Two traditional rulers: Emir of Kano, Muhammadu Sanusi Lamido Sanusi II and Oba of Lagos, Rilwan Babatunde Akiolu, have been in the news. One appears to have been punished following the whittling down of his power and influence by his state governor while the other has been busy throwing political punches at anyone he deemed necessary without being flogged but graced with admiration and celebration.
The stories of both traditional rulers have been viewed from different perspectives as they concern the effect of challenging or glorifying those at the corridors of power. Emir Sanusi and Oba Akiolu are tethered to this two-faced situation. Both traditional rulers, though, enmeshed in the act of speaking against authorities have been treated differently.
John Chukwu of Ripples Nigeria reviews the situation surrounding the differing treatment of both traditional rulers which analysts view as being of monumental concern in our democratic process.
Clipping Sanusi’s wings
On May 8, 2019, Governor Abdullahi Umar Ganduje of Kano State, did the unexpected. He assented to a new bill tagged “Emir’s Appointment and Deposition Amendment bill 2019” which saw the establishment of four new emirates. The bill, pushed forward by one Ibrahim Salisu, in the Kano State House of Assembly, underwent legislature processes at the speed of light and got signed into law by Ganduje. This move saw the decentralisation of the Kano Emirate Council through the upgrade of the traditional rulers of Karaye, Bichi, Rano, and Gaya to the status of first class Emirs.
By implication, the power and influence of Emir Sanusi, who was once the governor Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) under the former President Goodluck Jonathan, was drastically reduced. For all practical purpose, the balkanization of Kano Emirate has put a comma on his status as the leader of Tijaniyya Sufi order which is the 2nd most important Muslim position in Nigeria after the Sultan of Sokoto, Muhammadu Sa’adu Abubakar, who is the leader of the larger Qadiriyya Sufi order. This is based on the fact that in both states – Kano and Sokoto – only one emirate exist. Kano state has 44 Local Government Areas (LGAs). This division leaves Emir Sanusi with a jurisdiction of a mere 8 LGAs. Something he never imagined.
The sins of Emir Sanusi
The breakdown of the powerful Kano Emirate which has stood for hundreds of years was not without reasons. Emir Sanusi, who was crowned the 14th Emir of Kano on June 8, 2014, after the death of his grand uncle, Ado Bayero, was reported to have annoyed Ganduje. He was alleged to have worked assiduously against the reelection of Ganduje who had to retain his governorship seat through a highly controversial March 9 supplementary election characterized by monumental electoral violence – which saw the hijacking of several polling units by fiercely armed men wielding matches, cudgels and knives. Emir Sanusi was reported to have spoken against the electoral violence coupled with the fact that the governor lost heavily in Kano Municipal: the seat of the Emir which earned him the ill feelings of Ganduje.
Prior to the election, Emir Sanusi reportedly met about five times with Senator Rabiu Kwankwaso – the leader of the Kwankwasiyya movement – and Ganduje’s main contender and candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the State, Engineer Abba Kabir Yusuf in a bid to oust the governor as the number citizen of the State. He was also alleged to have directed district heads in the State to ensure that they vote out Ganduje in the governorship election. Even as Ganduje was declared the winner of the supplementary election, Emir Sanusi was alleged to have directed the district heads to write damaging reports about the election that would tell how the election was marred by violence. These irked Ganduje’s supporters terribly as it was reported that they had to yank off the Emir’s photograph in Ganduje’s office after the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) declared him winner.
These sins inspired the Kano governor to dismember the Kano emirate headed by Sanusi. He did not even stop at breaking the Emirates, on May 7th, 2019, the Kano State Public Complaints and Anti-Corruption Commission opened a fresh probe on the alleged financial mismanagement in Kano Emirate Council under the watch of the Emir. The state’s anti-corruption commission invited the staff of the Emirate over their alleged violation of Section 26 of its enabling law in the management of the emirate’s funds.
Therefore, it is widely believed that the sledge hammer that fell on Emir Sanusi was an aftermath of his demeanour and opposition to Ganduje. A critical look at this development raises some critical questions: Should traditional rulers keep quiet when they have a differing opinion against that of an authority? Should they only speak when they have views that favour those in power? Or, should traditional rulers simply mind their business?
The debate is on but unlike Emir Sanusi, Oba Rilwan Babatunde Akiolu of Lagos who, literally, has been spitting fire lately, making controversial statements, has almost gone unnoticed. Akiolu’s fiery remarks are legion but a few would suffice.
Akiolu’s roller coaster in Lagos
The controversial Oba of Lagos, Oba Akiolu, recently took former President Olusegun Obasanjo to the cleaners by stating emphatically that he is a problem creator for the country for opposing the reelection of President Muhammadu Buhari.
“The number one person creating problems in this country is former President Obasanjo,” the Oba said. His position is not far-fetched. His support for Buhari is frontal while Obasanjo has dithered overtime, shifting positions on the incumbent President, and only recently describing him as nepotic, unhealthy and incapable of handling the affairs of the country.
As Obasanjo’s candidate, Atiku lost out at the 2019 polls. He has since headed to the election tribunal to challenge Buhari’s victory on the grounds that it was marred by rigging. Oba Akiolu has already declared that Atiku will not succeed at the tribunal.
“If anyone of you here is close to Atiku, tell him he can never succeed in what he is doing now,” Oba Akiolu said.
However, in support of Buhari, the Oba has said, “It’s unfortunate that Buhari did not stay long as Head of State in 1984, Nigeria would have been better. Buhari is one of the few, politicians who are not materialistic.”
It would be recalled that Oba Akiolu made an ethnically provocative statement in the build up to the April 2015 general elections when he, in a meeting with Igbo leaders in Lagos, said, “by the grace of Almighty Allah, any of the Igbo representatives who went against his will that Ambode, insha’Allah, would be the next governor of Lagos, the person is going to die inside this (Lagos Lagoon) water.”
Despite all his mis-steps, Oba Akiolu continues to enjoy reverence from authorities, local and national. It would seem trite to conclude that he has found favour in the sight of the establishment, largely so because his support for the ruling party is unabashed.
This leaves an interesting poser. Is it right for traditional rulers to get involved in partisan politics? Indeed, should there be boundaries defined for traditional rulers as to when they should speak truth to power?
When is right time to speak up?
The question of whether traditional rulers should get involved in partisan politics has lingered for long with many opposing views. Traditional rulers, by the virtue of their position, are critical to the development of their communities. They serve as a channel between governments, non-governmental organizations and their people.
In 2017, the traditional ruler of Nawfia in Njikoka Local Government Area of Anambra State, Igwe Chijioke Nwankwo, said: “Everybody shall belong to a political party of his choice. That traditional rulers should not play politics is a moral issue, but no law stops them from playing active role in politics, morality and legality are quite different.”
During the campaigns leading up to the last general elections, some traditional rulers shoved their conventional neutrality aside and openly endorsed some candidates. This style was widespread among traditional rulers in the country.
The dilemma of the many contending views is how to appropriately classify traditional rulers. Central to the discourse appears to be a clear understanding that they are primarily citizens with inalienable rights to express their views or hold opinions on how best they believe their societies can better be managed.
Whatever the arguments, it must be said that traditional rulers have the moral right to call authorities to order, and should not be limited by time and space.
By John Chukwu…
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