Questions begging for answers

It is a week-old story, but some questions still linger from last Monday’s deposition of the Emir of Kano Muhammadu Sanusi II. To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, I am not young enough to have answers to these questions, but I suspect many young readers have ready answers.

First question is, is it tragic or is it glorious for a Northern emir to be dethroned? In the wake of Emir Sanusi’s deposition, some commentators said it was glorious because he sacrificed the throne for what he believed in. There is no unanimity on this point. Elderly Northerners see an emir’s deposition as a tragedy worse than a governor’s impeachment. An emir should sacrifice his throne only in extreme situations, such as Sultan Attahiru I, who fled Sokoto in 1903 and died fighting at Burmi rather than submit to British rule.

Should a Northern emir be outspoken? Sanusi comprehensively repudiated the doctrine of dignified silence that Northern emirs and chiefs have observed for decades. Some commentators have described this as telling truth to power. Others however said that if you have access to rulers in private, then you should not “advice” them in public, unless they continuously ignore the advice.

Truth is not always absolute and telling it has preconditions, as I learnt years ago from my teacher Alhaji Shehu Kaikai. There is a person to tell the truth [who should be a truthful person]; there is a time to tell the truth, and there is a way to tell the truth, if it is meant to have a positive effect. Sanusi was a problematic truth teller because some of his personal choices did not tally neatly with his message. His dress sense was expensive and he rode in costly limousines. A modest life style is required to amplify a pro-people message. Malam Aminu Kano’s simple white gown and modest red cap amplified his radical message, much as Mahatma Gandhi’s loin cloth amplified his message of peace and sacrifice.

Sanusi’s message against the harmful Northern tradition of widespread polygyny and unbridled child breeding was very important but as someone said at the weekend, it would have been better received if he was a monogamist. Do as I say, not as I do is a difficult message, especially where people are looking for excuses. When I was at New Nigerian Newspapers, someone once pointed out that the Managing Director had one wife and three children whereas his office messenger had three wives and fifteen children. The MD had the kind of moral authority needed to scold the messenger.

Polygyny and uncontrolled child breeding are twin problems that rapid economic development would have ameliorated, just like urbanization and Western education steadily drove up girls’ marriage age in the North. Since rapid economic growth is not at hand, someone should ask Northerners to do something about it. Afterall, polygyny is not as widely practiced in other Muslim lands from North Africa to Arabia to Iran, Turkey, Pakistan and Indonesia as it is among West African Muslims.

Sanusi’s campaign to end almajiranci and combat the North’s twelve million out of school children was also wrongly received in some quarters. Some critics said that he should have taken as many almajirai as he could off the streets; his defenders say he did some of that. However, the solution to almajiranci could hardly come through piecemeal personal efforts. Rural parents must be stopped from sending their children off to cities to seek religious knowledge without adequate arrangements for their welfare. The Malams that go to the rural areas to bring children to cities, when they have neither food nor decent accommodation for them, should be jailed. It requires the combined efforts of local, state and federal governments, traditional authorities, clerics and the police, with public support, to end this scourge.

For leading the charge, a prominent Christian cleric once told me that he saw Sanusi as a reformist. Unfortunately, it is not every social institution that is about reform. On the night in 2013 that Pope Francis was elected, Christiane Amanpour of CNN asked the Roman Catholic Archbishop of New York, John Cardinal Dylan, what reforms the new pope will bring forth. Dylan said, “Unlike political and corporate leaders, the Holy Father does not see his mission as being to reform. His mission is to conserve the message of Jesus Christ.”

How low should Northern traditional rulers stoop [to conquer] before local government chairmen, governors and presidents? Stooping before a man who has a limited term in office should not be very difficult when you have a life tenure. Some Northern emirs and chiefs have been on their thrones for six decades. The longest that anyone has been president of Nigeria was a combined eleven and a half years, with a 20-year break. The longest period that anyone has been a state governor in Nigeria was ten years, with a six year break in-between.

Many Southern Nigerian commentators were gloating when a prominent Northern emir said the South is better off than the North in human development indices. Could be, but it reminds me of an old Reader’s Digest article about the giraffe. The report said “the giraffe is the most intelligent among the animals with hooves. But that is not high praise, because the animals with hooves are the stupidest of all animals.” Even if the South is slightly better off than the North, we all sit smugly within the world’s poorest region.

Ok, within this huge bracket called Third World that contains most of humanity, some countries are slightly better off than others. Some countries’ economies are growing faster than others while some regions within countries are slightly better off than others. It is however no good reason to gloat. If Nigeria were to split today, both South and North will receive the same reception at the World Bank and IMF when we go to seek balance of payments support loans.

Another lingering question: did the Kano State Government or, specifically, Governor Abdullahi Umar Ganduje show enough patience before making the historic move to depose the Emir? KNSG said the emir serially ignored its orders. This was true, except that the orders in question were designed to put Sanusi on the spot, such as ordering him to convene a meeting of the Council of Emirs when he did not recognize the four new emirs.

Was it within the former emir’s right to refuse to recognise the creation of new emirates in the state? Spiteful though the action was, government is government and it was well within its constitutional powers to create new emirates. The new emirates could be abolished in future, as happened in the same Kano State in 1983. Patience is the watchword.

Was the Buhari Presidency complicit in Sanusi’s deposition? An anonymous Presidency official explained at the weekend all the efforts that he said President Buhari made to avert deposition. We may never know what Ganduje told Buhari about the emir’s alleged collusion with their joint political enemies. Such stories might have moved the president from active efforts to stop the deposition to a tacit endorsement of it. His public statement last month that he had no powers under the constitution to intervene in traditional council matters gave KNSG the green light to depose the emir.

Then there was the banishment order, a legal and political hot potato that the courts speedily quashed. The Presidency, KNSG and Attorney General of the Federation all denied that they did it. Some powerful person must have done it. How else could policemen deploy with such force; who provided the chartered plane and helicopter; who prepared the small house in Loko and the slightly bigger one in Awe to which the deposed emir was consigned?

Last question: should Sanusi wade into politics and seek the Presidency or Kano governorship in 2023? He has many political assets including name recognition, eloquence, money, a constituency and worldwide connections. Are they enough to guarantee success in Nigerian politics? Hardly.

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