It is an old saying but, over the years, it has remained constantly true that “words of our elders are words of wisdom.” The deposition of Kano’s Emir Sanusi Lamido Sanusi reminds us of two of our founding fathers. Close, if petty, rivals, they were in the process inevitably controversial in their own way both in action and utterances. A World Bank report on the level of poverty in Nigeria apportioned over 80 per cent to the northern part of the country. Most of those who capitalised on it were largely conventional critics of President Muhammadu Buhari. Otherwise, as disturbing as the report was, it passed almost unnoticed.
Was the World Bank report on poverty level in Nigeria anything new? Even Buhari’s political opponents must be grotesquely ignorant of the history of poverty in the North. The story goes back to 1961, less than a year after Nnamdi Azikiwe was appointed first Nigerian head of state as Governor-General. Zik’s first state visit was to the defunct Northern Region. On returning to Lagos, he addressed the press, with emphasis on his observation of disturbing poverty of peasants who lined the streets and waved. Perhaps rightly, Zik’s observation irritated North regional government, which diplomatically protested. But the gauntlet was picked by a young civil servant in the Middle Belt named Eje Agbo, who publicly engaged Zik in critical exchanges for weeks.
Throughout, Nigerians were entertained with claims and counter-claims as Zik stood his ground and Eje Agbo was also unrelenting. At that time, Middle Belt, specifically, Benue, was a major part of Northern Region, which today comprises 19 states. Fifty-nine years later, World Bank today confirms real poverty ravages the northern part of the country. For that period, what had been the efforts of various successive governments to alleviate the poverty scourge in the North? Before he died in 1996, Zik let it be known to Nigerians that “History will vindicate the just.”
However, that is not the story or the only story. The latest and more pungent story is that the deposition of Emir Sanusi of Kano was triggered by his constant focus on and claim of ravaging poverty (level) in northern Nigeria virtually throughout his six-year reign. All other allegations of fraud, insurbordination, or so-called disrespect to constituted authority were more of embellishment, which, even if true, were yet to be proved against him. Hence the claim of Kano State government that the probe on fraud (against the emir) was to resume after he was deposed. Sanusi’s suit challenging the probe was, even till now, still to be determined. Yet, Kano State government listed fraud as one of the reasons for deposing him. Implication of this will be discussed later below.
If only Zik’s observation of poverty level in the North as far back as 1961 had been taken in good faith and efforts made over the years to gradually alleviate the scourge, Emir Sanusi would still be on the throne today, since he would not have had prevailing poverty in the North on which to focus. Incidentally, Emir Sanusi was born in 1961, the same year Zik made his observation of poverty known. It is most unlikely that, while growing up, the emir was ever aware that his observation of poverty in the North was first mentioned by Zik or if he (Emir Sanusi) would agree with Zik. Emir Sanusi’s criticism of poverty in the North was, therefore, innocent.
For a repeat, public probes are a pretext for formalising a set agenda of government. That was the evergreen submission of Obafemi Awolowo at a lecture at Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, in 1972. Awo, too, like his contemporary, Zik, has been vindicated on his submission. It was clear all along, that Emir Sanusi would be eventually deposed for his unceasing criticism of governments, including federal (see this column, March 6, 2020), and that all the probes against the emir were intended as proof of the need to depose him. It is, of course, admitted that, probe or no probe, the onus is on a culprit/victim not to play into the hands of the executioner. This does not detract an inch from Awolowo’s vindication. As human beings, Zik and Awo were not perfect but you ignored or dared them at your own peril.
With the deposition of Emir Sanusi, it was to be expected that controversy would erupt. A strange (very strange) contribution was from former President Olusegun Obasanjo, who, in an open personal letter of sympathy, impliedly rubbished Emir Sanusi’s deposition. The only problem is that Obasanjo’s letter of sympathy was prompted by neither sincerity nor altruism. If anything, Obasanjo’s letter was a sour spite at President Buhari, under speculation as mastermind of Emir Sanusi’s deposition. The speculation has since been denied by Aso Rock. But, even if true, state governors are solely responsible for all matters on traditional rulers. Accordingly, Kano State governor, Abdullahi Ganduje, rather than Buhari, carries the can for Emir Sanusi’s deposition.
Otherwise, did the same Obasanjo similarly write letter of sympathy to Emir of Gwandu, Mustapha Jokolo, when the then Kebbi State governor Adamu Aliero purportedly deposed Jokolo in 2005? Or did Obasanjo instigate Governor Aliero to depose Emir Jokolo? Even if so, the fact of history is that Aliero was responsible for the futile attempt to depose Emir Jokolo. Of course, in this particular case, the circumstantial evidence was more pointing.
A delegation of northern traditional rulers was at Aso Rock and, during the visit, Emir Jokolo reportedly accused Obasanjo of being anti-North in his administration. What was unknown to northerners at that time was that Obasanjo was more anti-South West throughout his eight years in office. In the light of Emir Jokolo’s face-to-face confrontation with Obasanjo, the stage was set for the emir’s deposition and Kebbi governor Aliero was too happy to do the dirty job, except that, rather ignorantly, he, in the process, failed to comoply with Nigerian Constitution. On that ground, Emir Jokolo successfully challenged his deposition up to appeal court for now. The case lasted 14 years and the final word is with the Supreme Court. The fact, therefore, remains that Obasanjo tacitly acquiesced in the purported deposition of Emir Jokolo and openly sympathised with Emir Sanusi on the latter’s deposition.
There is also the desperation on Obasanjo’s part to regain the favour of of northern political hierarchy, which, hitherto, comprised majorly his god-fathers, especially army generals, his junior officers. After the death of Basorun Abiola in captivity, these army officers imposed Obasanjo on South West as compensation, instead of allowing south-westerners the candidate of their choice. The North still tolerated Obasanjo even after he reneged on an agreement to serve four years and, eventually, another four years. With all the pampering, Obasanjo, at a completely Christian gathering in Delta State, raised the alarm that Nigeria was to be Islamised and Fulanised. That was it and no more. Without any more reverence in the North and of courese South-West, Obasanjo got stranded in political wilderness and had to seek refuge in South-West, where he seized the chance as a guest speaker at the memorial lecture in honour Frederick Faseun, founder of Odua People’s Congress. Most unusually, Obasanjo openly commended South-West governors for establishing Amotekun security outfit.
Again, that commendation was meant to spite Buhari, who was opposed to the establishment of Amotekun security outfit. When the battle raged for the establishment of Amotekun security outftit, Obasanjo was nowhere to be found, as he maintained total silence, only to seize the opportunity of the Faseun memorial lecture to identify with South-West’s aspiration for local security, but also in attempt to share in, if not, as he is wont, inherit, the complete gloty for the setting up of Amotekun security outfit. The pillar-to-post desperation is only aimed at making up for media attention deficit. If the crunch had come for a showdown on establishing Amotekun between Federal Government and South-West governors, Obasanjo would have faulted South-West for allegedly breaching Nigerian Constitution on security matters.
Depending on the issue, controversy either diminishes or enhances the status of stormy petrel Kaduna State Governor Nasir El-Rufai. But he does not shy from controversy, as exemplified by the deposition of Emir Sanusi. In a display of courage and what might seem away from mainstream, Rufai has openly identified with Emir Sanusi by appointing him deputy chairman of Kaduna Investment Promotion Agency. The real value of the appointment is the gesture and timing, a badly needed morale booster for the emir. You know real friends only when you are down. Without clearly saying so, Rufai, with that appointment, acknowleges Emir Sanusi as a “Prophet (who) is not known in his own country.” In short, if Emir Sanusi could be rubbished in his home state of Kano, the outstanding economist remains an immense person of value for Kaduna State. Nobody can fault Governor Rufai’s assessment.
The hero of the moment is Emir Mustapha Jokolo of Gwandu, who showed the light for northern traditional rulers to be challenging any purported deposition in law court. Before Emir Jokolo, deposed northern Nigerian traditional rulers had always been rendered helpless with the silly advice that their fate was the wish of Allah. Emir Jokolo’s victory against his purported deposition is today being cited by Emir Sanusi’s solicitors as the very reason why their client will challenge his deposition as Kano emir in law courts, moreso as Kano State government has indicated that Kano Anti-Corruption Agency would, after the emir’s deposition, proceed to conclude the probe on the emir.
This has grave implications, Emir Sanusi was deposed without any probe (report) or proof of corruption. In short, Emir Sanusi did not have fair hearing as compelled by Nigerian Constitution. Also, the emir’s request for extension of the date he was given to appear before the Kano State Assembly probing him was rejected. Did that mean he was allowed to defend himself? Even law courts grant such extension. House committee panel is not a law court and cannot convict a suspect. That was a ruling of Supreme Court.
When Emir Jokolo was prosecuting his suit against his purported deposition by Kebbi State government largely on the ground of denial of right of fair hearing, he was, even unknown to him, fighting the legal battle on behalf his fellow traditional rulers. Emir Jokolo succeeded and has become a reference point for others, including, as it is now the case, Emir Sanusi Lamido Sanusi of Kano State. How else could Emir Jokolo have concretised his royalty in history? Henceforth, no state government would recklessly humiliate a traditional ruler in the North without complying with right of fair hearing compelled under Nigerian Constitution. Nigerians await the epic legal battle over Emir Sanusi’s purported deposition.
Incidentally, Nasrawa State is creepingly becoming the dumping ground for humiliated northern emirs. When Emir Jokolo was purportedly deposed by Kebbi State Governor Aliero, and exiled to Nasarawa State, Emir Jokolo fought back like a wounded lion and freed himself. Kano State Governor Ganduje also purported to have deposed Emir Sanusi and similarly exiled him to the same Nasarawa State. The emir must also fight back with the fury of another wounded lion. Or has Emir Sanusi resigned himself to be hosting meetings of Ksduna Investment Promotion Council in Nasarawa? For how long?