Remembering Late Abu King Shuluwa (1946-2024)

Three words defined the life of the late Tor Sankera (1), HRH, Erastus Abu King Shuluwa. These were courage, candour, charisma.

Courage: Shuluwa didn’t walk into a room on egg-shells. He didn’t swagger, waddle, or trudge. He strode. He strode into meetings and took charge by the mere force of his presence.

Candour: Shuluwa was a candid man: he always spoke his mind. Not everyone loved his candour, especially in this season of political correctness, but by it, everyone always knew where Shuluwa stood. He was not your jolly good fellow who was a man of all seasons: Shuluwa chose his seasons and the people he travelled with.

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Charisma: But Shuluwa was not only bold and candid – the late Sema-Wan-u-Tiv was also a charismatic figure. And it was this charisma that gave allure to his colourful personality.

King was born in 1946 to the family of Pa Shuluwa (Suruwa) Mailuemo Takor Ikyor and Mama Elizabeth Ate in Ikyurav-Tiev, Katsina-Ala Local Government Area of Benue state. He passed unto eternity on 16th January 2024 and was buried on Saturday, 10th Feb. 2024 after week-long obsequies.

Shuluwa was of a mixed heritage. While his father was a Tiv man from the Usambe Clan in Ikyurav-Tiev, his mother was Nyifon (Iordaa), a sub-group of Jukuns of Kwararafa. Unknown to him, the mixed lineage and his (later) scattered primary education prefigured the cosmopolitan life he would live, the travels he would undertake, and the many friends from diverse backgrounds he would make on his circuits.

After a scattered primary education at Aliade, Gwer-East LGA; Mbaduku, Vandeikya LGA; and Sankera (Ukum LGA), the young Shuluwa proceeded to the famous Government College, Katsina-Ala (GCK), graduating in 1965.

The full flowering of Shuluwa’s life was still in the womb of time, but its leadership promise was on full display at GCK. He was the Food Prefect as well as the Heavy-weight Boxing Champion in his final years. And being a sports buff, he was on GCK’s Football, Handball, Hockey and Rugby teams. This guaranteed his popularity in school and earned him the moniker of “King” i.e. the King of Sports. And this moniker stuck throughout his life.

While in service, Shuluwa would pursue his passion for higher education, studying at great institutions like the solid Kaduna Polytechnic; the acclaimed University College of Swansea, UK; the prestigious London School of Economics (LSE) UK; and the renowned Land Grant Atlanta University, Georgia, USA.

King was better known as a flamboyant politician – be it in speech or dressing, but his biggest social impact was outside politics.

In the early 70s, while in the service of the Northern Nigerian Civil Service in Kaduna, King Shuluwa was made the Social Welfare Officer, with the responsibility for checking incidents of domestic violence, juvenile delinquency, and youth-related challenges.

With the creation of Benue-Plateau State in 1967, King moved to Jos, the state capital, and was appointed Youth Officer, with the specific charges of engaging with youths and overseeing their recreational facilities.

His success with youths and youth camps in Jos earned him a promotion to Social Welfare Officer, with itinerant duties in Akwanga, Keffi, Shendam, Lafia, and Nasarawa Local Government Areas. And upon the excision of Benue from Plateau State in 1976, Shuluwa returned home, to continue with social development and welfare work among Benue youths.

Among the many offices Shuluwa held, while in the service of the Benue State Government, included: Director, Social Development; Chairman, Benue State Implementation Task Force on Civil Service Reforms of 1988 and Chairman of the Investigative Panel on the Benue State Scholarship Board; and Sole Administrator, Katsina-Ala Local Government.

The seasoned bureaucrat also ran a relay through the Ministries as State Commissioner under different Military Administrators i.e. Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs; Information and Social Development; Youths and Sports as well as Agriculture and Natural Resources. His salutary imprint on the Benue public service is a bold one as he was popularly nicknamed: “Mr. Fix It”. In any ministry there was a knotty issue, King Shuluwa was posted there to fix the problem.

In 1991, after 25 years in the bureaucracy of the Northern Region, Benue-Plateau, and Benue state, King Shuluwa retired to join partisan politics. He was just 45 years old, but he had seen it all.

He electrified the political space, riveting it with his soapbox dramatics, rousing oratory, and magnetic personality. From that time till he quit politics for the Traditional institution, King Shuluwa remained the main issue in Benue politics, and particularly so in the Sankera Axis of the state.

The question many asked aspirants for public office was: “Have you seen King?” (And that was long before King became the King).
But nobody asked: “Which King?” If you were a serious aspirant, you knew, without doubt, who the King was.

In 1991, when he sought the guber ticket of the now defunct Social Democratic Party (SDP), his audacious slogan was: “King is the Answer.” What few knew is that the slogan was given to him by his admirers.

To many Christians, especially those of the Pentecostal hue, if this slogan wasn’t pure blasphemy, then it certainly tugged on the fringes of sacrilege.

“How could a frail man, a politician at that, claim to be “The Answer,”
they queried, with righteous indignation.

But King Shuluwa’s reasoning was at a deeper, even prophetic, threshold.

First, as a devout Christian, of the NKST and later of the Roman-Catholic persuasion, King Shuluwa knew the primacy of King Jesus in the affairs of men.

So, when he accepted to use the “King-is-the-Answer” slogan, Abu Shuluwa did not seek to compete with the King of kings or to messianise his person – he only sought to messianise his governorship quest.

In other words, King Shuluwa planned to rule Benue state as closely as Jesus would. He planned to: be the governor of all and for all; rule with the fear of God and compassion for man; give every zone its due and not microtise power or minoritise its spoils; and he planned to be a servant-leader, respected by grateful people, and not as a demi-god; held in fear and contempt by the people.

Put differently, King Shuluwa’s governorship quest was actuated by the service ethic and, accordingly, anchored on the high spiritual foundation of uncommon public service. His advent was to provide a Solution to the nagging Benue Question, and not to compound or obfuscate it with excuses or executive ineptitude.

But, tried as he would, that governorship aspiration was not to be. Unknown to him, as passionate as he pursued that quest, it was not his destiny to be governor – his destiny was that of John Baptist, to prepare the way for the arrival of “the he who was to come.”

What many people don’t know is that the incumbent Governor of Benue, His Excellency, Dr. Hyacinth Iormem Alia, is a maternal nephew of the late monarch. He, thus, fulfils that governorship “prophecy” for King.

Second, the slogan, “King is the Answer” had a secondary prophetic interpretation. All of us honour, cherish and desire the prophetic. But Shuluwa knew what many of us don’t: i.e. Every man is his own first prophet. So, in accepting the King-is-the-Answer slogan, he was prophetically speaking into his own life.

And in due season, Abu King Shuluwa actually became King Abu King Shuluwa! The Hope became the Reality. With the benefit of hindsight, we may say when God gave him the “prophecy” about the second half of his life, Shuluwa did not see very clearly. Or even if he saw clearly, he did not understand the “prophecy” very well.

Perhaps, if he did, he would not dissipate his energies on an elusive governorship questing – he would look beyond his gubernatorial longings to occupying a revered and virgin, First-Class traditional Stool of Sankera Kingdom.

Many prophecies, especially the deep or grave ones, do not come with immediacy. So, even though King Shuluwa accepted the slogan in 1991, it was not until 2016, some 25 years later, that he ascended the Virgin, freshly minted stool of Tor Sankera 1, a First-Class Chiefdom with an oversight over three Local Government Areas in the Sankera Axis i.e. Ukum Katsina-Ala and Logo LGAs.

But by far, where he made his impact most in the public space in Benue state was as the Sole Administrator of Katsina-Ala Local Government Area between 1987 and 1988.

Building on his experiences in Kaduna and Jos, Akwanga, and elsewhere, Shuluwa found creative ways to engage the Youths of Katsina-Ala LGA.

Knowing the unifying power of sports, he tapped into that power by building the Katsina-Ala Township Stadium (now renamed Akume Atongo Stadium). In doing this, he harnessed exuberant youth energies into sports and social development. But that was not all. King, it was who opened up township roads and streets in Katsina-Ala within six months upon assumption of duty. It’s instructive that he supervised those projects at night and over the weekends, in his shorts and cowboy hats.

Sadly, there has been no further development in Katdina-Ala town till date – a rueful testament to our leadership poverty!

Shuluwa also has the singular distinction of being the first, only, and last Chairman of Katsina-Ala Local Government Area who organised and attended picnics at the Katsina-Ala Beach. His personal attendance attracted mass attendance from all over the state, with dignitaries and youths coming from as far as Vandeikya, Makurdi, Aliade, and Otukpo.

For the dignitaries, it was a creative time to relax and informally rub minds on nagging social issues. It was a time when the Government, not only “shook hands” with the Youths, but also “wined and dined” with them. The government felt the pulse of that restive demography.

And for the youths, it was a time to dance, celebrate the end-of-year season in style, to make friends …it was, in fact, a time and way of positive socialisation. But it was also a time to interface with foresighted power.

To Shuluwa, the teaming youths of Katsina-Ala and Sankera, in general, were not a recruitment base for thugs or political musclemen, but an army of human resources for future leadership.

That tradition, that foresighted tradition of constructive engagement that Shuluwa inaugurated, was, regretfully, not continued. What replaced it, especially with the onset of partisan politics, was the arming of those youths for political capital. Not surprisingly, in due time, the matter got out of hand. Today, Sankera has become a virtual gangland, the Somalia of Tivland.

Going by his utterances in his last public outing about a month ago, it will seem the late Tor Sankera had an inkling of his passing into eternity.

Bemoaning the protracted insecurity in the Sankera Axis which has defied all solutions, Shuluwa had said: “If my death will bring back peace to Sankera, so be it. I am not too old to die.” That was on a Saturday.

The following Monday, he met with the entire Sankera Area Traditional Council in his Palace and the next day, (Tuesday), he took his leave of this world.

The greatest way to honour his legacy, the biggest tribute we can pay to our departed father, therefore, is to ensure that peace returns to Sankera Kingdom.

It is good to console his widow, Ngo-u-Sankera (1), HRH, Chief (Mrs.) Elizabeth-Mary Nguumbur Shuluwa, and the children. But that is not enough – we must go beyond that to the bigger task of peace and peace-building in the Sankera Kingdom. That was King’s abiding concern and last wish.

King kept his word on Jan.16. Even in the grave, he invites us to keep ours.

This is the challenge before our Governor, political leaders, chiefs, elders, and our “brothers” in the bush.

Continue to Rest in Peace, King Shuluwa.

Imobo-Tswam, a retired newspaper editor, writes from Abuja.



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