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Last Updated: Thursday, 2 November 2006, 16:20 GMT
From Nigerian soldier to Sultan of Sokoto
The new sultan
He has an intimate knowledge of some of the world's crisis spots

Editor of Nigeria's Daily Trust newspaper, Mahmud Jega profiles the new Sultan of Sokoto for the BBC News website.

At first glance, Mohamed Sa'ad Abubakar's curriculum vitae may not be many people's idea of what it takes to become the Sultan of Sokoto, spiritual leader of Nigeria's large Muslim community and heir to the 200-year-old throne founded by his great grandfather, the 19th Century Islamic reformer Sheikh Usman Dan Fodio.

For the new sultan has been a professional soldier all his adult life.

A second glance though, suggests this is not so strange for Dan Fodio launched a jihad, or holy war, against the Hausa rulers of what is now northern Nigeria and Niger, creating an empire which stretched from modern-day Burkina Faso to Cameroon, becoming one of Africa's largest pre-colonial states.

At its height, it took four months to travel from east to west and two months north to south.

Dan Fodio's son, Muhammed Bello, established the empire's capital in Sokoto and it has remained the centre of Nigerian Islam ever since, with its huge mosque opposite the sultan's palace.

Up until last February, the new sultan was Nigeria's defence attache to Pakistan, with concurrent accreditation to Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan.

This suggests intimate knowledge of some of the world's most intricate crisis points.

Brigadier General Sa'ad Abubakar, or "Sada", as he is called in Sokoto, is however not a man of crisis.

As a matter of fact, he spent many of his 31 years in the military as a peacekeeper.

He commanded a battalion of African peacekeepers in Chad during the early 1980s as part of the Organisation 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 new sultan began his military career in 1975 and was commissioned a second lieutenant two years later. Since then he has served in the elite Armoured Corps.

Mosque at the sultan's palace
[The] Abubakar family is highly popular with the ordinary people in Sokoto
He has done extensive military training overseas including in India, Canada and headed a presidential security unit of the Armoured Corps that guarded then military ruler General Ibrahim Babangida in late 1980s.

This suggests a real closeness to the highly security-conscious Gen Babangida, who is again eyeing the presidency and is seen as the new sultan's mentor.

Incidentally, Gen Babangida is also the political mentor of Sokoto State Governor Attahiru Dalhatu Bafarawa, who appointed the new sultan to the throne.

There is therefore much talk in Sokoto of a "Babangida connection".

It is a potent theory, for the new sultan otherwise stood little chance of beating other high-profile contenders for the throne, including a former federal minister, a former ambassador, a federal permanent secretary and a deputy inspector general of police.

Own man

Still, his appointment was warmly received in Sokoto because he is the son of the late Sultan Abubakar Sadiq III, who reigned from 1938 to 1988 and acquired near-mythical stature in Sokoto and was knighted by the English monarch Elizabeth II.

The late Sultan of Sokoto Muhammadu Maccido
The late sultan was also widely revered for his peace efforts

Sir Abubakar's family is highly popular with the ordinary people in Sokoto, who will accept almost anyone from that family, but may not readily accept a new man from some of the rival ruling houses.

Governor Bafarawa himself, whose relationship with the late Sultan Muhammadu Maccido had soured in recent years, has nimbly avoided political trouble by appointing the late Sultan's brother, even though the family itself would have preferred Maccido's son.

The new sultan, however, promises to be his own man, the politics of his appointment notwithstanding.

Right now he has just two weeks left to complete a course at the prestigious Nigeria Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies near Jos, considered the country's foremost think-tank for policymakers.

And a close military associate of his has described him as "strong willed, blunt, a very good soldier, a strict disciplinarian, and a man who holds strong opinions on all issues".

Whether those qualities that stood him very well in the military will serve him equally well in his new calling, remains to be seen.

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