• Tuesday, July 23, 2024
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Sanusi vs Bayero: Why do governors demean traditional rulers in Nigeria?

There is a paradox in the relationship between politicians and traditional rulers in Nigeria. Before elections, prominent presidential and gubernatorial candidates queue to pay homage to traditional rulers and solicit their blessing. But after elections, the agency changes: a traditional ruler must walk on eggshells to avoid being dethroned. Like the Pope, traditional rulers have “soft” power, but state governors possess “hard” power. Adolf Hitler famously threatened the Pope, asking if he had any army. Nigerian state governors are little Hitlers who exercise crude executive power. The latest victim of such crudity is the deposed Emir of Kano, Aminu Ado Bayero, who was replaced by a previous victim, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi.

Recently, barely one year in office as governor of Kano State, Abba Yusuf of the New Nigeria People’s Party (NNPP), led by former Governor Rabi’u Musa Kwankwaso, dethroned Ado Bayero as the 15th Emir of Kano and replaced him with Lamido Sanusi as the 16th Emir. Just over four years ago, Sanusi was the 14th Emir of Kano, reigning for his sixth year on the throne. He was installed by then-Governor Kwankwaso on June 8, 2014. However, on March 9, 2020, Sanusi was deposed by then-Governor Abdullahi Ganduje, who replaced him with Bayero as the 15th Emir of Kano.

Read also: Emir Sanusi consolidates reign as district heads, religious leaders pay homage

What’s most troubling about this saga is the extreme politicisation of the ancient Kano emirate. In 2020, when Sanusi was dethroned, I wrote a piece in this column titled “Emir Sanusi’s deposition: What politics gave, politics took back” (BusinessDay, March 23, 2020). Sanusi took his dethronement with equanimity and attributed it to the will of God, saying, “The one who gives has taken.” But I argued in that piece that while God, being omnipotent, permitted it, Sanusi’s dethronement was the machination of man. Put simply, Sanusi was a beneficiary of politics, then a victim of it. It’s a fascinating story worth retelling.

In 2014, when the then Emir of Kano, Ado Bayero, died, Sanusi was not the choice of the kingmakers, according to Tanko Yakassai, a leader of the Arewa Consultative Forum. As Yakassai put it, following the demise of the emir, “his eldest son was announced as the emir, but it was later changed.” But why was the kingmakers’ choice changed, and why was Sanusi made the emir instead? Well, it’s politics, politics, politics!!!

Governor Kwankwaso, who was a PDP governor, fell out with then-President Goodluck Jonathan and decamped to the then-main opposition APC. At the same time, Sanusi, then governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, was a thorn in the flesh of Jonathan, whose administration he accused of corruption. In response, Jonathan suspended Sanusi as CBN governor. But that made Sanusi APC’s “poster boy,” as he gave them the ammunition with which to fight Jonathan. The truth is, if Kwankwaso was still in the PDP and still loyal to Jonathan, Sanusi would not have been the emir. But the timing was auspicious. Being Jonathan’s enemy, Sanusi became Kwankwaso’s friend and was rewarded with the throne—his lifelong dream!

Indeed, Sanusi himself confirmed this narrative in an interview with the Financial Times in 2018. The FT wrote: “Jonathan and the governor of Kano were adversaries. Any enemy of Jonathan’s was a friend of the governor. Sanusi got the nod.” But what politics gave, politics later took away. In 2014, Sanusi was on the winning side with Kwankwaso, who rewarded him with the emirship. But six years later, in 2020, Sanusi was on the losing side with Ganduje, who dethroned him.

Of course, Sanusi did nothing to deserve dethronement, except that he spoke truth to power, campaigning against child marriage and the Almajiris and urging Northerners to educate their children. He challenged Northern orthodoxies and decried what he called “a culture of silence and complicity” and “an anti-intellectual environment.” Governor Ganduje accused Sanusi of insubordination and dethroned him for “disrespecting the office of the governor.” Sanusi once said, “If you have to die, do it standing, not on your knees.” He was on the wrong side of Ganduje and, well, paid a price for it. Now, however, the table has turned; he has found favour with Kwankwaso again!

 “The latest victim of such crudity is the deposed Emir of Kano, Aminu Ado Bayero, who was replaced by a previous victim, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi.”

But what future does this tit-for-tat politics portend for the stability and sanctity of the Kano emirate, especially given the deep-seated mutual animus between Kwankwaso and Ganduje? If the APC regains Kano in 2027 and a Ganduje protégé becomes governor, would Sanusi be dethroned again and replaced with Bayero? As things stand, Sanusi is firmly in Kwankwaso’s camp, while Bayero is in Ganduje’s, and the fate of either is tied to who governs Kano State. Evidently, Governor Abba Yusuf would not have dethroned Bayero without the say-so of his godfather and party leader, Kwankwaso. Indeed, Kwankwaso made it clear as soon as his party won the state that the emirship issue would be revisited. Governor Yusuf, his protégé, has now kept the promise: Bayero is gone, Sanusi is back!

Read also: Kano Emirate tussle lingers as courts give conflicting orders on Sanusi

Yet, there’s the big picture: politicisation damages the traditional institution. But unless the Constitution recognises traditional rulers and protects them from the crude exercise of executive power, such politicisation is inevitable. Not long ago, former President Olusegun Obasanjo scolded some Obas in Oyo State for failing to stand up to welcome the state governor at a public event. He was criticised in some quarters for doing so. But Obasanjo’s point was that governors were the democratically elected leaders of their states and, thus, were superior to traditional rulers. Obasanjo was right: Nigeria is a constitutional democracy, not a constitutional monarchy, so elected politicians are in control.

However, it’s also worth remembering that when the colonists came to the territories that they later cobbled together to create Nigeria, they did not meet politicians on the ground; rather, they met traditional rulers. It was traditional rulers who were brutalised and forced to give up their territories. The eminent historian Professor Niall Ferguson put the colonialists’ methodology graphically in his book Empire: “Chiefs were hoodwinked, tribes disposed, inheritances signed away, with a thumbprint or a shaky cross, and any resistance mown down by the Maxim gun.” None of these were done to politicians but to traditional rulers. Thus, it would be a travesty to demean traditional rulers. They are the original custodians of the ancient kingdoms that constitute Nigeria.

That said, it must also be admitted that the traditional institution in Nigeria has not always covered itself in glory. The rivalry, bitterness, corruption, politicking, intrigues, skulduggery, etc., that usually precede the selections and appointments of traditional rulers are utterly beyond belief and demean the institution. The only royal throne that is immune from politicisation in Nigeria is probably the Obaship of Benin. This is because there is no contest for the throne: the first son of an Oba of Benin succeeds him under a much-cherished primogeniture system. But for most of the other traditional rulers, choosing a successor is a fight to the finish, often involving unroyal, cloak-and-dagger behaviours.

For instance, Oba Lamidi Adeyemi, the Alaafin of Oyo, died in April 2022. Yet, more than two years later, no successor has been chosen. Why? Governor Seyi Makinde rejected the kingmakers’ choice allegedly because they were compromised and did not follow due process. Why should such an ancient traditional stool be so embroiled in a bitter contest and manipulation as to render it vacant for years?

Yet, until the Constitution recognises the traditional institution and successions to royal thrones are devoid of bitter rivalry, corruption, and politicisation, traditional rulers would be prey to governors’ crude exercise of executive power, as the otherwise revered Emir of Kano now seems, sadly, to have become!

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