Emir in the morning; homeless exile in the evening. There is no better way of capturing the cascade of dramatic events which, last Monday, saw a reversal in the fortunes of Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, deposed Emir of Kano. It was a foretold outcome. Given Sanusi’s perennially adversarial relationship with the Kano State Governor, Mr. Abdullahi Ganduje, it was not a matter of if but one of when this outcome would materialize. Yet the Sanusi situation bears, in its sketchy outlines, the essential confrontation that will define the future of the northern half of the country: between tradition and modernity; between conservatism and progressivism and between basic democracy and elective autocracy.
Sanusi had for long been embroiled in a series of power wrestling matches with Mr. Ganduje. At issue was the subordination of Sanusi as Emir of Kano to the executive diktat of the erratic governor. There was also the unstated political fight between both men over partisan alliances and preferences especially in the 2019 elections. Add Sanusi’s blue blood, elite education, intellectual effervescence, progressive political views and a cosmopolitan outlook that reaches out to a national and international audience. Then you begin to appreciate why it was hard for Sanusi to bend to the unenlightened bully politics of Mr. Ganduje. Yet the governor precedes the Emir who of course owes his office and tenure to the statutory powers of the state. The humiliation of dethronement is perhaps the Governor’s the triumph of a bruised gubernatorial ego over a perceived arrogant and recalcitrant Emir.
The dethronement was a desperate political solution. Previous attempts to diminish the Emir’s sphere of influence had met with legal road blocks. The governor had previously carved up the Kano Emirate into smaller bits in order to curb Sanusi’s influence by erecting pliant minions. This is in addition to instituting endless investigations and probes into Sanusi’s book keeping habits. All these political pranks were effectively checkmated by Sanusi through the legal process. Even in an imperfect democratic environment like ours, the law remains the most effective bulwark against autocratic flirtations. The dethronement card was perhaps the last desperate option left for a governor with a big appetite for autocratic rough play. And he had historical precedents from the colonialists to Abubakar Rimi and Sani Abacha (the latter, all from Kano!) to draw inspiration from.
The precise manner of Sanusi’s dramatic removal is the starting point of all enlightened reservations about it all. Mr. Sanusi was subjected to a five- minute trial by the Kano Executive Council and of course pronounced guilty of insufficient regard for the emperor governor. Thereafter, the rest of the rehearsed absurdity was rolled into play. An armed motorcade escorted the ‘abducted’ Emir to the Kano Air Force field from where he was flown to Abuja. From there, there was reportedly a several hours road trip into the heart of darkness, to some remote destination in Nasarawa state. The dethroned Emir had been ‘abducted’ by high officialdom and dispatched into internal exile as a detainee. That is precisely where this macabre drama of power and impunity parts ways with common sense and common law and veers into the dark waters of primordial absurdity and mindless autocracy.
Nonetheless, the might of state impunity has to yield to the rights of Mr. Sanusi the citizen. I am yet to see anywhere in our laws where it is stated that a traditional ruler stripped of his office automatically loses his fundamental rights as a citizen: freedom of movement association, family communion, expression and free choice of abode, Only under colonial over lordship or decadent military dictatorships could the detention and exile of a dethroned ruler fit into place.
There is something even worse. As if the medieval practice of banishment of dethroned traditional rulers was not enough, the choice of place is outlandish, punitive and deliberately humiliating. Nasarawa state? I am not aware that the authority of the Kano state government extends to far away Nasarawa. It would be interesting to find out the details of the deal between the two governors on this hostage keeping operation. Could there be a higher guarantor for this sordid human trafficking transaction? Eventually, from somewhere called Loko, I understand Mr. Sanusi is now quarantined to a small-glorified hut in a remote place called Awe which I am yet to find on Google map!
Here, however, is the salient and urgent public interest point. Once dethroned from the Emirship, Mr. Sanusi’s rights as a citizen should kick in. He should have been delivered to wherever he chose to make his abode. In that capacity, he ought to be accorded the full gamut of rights and privileges to which his citizenship entitles him. His rights and freedoms ought to be unimpeded. But the authorities have chosen differently. All actions so far taken to tamper with or whittle down Sanusi’s citizenship rights as enshrined in the Nigerian constitution are therefore violations of his rights as a citizen and infringements on the supremacy of the constitution itself. Mr. Sanusi has a responsibility to our democracy to seek redress for the restoration of his abridged basic rights.
Over and above these citizenship issues, however, Mr. Sanusi’s predicament resonates with larger political meanings. Most Nigerians believe that Sanusi’s travails originated more immediately from the kind of Emir he chose to be. In spite of his material fulfillment and privileged access to wealth and material comfort, Mr. Sanusi remained a restless advocate, in fact a proselytizing agent of Islamic modernization and anti-establishment change. Against the background of a sedate and conservative monarchy, the implications of his public posture on key issues are self -evident.
His progressive views on the larger Nigerian society and polity gained currency from his time as the Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria. Many recall that he called out former President Goodluck Jonathan on issues of accountability around the untidy book keeping on oil revenues. But his progressive views become more urgently destabilizing for the political establishment of his immediate northern Nigeria base. His views obviously grated a few nerves in the region by dint of their long term subversive implications for apredominantly Islamic region.
He has repeatedly advocated massive education of the girl child and greater involvement of women in public affairs. He has insisted that the entitlement state should end and senseless affirmative action (quota system) should be wound up so that the north can compete with the rest of the country on an equal meritocratic basis. He has repeatedly directly critiqued his fellow northern traditional rulers, the governors of the northern states and indeed the entire political leadership of the north for adopting retrogressive policies that had frozen development in the region. For him, aggressive education, modernization and greater investment in human capital development should supersede physical infrastructure development in the northern states.
Furthermore, he has advocated an end to street begging, prodigious procreation and family sizes beyond the economic capacity of household heads. He even once advocated that mosques be converted to classrooms except on Fridays as part of an accelerated education programme for the north.
This gamut of progressive and reformist views are politically consequential. They constitute a direct shot at the heart of the long-standing conservative political establishment in his part of the country. These positions may have earned Sanusi powerful enemies in the region. But elsewhere in the country and beyond, Sanusi acquired a rock star popularity of the Emir poised against static tradition, a rebel in turban. It also earned him the admiration of the national elite and the support of the younger generation of Nigerians who desire urgent change. Literally, Sanusi was the Northern Spring in turban!
Perhaps two factors made the Sanusi phenomenon more frightening to his constituency and got him into his present troubles. First, he is royalty rebelling against tradition, a walking contradiction of sorts. More importantly, he openly called for an end to the quota system of allocating privileges to his part of the country which was part of a post civil war affirmative action regime that has lasted half a century. The latter implied an upturning of Nigeria’s lopsided entitlement state. He could be forgiven for his socio-cultural advocacy, but not for seeking to upturn the gravy train.
Previous iterations of progressive and radical thinking and views in the north had been mostly non-wealthy politicians and radical intellectuals like the late Aminu Kano, Balarable Musa, Bala Usman and Bala Mohammed whose views and influence could be contained and minimized. To have a blue blood Emir who is a familiar face in corporate boardrooms with a network of some of the richest and most influential Nigerians advocating a subversion of the existing conservative order was perhaps a clear and present danger. And the fact that he now has peers and fellow travelers in the north with identical views and in vantage political positions make him an even more potent threat. But in spite of his dethronement, Sanusi’s message has already gone viral and has been enthusiastically received by the rest of Nigeria.
In the Sanusi dethronement, then, what is openly on display is wanton impunity, administrative recklessness and political rascality. These have become the trademarks of our ‘elected’ office holders, especially the imperial state governors. While we can concede to the Kano state governor his right to appoint and dethrone traditional rulers in his domain in line with applicable and extant laws, that power needs to be exercised in accordance with lawful due process. High political office demands sublime candour and a higher degree of maturity than Mr. Ganduje has displayed in the Sanusi matter.
There is however an abiding tragic streak in the Sanusi trajectory. From his final days at the Central Bank and his rough encounters with the Jonathan presidency, it was clear that Mr. Sanusi was off to an anti-establishment course. He had a choice of translating his progressive views into a political weapon on a partisan platform. His royal heritage and extensive contacts in the country could have armed him to breeze through to the apex of political power. But he chose differently. He opted instead to become Emir of Kano.
As Emir, he would be subordinate to a state governor or even a local government chairman, going strictly by the constitution. His significance was essentially a municipal one, restricted essentially to traditional functions within the Kano emirate. At best, he would be part of the décor at national events. His essential burden, therefore, was how to reconcile his larger than life stature as an urbane, high-minded and progressive political animal with the constricted space of the Emirship of the Kano metropolis. Important as that position may be in the ranking of traditional rulers, its political gravity is highly limited.
Yet in now being dethroned from the Emirship of Kano, Sanusi may have been freed from the encumbrance of royalty to pursue the promptings of his progressive political engagement. Onlly he can write that postscript to his illustrious career.
In essence, then, Mr. Sanusi’s current travail is the consequence of his conscious choice of career. But the challenge of the moment is both his and ours as a national community. Sanusi needs to rise above the humiliation of his casual de-turbanning and assert his residual rights as a citizen of a free society. We all have the complementary citizenship responsibility of standing by his rights because they are ours as well.
*Dr. Chidi Amuta is a Member of TheNewsGuru Advisory Board