The role of traditional rulers – Sanusi the genius: A case study (5)

April 23, 2020

IN the course of the past few weeks, I have given a broad overview of the scope of traditional rulership. I have considered the deliberate destruction of our traditional heritage by the British colonial masters in order to gain full control over what was then Southern and Northern protectorates. I have considered a number of powerful traditional rulers who were forced to live out their days either in exile or some form of idyllic irrelevance. I have also dealt with the immediate and long-term implications of their dethronement on the traditional institution of governance.

Victim of failed constitution

In this edition, I will consider the case of His Highness, Muhammadu Sanusi II, the recently dethroned Emir of Kano, with particular emphasis on his family background, his person, education, his professional life and achievements, his criticism of the socio-political system, and why I consider him to be a victim of a failed constitution and fundamentally deficient legal system be-queathed to Nigerians by the colonial masters as well as the  recurrent, unfortunate spate of governmental interference in offsetting trado-political structures of grassroots governance in Nigeria.

His birth, education, training, professional life and achievements

Sanusi was born on 31 July 1961 in Kano to a ruling class Fulani family of the Sul-lubawa clan. His father, Aminu Sanusi, was a career diplomat who served as the Nigerian Ambassador to Belgium, China and Canada, and later served as the permanent secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. His grandfather, Mu-hammadu Sanusi I, was the 11thEmir of Kano from 1953 until 1963, when he was deposed by his cousin Sir Ahmadu Bello.  He was educated at King’s College, Lagos, where he graduated in 1977 and then proceeded to Ahmadu Bello University in Zaria, where he received a Bachelor’s Degree in Economics in 1981. He later obtained a Master’s Degree in Economics two years later from the university and lectured there. In 1985, he was hired by Icon Limited (a subsidiary of Morgan Guaranty Trust) and Barings Bank and in 1997, he joined the United Bank for Africa, working in the credit and risk management division. He rose through the ranks to the posi-tion of General Manager. In 2005, Sanusi became a board member and Executive Director in charge of risk and management control at First Bank of Nigeria. In January 2009, he was appointed Chief Executive Officer, being the first northern Nigerian to head the bank.

On 1st June 2009, Sanusi was nominated as Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria by President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua; his appointment was confirmed by the Nigerian Senate on 3rd June 2009, during a global financial crisis. During his time as Governor of Central Bank, Sanusi led the Apex Bank in rescuing top tier banks with ₦400 billion of public money and dismissed their Chief Executives. He also introduced a consolidation process which reduced the number of Nigerian banks through merger and acquisitions in a bid to make them stronger and more accountable to depositors. He also advised the government to increase the level of investment in infrastructure.

Muhammadu Sanusi Ii: A true advocate of change

His Highness, Muhammadu Sanusi II (Lamido Sanusi) has a history of speaking out against matters relating to shady politics, government corruption and ineptitude of political office holders, both during his time as the Governor of Central Bank and while on the seat as the Emir of Kano, much unlike his predecessors in both seats.

As a staunch anti-corruption advocate, Sanusi led a radical anti-corruption cam-paign during his time as Governor of CBN, dismissing Cecilia Ibru and other bank heads who had mismanaged customer deposits. According to him, there was no choice but to attack the powerful and interrelated vested interests who were exploiting the financial system. Sanusi has spoken on numerous occasions in favour of removing the fuel subsidy. He cites the high level of corruption engendered by the practice, the inefficiency of subsidizing consumption instead of production (leading to slower economic growth), and the fact that the government borrows money to finance the subsidy—taxing future generations so present Nigerians can consume more fuel.

The present Buhari administration has also been at the receiving end of Sanusi’s fierce criticism. During his time as Emir, Sanusi delivered a paper titled “A Plan to Restore Confidence, Direction and Growth”, at the policy dialogue organized by the Savannah Centre for Diplomacy, Democracy and Development in 2016. He noted that the Buhari’s administration lacked the right policies to fix Nigeria’s economic woes, adding noting that the government had found it hard to increase capital expenditure and urging the government to reduce its debt service through greater loan concessionary.

The contemporary monarch who would not be silenced

On 9th June 2014, Muhammadu Sanusi II was crowned the 14th Emir of Kano, im-mediately spearheading reforms which would have been unimaginable under his predecessors, and therefore earning recognition, especially overseas, for his liberalism in an otherwise conservative environment. Early on in his reign, Sanusi was a frequent contributor to a number of WhatsApp groups, joining friends and residents of the state in sometimes-heated conversations about Islam and modern life. Some traditionalists were shocked. Eventually, Sanusi stopped contributing to the groups.  Recognising his role as a traditional arbitrator, a few times a week, he held court in an annex of his palace. No doubt a widely-read monarch, with a library estimated at over N200 million, The Washington Post, in its report published on March 16, 2018 captioned: Relic or Reformer; A Nigerian Emir Wants to Take His Ancient City into the Modern Era, noted that : “as a line forms of people seeking Sanusi’s counsel, it’s clear that his role is more than ceremonial. There are divorce cases and property disputes and visits from government officials. During one recent session, Nigeria’s police chief arrived with his deputies, lining up in front of the throne. Sanusi lectured them about criminal justice reform, the man with no official power instructing the formal keepers of Africa’s wealthiest nation”

He has been criticised by conservatives in Northern Nigeria for making several comments on socio-political issues impacting the region. He has called for an end to child marriage, building more schools instead of mosques, and infra-structural development. Sanusi has called for population planning, and has said that polygamy is increasing poverty in the region. Sanusi has also advocated for family planning to solve the Almajiri issue. According to the Washington Post, he is a staunch opponent of child marriage, a man whose bookshelf is divided between Islamic law and monetary policy and whose iPhone is constantly lighting up. He openly called upon his followers to fight Boko Haram, a call which led to his assassination attempt in 2014 when the extremist group bombed the Great Mosque of Kano, resulting in the death of more than 150 people. Undeterred, Sanusi replied that he is “safe with Allah”, and likened Shekau’s extremist comments (describing Sufis as unbelievers) to those of the heretical Islamic preacher Maitatsine.

In a conservative society characterized by unbridled parenthood and little regard for female education, Sanusi is a public critic of men who marry more than one wife when they can’t afford to support multiple families. He is a proponent of contraception and an advocate of women earning university degrees before they are married. Unsurprisingly, a history professor in Kano noted that ‘many saw him as tilting the balance toward a pro-Western agenda, thus creating problems. During his reign, Sanusi spoke out on government policies, breaking royal tradi-tion. He criticised the government about misplaced priorities. In 2017, the Emirate Council was under investigation for corruption, a move seen by many as retribution for his constant criticisms. The investigation was later called off by the state legislature following intervention by the ruling class. In a decisive move, Governor Abdullahi Umar Ganduje of Kano State, in 2019, signed into law the creation of four new emirates. This unprecedented action saw Sanusi’s traditional domain as emir reduced. According to the law, the Kano emir will only preside over 10 local government areas out of the 44 in the state. In March 2020, the state legislature launched a fresh investigation against Sanusi for violation of traditional practices.

Hurried removal of the emir

The Emir proceeded to court to challenge not only the balkanisation of his emi-rate but also the various attempts to investigate allegations of financial impro-priety made against him. Whilst these cases were pending in court, the State government was reported to have resolved to go ahead with its plan to remove the emir. This was against the well established principle of law that forbids parties to litigation from taking any step which would foist a fait accompli on the court and prevent if from effectively determining the dispute brought before it. Eventually the announcement of dethronement was made on the 9th March 2020 by the State Secretary to the Government, Usman Alhaji, who stated as follows amongst others, “We are removing him for his disrespect for lawful instructions from the office of the Governor and lawful authorities including his persistent refusal to attend official meetings and programmes organized by the government without any lawful justification which amount to total insubordination. It is on record and in so many instances Malam Muhammadu Sanusi ii has been found breaching part 3 section 13 (a-e) of the Kano State Emirate law 2019 and which if left unchecked will destroy the good and established image of the Kano Emirate. This removal is made after due consultations with the relevant stakeholders and in compliance with part 3 section 13 of the Kano State Emirate law 2019 and other reasons stated above.

Despite the above it was clear that the government had simply acted out hur-riedly a script to remove and embarrass the Emir. This much was confirmed when government officials led a detachment of heavily armed policemen to the Palace and forcefully evicted the Emir. He was illegally banished to Nassarawa State, a development which was later    reversed by the court which ordered his immediate release.

Next week, I will discuss why traditional rulers across the country, in the mould Sanusi, owing to their closeness to the grassroots should be accorded recog-nised and Constitutional roles in the running of governmental affairs in the country.

To be continued


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