Method in Emir Sanusi’s radicalism
Emir Muhammadu Sanusi II of Kano Emirate makes no bones about his radicalism. His Royal Majesty admits openly and unabashedly that he is a radical and he is quick to credit late Dr. Yusuf Bala Usman, as the patron saint of his radicalism.
December 2015 marked the 10th anniversary of the death of Bala Usman, one time head of History Department of the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, the one of royal blood from Katsina who decided to pitch his tent with the commoners and who freely espoused the radical philosophy of socialism and the rights of the downtrodden. He became famous for speaking truth to power and for his radical views as well as his exemplary conduct in the pursuit of what he believed in. No cant, no hypocrisy. The late Bala Usman was truly a man of the masses who lived by what he preached.
The anniversary of his death was an auspicious occasion for his followers, made up mostly of his colleagues and students, to eulogise him and remind those in need of being reminded of his prescriptions for a just and orderly society.
It was one of the occasions when Emir Sanusi, a prominent member of the Bala Usman clan, admitted openly that it was the lecturer who tutored him into radicalism. In his words: “In ABU in the 70s we were inspired or taught by Bala Usman. Most of us graduated from being radical teachers to radical professors, to radical bankers and radical emirs.”
Most of Bala Usman’s followers have till date remained faithful to their radical teacher’s philosophy. Central to this philosophy is the consistent struggle against injustice and oppression, not the vulgar enthronement of ethnicity, religious bigotry or the mindless pursuit of power for its own sake.
Like a method in some people’s madness, certainly it is not difficult to finger the method in the radicalism of this urbane, sophisticated and highly educated traditional ruler who has no qualms in speaking truth to power. In the least bit, Emir Sanusi does not worry at all about how anybody would react to what he says and how he says it.
In other words, this emir does not appear like the man next door who endlessly worries about his next meal or how he would get his children back to school after the holidays. And since he has managed to secure his third job since leaving school – he was sacked from the first one but he voluntarily separated himself from the second, – this man next door does not know how long he would stay on the new job. Such a man would think twice before offending anyone, including a street urchin that has nothing to do with his job security.
But not this emir. Immune against such social and economic afflictions, Sanusi sitting on the peacock throne of his ancestors is not one to nurse such worries. Neither does he think of any unintended consequence of his unyielding romance with radicalism. Last week in Kaduna, the quintessential Sanusi gave a keynote address at the Kaduna State Investment forum. And, man, did he speak! He spoke on the subject dear to his heart. And, truth be told, he poured out his heart. He spoke eloquently about the perennial problem of the underdevelopment of Northern Nigeria. And what is the root cause?
He accused the Northern culture and its people’s attitude of being responsible for the slow pace of development in the region. The next culprit is the people’s understanding of Islam, the dominant religion in the region. An Islamic scholar in his own right, the emir made bold to make a distinction between the culture of the people and their chosen religion. Islam is mixed up with culture and the conservative culture of the people is held out as the true Islam. For the North to move on, he said the people must embrace change, free themselves from the conservative interpretation of Islam and push forward girl child education, promote science and technology, fight the current level of civilisation which is held down by too many cultural inhibitions.
It is in this light that the outspoken emir sparked the polygamy controversy recently in his domain. He said people ignorantly misunderstand their religion by marrying up to four wives even when they cannot afford to do so. They produce more children than they can train and thus put a burden on scarce resources believing they are carrying out the injunction of God. He wants to introduce a law that will prohibit those who cannot afford it from filling up their homes with women as if they are running harem and bring forth children they cannot afford to properly educate leaving them to roam the streets as beggars, thugs or even terrorists.
The law will explain “what Islam says on marriage; it will outlaw forced marriages; it will make domestic violence illegal and it will spell out conditions that must be fulfilled for a second wife and also spell out responsibilities of a father.”
In taking all these bold measures, I believe the emir is not unmindful of the negative reactions of his people, some of them powerful enough to cause him some inconvenience. On the proposed law, Aminu Daurawa, Kano State commandant of hisbah, a religious police outfit, says the position of God on marriage is stated in the Qur’an and this does not require another law but enlightenment. But other reactions especially in the social media have been vulgar and unhelpful. Instead of addressing the issues he raised, some of them are advising him to keep strictly to his traditional roles instead of getting involved in politics.
But some of these people miss the point. And the point is that religion is central to the traditional roles of an emir. It is not the emirs who are getting involved in politics. If anything, methinks it is the politicians that have succeeded in dragging religion and its custodians, the traditional rulers, willy-nilly into politics. Any serious minded traditional ruler, the likes of the emir of Kano, ought not sit idly by when unscrupulous politicians exploit the ignorance of their people for purely political gains. In 1999, the governor of Zamfara State, Ahmed Yerima for instance, introduced the Sharia law without fully understanding the full implications. Some states in the North latched on to it hoping to make a political capital out of it.
But what is the position today? Zamfara State is regarded as one of the poorest today. And if the emir speaks out against the hypocrisy of the Sharia apostles as he did this week in Marakesh, Morocco, those who detest the truth would go up in arms. That is no way to solve the myriad problems – social, political and economic – facing the country, especially the North.
Instead of condemnation, critical voices like those of the emir must be encouraged because their intervention from time to time would help to put the country on the right course for purposeful development. But those who have something to hide can see no good in the impetuousness of the emir. And they cannot even logically handle it because they lack correct philosophical framework to do so.
Don’t forget the fate that befell him when he was governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria. He had claimed there was a fraud of over 20 million dollars not accounted for by the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC. President Goodluck Jonathan cried foul and suspended him from office, saying if such money was missing, the Americans would know about it, because as he put it, it was their money, his logic being that the money in question was the American dollar. It was easy to read political machinations into Sanusi’s alarm at the time. He was a northerner trying to help get Jonathan out of office.
Now that President Muhammadu Buhari is getting his own fair share of Sanusi’s sometimes irritating but necessary intervention, those who thought of him as a regional jingoist must do another think.
At critical times he has had to caution the Buhari administration in a manner not so palatable or flattering. Some samples: when it was becoming rather fashionable (because it was the easiest thing to do) to keep on blaming the previous administration for the calamities that had befallen the country, Sanusi admonished the Buhari administration to concentrate its efforts on putting the country back on the path of progress, warning that “if this government continues to behave the way the last government behaved, we will end up where Jonathan ended.”
When John Mahama, the immediate past president of Ghana, lost his bid for a second term in the presidential election last year, he said he accepted full responsibility for his loss and regretted not listening to his critics. He confessed that he allowed himself to be misled by bad advisers and flattering sycophants. In Nigeria, we are not short of such court jesters and sycophants but I submit that in Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, we have some of those critical but constructive voices that leaders can ignore only at their own peril.