Monday, January 14, 2013

Meet Queen Hadizatu Ahmed, The Only Female Ruler In Islamic Northern Nigeria

Robed in a traditional regalia, the Queen of Kumbwada is Nigeria’s only female monarch currently (that I know of).
Predominantly Muslim, Northern Nigeria is made up of 19 states, and as at 2012, 12 of these states have instituted the Sharia Law. Thus, this is the last place one will expect a female monarch ruling over thousands of subjects. Well, that is precisely the case of Her Royal Highness, Queen Hajiya Hadizatu Ahmed, the Magajiya & Paramount Ruler of Kumbwada in Kano State. Thanks to a curse placed about 200 years ago, this is one place where a man can never sit on the throne and rule. Those that attempted it were said to have paid dearly and did not spend more than seven days as ruler as they were said to have all died mysteriously. Interesting. But the story is just starting.

For more than six generations now, Kumbwada has been ruled by a female. Queen Hadizatu Ahmed has an unquestionable authority over her people, who number over 33,000 as at 2007. O boy, that’s something! Listen to her:

“My father (Prince Amadu Kumbwada) decided to see if he could break the spell but he failed. In his first week on the throne he became so sick that he had to abdicate and was rushed out of the village. He died three weeks later.”

Now in her early 60s and having been on throne for more than 12 years, Queen Ahmed is still ruling in a society that is mainly male-dominated and intensely paternalistic. According to her, the curse was placed about two centuries ago by another legendary woman, the warrior princess Magajiya Maimuna (Magajiya is a title of honour for women in this part of Nigeria). She led her cavalry and troops from Zaria and then conquered the queendom. After the conquest, Magajiya Maimuna decided to install her brother as the ruler but he became ill and died in under a week. She replaced him with her second brother and he met the same fate. After the loss of her two brothers, she took the bull of Kumbwada by the horns and made herself the Queen. She ruled for 83 years, says Queen Ahmed, as she adjusted her white veil. Her own grandmother ruled for 73 years until she died at 113. I am trusting their records o!
Holding a session in her court with her subjects
She says: “I don’t face any resistance from my subjects, they obey my commands as they obey their God because I’m a fair ruler who ensures justice in my kingdom. It’s a women’s affair. Women are the rulers and they rule as effectively as men, sometimes even better than men.”

From time to time, her male subjects led by their chief imam (religious leader) visit her in the palace to pay homage and listen to all she has to say while nodding in submission. That reminds Iyaniwura of the other northern monarchs like the Sultan of Sokoto, Emir of Zazzau and the Shehu of Borno who receive endless praises (rankayadede thins) from their subjects. But she is not as wealthy as her male counterparts. She has a simple blue silk-embroidered chair as her throne (don’t compare that with the gold-gilded throne of Dr. Ado Bayero, the Emir of Kano). The chief imam supports her and despite the criticism from other clerics, he says:

Surrounded by her male subjects.
“We can’t live without a leader, and the fact that any male rulers that ascend the throne die quickly and mysteriously while female rulers reign for many years makes our case a peculiar one,” Muhammad says. “This is an exceptional situation none of us can change.”

She is already grooming a heiress apparent who will take over from her when she is no more. Her eldest son, Danjuma Salihu says: “I know and everybody here knows that no man can rule thiskingdom and survive. It is not in my own interest to be heir apparent.” His mother quips in saying he cannot survive being a king there but may be a local chief in another kingdom. 
The locals have traced the curse to a massive rock in the town and they say whoever goes there will never come back (when are we going to ever wake up and smell the coffee?)
At any rate, she is married to a local merchant and she had three marriages before becoming the Queen of Kumbwada. She has five kids, three of them being female. So I guess there should be no qualms over succession. She says, with a regal smile:
“I’m the chief here but I discharge my domestic duties as a wife and mother. However my husband knows his limits, royalty is royalty.” 
She has been described as a merciful ruler. She handles case of domestic violence, divorce (which she hates), land disputes, theft and other sundry issues. Hear her:
“When domestic issues come to me, the way I treat them will be quite different to other traditional chiefs. I’m a woman and I’m a mother and I have so much concern and experience when it comes to the issue of marriage and what it means for the maintenance of the home and what it means for two people to live together.”
She also recalls the first case of wife beating she had: “I told him if he ever beat his wife again, I’d dissolve the marriage and put him in prison. Marriage is not a joke, and women are not slaves. Men sometimes say the women provoke them, so that is why they beat them,” she says. “I tell them that there’s no justification, whatever happens.” 
On forced marriages, she says:
“In such cases I try to strike a balance. I don’t just end such marriages. I try to be tactful and see if there’s any way this woman can come to love this man. But if that’s not possible, if there’s no way she can have any compassion for him or love, it’s not her fault or his fault. It’s just natural.
I intervene and ask for the marriage to be dissolved for the sake of the woman, the man and everyone’s sake.”
“The royalty have a very important role in Nigerian society. Of course we’re different than the elected powers. The real power, the confidence, is with us. Politicians think you can buy votes. I am closer to the people. The traditional rulers are the ones the people trust.”
“My only handicap is that I don’t have a Western education, because in my time, people didn’t educate their daughters. I’m not educated in the modern way, but in the traditional way, I have wisdom in my dealings with people. I’m proud to say that it would be hard to find someone educated who could rule as well as I can. I’ve never had a crisis I couldn’t solve. Even politicians sometimes have to come to traditional rulers for help. In a crisis, people don’t listen to politicians. Once we intervene, once we speak, to the people, it’s hands off.”
She has one wish: that a female become the President of Nigeria someday. She says the men have failed and women should be given a chance. 
As you might have guessed, some religious have strongly condemned her being a queen but for her over 33,000 loyal subjects, she is second to God, she is the living "Igbakeji Orisha"(meaning 2nd to the gods) exercising her powers, with her slender, henna-dyed hands, commanding men with the snap of her fingers. 
NB: Female monarchs are indeed a rare breed in Nigeria. Few exceptions include the legendary Queen Aminatu Mohammed, the Hausa Muslim Warrior Queen of Zazzau (now Zaria), Iyoba (Queen Mother) Idia of Benin and Princess Adeyinka Adesida who served as the Regent of Akure Kingdom, Ondo State for six years (October 1999-2005). 

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