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The king as a gadfly?



In all recorded history of monarchs, nowhere has it been accepted that a king should be a gadfly. A king is usually associated with order, stability, measured speeches, strength of character, physical and moral strength. In the old days, one of the requirements for kingship was possession of valour and brute strength because he could be expected to lead the community to war. For many reasons, anybody who had any physical deformity was precluded from the throne! In some cases, persons who showed lack of character, even if they were firstborn, were bypassed to choose a more amenable person.

For clarity, a gadfly is a person who ‘annoys or criticizes others in order to provoke them into action’. A gadfly is an activist, somewhat. By this very principle, being a gadfly is not compatible with kingship. A king is not expected to criticize or make extremely provocative statements in the open! He has access. It is this doctrine that has been extended to modern management that prevents a serving official from contradicting a government which he is serving!

In the old days, the king was the law, was the state and his word was binding on all, pleasant or unpleasant. He was accountable only to God. It is true that some kings overreached themselves and suffered a rebellion against tyranny in consequence. But, nobody in the land was above the king. So, in the old days, the idea of a king as gadfly never arose. He was not expected to have underhand dealings with anybody. Sadly, there are stories of kings who danced with the devil at night to harm their subjects, like a king who was rumoured to have joined armed robbers to steal and lost his life from gun shots. Some of such kings never lasted on the throne.


The king as gadfly could only have come to mind after absolute monarchies ended. In Europe, the 1848 revolutions ended those terrible monarchies, the French people having paved the way in 1789 when the head of King Louis XVI was served for dinner, somewhat! He was guillotined in a public show! Can you beat that? The people chopped off the head of a king whose word had been law a few weeks before! From the 19th century the kings all started behaving well. Vintage anti-monarchist Malcolm Muggeridge once described the 20th century as the ‘century of the common monarch! It was a century in which kings had to reckon with the people, with the elected government of the day! Well before the 20th century, the story of King Henry 11 of England and Thomas Beckett is the classic case of how far an individual can go in disagreeing with the king who had appointed him Archbishop!

Not so with some kings in Africa until colonialism and establishment of the modern state reduced and later stripped the kings of absolute powers. Just as well! In Yorubaland the kings were said to have the power, for example, to ‘gbe sele,’ that ‘placed his legs on you’. This meant that a king could decree that a woman, married or not, was now his property and the husband would meekly carry out the king’s order! These days, if a king gives such an order, I expect the husband to say ‘remove your leg joor; that is my wife!

These thoughts troubled my mind after Sanusi Lamido Sanusi was given a technical knockout from the highly revered throne of the Emir of Kano. Government could not tolerate his ‘rascality’ which was termed as insubordination. The government was fed up with a king who ran his mouth run as the ideas came, articulately, without let or hindrance and commenting on sensitive matters. A man who condemned poverty regaled himself with two Rolls Royce cars! Come on! Rolls Royce? Yet he was pro-people, condemning the ‘alimajiri practice? The blood of aristocracy in his veins countered the demands and spirit of poverty! Which is a tragedy! And a failure to appreciate the contradictions between a sweet sermon and the actions that should follow!  As king, he supported the forced conversion of one Ese Oruru who had been abducted in Yenagoa, taken to Kano and married off to a Muslim man without the consent of the parents of the 13year old girl! Radical credentials? Pro-people? Anti-poverty? Some radicalism, some pro-people credentials!


You see, any time government wields the big stick you hardly get a protest from the ordinary people or prominent people in the land. They just look on meekly. Government then goes ahead to appoint another king and the new man laps up the job with obsequious relish! Which is another of the many contradictions of our monarchical system in Nigeria! If the traditional rulers were to speak out against corruption or poor governance, the country would be in turmoil. So, governments try to make these ‘natural’ rulers good boys in the scheme of things. By the way, banishing a person to a certain part of the country is a colonial relic which has no backing in modern law.

In the Sanusi case, I wonder whether the removal would serve the overall interest of the State government. Sanusi will not keep quiet. Having satisfied his life-long ambition to sit on the throne of his forefathers, he can now go foot loose and fancy free in self-expression. He sure knows how to make officeholders squirm in discomfort by blunt statements. President Goodluck Jonathan had a good dose of this medicine. Although the figures he spews into the public space are not always factual, he seems to have a considerable following. Any man who wishes to remain outspoken should not accept kingship. It will lead to conflict of interests. Those who join the ‘dining table’ as king and continue to criticize the powers-that-be can be said to lack table manners! They will always get the Sanusi treatment!
Hope Eghagha can be reached at 08023220393 or


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