Waiting four weeks to see a bank alert for your monthly salary is trying enough for a Nigerian. Some people who are waiting for thrones in Nigeria, and they are not even official heirs apparent, are daily praying to God to “limit the waiting time.” So imagine a man who waited patiently for seventy years to inherit a throne once described as “the classiest preserve of royal pomp and privilege left on earth.”
Charles was not exactly destitute because as Prince of Wales, he lived on a stately 3,000-acre home in Kent. He himself once called it “the most desirable bachelor pad in Europe.” He must be sad at his mother’s death but no one could be unhappy to move into Buckingham Palace, which has 52 royal and guest bedrooms, 188 staff bedrooms, 92 offices and 78 bathrooms. A story I read 30 years ago said Queen Elizabeth had more than 700 staffers in Buck House including beauticians, hair dressers, horsemen, butlers, maids, chefs and people whose duty it is to walk her Corgi dogs around the palace.
Not everyone in Britain is happy with that lavish privilege. One day in the 1980s when the Civil List [i.e. Buckingham Palace’s budget] was tabled in the House of Commons, a left-wing Labour MP, a former coal miner, listened attentively as 12 million pounds was voted as the Queen’s salary and 5 million pounds for Prince of Wales. When 3 million pounds was voted as salary for Queen’s husband the Duke of Edinburgh, the MP said, “You want to pay him 3 million pounds just to kiss and cuddle the Queen?”
Three years ago, Emperor Akihito of Japan abdicated his Chrysanthemum Throne for his son, Naruhito. Queen Elizabeth did no such thing. Charles was declared Prince of Wales and Heir Apparent in 1952 when his mother became Queen and he waited all these years for the throne to become vacant. If it is here in Nigeria, he would probably never get to taste it. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo once said that in Africa, if anyone is anointed as Crown Prince, rivals will ensure that he dies before the King. There was this story last week that 86 princes are jostling to occupy the Alaafin of Oyo’s stool. In contrast, no one jostled with Charles last Saturday when the Accession Council met and the Garter King of Arms proclaimed him as King Charles III.
Unlike some people I know around here, Charles made very good use of his 70 year wait. Sometime in 1978, Time magazine did a cover story on him which I read as a schoolboy. It was titled A Most Uncommon Bloke. I no longer have a copy, but can recall some of the things said in that story. Prince Charles Phillip Arthur George Mountbatten Windsor was nearly 30 years old at the time and had already been waiting for the throne for 26 years. He was to wait another 44 years until last Thursday when his mother Queen Elizabeth II died at the very ripe age of 96. In her 70 years on the throne, the Queen saw 15 UK Prime Ministers, 14 US Presidents and seven Popes.
Charles’ best known title was Prince of Wales but the Time magazine story listed his other titles to include Duke of Cornwall and Rothesay, Earl of Chester and Carrick, Baron of Renfrew, Lord of the Isles and Great Steward of Scotland. Phew! It is like being Ciroma, Galadima, Talba, Turaki and Madawaki of Kano all at once.
The story said, “If Charles Philip Arthur George Mountbatten-Windsor did not exist, who could invent him? Consider. He can pilot a jet fighter and knows enough about helicopters even to help repair them. He has skippered a Royal Navy minesweeper through North Atlantic gales… He plays an aggressive, three-plus-handicap game of polo and is a qualified paratrooper. He is a gifted amateur cellist… He has scuba-dived in the Caribbean, skied down the Alps, sambaed into the night with Brazilian beauties. A keen student of history, he can discourse persuasively on the neglected virtues of his ancestor King George III, and is host and interviewer on a TV series on anthropology.”
Charles was the first member of the British royal family ever to earn a university degree. He attained senior ranks in the Royal Army, Navy and Air Force, was an Honorary Colonel of 80 Regiments and was Patron of 500 clubs, associations and charities. On the downside, he was widely described as aloof and cold. In 1992, when Princess Diana listened to another woman’s story of grief in a TV interview and said, “I can understand how you feel,” a British TV analyst said “Hell will freeze over” before Charles ever showed empathy with anyone.
That was probably an exaggeration, because Charles made some humorous remarks in his life. Such as, when announcing the results of the Queen’s Silver Jubilee Appeal fund in 1978, he said his mission was “to drag a certain amount of money screaming out of everybody’s pockets.” When he was asked if the charity programs would do something for Britain’s notorious football hooligans, Charles said, “We have not had a group identifying themselves as football hooligans apply by that name…” BBC television once showed him having lunch with a homeless former classmate. When they emerged from the restaurant, the report said “Prince Charles hopped into his car and returned to the palace while his lunch guest returned to the street.” If it is in Nigeria, people will say, “Why didn’t he dash him a house?”
King Charles has inherited all Her Late Majesty’s titles. She was officially known as “Her Imperial Majesty Elizabeth Alice Louis, by the grace of God Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Queen of Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Her Other Realms and Territories and of the British Dominions Beyond the Seas… Supreme Governor of the Church of England, Defender of the Faith, Head of the Commonwealth of Nations.”
Only 62 years ago, Nigeria would have been counted among those realms. Another thirteen years before that, Queen Victoria’s favourite title, Empress of India, would have been added to the tally. The Empire is much whittled down now and Charles is the Head of State of only sixteen countries including Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Belize, Jamaica, Papua New Guinea, Saint Christopher and Nevis, St Lucia, Solomon Islands and Tuvalu.
Still, when Queen Elizabeth visited Nigeria for the second and, as it turned out, the last time in 2003, many people in Nigeria did not even know she was here. I was in Kaduna that day and an NTA Kaduna reporter went to the Central Market and asked a row of market women selling gari and crayfish what they thought of the Queen’s visit. One market woman asked, “Queen? Which Queen? She come Nigeria here? Ok, she is welcome.”
Compare that to 1956, when the Queen first visited Nigeria. Even though I was not there, but from stories we heard from our elders, what we read in old magazines, songs made by old timers and films made by the Northern Nigeria Ministry of Information, practically no one in Nigeria would not have known of her visit. Traditional rulers from all the emirates and chiefdoms of the North converged in Kaduna and staged a durbar with hundreds of colourfully attired horses. The horsemen were in Kaduna for one month before the main event, rehearsing. In 2003 we had an interview with Ali Sarkin Mota, who drove the Queen around Kaduna during her 1956 visit. He described her as a kind and cheerful young woman who was always smiling and waving. He also said her gown filled the entire back seat of the limo.
In the wake of the Queen’s death, US-based Nigerian professor Uja Anya as well as a UK-based female Iraqi journalist made unflattering comments about her and the sordid history of British imperialism. In 1956 when we were doing that durbar here and schoolchildren were waving the Union Jack and chanting “God save the Queen,” Sir Bryan Sherwood-Smith, the British colonial Governor of Northern Nigeria, was riding roughshod over us. He was so restless that he was nicknamed Mai Wandon Karfe, i.e. “the one with iron trousers” because he was thought to be incapable of sitting down.
That was even the placid face because by then the end of colonial rule was in sight. Over the centuries, imperial wars of conquest, trans-Atlantic slave trade, plunder of resources and many other atrocities were committed in the name of the British Crown. How much of these we could personally blame on Elizabeth, I don’t know. The Iraqi journalist mentioned the death of a million Iraqis following the 2003 invasion and the prominent role Britain played in it. That was mostly the doing of then Prime Minister Tony “B-Liar” Blair. Even though he was Her Majesty’s Prime Minister, we do not know if, behind the scenes, the Queen admonished him during their weekly private audience.
Only last week, I threw sand into the Russian gari by saying I was not a fan of the late Mikhail Gorbachev. I do not want to again throw sand into the British gari, lest I become a serial sand thrower.