• Sunday, May 26, 2024
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Banker, islamic scholar, irrepressible social commentator – a review of the book ‘For the Good of the Nation’ by Sanusi Lamido Sanusi


It was a landmark birthday celebration at your home, and Tunde Fagbenle was at the party. He brought along a present for you: a copy of a book written by the 14th Fulani Emir of Kano, His Royal Highness Muhammad Sanusi II, and published by ALFA Books, Tunde’s outfit.

Blue blood. Brilliant economist and award-winning Central Banker who had ruffled more feathers and caused more ripples than anyone in that office in the history of the nation. Royal scion and unabashed voice for Islam. A man who, by his own admission, had left-wing sympathies and had, from his student days at Ahmadu Bello University, repeatedly taken positions in favour of the masses and against his own class. He had been on the streets with other students in Zaria during the ‘Ali Must Go’ saga, when some ABU students were gunned down by Nigerian police.

Q: “Repeatedly, the author fends off attacks on Islamic Jurisprudence based on European culture and philosophy, in which he is deeply grounded, as well as condemning its misuse and distortion by people and even some national governments as a dictatorial religious instrument to oppress their own or other people.”

Who was this SLS—a bundle of contradictions or a unique, seamless synthesis? The book might offer some insight, you surmised.

Born in Kano in 1961, King’s College, Lagos. A bachelor’s, then a master’s, degree in economics at Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. A stint as a lecturer at ABU. A banking career was later interrupted to travel to the International University of Africa in Khartoum, Sudan, where he took on Islamic Studies, Jurisprudence, and Philosophy.

Back to Nigeria and banking (UBA, First Bank), following a meteoric upward trajectory, he became chief executive of the bank in January 2009. Within six months, he was confirmed as governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria.

His six-year tenure, which would end in 2014, was marked by drastic banking reforms. Some banking executives were removed, and some were imprisoned. He introduced a cashless policy and supported Islamic banking. Despite the furor generated by some of his actions, his impact was internationally acknowledged, and in 2010, The Banker magazine recognised him as the Central Bank Governor of the Year.

His Central Bank tenure ended in controversial circumstances in 2014.

In June of the same year, he was selected to succeed his grand uncle, Ado Bayero, as Emir of Kano.

Not unexpectedly, he continued to be an outspoken reformer in his new station, impressing many people but also upsetting many others. He spoke out openly against Boko Haram, incurring the wrath of Abubakar Shekau, the Boko Haram leader, who threatened his life.

This book turns out to be a journey into the author’s innermost thoughts and is, surprisingly, not about banking, finance, or the economy. It is broken into chapters with titles such as ‘Identity Politics and Democracy’, ‘Reflections on Shari’ah’, ‘SLS and the Gender Question’, and ‘Islamic Theology and Philosophy’. Most are speeches, writings, and interviews done between 1998 and 2010.

There is a foreword by Nasir El-Rufai and a rather lengthy, philosophy-laden introduction by the late Professor Pius Adesanmi.

Some of the chapters focus on the author’s perspective on matters that came to a head during the Presidency of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, from 1999 to 2007. SLS, having survived the very real danger of opposing General Abacha, was part of a circle of ‘progressive’ Northern intellectuals. One key issue of that era was the introduction of Shari’ah law in some Northern States. The writer does not specifically justify or oppose that move in a secular nation, but he draws the nuance between ‘Political Islam’ and ‘Islamic Politics’. He is contemptuous of the intellect and motivation of a state governor who would cut off the hand of a man for petty thievery but justify a commissioner who accepts a large ‘gift’ for a road contract.

Repeatedly, the author fends off attacks on Islamic Jurisprudence based on European culture and philosophy, in which he is deeply grounded, as well as condemning its misuse and distortion by people and even some national governments as a dictatorial religious instrument to oppress their own or other people. He reflects on the rights of non-Muslims in an Islamic state, as well as the rights of Muslims in a multi-religious state. The place of women in Islam is dwelt on by their rights to education and leadership and the protections offered by an Islamic inheritance law that is widely misunderstood and criticised in the West but which he sees as more equitable than what is obtained in other cultures and religions.

In ‘Democracy, Human Rights, and Islam…’ as well as in his critique of ‘The Hudood Punishments in Northern Nigeria…’ the writer both defends the core principles of a stern judicial system and condemns its political misuse by the elite to suppress the lower classes. He discusses the controversial case of Amina Lawal and the opprobrium aroused by his own averment that ‘four eyewitnesses’ be required to prove a case of adultery against a woman.

SLS is a fervent Nigerian patriot. It is the basis for the rather grand title of his book.

There is a lot that can be said in favour of a progressive thinker who is also strongly steeped in the culture of his religion and is ready to defend it against ethnocentric ‘Western’ attackers from without and overzealous or mischievous distorters and exploiters from within.

A lot is said in the book. A lot is also left unsaid or taken as “settled”, which other people may contend. There is no discourse on Fatwa or Blasphemy in a pluralistic nation, for instance.

El-Rufai, in his foreword, insisting that his friend is a flexible, adaptable man, quotes Nelson Mandela.

‘…When circumstances change, I change my mind.’

The implication is that nothing is set in stone, and it is even possible that new information and experiences in the years since the pieces were written may have already mellowed some of the views expressed.

The book is strongly recommended to anyone who wishes to understand the enigma of one of the most important thinkers and actors in contemporary Nigerian history.

FOR THE GOOD OF THE NATION was published by ALFA Books.