his weight behind women’s education following which the Sultanate Council’s plans to establish an all-women’s medical university in Northern Nigeria. He is all out against the common barriers to female education such as poverty and cultural norms, affirming that there is nothing in Muslim scripture that says girls should not go to school.
The sultan isn’t sparing leaders, who sponsor strife and division. He wants to see the emergence of a new generation of leaders who lead by listening to those they are leading, who take steps to unite the people rather than divide them. He recommends the use of dialogue to leaders as the most effective tool for listening, learning and solving problems together.