I write as a professional historian and a concerned Nigerian who would like to see our civilization preserved for the present and the future. I am also the Baapitan of Oyo and therefore interested in the preservation and sustenance of our traditional institutions. Kano as a kingdom has existed at least for over a thousand years ruled first by the Habe (Hausa) and for the past two centuries by the Fulani. Fighting under the flag of revolt raised against the Habe rulers by Usman Dan Fodio allegedly for their unIslamic practices, Kano was conquered in 1807 and the first Fulani ruler was Sulaimanu, one of the lieutenants of Usman Dan Fodio. Sulaimanu’s successor was Emir Ibrahim Dabo who founded the current dynasty in Kano. By the 14th century, Kano was so important as a centre of commerce and trade in the Central Sudan (i.e land of the blacks ) that it attracted Dyula/Mandingo Wangarawa traders from Mali who came in large numbers to the city. The city state became an Islamic state with the conversion of its ruler, Yaji Dan Tsamiya (1344- 1385) and was attracting Islamic scholars from other parts of West Africa including the celebrated Abdurrahman Zaite, a Wangara from Mali but more important was Muhammad al-Maghili(1440-1505), a berber scholar from Tlemcen in North Africa who visited Kano and lived there for a while in the 15th century and wrote a book for the emir on the “Obligations of Princes”, a book that has been compared to the much more famous “The Prince “ written in 1532 hundreds of years later by that Italian diplomat, politician, philosopher, historian, humanist, writer, playwright and poet, Niccolo Machiavelli.
When the British conquered northern Nigeria at the turn of the 19th century and throughout the imposition of the British imperium, Kano was the most important emirate in northern Nigeria. During the governor-generalship of Sir Fredrick Lugard, Kano was considered so important that the emir earned more salary than the governor -general. When Nigeria was amalgamated in 1914, the emir of Kano, Sarkin Abbas and Alaafin Gbadegesin Ladigbolu of Oyo represented native opinion and interest in the Nigerian Council, a talking shop created by Lugard to hide his untrammeled power as a British Poobah in Nigeria.
Traditional institutions in Nigeria fared better under British colonial rule than they did when politicians emerged in the political space of Nigeria.The first assault on the institution was struck in Oyo when Alaafin Adeyemi II, the father of the present Alaafin of Oyo, Lamidi Olayiwola Adeyemi III, was deposed in 1955 by the Action Group government of Chief Obafemi Awolowo following a clash in 1954 between the elected local government chairman of Oyo, Chief Bode Thomas who was the deputy leader of the Action Group, central minister and chairman of Oyo Local Government Council. Heavens did not fall as was expected and the soft underbelly of traditional institutions was exposed. In 1963, Muhammadu Sanusi I, the grandfather of the current Emir Muhammadu Sanusi 11 was removed from office by the government of Sir Ahmadu Bello, a scion of the Sokoto Caliphate, over trumped up charges of maladministration of the emirate. Muhammadu Sanusi had been emir from 1954 to 1963 and he was a very powerful emir and an Islamic scholar and a supporter of the Tijanniyya tariqa, a modernizing and egalitarian Sufi order headquartered in Senegal. Sir Muhammadu Sanusi’s imperious ways did not quite go down well with Sir Ahmadu Bello who felt as a prince of Sokoto and head of government, he deserved unalloyed loyalty from Sarkin Kano who also did not defer to anybody. When Sanusi was removed, one or two emirs came after him before the situation was stabilized when Ado Bayero, a son of a previous emir, Abdullahi Bayero and a nephew of Sanusi was recalled as Nigeria’s ambassador in Senegal and crowned the emir of Kano. The children of Muhammadu Sanusi who were well educated found their ways into diplomacy with three of them at different times rising to the position of ambassador and representing the country in such places like Canada, China, Malaysia, Indonesia Sudan and possibly Saudi Arabia. Alhaji Aminu Sanusi, the father of the current emir after representing Nigeria in Canada and China among other places became Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He retired suddenly over policy and protocol disagreements with late Major General Shehu Yar’ Adua and returned to Kano as Ciroman Kano ( heir apparent).
I first met Alhaji Aminu Sanusi In 1968 when I was a post-graduate student in Canada and he was High Commissioner Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Nigeria in Ottawa. This was during the Nigeria-Biafra civil war when most of us Nigerians were going through the trauma of seeing our country torn apart and brothers were killing brothers with indescribable civilian suffering and kwashiorkor pandemic in the war affected areas. As if this was not enough to upset us, a South African sponsored Italian film with the title “Africa adios” was being shown all over Canada as the most authentic film from Africa. The film showed the contrast between peaceful Southern Africa under white settlers rule while wars were being waged in the Congo, Nigeria, Burundi and Rwanda thus implying that Africans were better off under white racist rule. This was at a time when Africa was struggling to consolidate its independence. I wrote to all ambassadors of African countries in Ottawa to express our unhappiness at the directive of the African Students Association of which I was Secretary General. It was only Ambassador Aminu who flew to Halifax Nova where the film was being shown and saw to its withdrawal from Canadian screens. Needless to say we were all very grateful to him. Many years later, I met him when he was a private man and having read my yeoman effort to rescue Sir Kashim Ibrahim from obscurity by writing his biography he asked me if I would want to write his father’s biography. I said I would be too glad to do this if he could guarantee me access to archival and private sources in Kano. I had written Chief SL Akintola’s biography and I wanted to write the biographies of Obafemi Awolowo and Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa as well. I only succeeded in writing those of Chief Samuel Festus Okotie-Eboh, Soun Ajagungbade 111, Augustus Bandele Oyediran and my autobiography before I moved on to other intellectual pursuits. Unfortunately Ambassador Aminu Sanusi died rather prematurely.
The current Emir Muhammadu Sanusi, the erudite and accomplished son of Ambassador Aminu Sanusi who rose to the position of governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria became emir of Kano after the death of his uncle Ado Bayero. While he was governor of the CBN, he was not afraid, following the old tradition of good central bankers of holding contrary opinions to that of the government that appointed them. It was in this circumstance that President Ebele Jonathan sacked him when he complained that crude oil sale proceeds were not being credited to the CBN and that $20 billion were unaccounted for. Perhaps the figure he mentioned may have been exaggerated but the revelations of sleaze and corruption in recent times have proved him right that something untoward was happening in government.
Muhammadu Sanusi represents the coming of highly educated persons into traditional governance in Nigeria particularly in northern Nigeria. Beginning with Asaba in Delta State where a professor of medicine has been its ruler for decades and now spreading all over the country, where we now have as rulers retired generals, high ranking police officers, retired permanent secretaries, ambassadors, top civil servants, successful business men and academics, it is inevitable that there is bound to be a clash between the traditional and modern rulers and unless disagreements are rationally and reasonably managed, there is the possibility of breakdown of law and order. In the 1980s, this kind of scenario led to much violence in Kano leading to many fatalities including that of a distinguished colleague who was special adviser to our friend Alhaji Muhammadu Rimi who was then the Governor of Kano.
Obviously the present governor of Kano and perhaps most of the governors in the North are not too happy with the criticism of their misrule by Emir Sanusi and even by the Sultan of Sokoto Muhammadu Sa’ad Abubakar, the latter being more diplomatic than the straight-shooting Muhammadu Sanusi. The point is that truth is bitter but somebody must be able to speak truth to power before we are all swept off by the rebellion of the talakawaprotesting against grinding poverty and poor governance. The collapse of state institutions in Zamfara is a graphic case of the kind poor governance complained by the emir. Signs of people’s impatience are already manifesting in the herders, kidnappers and cattle rustlers disturbing the peace not only of northern Nigeria but of Nigeria as a whole where the rich can no longer sleep because the poor are awake because of hunger. This is not the time to pick a fight with a traditional ruler who commands a lot of respect and large followership because of his position as an arbiter in inter and intra communal disputes and his reputation as an Islamic scholar.
Cutting the Kano emirate into five is totally uncalled for. We must never destroy the legacy of the past because Africa is a continent struggling to establish and reassert a legacy comparable to those in other parts of the world on which a confident present and future can be built. Governors would come and go; so also will mortal man come and go. The emirate will remain after we would all have gone. The governor of Kano should restore Kano emirate to what it was and how he met it. If the emir must suffer, the emirate does not deserve dismemberment and liquidation. Political power must not be used to commit acts of illegality and everyone including the emir of Kano should be allowed the freedom of expression. [THE NATION]