HE is a slight man, but that was partly his sin because they could not make him slighted. They thought he made too many important people slight. Muhammadu Sanusi II had thought much about ambition all his life, but the only one that drew his brawn and mind was the one he could not hold.
“All this noise over the CBN Governor does not bother me,” he once told me over the phone, “the only thing that will make me happy is to become the Emir of Kano.” He was to announce this sentiment in an interview with Alex this newspaper’s editorial page editor – and I had with him subsequently. He was to echo this heartfelt quest over again all over the world, to the British media, to CNN.
So, when it happened he seemed a dream. Few people, especially in this clime, trumpet ambition and ride the crest like he did. He conquered his dream, though, before it outran him. That was the irony of a man, whose whole life is a trajectory of triumphs and failures, a rollercoaster of engagements. He was a prince who sometimes acted as a pauper. He was a technocrat who craved anarchy. He was a king who spoke as a subject. He was a controversialist on a throne of controls. He beat a populist drum when he could be a victim. He was at once a feudalist and a revolutionary. Some thought he was devout and epicurean, simultaneously worshipping Allah and the flesh. Many thought he was a rabble rouser who did not understand his rabble. He was a fop when he should dress sober. An orator who followed glibly Apostle Paul’s injunction to preachers to be “instant in season, out of season.”
When he was removed as emir, he suffered the two worlds within 24 hours. Once on the throne, then he was whisked away. The convoy changed from a cavalcade of dignity to a siege in motion. The crowd was there. They did not cheer, their faces overtaken with wonder and pity. He was visiting another kingdom in the so-called caliphate, but this time no royal was waiting with a train. He suffered like most ordinary people he had bewailed in his famous rhetorics. He traveled almost seven hours in dust-laden roads. A deposed Sultan of Sokoto passed through similar grind.
Sanusi’s new home was a small place, lacking the grand portal, rooms, rites and grandeur of the Kano palace. Loko was no Kano. His humiliation had been choreographed. His lawyers say they will challenge his banishment. That was the first that threw up the contradiction in dealing with a man of contradiction. How could we accept the banishment of a king when the law forbids even the banishment of a beggar? Here, the republican constitution is at odds with a monarchical culture. A former monarch, the Emir of Gwandu, Mustapha Jokolo, was uprooted also to Nasarawa State, and the court upturned it.
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Yet, the Kano State Governor, in a language of ambivalence, is saying he was not ostracized. So why is he in Awe, a dusty retreat, and not in Lagos with his family? This is not the first we see monarchs in conflict with the democratic setting. It reechoes the manipulation of monarchy. Politicians use them for ego and validation. When they want election, they seek their support. When they want honour, they bow to chieftaincy rituals. When they don’t get these plums, they fire them.
Intellectuals and social conscience often cavil at the thriving of the traditional institution. But no one has come with a formula to root them out. They represent our dilemma. We want them; we loathe them. They have become a sort of delicious albatross. In Oyo State, it became a cause celebre under Governor Abiola Ajimobi. Over two decades ago, in the Second Republic, the Awujale was dethroned under Governor Bisi Onobanjo, but Oba Adetona still graces his throne, while his tormentor is now dust. The courts reinstated him. Under General Muhammadu Buhari as head of state, two monarchs, the Ado Bayero, Sanusi’s predecessor, and the former of Oni of Ife, Oba Sijuwade, were placed under palace arrests. They became birds in golden cages. It inspired roars. But the roars were impotent.
The colonial authorities were the first to demystify the traditional throne. They did it with soldiers and guns. They turned traditional rulers into ciphers in what they called indirect rule. District officers, who were white men, became superior. That structure was transposed on our constitutions from Bourdillon to Independence, and from civilian administrations to military dictatorships to civilian administrations.
What happened to Sanusi is the continuation of the humiliation of the traditional throne. They have become boys of the democratic viceroys. Their advantage tends to be longevity. If they play the game well, they outlast the governors and presidents. But they have to keep playing coy to remain royals. Our educated men and women who succeed still need traditional titles. What would happen to the chiefs, and Otunbas, etc. if we cancel the throne?
It is such a contradiction as well as the intersection of the traditional and modern that played out in the Sanusi story. The Sanusi story is an account of a modern tragedy, except that this is not the Aristotelian or Greek version of tragedy in its pure frock. Thankfully, there is no death.
Sanusi was a born a prince. His grandfather was an Emir of Kano. He attended Nigeria’s Eton of those days, King’s College. He absorbed the crowd of the southwest. He can speak Yoruba. He became a prince who followed the path of banking. He rose to the top of his profession, soaring from United Bank For Africa (UBA) to become executive director and managing director of First Bank, before he became CBN Governor.
He embraced all these. He was a prince in suits. He wanted another fashion. He not only desired the throne but also its hoods and turban, its full regalia. We remember the picture of him in that royal apparel waltzing into the halls of the CBN. It was an extravagance of royal hauteur but a statement of Sanusi’s conquest of Sanusi the banker, the autocrat over the technocrat. But a certain rebel still boiled inside. Where did it come from? He already had become an emir, so why was he still fuming at his peers, his class, the elite? He had exposed the banking and political elite, exposing the showy greed and emptiness of their wealth. Bank MDs were excised from the system. Many who owed to show off were shown up. He was a rebel because the throne did not give him the revenge he wanted. That was because he was the grandson of Sanusi 1, but he had another grandfather. An ideological rumble from the 1950’s up till the 1980’s: Alhaji Aminu Kano. Kano was the soul and inspirer of the talakawas. He connected with them. He spoke and they did not just hear him. They felt him. He coursed in their blood.
He was a socialist, who gave the north NEPU and later PRP. He was the Weberian charismatic leader, devout, spartan, fierce, defiant, uncompromising, above scandal. But Sanusi wanted to be his grandfather of the flesh and the one of the ideology in the same soul. It was an ambiguous ambition. So he became emir, but he wanted to be Kano as well. He loved the grandeur and perks of office. He wanted the luxury, the motorcade, sitting at court, controlling millions of Naira, travelling in lavish style. Yet, he railed against the society for tormenting the poor. He wanted the north to catch up with the south. He was against the rashness of policy towards the almajiri, but he would embrace them and feed them in his palace. How could you sustain the system while asking for it to be abolished? But that was a contradiction he could abide. It meant his sympathy was divided. He wanted them fed while the system remained.
He spoke about the homeless, the statistics that made the north a drag on Leakblast. He riled against the educational backwardness. Boko Haram, kidnappings, killings were all indications of a north out of touch with its young. His northern peers knew it was true, but how could he, a beneficiary, be so loud and unsparing. He was a hypocrite. But he didn’t see it that way. He thought it was a fight he could abide. And he did abide it for a while. But an audience hailed him. That audience was not his audience. He was a king, but his crowd was elsewhere: the south. He was saying it to an audience that would not keep him on the throne. It was like Barack Obama who preferred to impress the Republicans and talk to Fox News. Or Mahatma Ghandi who fasted as a Hindu but wanted peace with the Muslims. His Hindu kin loathed him for that. Or Mark Anthony who relocated to Alexandria to romp with his heartthrob Cleopatra and mingled with Greek philosophers while his throne in Rome slipped out of his hands to Octavian Caesar. To quote Shakespeare in the play, “he was more beloving than beloved.”
The northern elite, including its intellectuals, were not comfortable with his visceral rhetoric. But for most part, he did not connect with his own talakawa that he so fought for. This was unlike the story of his predecessor during the tenure of one of Kano’s lieutenants, Abubakar Rimi. Rimi issued Ado Bayero a query, and the city of Kano lighted with protests, with his main ideological brain box, Bala Mohammed, consumed in the inferno. Ado Bayero highlighted the exception in monarchs who can challenge democratic authority and survive and even prevail.
Sanusi could not prevail. He was accused of insubordination. The truth was insubordinate? In our democracy, truth can be very ominous even to the teller. But the story of Sanusi is not just a man who understood truth but who was naïve about the enterprise of truth telling. He was like the character in Achebe’s Things Fall Apart in which somebody said it is in the house of the coward that you point to the ruins of a brave man’s house. He had the qualities of a tragic hero. Everyone saw that the end was coming, but he either did not see it or he saw it but did not care.
Reconciliation efforts foundered. Sanusi was going to say what Sanusi was going to say. Sanusi was going to do what Sanusi was going to do. It was like King Oedipus who was assailed by what the literary critic said of Okonkwo. He suffered from “insistent fatality.”
But his contradiction gave him a very human richness, a character craved by poets, playwrights, novelists, biographers. Remember that while we moan his exile and whisking out of town, we cannot forget his role in the saga of Ese, the young girl from Bayelsa State, who was ferreted out of her home because she was put in the family way by a subject under Sanusi.
But the contradiction does not lie with him alone. Governor Ganduje may have been at war with Sanusi, a Fulani, but he – Ganduje – as a Hausa man was partly getting his pound of Fulani flesh. It was a fatal blow to Uthman Dan Fodio’s political geography who had carved up the Kano Emirate after the 1804 Jihad. Ganduje first clipped Sanusi by breaking the Emirates. The new Emir was given Bichi against the protests of his brothers. Now, they all have accepted the pruning of their father’s throne. So, the irony was lost on the new emir when he bowed to his father grave in homage. Was he consecrating the shrinking of his father’s imperial sway? It is part of the Hausa rebellion against the Fulani across the north, especially in Zamfara, Jigawa, Katsina played out in the herdsmen crisis and rash of kidnappings.
Sanusi may be out of the throne, but his capital error was not so much that he was blunt, but that he was not conscious of the powers of the governor over him. Now, he has repeated history. The man he wanted to avenge may not be happy that he, too, fell. Some people say the sins of the fathers have been visited upon the sons. If he was at peace with Ganduje, he might have survived to nettle the tormentors of the talakawa. Maybe, he didn’t care.
Now, what would he be musing? Would he be defiant in his soul or he would be saying to himself what the Historian Plutarch reported Brutus to have said when he faced the sword and was bleeding to death: “O wretched virtue, thou wert but a name, and yet I worshipped thee as real indeed: but now, it seems, thou were but fortune’s slave.”
Sanusi and El Rufai: Odd Couple
Both are small men, but their words can unleash earthquakes. One is royal, the other is apparently republican in spite of his tempests. Both are men of extraordinary impact on their generations, for ill or for good. That point may not have been lost on Nigerians when Kaduna State Governor appointed deposed Emir Sanusi the chancellor of Kaduna State University.
Sanusi threw his last major bombshell during the 60th birthday of the Kaduna State Governor. Maybe Malam Nasir El Rufai wanted to compensate him. Or did he feel a little guilt that the man took the platform of his celebration to lunge at the northern establishment. El Rufai is one of the few northern governors in sync with the philosophical rhythm of the former emir. He has done quite a bit to challenge the inequalities in the north by opening the school doors to the Al majairis, especially the introduction of school feeding and meritocracy in the staffing and promotions. He even showed off his son and his credentials as serious by enlisting his son in one of the public schools in Kaduna State.
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Making Sanusi a chancellor also shows he is not in agreement with his governor colleague Ganduje, and it may also well be not so much a love of Sanusi’s ideas but a way of getting back at a governor who belongs to a different divide in an increasingly fractious All Progressive Congress.
But it is a good vindication for a former emir who has been in the news for years lamenting the educational backwardness in the north. It is not a reinstatement, it saves his face somewhat even if it seems the benefactor is only pursuing a grudge match. El Rufai knows a thing or two about grudge matches.
Maybe if Sanusi was an Emir in Kaduna, a less storied throne, he might have gotten along well with El-Rufai. Well, that is speculative. They are the odd couple of the day.
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