The travails of a progressive emir
What better way to start this piece on a quintessential monarch, the Emir of Kano, Muhammad Sanusi ll, than to quote the governor of Kaduna State, Mallam Nasir El-Rufai in an eulogy to the Emir sequel to the address brilliantly delivered by the monarch at the Second Kaduna Investment Summit which held between April 5 and 6, 2017.
Governor Nasir Ahmad El-Rufai penned a lengthy article on the Emir and concluded thus: “Love him or loathe him, men like Muhammad Sanusi ll are rare diamonds in our pool of stones.” How apt a description!
To say that Emir Sanusi is one of the finest public intellectuals in Nigeria is like calling people to behold the glory of the sun. Such gesture appears a needless effort because whoever is not blind cannot fail to see the beauty and majesty of the celestial body.
Emir Sanusi seems to have abiding relationship with controversy. And in most cases, opinions are usually divided about him and the controversy he managed to stir. You are either for him or against him.
The penchant for courting controversies is merely an aspect of him. By his nature and disposition, his is a personality who will easily attract envy if not animosity. He is astonishingly brilliant, charismatic, flamboyant and gifted with striking oratory prowess which includes fluidity both in writing and speaking. Ordinarily, these are qualities that will make him a shining star anywhere.
Despite this admirable characterisation, why would some people love to loathe him with passion? That is quite simple. Emir Sanusi is an independent-minded man who also exhibits candour without being apologetic. He belongs to a rarefied niche among the elite who are wielders of power and influence yet, he is audacious enough to point out their failings. Such a man will always be a target of destructive instincts of members of his class.
History has a way of repeating itself. No wonder people usually amuse themselves with the saying that the more things change, the more they remain the same. In terms of certain qualities, Emir Sanusi II seems to be a reincarnation of his grandfather, Emir Sanusi 1. The late Emir was also an independent-minded man who could stand alone. These qualities were to lead to his travails with the authority then, and that also eventually led to his deposition. The circumstances are different but the context appears similar. Though, the line between circumstances and context here might appear blurred.
On January 1, 1954, Muhammad Sanusi l was installed as the Emir of Kano, replacing his father Ado Bayero, who had died in December of the previous year. Before his ascension, Prince Sanusi had been a close friend to the Sardauna Ahmadu later Ahmadu Bello, the Sardauna of Sokoto.
As a matter of fact, when Sardauna of Sokoto was being persecuted by his cousin, the Sultan of Sokoto for reasons not unrelated to the throne of their forbears because, the Sardauna contested the throne with him and still nursed the ambition of mounting the throne in future, Prince Sanusi was among those who stood as a pillar of support for the Sardauna. The support enabled him to triumph over the challenges.
To be explicit, the Sardauna was accused of embezzling jangali tax in 1943, tried by the Sultanate court and sentenced to one year imprisonment. This verdict was upturned by the Court of Appeal in Zaria and the colonial administrators realising the subtle dimensions of the feud, tried to mend fences between the brothers.
At this time, the Sardauna was in Native Administration of the North serving as a modernising agent but because traditionally, people tend to resist change, the Sultan and the northern traditional institutions were not comfortable with the changes being pushed by the Native Administration.
By the time the Sardauna had established a mammoth political influence and authority in the North as the Premier of the region, Prince Sanusi had become the Emir of Kano, basically on merit as he was the eldest of the Emir’s sons then and also the strongest among the contenders to the throne.
In a twist of fate, by March, 1963, Emir Sanusi l had resigned following enquiry into the finances of the Kano Native Authority that was launched in September, 1962.
The deposition of the Emir split the Northern Peoples Congress (NPC), the ruling party in the Northern region and at the Centre then, and almost had seismic consequences, at least in political terms, in the North. The commission of enquiry found the Emir guilty of misappropriation of public funds among other infractions.
It should be noted that there were several perspectives on this event. But generally, it was believed that the enquiry was a mere smokescreen to deal with the Emir who was manifesting undue insubordination to the ministers and the regional government. People believed that whatever happened in Kano Native Authority, similar or worse cases abound in other emirates. Besides, it was also argued that the commission of enquiry went outside its terms of reference just to nail the Emir.
Muhammad Sanusi l like Muhammad Sanusi ll was flambuoyant and active and was also brimming with initiatives, enthusiasm and erudition. The late Emir found it difficult to subordinate his authority under the political powers of the time. Thus, it was a clash of traditional authority and political powers.
What is clear in all this is that history appears to be repeating itself. But this time around, the circumstances have changed. So, when I read that the Kano State Government had issued a query to the Kano Emirate Council on ‘inappropriate expenditures,’ I mused that history was sneaking back through the back door.
The big question that must be posed is: What will the North gain from cutting her nose to spite her face? Closely related to this is the poser about when it becomes the fad for government to be sniffing around the palaces of traditional rulers. Emir Sanusi II is clearly one of the finest not only in the North but in all of Nigeria. Whatever might be his inadequacies, gagging or humiliating him cannot change the grim situation in Northern Nigeria.
Even if the members of the northern elite are averse to figures and statistics, at least, they can see the pathetic reality of their region and people. Religious riots, insurgency, grave infant and maternal mortality statistics, gross underdevelopment and extreme poverty should not be a badge of honour to a people who pride themselves as the inheritor of a great civilisation.
The idea that Emirs and traditional rulers generally should, on ascending the throne, become deaf and dumb, belongs in the ancient past and conservatism can never be a glorious apparel in a fast-changing world. In any case, such docile and lame traditional institutions can only complicate the woes of the North at this present time.
The essence of having a cosmopolitan elite like Mallam Sanusi as an Emir is not for him to rot away in the palace reading newspapers but to take active part in societal development. The subsisting narrative of poverty, retrogression and general under-development in the North can only be altered with prominent people like the Emir speaking out and working actively against repressive and archaic culture in the North which has kept people in the dark when the whole world is basking in the euphoria of light.
While it is imperative that we all embody the change we envision for the society, the message should not be discarded because we detest the messenger. Deposing the Emir of Kano will not solve the gargantuan challenges facing the North, neither will it illuminate the pervasive darkness in the region. Rather than hunt him, Emir Muhammad Sanusi II should be celebrated for showing the light for the North to find her way. This monarch is indeed a diamond.