By Gambo Dori
WHEN Prince Charles came visiting last week, it was an opportunity once more for the country to put forward our prominent royal fathers as a welcome party for the heir-apparent to the British throne.
I guess the royal fathers were given that prominence because the Prince of wales is one of their kind and would feel most at ease in their company.
If not for our changed circumstances, with one kind of insurgency or the other afflicting the land, the Prince would have been visiting the royal fathers in their domain. At least that has been the practice since the British royalty started visiting Nigeria.
The first visit by a very senior English royalty was in April 1925 when Prince Edward, then the Prince of Wales and heir apparent to the British throne visited Nigeria as part of a tour that took him around some of their colonies in Africa.
He travelled from Lagos where his ship docked,by train to Kano and was treated to a grand durbar in the city which was attended by both the Shehu of Borno, the Sultan of Sokoto and other Emirs. For years after, the durbar was one of the most talked about event. I know many elderly associates who easily traced their birth year to that singular event. A late mentor of mine used to tell me how he found out his year of birth.
He said that his father was posted as a judge in Benisheikh when he was born and it was in the days when the Shehu of Borno’s contingent were passing through the village on their way to Kano for the great durbar.
The next visit of the British royalty would probably be the visit of the Queen, accompanied by her husband, Prince Phillip the Duke of Edinburgh, in 1956. Nigeria was preparing for independence at the time when the Queen herself was just four years old on the throne.
The royal party flew direct to Kaduna from where they toured the three regions for several days each. The pattern of the royal visits in the North would always be three-pronged: watch a durbar, visit military instalments and enjoy a few days in Jos where the mild temperate climate feels like home.
A high point of the visit was the spectacular durbar arranged for the royal couple in Kaduna whose sheer, magnificent pageantry is yet to be surpassed.
On their way out of the country they went through the Kano airport for the outward journey. A formal visit to Kano city and the Emir’s Palace was arranged. It turned out to be a full treat for the royal couple as for the first time the Emir opened the gates of his household for the Queen to visit his wives and children.
I have watched a video of Emir Muhammadu Sanusi, ever the gracious host,resplendent in an embroidered black alkyabba, happily receiving the royal couple and ushering them into the inner sanctum of his palace. When the ceremonies were over in the council chambers, the Queen accompanied by Lady Sherwood Smith, the wife of Governor of the Northern Region, were conducted into an adjoining apartment by the Emir to meet his family.
At independence in 1960, the Queen was represented by her cousin, Princess Alexandra of Kent. That year the Queen had to allow other members of the royal household to undertake protocol functions on her behalf because she was caring for baby Andrew who was born early that year. Princess Alexandra’s visit was mostly in the southern part of the country. However, she performed one of the most important functions in the history of this nation when at a ceremony at the Lagos Racecourse she handed over the instruments of independence to Nigerian Prime Minister, Abubakar Tafawa Balewa.
For many years, the British royal family did not show up in our shores for a visit. By the time another senior royal showed up, I was myself a very senior government official in Borno State Government and very much in the arena of the receptions.
In 1989,Prince Phillip, the Duke of Edinburgh came to Borno State in his capacity as President of the Worldwide Fund for Nature. He was actually visiting Dogana village of Bade local government (now in Yobe State), where a sanctuary of birds of different species from Europe and other continents of the world come to roost during winter. The spot around the Hadejia-Nguru Wetlands was of immense interest to birds-watchers particularly those seeking out endangered species.
Col. Abdu One Mohammed, Military Governor of Borno State, led the Bornoofficials to receive the Duke at Wachakal village where an airstrip had been specially constructed for the purpose.From there, we proceeded to Dogana and stood around the bow-lake amidst thousands of birds chirping away as the speeches were made.
It was February at the height of the harmattan season and a dusty dry hot wind was relentlessly swirling around us and even struggling to whip away the sheets of paper from where the Governor was reading his speech.It would have been a disaster for myself and my staff that had worked on the draft speech for days. Nevertheless, everything worked well. The Duke made a short reply to commission thesanctuary and we saw him off to his plane waiting at Wachakal.
Probably the visit that caught the eyes of the world media was the one made by Prince Charles and Princess Diana to Maiduguri in April 1990.Then Princess Diana was becoming a permanent fixture in the eyes of the world press and they followed her itinerary closely to lavishly spread it around the globe. Borno was therefore on the spot that year.
It was mid-March, the hottest time of the year in Maiduguri but Borno was prepared to roll out the red carpet for the young royal couple. As usual the Shehu’s Palace was the place to turn to for showing the best of Borno culture. A grand durbar was arranged for the royal couple to enable them see the famed horsemen that were always the cynosure of all eyes at every durbar.
I recall that day being in the royal box in the Shehu’s Palace along with other officials sitting behindthe Military Governor, Col. Mohammed LawanMaina mesmerised by the splendid display of our richly dressed horsemen.
in the day, Princess Diana was conducted into the Shehu’s Palace by the wife of the Military Governor to meet YaGumsu, the Shehu of Borno’s most senior wife. The royal couple had other engagement but what remained in the minds of many was the visit to the Molai Leprosy Hospital where Princess Diana was photographed touching lepers with her naked hands.
The Prince returned to Nigeria in November 2006 for a 3-day working visit in particular to inaugurate the peace-keeping training centre at Jaji which was built with British Government funding. He visited Kano where he was treated to a grand durbar.
These visits come after long intervals. But as we say farewell the Prince, I hope we have been to utilise this visit to raise matters of pressing concerns with him not only in his capacity as heir apparent to the British throne and the de facto head of the Commonwealth but also as an important voice at many international fora for issues dear to his heart. The Oba of Benin, Ewuare 11, had already set the ball rolling by calling for the return of various artefacts forcibly removed by marauding British soldiers who invaded and burned Benin city in 1897.
Issues of climate change should have been in the front burner as the Lake Chad and the environs including the Hadejia-Nguru Wetlands are drying up with security and other consequences for the overall international community. Other issues of interest would be immigration, more British investment particularly in view of Brexit, and many others.