By Abimbola Adelakun
Emir of Kano, Muhammadu Sanusi II, was finally dethroned for insubordination to the political authorities in Kano State. It was not an altogether surprising development. Sanusi has both been outspoken and arrogant. He could not have survived the ultra-conservative ideology of the northern aristocracy nor conform to their willful blindness, even as their leadership shortcomings turned their region into a wasteland.
Sanusi has been that lone voice in the wilderness of northern Nigeria crying out against the many social problems drowning the region and dragging all of us down with it. He has spoken against the many issues of multidimensional poverty, banditry, terrorism, early marriage, domestic violence, child abandonment, drug abuse, and so on. When his radicalism began to unsettle the northern political establishment, his daughter, Shahida, said at an event in Abuja in 2017 that although the emirate was important to her father, but if the position ever stood in the way of his conscience, he “would happily give up the throne.”
It is difficult to say how “happy” Sanusi could have been on Monday when he was dethroned, but going by his daughter’s assertion, he must be relieved to be a free man. He has been freed from the neutering chains of conservative traditions and its allied conspiratorial force of religious ideology. He can now pursue his truth as he chooses.
The Ganduje-Sanusi episode is not the first incident to bring the problems of traditional authority and governors’ legislating authority to the fore. In Oyo State, we saw how former governor Abiola Ajimobi easily created 21 new Obas. Now, if a governor used his constituted authority to draw up territories and appoint new Obas to govern an urban district without recourse to the organic realities of the people they will supposedly rule over, do such kings still get to call themselves a “traditional ruler”? Which, or whose traditions, legitimises the authority of such Obas? In the brief period that those 21 Obas existed before they were swiped away along with the change in state government, what purpose did they serve beyond accompanying Ajimobi to public functions? Such erratic modes of Obaship making and subsequent dethronement has so politicised traditional stools that Obas are beholden to politicians. Forget about all those Yoruba politicians that make a grandiloquent show of prostrating before a traditional ruler in public. In private, those roles are switched.
Traditional kingship is archaic and it should have long been expunged from modern life. However, as long as they exist, the constitutional arrangement that places traditional rulers at the behest of governors is improper. In this instance, why should Ganduje be able to unilaterally remove an emir to supposedly “safeguard the sanctity, culture, tradition, religion and prestige of the Kano emirate”? By which authority, moral and otherwise, could Ganduje determine which actions safeguard the honour of traditional institutions or not? Let us set aside the travesty of Ganduje investigating anyone-as he did to Sanusi-for corruption for a minute and ask why a governor that occupies a temporary position should be able to remove an Oba that is tenured? There ought to be another level of oversight to arbitrate these decisions.
Whatever the incoherence encountered in maintaining these traditional institutions in modern times, Sanusi at least knew exactly what he was walking into when he started hankering for the job. It still beats me how an uncontainable person like Sanusi could have taken up an emir position, knowing quite well he would be at the mercy of petty politicians who will use his notoriety and media popularity to demonstrate the extent of their powers. Positions like the emirate subsist on the willingness of the officeholders to subject themselves to the disciplining customs of the powers-that-be. Sanusi, on the other hand, has a temperament that could never fit into the norms of self-comportment expected of an emir. His campaigns against the dysfunctionality of northern Nigeria were bound to provoke uneasiness in the VIPs, the Very Important Parasites, who have long turned the collective feeding trough into their personal feeding bottles. Sanusi’s provocative crusades must have been a social threat. Since there is just too much at stake for them to lose, they could not have stood aside and let him become a hero at their expense.
Since Sanusi’s dethronement on Monday, a section of his fans started clamouring for him to join active politics in 2023. They think he should enter into active politics because of his propensity to “speak truth to power.” While their passion in the heat of the moment is understandable, I do not think they should be getting ahead of themselves. By now, we should have learned to be more circumspect and not be in a haste to canonise Sanusi. The people throwing around words like “progressive” and “reformer” to describe him must have been carried away by his attention-seeking performances. Sanusi loves the limelight like a fish loves oxygen. Not even the emirate could temper his obsession with being under the klieg lights all the time. The cynical part of me thinks that Sanusi’s reformist campaign was not just “speaking truth to power,” but also actively soliciting media attention. He said the things that every southerner wants to be told to the northern ruling class and that is why he seems to be more popular in the south than among northerners.
The southern-Nigeria dominated media seems to be rather eager to shape the myth of hero or a progressive reformer for Sanusi. He has not earned those stripes yet.
I admit it takes conviction to lecture your fellow aristocrats on their failings as religious and political leaders, but as long as Sanusi himself embodied power and aristocratic privileges, he could not have been “speaking truth to power.”
He is/was the power.
When I have to think through Sanusi’s actions, I refer to two things. One, an article he wrote in 2015 justifying his marriage to 18-year old Sa’adatu Barkindo-Musdafa. In that piece, he stridently defended the farces of kingdoms, blue-bloodism and noble birth. I do not understand how he manages to reconcile his belief in the myth of royal lineage and the necessity of its preservation with his criticisms of culture/tradition as an impediment to the development of northern Nigeria. In my book, a reformer and a true progressive would have abjured all those retrogressive cultural ideas altogether.
Two, according to the news report of his panel probe, when he was asked how he could afford the expensive Rolls Royce cars he drove around, he claimed they were gifted to him by friends. Again, I fail to understand how he did not connect his riding such expensive luxury vehicles in the poverty-ridden Kano as contradictory to the principles he preached. If he could not link those ridiculously (and needless) expensive gifts, the poverty in northern Nigeria and the social mechanisms of corruption that siphons money from public purses into the hands of rent-seeking “friends” who could afford to give away such gifts, then what really did he see?
Anyway, now that he has been dethroned, he is free. Free from the constricting expectations of the monarchy. Free from the illusion of self-labeling as “imperial majesty” or “royal highness.” Free of the delusion that he is anything more than a public servant chosen to preside over vestiges of precolonial grandeur of power, and our nostalgia for a world that is gone forever. Unlike his counterparts elsewhere who still have to attend meetings with their governor, and where someone like Nyesom Wike of Rivers State could berate their “royal majesties” and none could dare to assert their dignity, Sanusi is freed from such indignities. Now he can climb every soapbox to speak the truth to the principalities and power in northern Nigeria about the carnage unfolding in their dwindling fiefdoms. He can even write a book where he can pour himself out freely, and yes, I shall buy it.
He can freely put his brilliance to more productive uses. If he wants to be a hero and shape his legacy as a man that spoke truth to power, now is his chance.