The Happy Warrior

By Akin Osuntokun 

My first encounter with royalty and power politics is the stuff of family and Yoruba history. At the end of the Ekiti Parapo war, the architect and motivator of the Ekiti uprising, Prince Ishola Fabunmi and his main lieutenant Dada Akoja (my forefather) returned to Okemesi. The long serving Monarch of the town was Fabunmi’s great uncle, Aponlese. Reputed to have been on the throne for an improbable hundred years, he had grown feeble and weak. As is often the case, the returning triumphant General and Prince, Fabunmi resolved on taking the throne and requested his Uncle to abdicate. The confidence of Fabunmi was predicated on the anticipated support of the returnee Okemesi contingent of the Parapo war. But his close friend and confidante demurred and warned that those who were goading him on may turn against him at the critical moment. And so it transpired. 

On the day of the coup, rather than turned the cannon fire on the Palace, his military confederates turned against him. The mob headed for his residence and he had to flee the town. They pursued and were upon him when my Dada intervened, stood against his pursuers and enabled his escape. In retaliation, the mob turned on him, burnt down his residence and drove him out of town. The most recent is the one concerning my friend Emir Sanusi Lamido Sanusi 

Back in the day, we were political and intellectual collaborators. Like many Nigerians I first took notice of him as a regular newspaper contributor. He was an intellectual rebel in the political debate over the wildfire regionalist push for the enthronement of Sharia jurisprudence in the Northern Muslim states. He called to question the propriety and honesty of purpose of the introduction of Sharia especially the orthodox penal code in a context that does not fulfil the condition precedent. To convict an offender and proceed to exact the severe punishment presupposes the prerequisite of a society where no one is compelled to steal in order to assuage hunger and basic necessities of life. He argued and rightly so in my view that such a precondition does not exist in Nigeria and the Nigerian society must ab initio be deemed as failing to satisfy the primary condition for the introduction of Sharia. 

The first fruit of our collaboration was the establishment of a political pressure group called the Progressive Action Group, PAM. It was conceptualised as a response to the failure of the political system to fulfil the role of continuous and regular leadership reproduction and recruitment into the civilian political class-to assume political succession from one generation to another. There was an emergent generational gap and vacuum-to whose remedy we programmatically addressed ourselves. We intended ourselves as a kind of political nursery for preparing and producing a successor class at the shortest possible time. As it were, the major indication of this systemic failure was the recycling of political leaders rather than a renewal with successor generations. 

On the occasion of my fortieth birthday, I got him and six other friends including Odia Ofeimum, Sina Odugbemi, Ruben Abati, Kayode Samuel, Dotun Oni and Professor Adebayo Williams to write essays in my honour as companion to a collection of my columns and got the hybrid published as “Beyond Abacha: Companion Essays”. Sanusi titled his chapter “Shariacracy In Nigeria: The Intellectual Roots Of Islamist Discourses”

He wrote “Over a long period of time I have become suspicious of the Northern political establishment. The Northern Muslim population has often been used as a cannon fodder by the establishment in its political battles with other class fractions of the Nigerian elite. At the end of it all the people remain poor, uneducated, malnourished and oppressed. I approach my analysis of Shariacracy from a Shariati perspective. 

“I try to examine it from the point of view of the welfare of the people and their liberation from these pathetic conditions. This has placed me in seeming conflict with traditional scholarship and the political class. What they portray as piety, I consider hypocrisy.  What they see as achievements, I see as diversion. Until Shariacracy focuses on the true problem of the North, the condition of its people, it will not be, in my books, serving the purpose”. He wrote this 23 years ago and couldn’t have served a better notice of his future interventions in the public life of Nigeria. 

At the height of his crisis as CBN governor, I weighed in on the controversy as follows “Inherent in him are the contradictory character traits of humility and arrogance. In his father and grandfather he inherits the DNA of non-conformity and aristocratic hauteur. That he made a success of his banking career owes less to any special aptitude for banking and more to the fact that people of his talent make-up would generally make a success of any assignment they are given”.

“Without prejudice to the allegations against him, I think he generally acquitted himself brilliantly as the Governor of the Central bank but he was equally immensely flawed. He was too politically brash, controversial and confrontational. He was self-adulation and gave the impression that his accomplishments amount to a licence to redefine the job profile of the CBN governor in his own image; he was unduly populist and constructed the CBN as a law unto itself”

Unable to reconcile this character profile with the sedate pomp and pageantry that conventionally define monarchy, I argued on his behalf that he would never be interested in becoming the Emir of Kano. When next I saw him, I confidently told him I had dismissed the speculations making the rounds that he may be interested in mounting the Kano throne. He cut me off and protested ‘I am o, I am o! He achieved his heart’s desire and wasted no time in the imposition of his activist personality on the traditional institution. Faced with a considerable push back by the reactionary establishment, he retorted with this vintage Sanusi “I have reflected over and over on my speech and I still don’t see what I said that is so wrong and offensive. I didn’t say the North cannot survive as a country. After all, Niger Republic is there with some help from Paris. I didn’t say that the North in the past had no glory. I know it has a rich history. I didn’t say the North cannot be rich and better. In fact, I think it can and it is a disgrace we are where we are”

The quality I admire most in him is his resilience, the ability to bend with the winds of adversity and emerge triumphant. There has been this persistent speculation that his early adulthood had been partly spent in the pursuit of fundamentalist causes in dangerous sects. Consequently, he was one of a group of fifteen zealots who were locked up in Sokoto Prisons indefinitely for sectarian extremism by General Sani Abacha. According to Jafar Jafar “Sanusi Lamido Sanusi escaped firing squad by whiskers and jailed for about two and half years under Abacha’s Decree 2 in Sokoto Prisons for “inciting violence”,

He thereafter picked up himself and applied his talent in the service of the banking industry. And boy, was he massively rewarded! And then he became the Emir of Kano as he wished. It was from this Olympian height that he was pulled down by one of the personifications of contemporary Nigerian political regression, former Kano state Governor, Ibrahim Ganduje. Their collision was predictable. There was no way a rogue Governor and a reformist Emir in the same domain could avoid a confrontation and showdown. 

And when the end of the beginning came, Sanusi did not exhibit an iota of self-pity or depression. It was as if he knew he was coming back to the throne and refused to be addressed as the former Emir of Kano. He would insist on being identified as the 14th Emir of Kano. As I was concluding a one year academic visiting fellowship at the University of Oxford in 2020, he was coming in for a similar fellowship at St Anthony’s college at the same institution. He subsequently escalated his academic ambition by registering for a PhD at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London.

At the end of the day what matters most is what best serves public interest. Is it an Emir who defines his role as a reformer in a society desperately in need of progressive reform or a Governor caught on tape stuffing wads of proceeds of corruption into the cavernous folds of his babariga? I actually believe that it is a badge of honour to be at odds with such a contrarian character with the charge of “Insubordination” no less. If Kano state was not all about Ganduje, then it was wrong to have deposed Sanusi in the first place. It was a wrongdoing that cried for remedial justice. 

I sympathise with the dethroned Emir, Aminu Ado Bayero, who is an innocent victim of crass power politics. Nonetheless, here is an audition for the two Emirs and you be the judge of who better serves the cause of Nigerian public interest. The theatre was the politicisation of the relocation of certain offices of the Central Bank to Lagos.. Here goes Bayero. 

“We are indeed suspicious on why Mr. President single-handedly relocated key departments of CBN, and outright relocation of FAAN to Lagos.

“We are receiving a series of messages from my subjects, and most of them expressed concern over the relocation of CBN and FAAN to Lagos…the Federal Government should “come out clean on this matter and talk to Nigerians in the languages they would understand.” And then came Sanusi 

“Moving certain functions to the Lagos office (which is bigger than the Abuja head office) is an eminently sensible move,”. “It makes eminent strategic sense. And I would have done this if I had stayed.

“All this noise is absolutely unnecessary. The CBN has staff manning its branches and cash offices across the federation..

“My advice to the governor is to go ahead with his policy. Once the CBN starts bending to political pressure on one thing it will continue doing so. ethnic and religious bigots will always shout but the CBN should rise above it and just do what needs to be done

One puzzle remains. How did the federal government manage to insinuate itself into what was clearly within the remit of the Kano state government? 

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