Sanusi: An Emir and the Making of a Diminished Emirate

Muhammad Sanusi

He is flamboyant. He is suave. He is cosmopolitan. And he attended the best schools and even attained the pinnacle of his career as a banker. At a time, atop the nation’s biggest bank, First Bank, and one time Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN). But even with a glowing career and influence that would make many of his age green with envy, His Royal Highness, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, had always had an ambition: to ascend the throne of his forefathers. Even when the odds suddenly became stacked against him, he realised his ambition on June 9, 2014. He is king over forty-four local governments in Kano State. At least, until Tuesday last week, when Governor Abdullahi Ganduje assented to the bill splitting the Emirate Council into five. Implication: Sanusi will have his kingdom divided into five! With rumours of outright deposition renting the air, Samuel Ajayi traces the travails of the embattled monarch and looks at the irony of those who saw to his ascension now determined to see his back…

Sanusi and the Coronation Hall ‘Invaders’…
Shortly after the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) announced that Abdullahi Ganduje, the controversial governor of Kano State, had won a second term in an equally controversial re-run election, his supporters went into a wild frenzy. They were very happy and made for Coronation Hall of Government House, Kano, with a ladder. They made to where photographs were hung on the wall and removed that of the Emir of Kano, His Royal Highness, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi.

It was the beginning of the current travails of the former top banker in the hands of a governor who himself is scandal personified. But it didn’t start after the elections even if the manifestation came then. Sometime in the summer of 2017, Sanusi, going by feelers from the state government, knew there was trouble. The state anti-graft agency had started looking into the books of the Emirate Council and was almost concluding that certain things were untidy. Sanusi was also accused of having the “effrontery” to send his daughter to represent him at a function in Abuja. It was not known if this was against tradition or not in an ultra-conservative society.

Beyond that, however, the fact that Sanusi, a former top banker with First Bank and erstwhile governor of CBN, was being investigated for mismanagement of funds was enough embarrassment. It was inconsequential if he was guilty or not.
Prominent northerners intervened and his blushes were saved. If Sanusi thought those who wanted to do him in would relent after 2017, he was wrong.

Aide Grilled…
The Kano State government’s anti-graft agency two Thursdays ago grilled Isa Bayero, a former aide to the embattled Emir. Bayero is not new to royalty and the rumbles that go with it. He was one time chief aide to Ado Bayero, Sanusi’s predecessor. He had told newsmen about his invitation and subsequent appearance before the Kano Public Complaints and Anti-Corruption Commission.

Prince Charles with Emir of Kano Lamido Sanusi.

He stated, “When I appeared before the investigating panel, I was presented with some documents which I went through and I requested for more time to study and return them.”
In a rehash or dusting up of the rule book of the 2017 attempted drag in the mud, Governor Abdullahi Ganduje signed a bill into law breaking up the Kano emirate into five. The journey to the signing of the new law started when a petition that was sent to the Kano State House of Assembly was curiously given expeditious attention and consideration.
A couple of weeks back, one Ibrahim Salisu had sent a petition to the Kano State House of Assembly. What did he want? Simple. Or so it seemed. He wanted some traditional rulers to be upgraded from just District Heads to first class Emirs. These were Karaye, Bichi, Rano and Gaya. In doing that, the Assembly would have to split the Kano Emirate into five.

Ordinarily, one would have expected that such petition would be thrown into the trash can, but it was not; obviously, the petitioner was probably not acting on his own. If the Emirate was split, Sanusi would be left to be Emir over just 10 local governments from 44!
Even if the bill was submitted by a member of the Assembly, it would not have received the kind of speedy attention the legislature gave the petition. Within 24 hours, it had been passed and the Kano Emirate Council, as it was known, was to be no more. Sanusi would not be the only emir again. And within 36 hours of receiving the passed bill, Ganduje assented to it and it became a law.

Respite from the Courts…
While Sanusi was still wondering what must have befallen him, a Kano High Court came to his rescue Friday afternoon. What the lawmakers had done, and which Ganduje assented to, was to amend the Kano State Chieftaincy and Local Government Law to create the additional four emirate councils. Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) lawmakers in the state had claimed that the Assembly was not properly convened to sit over the petition that requested the amendment of the law. They claimed that Majority Leader Baffa Danagundi read the report of the committee, which was set up the day the petition was received. Danagundi claimed there was “wide consultation” with stakeholders and what they found out was that there was need to upgrade the traditional rulers. The new law, Emir Appointment and Deposition Bill 2019, was passed all with 48 hours of receiving the petition that ‘demanded’ for this.
Now, the courts have restrained the governor or the House of Assembly from implementing the break-up of the Kano Emirate Council. Perhaps, the government will obey the court order.

Wittingly or Unwittingly Helping a ‘Political Cause’…
Sanusi had a very distinguished and flowery career as a banker. He rose to the top as the managing director of Nigeria’s foremost bank, First Bank, and from there he became the governor of the CBN. He had succeeded Chukwuma Soludo, a professor, who was accused of not being able to wield the big stick against banks who were cooking up their books.
Sanusi came in and walked his talk. Within a couple of years, some banks had gone under and some merged and bank managing directors who had been living large off depositors’ funds were brought to face the music. From almost 100, the nation’s banks were reduced to 25. Strong 25. Sanusi was working and whenever he coughed, bank executives caught not just cold but also flu.

Even when he was doing this, he never hid his ambition to become the Emir of Kano, his native land and an ancient city where his grandfather once held sway as Emir. Many would have been wondering what Sanusi was looking for in life again, having risen to the pinnacle of his career as a banker. But ambition is ambition and at times it defies logic.

While Sanusi was nursing his ambition, some major political changes were going on in the country. Some political groups, parties and sectional interests were coming together and negotiating the formation of a mega party that would challenge the behemoth called PDP for power at the centre. Perhaps, these political groups and interests had come to the realisation that the reason the PDP had been riding to easy victory at the polls was because the opposition had been fragmented. The consultations mainly between Senator Bola Tinubu’s Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), General Mohammadu Buhari’s Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), and the remnants of the now defunct All Nigeria Peoples Congress (ANPP), and a section of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) eventually led to the birth of the All Progressives Congress (APC) on July 31, 2013. While Sanusi was not openly seen as being part of this new political development, those sympathetic to former President Goodluck Jonathan said he was one of the major financiers of the party. Though this seemed far-fetched, events that unfolded in early October 2013 tended to strengthen the hands of those who held that view.

Then Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister for the Economy, Mrs. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, a professor and former World Bank Managing Director, had received a call from the then CBN governor about a letter he had written to the President about a missing $20 billion from the proceeds of the national oil giant, Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), which was supposed to be remitted into the coffers of the federal government.
Sanusi had actually sent the letter to the President on September 25, 2013 and was just notifying Okonjo-Iweala about 10 days later. In fact, the figure he initially claimed was actually $49.8 billion, which he said was missing between January 2012 and July 2013. Sanusi had also claimed the figure came from a “thorough job” his team at the CBN had done on the inflow of revenue from the NNPC into the Federation Account.

Okonjo-Iweala was alarmed. Her alarm came from the fact that there were actually shortfalls in remittance but not a staggering almost $50 billion. According to her, it was between $10 billion and $12 billion. Writing in her autobiography, Fighting Corruption is Dangerous: The Story Behind the Headlines, the former finance minister said they actually had a spreadsheet in her ministry which showed that truly, there was a shortfall but not anything near what Sanusi had claimed.

Now, the aspect that lent credence to the thinking that Sanusi deliberately leaked the letter was aptly captured by Okonjo-Iweala in the book. She had written inter alia:
“My other worry was that such a sensational letter would be leaked to the press and reflect negatively on the country. In which kind of country could $50 billion go missing or unaccounted for? Surely, a banana republic. Sanusi Lamido Sanusi assured me that only three people knew of this letter – himself, myself and the President. But I was skeptical.

I asked if he had typed the letter himself and he said, no. It means other people had handled the information and were in the know. I was sure the letter would leak to the press very soon and I was surprised that the President had not mentioned the letter to me … At an early morning meeting, the President acknowledged that the Central Bank governor had indeed sent him such a letter. He said he was astonished at the amount and asked if Lamido had discussed the matter with me before hand. I said, no. When the President asked my opinion about the unaccounted amount; I gave him the same answer I had given Lamido the night before-the Finance Ministry estimate was in the rage of $10.8 billion to $12 billion. The President then said he found the situation troubling and wondered if it was related to an ongoing investigation with the governor that I had not been aware of.”
Okonjo-Iweala’s fears were later confirmed when, few weeks later, she got a call from the African correspondent of the Financial Times, Williams Wallis, who claimed he had a copy of the letter from the CBN governor to the President alleging that a sum of almost $50 billion was missing from the nation’s coffers and wanted to know the minister’s reaction to the matter.

And that was it. No matter the explanation from the Presidency or the Finance Ministry, the opposition had gotten something to latch onto. Even before Sanusi’s letter, the issue about the Jonathan Presidency was that it had treated the issue of corruption with kid gloves.

Just before Sanusi wrote his letter, there was another issue with the Minister of Aviation, Stella Oduah, who was accused of lavishing over N260 million on luxury cars. And there was also the unending issue of “subsidy bazaar” in which the then President had, allegedly, allowed people to claim money from the controversial subsidy funds for petroleum products they never brought into the country.
The allegation of Sanusi seemed to be the final nail that sealed Jonathan’s Presidency. The newly formed APC, apparently enjoying the narrative and harping on it, did not miss any opportunity to tell the outside world of how much Jonathan condoned corruption.

The Presidency had responded by suspending Sanusi but the opposition jumped behind him and claimed he was being victimised. Suddenly, the coming Emir of Kano had become anti-corruption hero. The Presidency stood its ground and Sanusi had to go. And by February 20, 2014, Sanusi left office as Governor of CBN. However, before he left office, the federal government had opened investigations into his tenure as the head of the apex bank and also as chief executive of First Bank. It was a clear case of the Presidency fighting back, as it felt Sanusi had provided the opposition weapon to fight it. The fact that Sanusi even later reviewed his figures downwards – from $49.8 billion to $20 billion and later $13 billion – the issue would not just go away.

Riding on the Back of the Tiger…
While all these were going on, the then Emir of Kano, Alhaji Ado Bayero, died on June 4, 2014 and with it came the high wire politics of succession. In modern history, there had never been any time the choice of a new Emir of Kano had been that tense. The APC was enjoying a lot of goodwill among Nigerians, especially in the northern part of the country. And there was no better way to prove its relevance than being seen as instrumental to the installation of a traditional ruler as strategic and important as the Emir of Kano.

Meanwhile, the then Kano State governor, Dr. Rabiu Kwankwaso, had just joined five other PDP governors to decamp to the APC. The party’s apparatchik relocated to the city of Kano and started pulling the strings behind the scenes. While Abuja was pushing its weight to ensure that Sanusi did not emerge as the new Emir. The federal government had backed the son of the late Emir to succeed his father and he was even the preferred choice of most Kano indigenes. But the anti-Jonathan Presidency movement was also very strong then. Hence, on June 9, 2014, Sanusi emerged as the 14th Emir of the ancient city of Kano. APC had had its way.

And Rider and the Tiger Fell Apart…
From all indications, Emir Sanusi had been voicing his frustrations about the situation of things in the country. Even as a banker, Sanusi has never run away from controversy. He has called on the North to embrace education and has also lamented the security situation in the northern region.

But beyond this, he had never hidden his disdain for the governor of the state, Ganduje, who, alongside many prominent Kano indigenes, he believed had brought shame to the state, especially going by his bribery scandal when a video went viral where he was apparently collecting bribe money in dollars from a contractor. In the build-up to the election, it was obvious that most top Kano sons and daughters were against Ganduje’s return. But even after the election went into a rerun, Ganduje had his way and the emir was shown the first sign that trouble was on the way for him. Supporters of Ganduje, after his announcement as the winner of the governorship rerun election, and, apparently working on prompting, had gone to the Coronation Hall at Government House and removed the photograph of the Emir. Ordinarily, that should have been a sacrilege, going by how much the Emirship is held in reverence. But those who carried out the act got away with it.

As controversial as the whole issue has turned out, there are those who feel Ganduje is not doing anything unusual. The Secretary of the Arewa Consultative Forum, Anthony Sani, is one of them. He said there was no big deal in breaking up the Kano Emirate Council and added that he would not be surprised if the Sokoto Emirate Council was also broken up into more councils.
Speaking to an online newspaper, The Interview, Sani was asked if he saw what had befallen Kano coming the way of Sokoto Emirate, too, being the last of the old emirates standing.

“I cannot tell precisely because governance and traditions of society are dynamic and in a state of flux. If language, which is emblematic of culture is dynamic, traditional institution is subject to change. There will be nothing exotic or quixotic if such changes take place in Sokoto State,” Sani said. Going down memory lane, Sani said Ganduje was not the first governor to break up the Kano Emirate. “Governor Abubakar Rimi (former Kano State governor) did it before. It was President Buhari in his first coming as military head of state that reversed it.”

He added that the former governor of Plateau State, the late Solomon Lar, had done something similar in the past, when he increased chiefdoms in Plateau under the “emancipation mantra.”

Sani was not done. He added that the former military governor, Ja’afaru Isa, of Kaduna State, created chiefdoms in the southern part of the state to extend the influence of the so-called non-indigenes. Sani said a similar situation happened in Oyo under the outgoing governor.
But a top media practitioner who had a chat with this reporter yesterday suggested instead that Ganduje should go ahead and depose the Emir but should not tamper with the current structure of the Kano Emirate Council. “Let him depose the Emir if he wants to. But he should not destroy the emirate,” he admonished.

From Abuja, Mum is the Word…
The deafening silence from the Aso Rock seat of power had been disturbing to many observers who believed that the silence of the Presidency was an indication that Ganduje might have been acting out a script meant to clip the wings of the controversial but flamboyant emir.
In fact, the governor was said to have instructed the Emir to report to the local government chairman instead of reporting to him. And from all indications, those who removed the Emir’s picture in the Coronation Hall early this year might have been overzealous, but how prophetic their action has turned out. That is if Emir Sanusi goes the way of his grandfather, Emir Mohammad Sanusi, who was deposed and banished to a village close to Wudil in the outskirts of Kano.

Between Capacity to Govern and Integrity According to Sanusi
In the run-up to the presidential election in February, Sanusi was reported to have said “It is NOT always easy to have a leader who has both integrity and capacity to govern – two important qualities of a leader. If a leader does not have both integrity and capacity to govern, choose the one that has the capacity to govern because his capacity to govern will benefit the people while his lack of integrity will be his own harm. If you choose a man who has integrity without capacity to govern, his lack of capacity to govern will harm the people while his integrity will only benefit himself.”_
Not a few interpreted the above to be a veiled jab at the president who was being packaged on his integrity while his opponent was campaigning on his competence and capacity.
Any wonder that the Presidency has kept mum on the raging issue of balkanisation of the emirate to whittle down Sanusi’s influence?