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Should our traditional institutions be privatised?

The furore over the removal of the Emir of Kano Muhammadu Sanusi II from the throne of his forebears is unlikely to die down any time soon. It’s a storm in a tea cup, if you asked me – a tale of smoking guns and mirrors. Shakespeare’s obiter on the tragedy of Macbeth seems apt for this very Nigerian drama: “This life, which had been the tomb of his virtue and of his honour, is but a walking shadow; a poor player, that struts and frets his hour upon the stage, and then is heard no more: it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing”.

There are many who believe it is one giant leap by the feudal North to reposition themselves politically: the dawn raid by police to get him out of the palace, which he had expected and prepared for anyway; the long drive to the little provincial town of Loko in Nasarawa State. And oh no, Loko it was not to be. They detoured to the ancient salt-mining town of Awe. Being no place for a king, he fled; disappointing the local population. He takes his family and flies to Lagos, a free man. With a glint in his eyes, he reveals to journalists, “That’s where all my friends are.”

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Since Jokolo of Gwandu, the medieval practice of royal banishment is advisedly unconstitutional. According to one social media critic: “From the dethronement to the banishment, to the court order and the release from detention, everything was stage-managed and totally qualifies as hilarious nonsense and ingredients.”

The deposed Emir had always described himself as a “Lagos boy”. He grew up there while his father was a civil servant and diplomat. He attended the posh Kings College, where, we are told, he turned the school upside down within one week of his arrival. He had to be given detention by his House Captain, Atedo Peterside, who was a busy HSC boy with no time for little rascals. They became the best of friends.

Sanusi pitched himself as a reformer at CBN. But there are several aspects of his performance that raise questions. One of them is Inter-Continental Bank. Is it true that his old Kings College mate and friend Bukola Saraki allegedly owed billions to the bank and that his assets were allegedly about to be taken over by the bank for failure to pay back his loans? Is it true that after Erastus Akingbola was hounded out, one of Saraki’s boys was allegedly foisted on the bank as CEO? And was it also true that at the very first meeting of the board, they took a decision to allegedly write-off all of his debts?

Several of these and related questions cast a shadow over an otherwise illustrious career. I shall not raise the case of Gideon Akaluka which continues to rankle the rank and file of Ndigbo. Sanusi’s allegations about the missing $20 billion turned out to be a hoax. He never assumed a neutral political position as was expected of a central banker.

There is a reckless streak in the man. He does not seem to enjoy clean breaks. He needs to raise some dust when he feels the need for a career move. He allegedly made some unseemly statements about how Sharia was not more comprehensively being implemented in the North; forcing him to leave his job as GM at UBA. He tormented Goodluck Jonathan beyond the level of forbearance before being forced out of CBN.

Some would say that he actually usurped the throne, with the help of his powerful business and political networks. There had been assassination attempts on his granduncle and father-in-law Emir Ado Bayero, a retired diplomat of intellectual culture, wisdom and royal decorum. After Bayero’s death, the kingmakers had announced one of his sons as successor. But the political stalwarts had invaded Kano to upturn the applecart. The ensuing riots were gruesomely suppressed.

One of the stories making the rounds is the so-called “Curse of Agaba Idu”. In the 1950s, his grandfather Mohammed Sanusi I had allegedly plotted to dethrone the Attah of Igala, Agaba Idu Ameh Oboni. During a meeting of Northern royal fathers, he had publicly scolded the Igala monarch for not removing his crown and prostrating before Sultan Abubakar III. He was given the choice of obeying or being dethroned. A man of wisdom, Agaba Idu knew that dethronement would forever deny his progeny from ever ascending the throne of his forefathers. He obliged.

Legend has it that as soon as he kowtowed and removed his crown, honeybees descended upon the assembly. The meeting ended abruptly. The Attah Igala then went up to Sanusi and prophesied to him that he and his seed will always suffer the disgrace of dethronement.

You cannot be sitting on a throne that sucks in 10 percent of all local government funds on a monthly basis and be lamenting the fate of the Almajiris.

In 1963 Mohammed Sanusi I was dethroned and banished to Azare in Bauchi State.

When I broached the subject of the Curse of Agaba Idu, some of my friends from the Caliphate were upset. A professor friend told me, “if you believe this thing, you will believe anything”.

It was the Roman statesmen Pliny the Elder who famously exclaimed, “Ex Africa semper aliquid novi” – out of Africa there is always something new. I have no doubt that some people in Africa can invoke wild honeybees. My grandfather Baba Gambo Galadima Sarkin Tukura was a legend and a warrior during his time. Among his powers, he could invoke poisonous bees. I know that for a fact.

People who dismiss this story on intellectual-scientific grounds perhaps do not remember the story of Bode Thomas and the Alaafin of Oyo. In the sixties, Olabode Akanbi Thomas, popularly known as Bode Thomas, was number 2 after Obafemi Awolowo in the hierarchy of the Action Group party. He was a brilliant and charismatic lawyer who, together with Remi Fani-Kayode and Rotimi Williams, had formed the first indigenous law firm in Lagos.

On November 22, 1953, he had assembled a meeting of the Oyo Divisional Council of which he was Chairman. All the councillors had stood up except the elderly Alaafin Adeyemi II. Bode Thomas was alleged to have asked the monarch, “why were you sitting when I walked in? Why can’t you show me respect?” To which the old king replied, “shey emi on gbo mo baun? emi ni ongbo bi aja mo baun” (is it me you are barking at like a dog like that? Keep barking). The story goes that upon returning home to Yaba that evening, Bode Thomas started barking like a dog. His death on 23 November 1953 shook the whole of Yoruba land.

Dethronement of traditional rulers did not start yesterday. Oba Adeyemi II was dethroned by the Government of Western Nigeria. Others that have met a similar fate include: King Jaja of Opobo; Oba Ovonramwen Nogbaisi of Benin; Olowo of Owo Sir Olateru-Olagbegi; Mohammed Sanusi I; Sultan Ibrahim Dasuki; Emir of Gwandu Mustapha Jokolo; and the Emir of Muri Umar Abba Karim.

In my opinion, the turban did not sit too well on the head of Muhammadu Sanusi II. He is what the late Zaria Marxist scholar Ntiem Kungwai would have dismissed as a “feudal radical”. You cannot be sitting on a throne that sucks in 10 percent of all local government funds on a monthly basis and be lamenting the fate of the Almajiris.

Traditional monarchies are the custodians of immemorial tradition. They are respected by the people. In times of upheaval, they can be more effective than government in calming down troublemakers. But they are also known for practices that the British would condemn as being “repugnant to natural justice, equity and good conscience”.

As far as I am concerned, the real debate is yet to emerge on the economic and financial costs of maintaining such highly expensive feudal monarchies throughout our country. During the Indian constitutional debates, Gandhi and Nehru ensured that the constitution was silent on the position of traditional rulers. They were, ipso facto, consigned to the status of private institutions.

As our country faces a worsening crisis of fiscal governance while battling the challenge of balancing the budget, we need to debate a more sustainable financing model for traditional institutions to ensure that they are not such a drain on the public treasury. Constitutional government in a free republic demands nothing less.

 

OBADIAH MAILAFIA

 

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