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Emir Sanusi’s deposition: What politics gave, politics took back

The dethronement of the Emir of Kano, Muhammadu Sanusi II, two weeks ago, on Monday 9 March, now pales into insignificance with the Coronavirus that is ravaging the world. But Covid-19 is, however, a subject for another day.

 

With Sanusi’s dethronement saga still fresh in our minds, allow me to offer some reflections, not least because of what Sanusi represents and what his travails tell us about the nature of Nigerian politics.

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Unsurprisingly, being a Muslim, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi attributed his dethronement to the will of God, as he did his earlier enthronement. “The one who gives, has taken”, he said, after the Kano State governor, Abdullahi Ganduje, deposed him for “disrespecting the office of the governor”.

 

Students of history may, however, say that it was history repeating itself, as Sanusi’s grandfather, Muhammadu Sanusi I, was deposed as the 11th Emir of Kano in 1963 by Ahmadu Bello, the then Premier of Northern Nigeria. Yet, neither religion nor history can explain Sanusi’s dethronement as the 14th Emir of Kano. In reality, he was, with his enthronement, a beneficiary of partisan politics, and then, with his dethronement, a victim of it. He said, “The one who gives, has taken”, referring to God. But it was politics that gave the throne to him, and it was politics that took it back!

 

The religious fatalism, common with Muslims, that attributes any adverse thing that happens to us to God ignores the role of human agency and the power of choice that God Himself gives us. In Deuteronomy 30:19, God said: “I have set before you life and death; therefore, choose life”. And Proverbs 27: 12 says: “A prudent person sees danger ahead and avoids it, but the simple keeps going and pays the penalty”. Of course, being omniscient, nothing happens without God’s knowledge; and being omnipotent, nothing happens if God doesn’t permit it. But that doesn’t mean every adverse occurrence is the will of God!

So much for the theology.

 

Coming back to Sanusi, everyone knows that he enjoyed stirring up a hornet’s nest, and that he took consequential political risks. They once paid off and helped him to become the Emir of Kano; but they have now cost him the throne. This is not a criticism of the former emir for, as he rightly said: “If you have to die, do it standing; not on your knees”. Emir Sanusi certainly “fell” standing! No one can accuse him of cowardice.

 

Both as Central Bank governor and as Emir of Kano, Sanusi made powerful enemies, driven by a principled conviction to say and do what he felt was right regardless of the cost to him.

 

In December 2010, Sanusi was given the “Central Bank Governor of the Year 2011” award by The Banker magazine, a subsidiary of the Financial Times. The citation read: “In the 18 months that he has been in office, Lamido Sanusi has salvaged a crumbling financial sector, taken on Nigeria’s powerful and corrupt bank managers and initiated reforms that have put Africa’s most promising market back on the map for investors”.

 

Both as Central Bank governor and as Emir of Kano, Sanusi made powerful enemies, driven by a principled conviction to say and do what he felt was right regardless of the cost to him.

 

I was honoured to be invited to the high-profile ceremony at the London Hilton Hotel, Park Lane, attended by several prominent Nigerians, including prominent traditional rulers. But what I took away from the ceremony was his courage and dogged determination to step on toes, if necessary, in pursuit of his convictions.

 

Sanusi dedicated the award to President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua. He said he went to Yar’Adua and told him of his radical banking reform plans, and that Yar’Adua assured him in the presence of the then chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, Farida Waziri, that he would back his campaign to the hilt, urging him to prosecute it “without fear or favour”. He certainly did, with the imprisonment and humiliation of several powerful Nigerians. And he saw Yar’Adua as comrade-in-arms in the anti-graft war!

But not so President Goodluck Jonathan! Sanusi didn’t believe Jonathan was as committed to tackling corruption as Yar’Adua. And he was determined to take the battle to the inner sanctum of the Jonathan administration.

 

 In 2014, Sanusi wrote to President Jonathan alleging that $49.8 billion was missing from the federation account. In her book, Fighting Corruption Is Dangerous, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Finance Minister at the time, admitted money was indeed missing “but far from the almost $50 billion (Sanusi) was talking about.” She reckoned the amount ranged from “$10.8 billion to $12 billion, perhaps closer to $12 billion, the outer end of that range”. In the end, the amount frequently cited is $20 billion.

 

Whether Sanusi intended it or not, the allegation of the “missing billions”, coming very close to the 2015 general election, became a powerful ammunition that the All Progressives Congress, APC, used mercilessly against President Jonathan and his party, People’s Democratic Party, PDP. Sanusi became APC’s “poster boy”. When President Jonathan suspended him as governor of the Central Bank on allegations of “financial recklessness”, APC effectively adopted him as their own. It was during this time that the then Emir of Kano, Ado Bayero, died; at last, Sanusi was on the verge of fulfilling his life-long ambition!

Yet, the contest was fierce.

 

According to Tanko Yakassai, a leader of the Arewa Consultative Forum, the eldest son of the late emir “was announced as the emir but it was later changed”. But the timing was fortunate for Sanusi, who was the APC’s choice. The then governor, Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso, fell out with President Jonathan and left PDP to join APC. He gave Sanusi the emirship. Truth is, if Kwankwaso was still in PDP and loyal to Jonathan, Sanusi wouldn’t have been the Emir of Kano in the first place.

 

Sanusi himself admitted this in an interview with the Financial Times in 2018. As the paper wrote: “Jonathan and the governor of Kano were adversaries. Any enemy of Jonathan’s was a friend of the governor. Sanusi got the nod”. Of course, Sanusi saw this as God’s handiwork. But as David Pilling, the paper’s Africa Editor, who conducted the interview, mused: “If God relies on the machinations of Nigerian politics to bring about his will, then He really does work in mysterious ways.”

 

But Sanusi now says God later changed His mind, orchestrating his dethronement. Yet, in truth, these were the results of cold, calculated power politics. In 2014, Sanusi was on the winning side with Kwankwaso, who rewarded him with the emirship for being a thorn in the flesh of Jonathan and the PDP; six years later, he was on the losing side with the current governor, Abdullahi Ganduje, who deposed him for being a thorn in his flesh!

 

Although Sanusi was part of the Northern establishment, he was a maverick. He pursued causes, such as the campaigns against child marriage and the Almajiris, that challenged Northern orthodoxies. Tanko Yakassai said the tradition in the North was that “educated and uneducated emirs tend not to speak too much.” But not Sanusi. He said the elite consensus was about “a culture of silence and complicity”, adding: “We are dealing with an anti-intellectual environment”. He was irrepressible, speaking truth to power, ruffling feathers. And paid a price for his convictions, losing the throne he so much cherished!

 

But Sanusi saw it coming. In 2017, he said in a speech: “The reality is that everything in this world is fragile. Life itself will come to an end”. Then, he added: “Being a coward or a sycophant will not add one day to your life or one day to the term of any things you hold dear”. How true! Sanusi was once a beneficiary of partisan politics, now, a victim of it. But he is a cerebral, highly-respected global citizen. The world is now his oyster!

 

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