“Men cannot rule this kingdom. If a man insists we will let him. And then after two or three days, he will die.”
Those were the words of Hajia Haidzatu Ahmed, the queen of the Nigerian kingdom of Kunbwada where men are not allowed to rule.
Since its conquest by Princess Magajiya Maimuna of Zaria, Kunbwada has been ruled by women for at least six successive generations.
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For most areas in Nigeria’s conservative Islamic north, women are often barred from ruling, but not for Kunbwada.
According to locals, an ancient curse has kept men away from the throne; anyone who tries dies within a few days under mysterious circumstances.
Ahmed’s father, Amadu Kumbwada suffered same fate years ago when he expressed an interest in succeeding his mother who was then alive.
For just disclosing his intentions, he suddenly fell ill and was rushed to another kingdom where he got better. He, however, never returned to Kunbwada.
In six decades, his daughter is now the queen after inheriting the throne following her grandmother’s death. Her grandmother served as queen for 73 years and died when she was 113.
Ahmed, who is now the only traditional woman ruler in conservative Northern Nigeria, has ruled the kingdom for 21 years, with over 3,000 subjects who are mostly poor farmers.
Assuming the throne at a young age, Ahmed never had any education to prepare her for a leadership role but she has never failed in her dealings with her people, she claimed.
“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,” she told LA Times in 2010.
Over the years, scores of reports have highlighted the plight of women in Nigeria’s northern Muslim states and Sharia law. But in Kunbwada, Ahmed has made efforts to reverse the situation as she is against domestic violence and believes that every girl child should be educated.
As a traditional ruler, the queen settles land and marital issues, theft and other matters to maintain the peace.
“When domestic issues come to me, the way I treat them will be quite different to other traditional chiefs,” the 75-year-old said.
“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.”
In case she is not able to resolve any case, it should be handed over to the local court system but that has never happened, the queen said.
“The royalty have a very important role in Nigerian society,” she told LA Times.
“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.”
In recent times, more young people have been leaving the community in search of work and money in urban areas. Last month, the people of Kunbwada also appealed to state authorities to build a befitting palace for their traditional ruler as well as provide some other pressing needs.
Malam Abdulkarim Suleiman, a resident, said: “it is disheartening that the kingdom which has put the state on the map of Nigeria because of the many exploits of its female rulers should be so neglected.”
Meanwhile, Ahmed had once mentioned that her wish is to see Nigeria being governed by a woman.
“I think the problems in Nigeria have become intractable. Let’s try a woman. Men have failed,” she said.
Even though one can’t tell whether her wish would come true or not, what is certain is that her daughter, Idris, will succeed her and the queen is already grooming her for that role.
After all, “it’s a women’s affair” in Kunbwada, as Ahmed describes the situation in her village.
“Women are the rulers and they rule as effectively as men, sometimes even better than men,” she said.