by Samuel Alfred
“When you deal with porcine and ‘play’ with them, you should not be surprised if dirt is thrown at you.”
When the news broke that the former Emir of Kano had been dethroned, the social media space was awash with a variety of reactions skewed towards supporting him. Though some viewed it as karma for his criticism and actions towards former president Goodluck Jonathan, many seemed to feel the Emir was targeted simply for his frankness on pressing national issues.
Looking at popular social media spaces in Nigeria such as Nairaland, Twitter, Instablog on Instagram, most Nigerians feel the Kano State Government deposed the former emir for his outspokenness on issues especially as it affects Northern Nigeria. A good number seemed not to understand the power play and intrigues that have been on for a long time. At some point, Governor Fayemi and even Mallam Aliko Dangote tried to intervene, all to no avail.
Followers of Kano State politics know its antecedents. The Emirate has been highly revered by past state governments. Influential leaders like Mallam Abubakar Rimi accorded it its right of place. I do not think Governor Ganduje did anything less either. Political observers will agree unanimously that His royal highness, Emir Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, had been one of the most vocal emirs and traditional leaders of his generation. Considering his vast experience, he made a lot of enemies in and out of government. This is not surprising because the average Nigerian politicians does not like the truth. Right from the time he had a dispute with President Goodluck Jonathan till his last days as Emir of Kano, he never seized to give his opinion on burning national issues. Though he raised some allegations against the former president, which remain unproven till that, he brought salient issues to the forefront. He did raise the alarm on our spending habit as a nation and our lack of diversification. He repeatedly reprimanded his own people and blamed them solely for their backwardness. This endeared a lot of Nigerians to him and though sometimes it appeared that he directly attacked individuals, there is no doubt that he had the Nigerian people at heart.
It is no hidden secret that the staff of office for the traditional stool is presented by the governor, not king makers. The king makers make a choice but the governor has the final say. Logistics and funding also come from the government. Rumour has it that Emir Sanusi was not even the choice of the king makers! Though highly revered, by law, the governor is still higher in terms of political standing although the Emir rules, technically, forever except he dies or is deposed.
A typical Nigerian politician requires 100% loyalty even when things are not working. Even when they fall into a pit, they require political appointees to tell them that falling into the pit is the right thing to do now or that the pit is not deep enough for anyone to panic. That is how it is. The truth is not important to them, just be politically correct. That explains the retinue of sycophants we have around political office holders today.
Having politically neutral traditional rulers is not new. You rarely see any Oba of Benin talk in public on political matters. The Sultan of Sokoto is seen as a father of all, a bridge builder and you cannot see him directly endorse any politician. The gentle disposition of the Obi of Onitsha endears him to all. Traditional rulers are quite influential in Nigeria. That explains why politicians try to win their support. Yet, many remain neutral and do not try to meddle with politics.
Emir Sanusi was caught up in the web of Kano State politics. I doubt if fighting for the people of Kano or Nigeria in its entirety cost him his revered seat. The Emir made some direct remarks that infuriated the Kano State Government. Many Nigerians on social media seem to think his outspokenness on the security situation in Nigeria and all other matters is to blame. Politicians would not really care about that except they are directly attacked. Sanusi strikes me as someone who is not a yes-man. Unfortunately, yes-men are what the average politician wants. Even perceived neutrality is a red flag to them. Emir Sanusi is quite vocal on matters of social and economic development in Kano and Nigeria at large. He advocates for the girl child and family planning, offers useful suggestions to the government publicly. This will anger the average Nigerian politician.
This is what the Emir said about the plan of the Kano State Government to build a light rail in 2017: “We have governors, they go to China and spend one month on a tour and come back with MoU on debts. China will lend you $1.8b to build light rail. This light rail will be done by workers from China, the trains will come from China, the engines will come from China, the labour will come from China while the driver is Chinese. At the end of the day, what do you benefit from them? Your citizens will ride on a train and when you ride on a train in northern Nigeria, in a state like Kano or Katsina, where are you going to? You are not going to an industrial estate to work. You are not going to school. You are not going to the farm. You borrow money from China to invest in trains so that your citizens can ride on them to go for weddings and naming ceremonies.”
The emir is right with this submission but then, this will not sit down well with the typical Nigerian leader. Governor Ganduje visited China in 2017 concerning this project and you do not need a prophet to help you connect the dots. A typical politician will not forgive you.
Sanusi seems to live by this quote by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.” He has always spoken up irrespective of who is in power. That is rare, to be honest, in Nigeria.
You do not need to be clairvoyant to know that his running battle with the governor is to blame for his unfortunate dethronement. His alleged support of the opposition candidate in the last gubernatorial election did him no good either. Politicians do not forgive except they have a new common enemy. Though the Kano State Government came out with a list of sins and misgivings against the former emir, it was not appropriate to judge him without giving him the privilege of a fair hearing. While I am not ready to take sides with the Kano State Government or the deposed emir, Nigerians need to drop being emotional and see things as they are. Traditional leaders are entitled to their opinion, but if the staff of office is given to them by the governor, they remain vulnerable and supposedly loyal to the governor. A governor recently told traditional rulers to stop clapping when he was talking then went on rebuke one of them. The governor knew the power he had!
Being a traditional ruler is a call to service at a different level. It is totally different from being a politician. Though they should stand for the truth, being partisan should be out of it. Traditional institutions have their rules of engagement which they abide by. A traditional ruler loses so many conventional privileges of which the emir was indeed aware of. His life as a central bank governor is totally different as an emir. Politicians will always be politicians. They do not like to be advised at all, not publicly for that matter. It would have been easy to say Nigerians should not vote leaders with this tendency but then, the recent trend of courts determining the winners of elections questions the need to say that.
Samuel Alfred wrote from New York. You can connect with him on Twitter @samoalfred