The Queen of Kumbwada


Extracts from "No man dares sit on this Nigerian throne" by Women under Moslem Law
Queen Hajiya Haidzatu Ahmed

Kumbwada, in Nigeria's conservative Islamic north, where strict Sharia law is the rule, has never had a male ruler.

The present ruler is.

The Queens palace is a shack with a rusted corrugated roof, but her rule over the 33,000 citizens is unquestioned, as was that of her grandmother before her who lived to the age of 113.

"There has never been a male ruler," the queen says, chuckling, a sound like dry, crackling paper.

"Even my father just voiced his desire to be chief, but it almost killed him."

"It's a women's affair, women are the rulers and they rule as effectively as men, sometimes even better than men."

As the traditional ruler, the queen handles disputes such as quarrels over land, divorces, petty violence, accusations of theft and arguments between neighbours.

Government courts step in only if a traditional ruler refers a case or if the situation isn't resolved to everyone's satisfaction.

Domestic Issues

"When domestic issues come to me, the way I treat them will be quite different to other traditional chiefs," she says. "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." And of course she doesn't tolerate wife beating.

Wife Beating

Queen Hajiya had one wife-beating case early in her reign.

"I told him if he ever beat his wife again, I'd dissolve the marriage and put him in prison," she remembers. "Marriage is not a joke, and women are not slaves."

Since that case, she has made a point of campaigning against domestic violence whenever she holds court in local communities. She says she's never had another beating case. People know where she stands.

"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."

A Woman President in Nigeria

She often addresses women's groups, urging members to become educated so that they can be future leaders. Most of all, she wants to live to see a female Nigerian president.

"It's my most ardent wish. I think the problems in Nigeria have become intractable. Let's try a woman. Men have failed."

"I've never had a crisis I couldn't solve," she says.

"In a crisis, people don't listen to politicians. Once we intervene, once we speak, to the people, it's hands off."

Important Role

"The royalty have a very important role in Nigerian society," the queen says. "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."

Dode Akabi Ghana (1610-1635)

Dode Akabi’s easy acession to power and her long reign (1610-1635) obviously suggest the degree of assimilation of previously non-Gá peoples.

However, Dode Akabi’s has hitherto been treated rather unfavourably by historians. Reindorf relates a series of brutal decrees issued under her authority; she was finally killed after she had ordered her subjects to sink a well at a place called Akabikenke.

Her accession to power as the first major female figure in Gá, and indeed Gold Coast, history should certainly rank as a remarkable event attesting to the skills of this powerful personality; Dode Akabi certainly displayed the ruthless decisiveness that has marked the careers of admired male statesmen the world over. Her alleged atrocities aside, Dode Akabi appears to have kept the kingdom intact. However, the manner of her death indicates a degree of dissent among her subjects.

Dode Akabi’s regency and greatness is, perhaps, best analysed in the context of her role in the evolution of chiefship in the Gold Coast. Until her acession to power, chiefship appears to have been a male preserve. The chief in the theocratic state of Accra was by definition also a high priest or wulomo; he took a personal part in ritual dancing. As the high priest could only be male, Dode Akabi’s rise to power necessarily entailed a schism between the powers of the wulomo and that of the king; this marked the secularisation of Gá-Dangme politics, and the concentration of religious authority in the hands of the wulomei.

Since her authority, unlike her predecessors’ was no longer derived from privileged access to the Deity, Dode Akabi had to formulate new methods of governance; this she did principally through the previously untried method of direct legislation which appears to have so drawn the ire of her subjects. She brought a new magnificence to royalty, chiefly by combining Western luxury with new standards of culture.

Analysed this way, Dode Akabi emerges as a formidable figure whose rise as the first female political leader of the Gold Coast opened new vistas of power to her gender. She is generally believed to have introduced much display, jewellery and colourful attire into the institution of chieftaincy; some even attribute the custom of sitting on stools to Dode Akabi. Prior to Dode Akabi stools were mainly taken into war, and held aloft to lift the spirit of the troops; popularly regarded as having no authority from the Deity, she demanded to sit on the war-stool to visually symbolise her authority over her people.

The reign of Okaikoi was the beginning of a fresh assertiveness by the Gá-Dangme. Okaikoi’s power was based largely on the cult of the warrior, signalling the final shift of power from priest-kings to secular kings whose power rested almost exclusively on their ability to manipulate and control affairs within the Gá-Dangme polity.

Okaikoi appears to have continued Dode Akabi’s policy of political control of his subjects, casting aside the previous practice of rule by consensus and through the authority of the Deity; it was the first major challenge to the theocratic basis of Gá-Dangme kingship. Surrounding himself with a body-guard of selected youth, Okaikoi demanded unlimited recognition and subservience from both subjects and conquered peoples; he also institutionalised the practice of princes of provincial states serving as armour-bearers in the king’s court, formalising a practice which had always existed among the Gá-Dangme in a more general form.