The Politics of Sanusi Dethronement

*The Politics of Sanusi Dethronement


– Prof. Abba B. Gumel, FAS

Since his re-election for one more term in the Kano government house earlier this year, Governor Abdullahi Umar Ganduje of the blessed State of Kano is a man on a decidedly-singular mission.  To dethrone the immensely popular and beloved Emir of Kano, His Highness Muhammad Sanusi II.  Sanusi’s offence was the supposed cardinal sin of being perceived by Ganduje and his henchmen to be opposed to his re-election.   Ganduje, true to his ancestral roots and nature, saw this cardinal sin as unforgivable.  This particular article will focus on the politics, antecedents and latter-day political acrobatics associated with the effort to dethrone Sanusi from the colossal throne of Dabo on which he has been majestically residing since that unprecedented, momentous and blessed 8th day of June 2014.

To understand the current effort to dethrone Sanusi, it is important to understand the ABCs of Nigeria’s power relations. Sanusi has been a major central figure in Nigerian politics since he became the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) on June 3, 2009.   He took over the management of the apex bank at a precarious moment of immense uncertainty in the Nigerian banking sector (characterized by corruption and mismanagement in the banking sector, with many of Nigeria’s banks facing the risk of imminent collapse). He immediately instituted tough, sweeping and far-reaching reforms (appropriately tagged the “Sanusi tsunami”), pumped in billions of naira bailout package to rescue the affected banks (and fired their incompetent chief executives), leading to the stabilization, rescue and streamlining of the banking sector in particular, and the Nigerian economy in general. Sanusi was showered with countless prestigious awards for his troubles, including being bestowed with the coveted Central Bank of the Year (worldwide) and the Central Bank Governor for Africa by the Banker Magazine.  He is widely known and respected as the very best CBN Governor in Naija’s history.  In sane climates and societies, such a person should have been nurtured and encouraged.  To his credit, while serving as the Governor of the Central Bank, Sanusi consistently avoided partisan politics.

While at the CBN, Sanusi, of course, had to confront Nigeria’s corrupt and powerful bank executives (having many of them prosecuted and convicted for their crimes against the nation) as well as corrupt and powerful interests in government.  He notably blew the whistle on a mega corruption associated with diversion of public funds at the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation…. a courageous act that resulted in his firing as the CBN Governor by the then Nigeria’s President, Goodluck Jonathan. During his stewardship at the CBN, Sanusi was then the Dan Majen Kano (and his late grand uncle, His Highness Ado Bayero of immensely-blessed memory, was the Emir of Kano).  It is noteworthy that before Goodluck Jonathan could fire Sanusi from his CBN duties, he (Jonathan) had to get secret approval and support from some senior and highly-influential members of Sanusi’s extended Kano royal family who never wanted him (Sanusi) to be successful in all his endeavors being a potential contestant for the Kano Emirship.  This is important point to note.  The fact that some influential members of his royal family saw him as a major threat to their own aspiration to become Kano Emir…. and he had to be curtailed or even destroyed.  This has always been in the background and front and centre in all issues surrounding the Ganduje-Sanusi cat-and- mouse game of political dynamics and glaringly-obvious mutual distrust.

President Goodluck Jonathan sacked Sanusi because he blew the whistle on the non-remittance of funds from the NNPC to the national treasury to the tune of over $20 billion. It was the worst indictment of the Jonathan Administration by any civil servant. The then opposition political party, the All Progressives Congress (APC) of the incumbent President Buhari, used it to its maximum advantage in its propaganda against the then ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) government of the Nigerian federation. Sanusi provided the major ammunition. During this period, the revered Emir Alhaji Ado Bayero died. The then Governor of Kano State, Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso, who was responsible for appointing Bayero’s successor, had decamped to the APC (from the ruling PDP). Kwankwaso’s party stalwarts pressured him to appoint Sanusi as the next Emir, probably to slight the then President Goodluck Jonathan. Although, it should be stated that Kwankwaso was never in good terms with the late Emir Ado Bayero (so, it was quite unlikely that he would have remotely considered giving the nod to any of the sons of the deceased monarch). Sanusi was also not a bosom friend of Kwankwaso.  I recall vividly a time when Kwankwaso decided not to have any business with the United Bank of Africa (where the notoriously-outspoken Sanusi was a manager at the time, and had criticized his Government in the national media).  In fact, our (Sanusi and I) coining of the term “Ajino Moto Government House” at the time, to describe Kwankwaso’s State Government during his first tenure as Governor, did not exactly help matters either. Sanusi succeeded the throne of his beloved ancestors despite all the unbelievably-unprecedented efforts of adversaries from his extended royal family to totally destroy him at every stage of his life.  It is probably fair to say there never was, in Kano’s long and blessed history, a monarch as competent, accomplished, globally-renowned and well-learned (in both western and traditional education) to sit on the colossal and revered throne of Dabo.  Sanusi was an instantly-recognizable global figure in his own right, even before he became Emir (owing to his unsurpassed reputation in the global banking community).

Anyone who knows Sanusi (or SLS as he was fondly known across Nigeria), no matter how remote, will know that he had zero tolerance for hypocrisy and lack of accountability.  He/she will know that Sanusi spares no sacred cows.  He/she will know that Sanusi always speaks truth to power no matter the consequences.  He/she will know that Sanusi does not shy away from a fight that needs fighting.  He/she will know that Sanusi is an unflinching and decidedly-progressive voice for accountability, seriousness, fairness, courage, vision, all-inclusivity, unity, selflessness and people-centred leadership.  Sanusi was never, and never will be, the type to keep mum in the sight of corruption, lack of accountability, incompetence and/or lawlessness.  That’s why Sanusi was almost always in the news speaking up against issues and policies he saw as detrimental to the well-being and progress of his people and to the nation (albeit some of us have suggested a royal silence on a few occasions).  In fact, some have suggested that even Governor Kwankwaso was not entirely happy with Sanusi and had told associates that, if he were at the Kano Government House at that material time, he would have dethroned Sanusi earlier than Ganduje is attempting to do so now.

To understand the current power-play and cat-and-mouse dynamics between Governor Ganduje and Emir Sanusi, it is important to understand a few basic facts.  First, at the very beginning, Emir Sanusi supported Ganduje’s bid to succeed Kwankwaso during the 2015 gubernatorial election under the banner of the APC.  This was an open secret.  However, two years into Ganduje’s first tenure, Sanusi privately cautioned Governor Ganduje against taking a $1.2 billion loan from the Chinese to construct light rail in Kano. For the purpose of full disclosure, I must state that I led the Think Tank (known as the Kano Renaissance Think Tank) that suggested the idea of the light rail project in Kano in 2013 (when Kwankwaso was Governor).  We suggested that the project, which was aimed at greatly minimizing the traffic congestion in the city of over 10 million people in addition to modernizing the city, should be conducted via a public-private partnership.  To our credit, we never suggested that the project was to be financed via a loan from anyone…. let alone from our Chinese friends. Sanusi’s reasoning was solely on plausible socio-economic and cost-effectiveness grounds. Ganduje did not heed Sanusi’s advice,  and went ahead and signed an MoU with the Chinese. On hearing this, Sanusi publicly criticized the policy. Ganduje felt slighted.  Ganduje responded by sponsoring an online newspaper to indict Sanusi for reckless spending of his Emirate’s funds. Ganduje then ordered a comprehensive probe of the Emirate’s finances. Many local, community, business and political leaders intervened, and, thankfully, the matter was amicably resolved.  In the midst of all these, Ganduje fell apart with his political mentor and master, Kwankwaso. This ushers in a new era of unprecedented open warfare between the Ganduje and Kwankwaso camps.  The people of Kano became decidedly divided between the two political camps.  The same online newspaper used by Ganduje against Sanusi published videos of Ganduje allegedly taking bribe in U.S. dollars. It was quite damaging. The political scene in Kano sharply became Kwankwaso versus Ganduje. Then came the 2019 gubernatorial election. By this time, Kwankwaso had left the APC and decamped back to his former home, the PDP.   Kwankwaso chose a proxy, Abba Yusuf (incidentally a distant cousin of Sanusi), to run against Ganduje for the Kano governorship.  Most political commentators and actors believed that Sanusi supported Kwankwaso’s proxy.  Ganduje narrowly won re-election amidst unprecedented controversies and violence (the 2019 Kano gubernatorial election was considered by many to be the most violent election in the history of Kano State). Ganduje vowed never to forgive Sanusi.

Almost every major leader and opinion maker in the northern region, and the nation, cautioned Ganduje not to escalate the tension with Sanusi, and to let bygones be bygones.  He refused.  The question is why. The answer is not clear.  What seems to be clear is that high-level politics is certainly at play here.  It is no rocket science to figure out that the current top brass of the APC (the ruling political party at the state and federal level) are certainly not Sanusi’s best friends. Hence, it stands to reason that Ganduje’s refusal to accept the recent reconciliation efforts with Sanusi, brokered by the Committee chaired by the highly-respected General Abdussalami Abubakar GCFR, and reportedly fully-endorsed by the Presidency, is based on the simple fact that the powerful APC top brass are in total sync, vis a vis their determination to have Sanusi out of the scene (i.e., dethrone him).  Kano Emirate, easily historically the most respected in the West African sub-region, is an immensely important traditional institution, and no Kano Governor can attempt to mess with it without a tacit approval from the powers that be at Nigeria’s highest political corridors.  This, again, is as crystally-clear as the royal father in Rome is a Catholic.  Yes, the President of the Nigerian federation (President Buhari GCFR) has no jurisdictional power over Governor Ganduje, but everyone knows that Ganduje (or any other Governor of the ruling APC) will do exactly what he/she is told by the President or the Presidency.  So, the fact that Ganduje ignored the peace deal brokered by the General Abdussalami Abubakar’s team (who reportedly acted with the full backing of the President) certainly suggests some fishy business. Some of the top APC politicians seem to be of the view that Sanusi will not support them during the 2023 polls, and it may well be better for them to finish him now.

Kano’s prevailing political dynamics is becoming intriguingly interesting. Ganduje is punishing Sanusi essentially because of Sanusi’s deep-rooted alignment with Kwankwaso.  Ganduje’s main beef with Sanusi is the latter’s perceived (or real) support for Kwankwaso’s proxy during Gaanduje’s re-election campaign.  At the beginning of the Ganduje-Sanusi crisis, Kwankwaso and his current party (the PDP) have clearly shown which side of the crisis they are decidedly on.  However, things appear to be gradually changing these days.  Kwankwaso and his Kwankwasiyya supporters seem to be decidedly-silent nowadays, and watching events transpire from the sidelines. Further, Ganduje seems to have co-opted some within the Kano ruling family to be doing his bidding for him from within the Palace (by, skillfully I must add, tantalizingly dangling them with the juicy carrot they have always been craving for… Sanusi’s throne).  These sons of Dabo do not seem to give a hoot that Ganduje can destroy the amazing and enviable legacy of the Emirate, spanning millennia, as long as Sanusi is dethroned.  It is quiet saddening to now be witnessing the systematic destruction of a revered traditional institution that had, for millennia, built a great track-record of unifying and advancing the socio-economic and well-being of the people it serves.

Many commentators have claimed that there are no elders in Kano.  I beg to differ.  There, of course, are.  There always were…. and in large measure.  The simple problem is that the prevailing reality of Nigeria’s partisan politics, coupled with economic challenges, empowers whoever controls the resources of the state government to become a semi-dictator, and all other politicians and leaders either become his cheerleaders or remain alienated. Thankfully, one commendable group of Kano elders, led by the highly-respected illustrious Kano son, Bashir Tofa, recently spoke out and urged for cooler heads to prevail.  Sadly, Ganduje quickly got some local academics to come up with largely laughable excuses to counter the wise counsel and words of wisdom of the Tofa-led group of Kano elders.

Within the ruling political party at the national level (APC), the most powerful figure after the President is arguably Bola Tinubu.  Tinubu was once a buddy of Sanusi, having helped advocate for the latter’s ascension to the throne of Dabo. However, they have recently fallen apart because Sanusi refused to support Ganduje’s re-election (heavily supported and promoted by Tinubu).  Tinubu expected Sanusi to “pay back” for his help to get him on the throne.  There is another political dimension to this.  It is no secret that Tinubu is planning to run for President in 2023, and some with intimate knowledge with Tinubu’s thinking have started silently sounding out his desire to get Kwankwaso back into the  APC fold, so that he can have him on his presidential ticket (should he…. Tinubu… win the APC primaries).  It also emerged that Tinubu wants Ganduje and Kwankwaso to reconcile, and was concerned that, with Sanusi on the throne, such effort is unlikely to bear any fruits.  These are all speculations at this point, and time will tell.  Naija politics is certainly unique…. and that which appears, on the face of it, to be a laughable and impossible proposition to reasonable minds is what becomes an absolute reality in not- too-distant future (or, in the fullness of time, as the Right Honourable Jim Hacker MP of the Yes Prime Minister series fame would say).  Our politicians never cease to amaze and amuse.  We shall wait and see.

Sanusi’s latter-day enemies tend to be of the view that they can do onto him what President Goodluck Jonathan tried….and colossally failed to do.  They think they can finish Sanusi because they are more dexterous than Jonathan. Sanusi is a man of immense and deep faith. He has always told everyone who cares to listen that it is He who giveth and it is He who taketh away….at the appointed time.  The current residents of the Kano Government House seem to be laser-focused on their singular mission to get Sanusi out of the scene.  They are totally uninterested in the unprecedented progress, peace, stability and economic opportunities and advancement that Sanusi’s era has brought to Kano.  They are totally uninterested in the many laudable social reforms Sanusi has promoted (particularly those focusing on the empowerment of women, quality education, healthcare and economic development).  To his credit, despite all the shenanigans and challenges he had to deal with pretty much on a daily basis, Sanusi remained decidedly focused on his solemn duty to serve the people he leads.  He remained laser-focused on doing everything within his power to advocate, promote and defend the interests of his people. Because of all this, it is undoubtedly clear that, within the five years he has been on the throne of his ancestors, he brought back, and elevated, the honor, relevance and power of the northern traditional institution to the rest of Nigeria and beyond.  Further, he uses his position as Emir to enhance the living conditions of his people.  For instance, Sanusi made the African Development Bank (ADB), under the leadership of his friend and colleague Akinwumi Adesina, to fund Kano Industrial Diagnostics.  No state in the Nigerian federation ever had such privilege. In fact, Adesina made the ADB to consider Kano like an African country just because of his respect and association with Sanusi. The bank is in the process of re-financing a textile factory in Kano, in partnership with new Chinese investors. It is estimated that this factory would employ more people than the total number of people employed by the Kano State Government over the last five years. Furthermore, Sanusi, as the Chairman of Black Rhino Group (BRG), has made agreement with investors in Nigeria to construct solar power plant in Kano and other locations in the country. BRG has $5 billion investment portfolio in Africa. I have no doubt that Kano and Nigeria will have received a large chunk of this portfolio if the Kano State Government (i.e., Ganduje) and the federal government work in partnership, and not in opposition, with Sanusi.  It is sad that politics is allowed to get in the way of real development.  Imagine the unprecedented development the people will receive if these solar plants are built and the epileptic power supply problem is a thing of the past.  Imagine how booming the dilapidated and essentially collapsed industries in Bompai, Sharada, Challawa etc. will become (creating millions of high-paying jobs and boosting the local economy).

Sanusi is a modern Emir for the modern times.  He challenges his people to constantly seek higher goals and become better versions of themselves.  He is a man of immense intellect, talent, knowledge, wisdom, eloquence, global reputation for excellence and vision.  Further, when it comes to the art of the display of royal pageantry, no one does it better than the Kano Emirate, particularly at this Muhammadu Sanusi II era.  Sanusi is among the few Nigerians that are well-known and revered within and outside Nigeria’s shores.  His stellar record of accomplishments in public life speaks for itself.

It saddens me to accept the fact that, despite its excellent history as a one-time West Africa’s numero-uno centre of commerce, Kano State is now one of the poorest places on earth, with over one million of our children currently out of school. Yet, the State Government that claims to have declared free and compulsory basic education cannot employ 3,000 teachers when over 10,000 are needed. Is this not enough of a challenge for Governor Ganduje to confront, rather than waste time and public resources to embark on the retrogressive jamboree of trying to dethrone Emir Sanusi? Instead of working collaboratively with Sanusi to formulate and implement a strategy for the socio-economic renaissance of the state, Ganduje chose the path of vendetta-driven personal destruction.  This is rather petty, I must say.    Kano deserves and emands better.  The Kano Emirate is simply too important to be allowed to be destroyed.  It is, and has always been, the centre and DNA of the Naija’s northern region.  If Kano burns, the rest of the north (and, by extension, the Naija nation) burns too.  What’s going on now in Kano is a matter of immense national security.  It threatens the very foundation for peace and social harmony among the various nationalities residing within Kano Emirate and its surrounding environs.  We saw what happened in Zamfara State, where a once proud state was partly destroyed because of the ill-advised and retrogressive creation and politicization of the Emirate. Ganduje did the same in Kano (re the balkanization of the Kano Emirate) and ignored court orders that adjudged his action to be manifestly illegal.

Sanusi is a man of immense quality.  He came from a tradition of distinguished public service and leadership.  He came from a tradition of bravery, courage and total devotion to duty.  That’s why it was no surprise that when he achieved his lifelong dream of ascension onto the revered throne of Dabo, he continued a legacy of impressive service and devotion.  Yes, Sanusi achieved his lifelong dream to succeed the throne of his ancestors.  But he also knows that such success comes with enormous responsibility to do whatever it takes to effectively serve the people he rules over.  He also knows that there is time for everything.  He who makes him Emir can also choose not to make him Emir.  In other words, like I stated above, he is a man of immense belief, and is perfectly at peace with whatever fate has in store for him.  He is driven by principles, conscience, sense of right and wrong and selfless devotion to duty.  No matter what happens going forward, Sanusi will go down in history as someone who is a selfless and ardent advocate for his people….and this, as Martha Stewart will say, is a damn good thing.  Those of us who proudly side with him do so for this….and this reason only.  Finally, I urge all men and women of conscience, integrity and principles to continue to join hands and help bring peace, harmony, progress and tranquility back to Kano…. the undisputed Jallah Babbar Hausa that modestly prides itself as the region of “Ko da me kazo an fika”.  We have survived adversities in the past, and we will do so again.  Governor Ganduje, the ball is in your court.  You have a date with history.  We hope you choose to do the right thing and be known as someone who built…and not destroy the Emirate.  Someone who enhanced the majesty, power and reputation of the historic Emirate…. and not someone who diminished it.

May peace reign in the Great City of Dabo.   Blessed be the great people and government of Kano. Blessed be the Kano Emirate (Africa’s finest). Blessed be our most-beloved His Highness MSII of the Great City of Dabo…. and beyond.

Abba B. Gumel is a Professor of Mathematics based in the US’s Valley of the Sun.

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