Nigeria recently lost a frontline traditional ruler and Islamic religious leader, Alhaji Mustapha Umar El-Kanemi, the Shehu of Borno. The revered ruler, who was the Deputy National Vice President of the National Supreme Council of Islamic Affairs (NSCIA) and a cultural icon in the North, passed on at a military hospital in Cairo, Egypt, at the age of 85. He has since been buried.
El-Kanemi, who was the 19th Shehu of Borno, was the fourth son of the 17th Shehu of Borno, Sir Umar Ibn Mohammed El-Kanemi He was formally installed as the Shehu of Borno on February 1, 1975, at a ceremony in which he pledged to work for the peace and unity of all Borno residents, and also uphold the rule of law in the kingdom. He not only fulfilled these pledges, his passionate devotion to the traditional administration of the Kingdom led to its rapid development and progress.
El-Kanemi was a great lover of his people and a remarkable philanthropist. Tributes from Nigerians from different walks of life have been effusive in praises of his single-minded devotion to the cause of Borno people. The tributes indicated that he built no personal houses or amassed personal fortunes. His wealth consisted of the love and admiration of his people. A rare leader, indeed, and one whose leadership qualities and selfless service are worthy of emulation by all Nigerians.
Born in Dikwa Emirate in 1924, El-Kanemi had his early education at Dikwa Elementary School and Borno Middle School, between 1936 and 1944. He later attended an administrative training course at Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, between 1953 and 1954, and a local government course for District Heads at Potiskum, in 1969.
An astute administrator, he began his public service career as an administrator with his appointment as Executive Secretary of the Wali of Borno, in 1945. He was later transferred to various departments of the Native Authority. He worked with the police, the Central Administration and the Veterinary Department as a representative of the then Shehu.
In 1956, he was elected into the Northern Nigerian House of Assembly on the platform of the Northern Peoples Congress (NPC), representing Damaturu/Bursari Constituency. He was re-elected in 1959. In 1961, he was appointed Parliamentary Secretary, equivalent of a junior minister, in the Ministry of Lands and Survey, Northern Region, Kaduna.
He became District Head of Mafa, and later that of Nganzai, in Borno Division, in 1970. He was appointed Shehu of Borno, in 1974. In recognition of his remarkable devotion to education and good administration, the late Shehu was appointed the Chancellor of the University of Port Harcourt in 1978. He also received the Natioal Honour, Commander of the Federal Republic (CFR).
His 35 years on the throne were remarkable for the love, peace and tranquility that pervaded the kingdom. He was a father to all Borno residents, irrespective of ethnicity, religion and place of birth. The late Shehu was widely regarded as a bridge builder. He was also reputed to be a philanthropist who was generous and accessible to all. He was an embodiment of the culture of his people.
The exemplary leadership qualities of the late Shehu will be missed by all. Lessons to be learnt from the life of this great man include his selflessness, simple love of mankind and devotion to the good administration and progress of his people.
We commiserate with the El-Kanemi family, all Muslims and the government and people of Borno State on the passage of this great spiritual and traditional leader. We urge his successor, Alhaji Abba Kyari Shehu Umar Garbai, to follow in his footsteps. El-Kanemi?s shining example of selfless service should be emulated by all traditional rulers in the country.