Africa’s monarch-banker, Sanusi, loses influence in Kano emirate

Battle over Kano emirate threatens one of Nigeria and Africa’s oldest royalties where renowned banker, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, is emir
Nigeria’s former Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria and potential heir to the Kano emirate, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi (C), arrives at the royal palace in the northern Nigerian city of Kano, for the funeral of Ado Abdullahi Bayero, the late Emir of Kano, on June 6, 2014. Hundreds of thousands of people flocked the streets of Nigeria’s second city on Friday to pay their final respects to the Emir of Kano, second in the hierarchy of Nigeria’s Muslim monarchs and the ancient kingdom’s longest-serving emir, ruling for 51 years until his death after a long battle with cancer. AFP PHOTO / AMINU ABUBAKAR (Photo by AMINU ABUBAKAR / AFP)

Kano emirate, one of Nigeria and Africa’s oldest monarchy is battling for its soul as intra-elite and political battles have forced its sub-division, with its powerful Emir Sanusi Lamido Sanusi II, a former central bank governor, facing a waning influence.

Emir Sanusi, a reformist battling conservatives in Nigeria’s feudal north, has just had his 800-year old kingdom shred into five by the government of Kano whose governor, Abdullahi Ganduje is nudging a grudge against the emir for refusing to back his re-election in the March 9 sub-national polls.

Earlier criticism by the traditional ruler has also been interpreted by state officials as promoting corruption rhetoric against Ganduje’s administration. Sanusi is a vocal critic of the state government and of hardline Islamic clerics.

“The governor is determined to remove the emir, and if this does not succeed, he will break the emirate into pieces to whittle down Sanusi’s power,” a government source had told local papers on Wednesday.

A kingdom divided –

The barrier is lifted at the gate to Palace of the Emir of Kano, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, in Kano on February 14, 2019. – The Palace of the Emir of Kano Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, represents Kano’s traditional Hausa architecture and the stylistic characteristics of many Hausa buildings and art objects in northern Nigeria. (Photo by PIUS UTOMI EKPEI / AFP)

Ganduje, on Friday, formally announced the breaking of the Kano emirate by naming new emirs for four newly created emirates: Emir of Karaye, Dr. Ibrahim Abubakar II; Emir of Rano, Tafida Abubakar II; Emir of Bichi, Alhaji Aminu Ado Bayero; and the Emir of Gaya, Alhaji Ibrahim Abdulkadir after he had earlier signed a new bill into law on the matter.

His government had surreptitiously sponsored a bill at the state house of assembly using his party’s majority to swiftly pass it into law.

“By decentralising the emirate, we followed history. Years back, the situation was not that. So if something developed 800 years ago, things are also developing now and there will be another 800 years. So look at the history,” Governor Ganduje said in an interview with journalists in Nigeria’s capital Abuja on Friday.

But some Kano natives are not taking it lightly. They took to the streets marching along Gidan Murtala Road to express their displeasure. They waved placards with inscriptions such as “More emirates are not needed,” “Education, water, security and peace are our priority”, “We say no to undemocratic laws” and “We say no to politicising emirship.”

“The move will ruin our heritage that has survived for over two thousand years, as the grand emirate will lose prestige in the process.” Rabiu Gwarzo, a disenchanted Kano resident said while leading the protesters to kick against the creation of new Emirates. “And finally, none of the
emerging ones will fill the gap in this 21st Century.” the protester said.

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The passage and signing of the bill took five days, in a country where passing laws against criminal activities or corruption could take months or years. With the signing, the emirate now has five domains: Kano, Rano, Gaya, Karaye and Bichi.

“It is not vendetta, I am not against him (Sanusi),” a defiant Ganduje told journalists on why he was all out against Sanusi but neglecting the consequence of far-reaching reforms on the old emirate. “In fact, he is supposed to be reporting to the local government chairman according to the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria,” the governor said.

Critics say he should have dethroned Sanusi rather than split the emirate as he was toying with the people’s heritage rather than the Emir he is aiming his punches at.

Emir Sanusi and controversies

Emir Sanusi, a former governor of Nigeria’s central bank, himself is not new to controversies. His ascension to the throne was enmeshed in controversy in 2014 following the death of his predecessor, late Emir Ado Bayero.

The current monarch had just been fired then from his position at the reserve bank by former President Goodluck Jonathan for blowing the whistle that about $20billion had gone missing from the Nigerian treasury. A parliamentary investigation later put the figure at about $12bilion.

Using his influence as a prince; working with then opposition governor in the state, Rabiu Kwankwaso, and cruising on the waves of the groundswell opposition against the ruling party and government of President Jonathan, Sanusi got appointed to the throne despite many reservations by other members of the Kano royal family that it was not yet his turn to ascend the throne.

Sanusi’s decision to question Governor Ganduje over his controversial romance with the Chinese on some contracts for projects around Kano city that he believed were shrouded in secrecy and corruption-tainted, is at the heart of the issues that have led to the reduction of his powers and influence.

His observation had led to a public outcry against the governor’s administration, fueled by an investigation by Daily Nigerian, a relatively unknown online newspaper linked to a former aide of past Governor Kwankwaso, that showed exclusive clips of Ganduje collecting bribes in dollars from contractors handling infrastructure projects for the state.

The corruption allegations against governor Ganduje had led to a serious threat to his re-election with many nicknames like “Gandollar” used by locals to describe him for refusing to step down and for allegedly using state institutions to wiggle his way out of an investigation by the Kano parliament.

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Despite that, the allegations refused to go away and Nigeria’s president Muhammadu Buhari, who was himself seeking re-election got embattled on whether or not to endorse Governor Ganduje and the All Progressives Congress in Kano state. But considering the importance of Kano to the ruling party, Buhari had to cave in using technicalities.

Candidate of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), incumbent President Mohammadu Buhari and Kano State Governor Abdullahi Ganduje wave brooms, symbol of the party, during a presidential election’s campaign rally in Kano, on January 31, 2019. (Photo by PIUS UTOMI EKPEI / AFP)

“Under Nigerian laws, a suspect is presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. In this circumstance, the matter is in court and the President has no power to dictate to the court or the Kano State House of Assembly, which is already investigating the matter, about what to do with the allegations against Ganduje”, President Buhari said.

Ganduje unleashes venom after re-election –

The Governor went on to win his re-election, despite losing many votes in Kano Municipal where Emir Sanusi has his palace, thereby extending his immunity from standing trial. But in a country where monarchs are on the payroll of state governments and have reporting powers domiciled in local councils, it was only a matter of time before Governor Ganduje used the institutions of state to exact his revenge on Sanusi.

Despite a court order to stay action on plans to split the emirate or name emirs and kingmakers, Ganduje went ahead with plans stating that the government was yet to get any judgment. The governor hinged his decision to split the emirate on an investigation by the Kano public complaints office that found undisclosed financial misappropriation in the books of the Kano emirate led by Emir Sanusi.

A modernist reformer, Emir Sanusi has also spoken out against traditions of marrying multiple wives and having several children if the man cannot support the family, angering some Islamic leaders. The monarch’s son, Adam Lamido Sanusi, in a social media message on Instagram said his father was never wrong in saying his mind and regarded him as a “just leader.”

“Between the Emir and the Governor, whoever is right, we pray succeeds. My father speaks what is on his mind when he believes he should and I don’t believe he is wrong for this. If he is dethroned or reduced in status then, I still wish for my people to get a right and just leader like him. If he is increased, I still wish that he continues to be just,” the younger Sanusi said.

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“The emirates that are established now were in existence since the Jihad time, so it’s not a new thing,” said Baffa Babba, Majority Leader of Kano state House of Assembly on the creation of the four new emirates. “Some interests came across and abolished these emirates which we had a lot of problem due to the abolition of the emirates.”

Keen watchers of the intra-elite fight have urged caution as the division of the emirate may lead to more insecurity in Nigeria’s most populous city. Rather than eroding the powers of traditional rulers, they want more functions for them due to rising insecurity.

Emir of Kano Muhammadu Sanusi II (C) departs on horseback from the Eid prayer ground in Kano on June 25, 2017, after prayers to mark the end of the holy month of Ramadan and the start of the Eid al-Fitr Festival. (Photo by AMINU ABUBAKAR / AFP)

“Traditional authorities have been lost in finding a role for themselves since the collapse of the system of native administration when they lost control of elements of state power, the native police and the prison at the beginning of military rule.

The present insecurity in the country is an opportunity to open a conversation on modalities and possibilities for returning institutions with authority to rural Nigeria”, Jibrin Ibrahim, a professor of politics said.

Kano lawmaker, Babba said the Kano emirate will do more better with the new arrangement. “With this additional creation of emirate councils, definitely the security situation of the state will improve by giving more powers to emirs to check all the people coming into the state.”

Kano emirate is the most influential in the northern part of Nigeria outside of the Sultanate of Sokoto. The Kano emirate and Sokoto Sultanate are two of the most important rulers in the mainly-Muslim north. While Kano shapes political and commercial interests, Sokoto promotes religious and monarchical interests across the region and Nigeria.

Emirs have no constitutional role in Nigeria, but they wield enormous king-like influence over their subjects. Their funds come from state governments, with politicians relying on their support during elections.

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