Chieftaincy institution: Sanusi, Bage retrieving the glory

Emir of Kano, Alhaji Muhammadu Sanusi II

Sanusi Lamido Sanusi ascended the throne of Kano emirate on 8th June, 2014 as the 14th Fulani emir. His appointment as emir was to him and as those closely associated with him will readily testify, a fulfilment of a noble and life time ambition nurtured and exhibited in several more ways than one. The first Friday after his appointment, Sanusi unexpectedly, albeit impressively and inspiringly, presided over the juma’at prayer for two consecutive Fridays at the Kano Government House mosque, on security ground, and subsequently, relocated to Abdullahi Bayero central mosque, built and equally presided over by his grandfather, Sir Muhammadu Sanusi. He both delivered the sermon preparatory to the prayer, first, in Arabic language, and second, in a translated Hausa version as is the case mostly in the Northern part of the country.

Ever since then, Emir Sanusi has been consistently and conscientiously conducting the affairs of the Kano emirate council largely in line with the teachings and fundamental principles of Islam. He has, for instance introduced reform measures specifically on aspects of marriage, drug abuse, the almajiri system, palace courtier system and a host of others that seek to rid the emirate of all traces of exploitative as well as other abusive tendencies.


In a similar vein, Alhaji Sidi Dauda Bage, a former justice of the Supreme Court, ascended the Lafia emirate throne, becoming the 17th in the chain of emirs that reigned; beginning with the foundation of yet another Kanuri emirate located in the middle Belt of Nigeria as far back as early 19th century.


In what appeared somewhat like an inspiration, the new emir of Lafia, Alhaji Sidi Dauda Bage, who succeeded the late Alhaji Isa Mustapha Agwai II, who would go down in history as having enjoyed the longest reign of forty-four (44) years, shall, on the official date of opening of the new palace mosque, lead the Friday prayer. The prayer is to be preceded as usual by a sermon to be delivered both in Arabic and Hausa language by the new emir.

Emir Sidi Dauda Bage, like his Kano counterpart, had nursed the aspiration, on a prolonged basis, since childhood, to assume the chieftaincy title of Lafian Barebare. Both the two royal highnesses had systematically, consistently, passionately and indeed, meticulously, aspired to ascend to the throne of their respective emirates, despite that each had attained the zenith of his chosen profession. Sanusi was a former Central Bank governor, while Bage was a former justice of the Supreme Court.

What, however, differentiates and makes the two royal highnesses unique from the multitude of others in the North, it seems, was a burning desire running in the veins of each of them, since their princely days, not only to succeed their forefathers and simply wear the crown, but and this is very important, to commence a process of change aimed at retrieving the lost glory of the once upon a time highly revered and of course deferred chieftaincy institution in the North.

Both Sanusi and Bage, it appears, are not only sufficiently informed about the circumstances that led to the current degradation and crisis that bedevils the chieftaincy institution, they had, over a long period of their princely life, also reasonably prepared themselves to squarely and decisively address the contemporary challenges confronting the royal institution.  Whereas, Sanusi, on one hand, amongst other things, obtained an LLB degree in Sharia Law, from the International University of Africa in Khartoum, Sudan, Sidi Dauda Bage, on the other, privately undertook courses in Arabic and on different aspects of Islamic religion under the tutelage of a couple of Islamic clerics. They all realized, a long time ago, that a sound knowledge of Islamic religion acquired and functionally deployed by the royal fathers, more than anything else, holds the key to the resolution of the current dilemma confronting the chieftaincy institution. Consequent upon series of reform, over the years, the latest being the Dasuki Report of 1976, the chieftaincy institution has undergone profound transformation and may as well be inexorably on its way to total extinction, unless certain positive appropriate measures are adopted, first, to arrest the drift and, second re-align it to the contemporary aspirations and expectations of the people.

The essence of the various local government reforms had been to strip the traditional rulers of all traces of legislative, executive and judicial powers earlier vested in them by the constitution and thus, shift the locus of power firmly and of course, indisputably under the control of democratically elected local government councils. And although traditional rulers still retain some measure of relevance in terms of governance, their role has become strictly confined to being the chief custodians of the traditions and customs of their various peoples. In addition, they also play advisory, ceremonial as well as mediatory roles.

In recent times of course, there has been agitations for constitution amendment to accommodate traditional chieftaincy institution; specifically, in terms of spelling out definite statutory function. This clarion call has become more urgent particularly with the recent upsurge in the level of insecurity across the country and the corresponding failure of security agencies to respond appropriately.

However, it is instructive to note that, any attempt, through constitutional mechanism, to create functions for the traditional rulers can only tantamount to creating two parallel power structures and of course, chaos at the local government level, where political power is currently decidedly located in fully democratized local government councils. This clearly suggests that, the yearnings and aspirations of the traditional rulers as well as their symphasizers, for statutory powers through constitutional amendment is, to say the least, simply untenable.

As a matter of fact, the desire and agitations for the retrieval of the hitherto huge powers exercised by traditional rulers, is more likely to be realized through the return to Islam kind of initiative seized by Sanusi and Bage than through any constitutional amendment that can at best remain only a tantalizing mirage. The answer will seem to lie in the traditional rulers independently, committedly and progressively carving a role for themselves, by tapping effectively and creatively from the immense potential powers inherent in religion and customs and in deploying these huge powers to provide dynamic and purposeful leadership to their peoples.

The return to the roots initiative implies a return to early post jihad period in northern Nigeria, when the emirs were both the spiritual and mundane heads of their emirates and they administered them largely based on Islamic law. Accordingly, the emirs were those that led the Friday ritual and even five daily, prayers and conducted preaching amongst other things. They derived their legitimacy by virtue of their appointments and functions as representatives of God. They applied the holy Qur’an and Sunnah of the Holy prophet Muhammad as the constitution in the administration of their various emirates. They, as And of course, not only did they overwhelmingly command the loyalty of their subjects, these subjects also strongly held the belief that obedience to them was in effect tantamount to obedience to God Almighty.

Certainly, for our contemporary royal fathers, the cause defined and being pursued by the likes of their royal highnesses in the persons of Sanusi, Bage and Abubakar is the way to go in the current bid at retrieving the lost glory of the traditional chieftaincy institution. This was the path established by the likes of sheikh Usman Dan Fodio of blessed memory, who created a vast Islamic empire across the western Sudan. And although over time this cause was betrayed, bastardized and abused, it still remains the most noble and valid for both the sitting royal fathers and indeed, those princes out there who aspire to ascend to the thrones.

Mr. Ibrahim is a former DG Nigeria Governors’ Forum

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