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They died for the emir: Why are palace guards so loyal?

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They died for the emir: Why are palace guards so loyal?

by Stanley Azuakola

As Nigerians, especially Kano residents begin to recover from the shock following the attempt on the life of the revered emir of Kano, much has been said and written about so many aspects of the incident. How the emir’s sons sustained gunshot injuries, how the emir is lucky to be alive, how he had to be flown abroad the next day, how the police has reportedly arrested some suspects and many other angles.

Many reports have overlooked a vital aspect of that tragic incident which could have been worse. The fact that the emir is alive today is because of the bravery, selflessness and the sense of duty of some men. Men who put their own bodies in harm’s way, paid the ultimate sacrifice, just so that their emir can live.

It’s sad that they died and they will be missed, but those palace guards are heroes.

If it were in some countries, by now we would have their names broadcast on air, their live’s work would have been celebrated, their families would have said nice things about them, we might have been able to feel the measure of the men.

But here, we just know them as the palace guards – the palace guards who saved Emir Ado Bayero.

The Sunday Trust has a good piece, in which they interviewed three experts from the Centre for the Study of Nigerian Languages of the Bayero University Kano. The experts shared things about the kind of people who become palace guards, what kind of training they partake in, and many others.

First off was Professor Lawan Danladi Yalwa. who spoke on why palace guards are resilient and loyal.

“What I know about palace guards is that they have a tradition of succeeding one another through a hereditary process in the royal hierarchy for generations. But apart from that, there are those that are being appointed by the emir based on their heroic deeds.

“I know one relation of my father named Sallau who was appointed a palace guard after he caught a notorious thief during the reign of Emir Abdullahi Bayero, the father of the present Emir who heard the story of Sallau’s brave deed. Sallau was attached to the head of the palace guards at the time.

“Nobody can be appointed a palace or royal guard without being adequately prepared for the job. Candidates must ensure that weapons like knives do not penetrate their bodies. These people didn’t even need to engage a criminal in a confrontation before they could subdue him. All they did was to ask the criminal to simply follow them to the palace of the emir, which they did obsequiously.

“At times of war, the emir was usually impressed by the performance of these guards who he considered as knights because of their fearless attitude to death. They would rather die than allow the emir be harmed. As such being a royal guard requires bravery, fearlessness and charms or spells.

“Though we are in modern times now, there are still palace guards wielding enough spells that allow them resist gunshots and other weapons. If you fire a shot at them, the bullet simply melts and becomes fluid, or the gun would not even work.

“I personally witnessed a situation where a gun jammed after it was fired at one of such guards. In another case, a bullet melted into fluid when it was fired at someone. And all these people are still there in Kano. But they are very few. You can only find palace guards with such powers among the older generation not the younger ones.

“There is a difference between a palace guard and palace courtiers. While the later are merely attendants that serve certain interests at the palace, palace guards as their names imply are saddled with the responsibility of defending and protecting the emir and his palace against any uprising or in time of war or unrest.


Next was Dr Isa Yusuf.

“Now that we have other security agents provided by the government, the role of the palace guards is to look after the health of the emir. Nobody becomes a guard until they inherit the position, are intelligent and possess the expertise to discharge their responsibilities.

“In most cases, slaves become palace guards because they are raised within the emirate and know the importance of the palace security and that of the emir. They are ready to sacrifice their lives to protect the emir because they love to do anything that would please their master.

“In the past, history has shown that there were many instances in which palace guards demonstrated bravery and sacrificed their lives to save emirs. But this topic requires extensive research. In ancient times there were palace guards who did not even worship God the way they regarded the emir. But the coming of religion changed the way they behaved and reduced their engagement in magical activities and spells.

“For palace guards to be killed by guns now, doesn’t mean they are weak. What it means is that the spread of Islamic religion which our emirs are identified with has forbidden unholy acts that include use of magical powers and spells. Even in the past, all those guards that were using charms and spells never prayed or practiced anything associated with religion.

“Our emirs who are now seen as the custodians of religion would not tolerate practices that are against religious teachings. That is why some of our emirs don’t attach any priority to all these activities of palace guards.

“Royal guards do not have specific barracks, stations or residences built for them to stay in. where they reside normally depends on how they were first recruited. Palace guards that were selected from the slave community normally live within the palace compounds. But non-slaves that were recruited based on some merits live outside the palace.

“Also, palace guards don’t usually engage in any trade because they are always at the service of the emir. This makes it hard for them to devote their attention to any other activity. But as the world becomes civilized there are guards that now study and only occasionally serve in the palace.


And finally was Tijjani Shehu Almajiri. He explained how modernity has changed the the face of the institution of the palace guards.

“Palace guards used to have an entire district dedicated to them in Kano. It was called Dogarai. Most of the royal guards used to live in that neighbourhood which was like barracks to them.

“Again, on the issue of the recent attack that killed some royal guards, it was not that the guards had abandoned their responsibilities. There are guards still, who are committed dutifully to their roles. What you should understand is that the recent attack took everyone by surprise because we have been enjoying relative peace unlike the previous epochs characterized by intermittent wars between rival communities.

“Some palace guards have taken advantage of this relative peace to study and obtain good qualifications in western education. There are permanent secretaries among them, but they don’t guard palaces anymore. They only wear dress as the trademark of traditional attires of palace guards during religious occasions like Sallah celebrations just to relive their origin.

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