The dethronement of Muhammadu Sanusi II and his banishment to Nasarawa State, who was until a few days ago, the Emir of Kano, threw up all over the image of an all-powerful, illiberal state barely restrained by law, good conscience or traditions of civility. Had the Kano State Government found a way to accommodate the stature and outspoken views of Sanusi, a public intellectual, it would have validated its conception as a liberal, sub-national polity, tolerant of opposition, plural in character, as envisaged by the 1999 Constitution (as amended). But Kano failed to see the bigger picture and possibilities of deepening its democracy, falling, thereby, to the short-term victories of autocrats in democratic garbs.
Recall the famous words of Evelyn Beatrice Hall, “I disapprove of what you say but I will defend to the death, your right to say it”. Isn’t this the kind of leeway and lever that signpost true liberalism? Great institutions understand the power of inclusiveness, as well as tolerance of dissent, and diversity.
Oxford and Cambridge Universities could hire Leftist, even Marxist scholars such as Terry Eagleton, a towering figure of the Western intellectual world, while Massachusetts Institute of Technology could boast having on its staff, the maverick, radical scholar, Noam Chomsky, arguably the most cited scholar on the globe. The difference between the Kano and Kaduna State Governments is that friendship ties between Sanusi and El-Rufai aside, the latter, by offering the deposed Emir, two prestigious appointments in 24 hours, is displaying insight into human capital management and the proper deployment of originality.
It is a shame that the Kano State Government, or whoever is responsible for the banishment, had to excavate a colonial practice in order to deal with a Nigerian citizen in 2020. Sanusi, it was reported by The Punch on Thursday, is under the surveillance of 40 security men in a remote section of northern Nigeria. Isn’t there a touch of sadism on top of the waste of human talent in all of this drama? After the long years of military rule and two decades of democratic practice, shouldn’t Kano and Nigeria have outgrown the habit of subjecting their opponents to the torture of state power and arbitrariness?
Sanusi’s profile as an interlocutor and public activist is too well known to require recapitulation, but suffice it to say that it spanned his career as governor of the Central Bank and the Emir of Kano. At the Central Bank, thunderous revelations about corruption on the part of the President Goodluck Jonathan administration, not only cost him his job, but went a long way to delegitimise Jonathan. Upon becoming Emir, he chose not to remain silent or to bury himself in the coziness of official largesse, which he could easily have done, but rather chose the path of employing royalty to mainstream burning national issues. To give an example, barely a year into the presidency of Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd), Sanusi issued a warning that unless care was taken, Buhari would end up like Jonathan did. As this columnist saw it at the time, the idea was that, if Buhari and northern Nigeria had waited and fought this long for ‘their turn’ at the Presidency, then, it ought not to be business as usual, but a marked departure from the familiar rollercoaster governance.
Furthermore, his passion for the plight of northern Nigeria came through in the several public speeches he made, drawing attention to worsening poverty, educational backwardness, spreading insurgency and banditry, among other issues. I should like to think that there was an attempt here to resurrect the tradition of the Sardauna of Sokoto, Sir Ahmadu Bello, who was not only an able administrator, but a public thinker. To narrate Sanusi this way does not mean that he was without blemish; nobody is. In my piece, “Lamido Sanusi: The uproar against Sanusinomics” (The Punch, Friday, December 7, 2012), I suggested the need for the then Governor of Central Bank, to think through and contextualise some of his prescriptions, such as job layoffs, as well as narrow the gap between his vision of utopia and lived practices. So, we are not dealing with a saint, as several commentators have observed, but with someone, who in spite of his frailties, has excitingly widened the discourse space, mainstreaming several topics that the nation should be busy pondering.
It is instructive that when it comes to the show of power, our governors and elected officials move the apparatus of the state to achieve their goals in a hurry. Somnolent institutions suddenly wake up to work at breakneck speed, and a system that is normally laggard, comes to life to achieve desired ends. Sadly, however, the goals are narrow, trivial and ego-driven. One would have wished that such tremendous energy was put to the task of state-building and developmental activities that touch the lives of the majority of citizens. For example, it would be interesting to know how many genuine cases of corruption had been expeditiously dealt with by the Kano State Public Complaints and Anti-Corruption Commission, which in the wake of Sanusi’s deposition, had vowed to continue with an alleged N2.2 billion land scam attributed to the former Emir. Indeed, considering what the Nigerian public knows about corruption in that state, there is an aspect of farce about the anti-corruption policies of that particular institution. So, we are back to the riddle whereby partisanship, hero-worship, and the cult of the political leader take precedence over broader issues of governance, such as unemployment, provision of decent infrastructure, and tackling insecurity.
The endless feuds and power games that take place at both federal and state levels may delight factions of the political elite whose fortunes are affected by these never-ending games, however, Nigerians will be much happier and more comfortable if far more attention is paid to their worsening plight and much less to the long knives and triumphalist jeers that obsess a diminutive tribe of politicians. To be sure, there is a fairly lengthy list of monarchs that have been deposed by Nigeria’s power-hungry and arbitrary rulers, nonetheless, the circumstances surrounding this particular deposition constitute an amazing display of cruelty and attempts to get even with a perceived opponent. It is a pity, too, that the various efforts to broker peace between the governor, Abdullahi Ganduje, and Sanusi, involving such eminent persons as the Vice President, Prof Yemi Osibanjo, Aliko Dangote, and former Head of State, Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar (retd.), eventually came to naught, as the crisis defied the reconciliatory initiatives. This does not say very much for our capacity as a nation, for constructive engagement in matters that require adjudication and conflict resolution. It is also a manifestation of the persistent syndrome, whereby, politics and hyper-partisanship trump governance and statecraft.
It would be interesting to watch how the drama, which may not end quickly, unfolds, as the battle shifts to the courtroom, in an effort to get justice for a highly placed citizen, whose rights and freedom have been drastically curtailed. Going forward, Nigerians should consider ways by which civil society and constitutional innovations can mitigate the arrogance of power, of our state governors, and the utter helplessness and racketeering of our state assemblies, which have been reduced to echo chambers of the whims and caprices of successive governors.