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THE RETURN OF THE KHALIFA BY KEEM ABDUL

Read Time:10 Minute, 30 Second

 

Sanusi Lamido Sanusi Reinstated as Kano Emir :

 

It is the Nigerian version of Russian Roulette. Or, if you like, a less bloody iteration of the ‘Game of Thrones’ saga. 

The ancient city of Kano has, since Thursady, May 23, 2024, been in a state of suspended animation, following the startling news that the 14th and immediate past Emir of Kano, and former Governor of Nigeria’s Central Bank, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, CON (who was dethroned and subsequently exiled in 2020 in dramatic and controversial circumstances by the then-Governor of Kano State, Umar Abdullahi Ganduje) has been reinstated as the 16th Emir, and resumes his regnal name of HRM Mohammed Sanusi II.  In reversing Ganduje’s decision, Yusuf said the old law (as passed by the State House of Assembly and assented to by Ganduje) which split the Kano Emirate into 5 distinct and coequal Emirate Councils, had ‘balkanised’ the over 1,000-year-old entity, and expressed confidence that the restoration of Sanusi to the revered throne would mark a return to the Emirate’s wholeness and harmony. 

The facts of Sanusi’s dethronement and exile four years ago are too well-known to be recounted here; suffice it to say, however, that that action, and his recent reinstatement, are not only fraught with deep political overtones but also steeped in the eventful history of both the Kano Emirate and Sanusi’s own family. Shortly after his removal, he was quoted as saying, “It is a thing of pride for us to rule and end in the same fashion as the Khalifa.” The ‘Khalifa‘ reference is to his grandfather, Emir Muhammadu Sanusi I, who was also deposed and exiled back in 1963. 

In 2020, not a few observers, in Kano and across the nation, saw Sanusi’s removal as an act of injustice, viewing him as the victim, and Gov. Ganduje (who has since gone on to become the national Chairman of the All Progressives Congress, APC, the country’s ruling party) as the villain in an ideological battle of wits. In a charged political environment such as Kano State, it is almost suicidal to be seen by the highly politically-conscious electorate as any sort of villain, and it may well be – as many have speculated – that the APC’s loss in the 2023 governorship election in the state was largely influenced by that sentiment. The victorious party, the New Nigeria People’s Party (NNPP) and its candidate, Abba Yusuf, are perceived to have benefited from protest votes against Ganduje’s brinkmanship, and in particular his creation of the new Emirate Councils. Indeed, there was an undeniable air of anticipation concerning Sanusi’s fate from when Yusuf’s election victory was confirmed (given Yusuf’s campaign promise to ‘undo’ many of Ganduje’s policies). In the early days of his administration, in fact, social media was awash with such pointed pro-Sanusi slogans as “Sabon Gwamna, Sabon Sarki,” (Hausa for ‘New Governor, New King or Emir’). 

 

But this game of Russian Roulette is not new. Interestingly, an eerily similar scenario played out in the  early 1980s during the administration of the charismatic Gov. Abubakar Rimi, who in 1981 also split the Kano Emirate into five. The move was bitterly opposed by key members of the traditional institution, who saw it as an attempt to weaken the Emirate’s influence. Undeterred, however, Rimi not only went ahead with the plan, he even gave the new Emirates  extensive administrative and political powers at the expense of Kano. Unlike in Sanusi’s case, however, the Emir at the time, Ado Bayero, was not deposed; he was merely suspended, but even that was enough to trigger riots across the Emirate – an episode that severely damaged Rimi’s political standing and rendered his position untenable. In 1983, his successor, Sabo Bakin Zuwo, quickly reversed the decision, abolishing the other Emirates and restoring the Kano Emirate to its original size and status. 

Given the above scenario, the reinstatement of Emir Sanusi may not be the final chapter of this saga; it certainly doesn’t have the look and feel of a fait accompli at this point – if the rumblings in the past few days in the wake of the government’s action are anything to go by. Already, there has been a court order restraining the Yusuf-led administration from carrying out the reinstatement of Sanusi (an order the government has however faulted on several grounds and vowed NOT to obey, even as the state police command and security agencies have vowed to enforce it). The former Emir, Bayero, who was apparently out of Kano at the time of his deposition, returned to the city a few days later and took up residence in one of the royal palaces in a manner that suggested a readiness on his part and that of his loyalists to engage in a power tussle – an action which has prompted the government to order his arrest, thereby raising tensions across the state. 

Whether he intended to be seen as such or not, Sanusi has, since his first emergence as Emir, stood at the epicenter of the ideological battles that have roiled Kano since even before the attainment of Nigerian independence. This battle pits the conservative and feudal political/ religious elite against the common people (known as the talakawas). To be sure, it is an unequal battle at the best of times, but nowhere in Nigeria have the talakawas and those who try to advance their interests (through political action and advocacy) scored as many victories as in Kano. From political leaders such as the revered Mallam Aminu Kano and his proteges – the aforementioned Gov. Rimi, as well as Gov. Rabiu Kwakwaso and now Gov. Abba Yusuf, among others; to intellectuals such as the radical leftist ideologue, Prof. Bala Usman, among others, Kano has always been a battle-ground between those who see themselves as progressive elements in the quest for a more equitable society, and those they see as privileged ‘reactionaries’ bent on maintaining the status quo of perpetual inequity between the Haves and the Have-nots. 

Sanusi’s ascension as Emir, perhaps for the first time in the Emirate’s long history, placed on the throne a man whose ‘progressive’ views on the socio-political issues of the day are well-known. It was only natural, then, that even as he basked in the adulation of his subjects, his compatriots across the nation and admirers across the globe on account of his brilliance as an economist, banker, scholar and administrator, he would be seen as a ‘misfit’ by those eager to maintain the feudal order (as represented by the throne on which he sits) and expected him to do the same. 

From the controversy that had attended his initial appointment in 2014, it seemed his detractors already feared that Sanusi would go against the grain of feudal expectation – given his learning and the combination of influences that have informed his worldview. Born on July 31, 1961 in Kano, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi (also known by the religious title of Khalifa Sanusi II) – was born into a Fulani royal family. He grew up in the palace of his predecessor Ado Bayero, who also happens to be his great-uncle. His father, Aminu Sanusi (son of the 11th Emir of Kano, Muhammad Sanusi I, who reigned from 1953 to his aforementioned deposition in 1963 by the then-Premier of the defunct Northern Region, Sir Ahmadu Bello) was a diplomat. The young Sanusi received his early education at home before attending St. Anne’s Primary School, a Catholic boarding school in Kaduna, from where he proceeded to King’s College, Lagos in 1973. He bagged a Bachelor’s degree in Economics from the Ahmadu Bello University in 1981. After his mandatory national service, he returned to ABU as both a student and a lecturer, receiving a Master’s degree in Economics in 1983. Islamic Studies took him to Sudan, where he studied at the International University of Africa in Khartoum. Fluent in Arabic, he is well-versed in Qur’anic law and and philosophy. 

He began his banking career in 1985 with Icon Bank Limited and rose to become Head of Financial Services. In 1991, he left the bank to pursue further studies in Sudan. On his return in 1997, he joined the United Bank for Africa, eventually rising to the position of General Manager. In 2005, Sanusi became the Executive Director in charge of Risk Management at First Bank of Nigeria, and in 2009, became the bank’s Chief Executive Officer, the first Northern Nigerian to head that venerable institution. 

He was nominated Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria by then-President Umaru Yar’Adua in June 2009. Taking over during a global financial crisis – the effect of which hit Nigeria’s banking system hard (with the stock market collapsing by nearly 70%). Sanusi’s CBN not only rescued a number of top-tier banks with over ₦600bn of public money, but also dismissed and even prosecuted CEOs who had mismanaged customer deposits. He drastically introduced a consolidation process which reduced the number of banks in Nigeria through mergers and acquisitions in a bid to make them stronger and more accountable to depositors – in what became known as the ‘Sanusi tsunami.’

His reforms brought him into conflict with a number of influential stakeholders; he clashed, for example, with the National Assembly over its budgetary spending of 25% of all government revenue. He  rejected the International Monetary Fund’s insistence on a currency devaluation, and his advice to government on the removal of fuel subsidy (which he said engendered a culture of corruption and inefficiency) led to calls for his resignation. 

But he also won a multiplicity of awards and accolades at home and abroad. He was named the 2010 Central Bank Governor of the Year (worldwide) by the influential Banker Magazine. In 2011, he was named among TIME Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in the World, among many other accolades. 

However, his tenure at the CBN came to abrupt end after he revealed in a letter to then-President Goodluck Jonathan that the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) had failed to remit US$48.9 billion of oil revenues to the CBN. In February 2014, after a series of public investigations into a purported US$20 billion NNPC scandal, Sanusi was suspended from his position by the President.

On 8 June 2014, he was controversially selected to succeed the late Bayero as Kano’s Emir; many had expected the late Emir’s son, Aminu Bayero, to succeed him. During his 6-year reign, Sanusi positioned himself as a charismatic figure at the crossroads of tradition and modernity; he often broke royal protocol by speaking out on issues of public concern, angering  conservatives in the process. He offered strong views on issues such as the role of Islam in modern society;  the role of women, and the need for their empowerment; the need to enhance the Islamic practice of zakat as an instrument for redistributing income; the need for family planning to counter the proliferation of almajiris; the evil of child-marriage; the proper use of mosques for formal  education; and the ignoble role of polygamy in deepening poverty in Africa. Sanusi also called for a cultural revival in Northern Nigeria, within the ambit of Islam and its Arabic character) and played a key role in revamping the ancient city’s cultural objects. He also offered blunt views on Nigerian politics and economy. 

Mohammed Sanusi II is, no doubt, a cerebral and complex character, and as he marks his second ascension to the ancient throne, a number of questions are begging for answers, some of them based on the experience of his first tenure: 

– Having strived, in the face of strong opposition, to articulate the need for far-reaching social reforms in the Kano Emirate (and by extension, a Muslim-dominated region caught in the tensions between Islamic tradition and modernity) to what degree will he be able to advance this mission – beyond his often provocative statements? 

– Being an Islamic scholar of repute (and indeed the Khalifa of the Tijanniya Sufi Order in Nigeria, as was his royal grandfather) to what degree will the Emirate empower him with the time and resources to pursue this aspect of his vocation? 

– And will he perhaps now tone down his political rhetoric, seeing that that’s what got him into hot water the first time?

In other words, will Sanusi 2.0 be different from Sanusi 1.0 – or more of the same?  The answers to these and other questions remain to be seen – if, that is, his second coming endures for as long as, or longer than, his first.               

 

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