By Adewale Kupoluyi
It came so sudden and within a very short period, the whole scenario came in a jiffy and before we knew what was happening, the deed had been done! The deposition from the throne of the 14th Fulani Emir of Kano, Muhammadu Sanusi II, was a sad reminder of the derogation of the exalted office of traditional rulers in our society. It has become one of the low moments in the year. It would be recalled that Sanusi’s grandfather, Muhammadu Sanusi I, similarly lost the throne in 1963; which is a repeat of an ugly past.
Before the big blow, the Kano State Government’s official complaint was that the former Emir showed disrespect to it by ignoring its directives such as that of the request to convene a meeting of the state’s Council of Emirs. In short, the state government said he was removed to safeguard the sanctity, culture, tradition, religion, and prestige of the Kano emirate while accusing the emir of ‘total disrespect’ for institutions and the governor’s office. The humiliation, which was done in the presence of the four kingmakers of the emirate, was premised on the controversial Kano State Emirate Law 2019 before the emir was banished to Nasarawa State; an action that was later declared illegal.
Deposition of the Emir was no doubt a tragedy for the Kano Emirate, the North and indeed the old institution of royal fathers within the African women. Traditional rulers are much older, historic, deeply rooted and, in the eyes of rural folks, and more legitimate institutions than modern governments. Today, state governors can appoint and remove traditional rulers based on constitutional provisions that compel traditional institutions to be supervised by government and political appointees. Many governors seem to have failed to exercise their enormous powers wisely by violating the laws, rules, and customs of the land.
In the pre-colonial Nigeria before the ‘scramble for Africa’, traditional rulers were well respected as symbols of the African ancestry and heritage. They wielded absolute power before the British colonial rule and had become part of colonial administration with few constitutional powers. This makes the royal fathers the custodian of religion, tradition and well respected in many jurisdictions including the Muslim north. At this time, morality and decency were cherished and the society was better for it. People relied on traditional authority to show them the acceptable norms and values. The 1960 independence and 1963 republican constitutions created the council of chiefs for traditional rulers at the regional level while the 1979 gave them representation on the National Council of States at the federal level and council of chiefs at the state level.
By then, the council played an advisory role on customary matters, cultural affairs, and chieftaincy matters, among others. The 1979 constitution allowed the local government reforms of 1976 that gave birth to the local government system of administration, which confiscated and transmitted to the local government, the roles performed by the traditional institutions in the country. The incursion of the military and westernisation of African culture also contributed to the relegation of our traditional institutions. Sadly, the Nigerian traditional institution has now been relegated and treated with low respect at least when compared with what it used to be.
The 1999 Constitution does not offer anything different rather than empowering state governors to supervise the activities of traditional rulers. There is the need to correct this anomaly without further delay for sanity to be restored to our troubled society through legal and constitutional arrangements that would officially give power back to our traditional rulers. However, we should not pretend that some traditional rulers do not have their excesses. Royal fathers should avoid political affiliation or stigmatization to evade from deposition tragedies. They should steer-clear of lust for money and materialism that could erode the respect, trust, and dignity associated with the office of traditional rulers.
Royal fathers have been found to engage in street fighting, illegal dealings and bestowing or conferring chieftaincy titles on persons with questionable integrity. These add up to give the traditional institution a bad name. However, not a few royal fathers are persons of great charisma, reputation, and achievements. As for power-drunk governors, they should be patient with delicate issues and exercise caution while dealing with royal matters. The practice of presenting staff of office to royal fathers belittles them by state governors and should stop. A better arrangement should be put in place by the respective state houses of assembly to give autonomy to traditional institutions while the constitution should be amended to cater for this long-awaited and timely reform.
On the advice being given to the deposed Emir on the way forward after the palace coup, I think he should thread softly. He should never rush into politics. Being a statesman, he should rather be busy thinking of how to assist the nation in coming out of its current economic doldrums. As a renowned economist and former Governor, Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), he should never fail or be discouraged from speaking truth at all times. Recall that Sanusi became governor of CBN in 2009 and was sacked in 2014 after revealing that $20bn in oil revenue had gone missing. This whistle-blowing raised a lot of dust that led to his eventual suspension by former President Goodluck Jonathan even though the government denied that any money was ever missing. The deposed emirs’ life had been a blend of adoration and condemnation. The influential TIME magazine once named him in its list of influential people in 2011. Two years later, he was conferred with a special honour of the Global Islamic Finance Awards for his role in promoting Islamic banking and finance in Nigeria.
Before becoming an emir, he had opposed the adoption of Islamic law in some northern states on the basis that there were more pressing issues that needed to be dealt with in alleviating the plight of the people and in sync with the concerns of Karl Marx; the German philosopher and economist that ‘religion is the opium of the people’. Critics perceive northern elders and leaders as doing nothing tangible to alleviate the continued suffering of their people. We should remind the former Emir that if he fails to speak the truth when necessary, he would have been silenced forever but if he continues to be the voice of the voiceless, posterity would surely smile on him. It is up to him to decide.
Kupoluyi writes from the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta (FUNAAB), firstname.lastname@example.org,@AdewaleKupoluyi