A flurry of extemporaneous statements made on Friday last week by Mrs Shahida Sanusi, the brilliant daughter who represented her father Emir Muhammadu Sanusi II at the Inaugural Annual Chibok Girls Lecture need a little correction lest many of our youngsters get the impression that what she said is revealed truth. Ordinarily, a youngster’s statements could be excused as youthful exuberance but since she was representing an exalted Northern emir at the event, there is the danger that what she said could one day be attributed to him. I will not know if she cleared that part of the speech with His Royal Highness but I am assuming here that she didn’t.
The young princess said her father’s life-long dream had always been to become the Emir of Kano. That must be true. I probably knew it before her because in 1999 I heard the then Sanusi Lamido Sanusi speak at an event organised by Media Trust Limited at Arewa House in Kaduna. He was a little known banker at the time and he deviated from his speech, which was about constitutional reforms, and said, “My grandfather was an emir and my main wish in life is to succeed him.” I was taken aback because royal ambitions, unlike political ambitions, are not supposed to be expressed in public. Usually, an ambitious prince leaves matters in the knowing hands of praise singers, who will mob him at a public event and loudly pray for him to succeed his ancestors. He will quietly settle them when he gets back home but no one heard it from his mouth.
Shahida Sanusi did not stop there. Apparently defending the Emir’s record for outspokenness on political, economic, social and religious matters, she said, “My father is not afraid of giving up his throne if it stands in the way of speaking the truth. I know that if my father has to choose between the throne and his conscience, he will happily give up the throne.” Several things wrong with that assertion, in my opinion. First, it is not right at all to be talking in public about a Northern emir [or for that matter any traditional ruler in Nigeria] losing his throne.
Removing a traditional ruler from his throne is a traumatic experience not only for the person involved and his family but for the community as a whole and in fact even for the political authorities who effect the deposition. Emir Sanusi’s grandfather was deposed from the Kano throne 54 years ago and the aftershocks are still being felt in Kano and in the North. It is so traumatic that the surviving political leaders of that era hardly want to talk about it. In 1982 when publisher of Africa Now magazine Peter Enahoro interviewed President Shehu Shagari, he was clearly irritated when Enahoro brought up the issue of Sanusi’s deposition and he kept fending off the questions.
It is also because, unlike political leaders or civil servants, emirs are appointed for life. They have no fixed tenure; do not come up for re-election or reappointment and they are not removed from office on health grounds however old, senile or incapacitated they are. Longevity is an important element in traditional rulers’ mystique and is consistent with other values of the peasantry, the social group that most reveres traditional rulers. Peasants in Northern Nigeria, who are still the numerical majority, often live in the same house throughout their lives, sometimes the same house inhabited by their parents and grandparents. They are often married to the same wives throughout their lives; they till the same farm throughout their lives; hardly aspire to anything beyond early rains and a good harvest; and they calculate all events based on who was on the throne at the time.
To them, it is sacrilegious almost to talk about deposing an emir or for that matter, the abdication of an emir. The culture of abdication is unknown around here, for principle or for any other reason. Even in Europe, royal abdication is not viewed favourably, outside Holland. In 1936 when Britain’s King Edward VIII abdicated so he will marry the American divorcee Mrs Wallis Simpson [“The woman I love”], he thought he was making a principled stand but opinion polls showed that most Britons were angry with him.
Much more seriously, Mrs Shahida Sanusi said her father would abdicate if the throne stands between him and his conscience. I don’t think thrones stand between anyone and his conscience. A person should not seek something all his life only to find that it stands between him and his conscience. The issue here is not conscience but the Emir’s outspokenness which many people think is not the tradition of royal fathers. To imply that outspokenness is the only way to tell the truth is not correct. Telling the truth is not an affair for all comers, all times and all situations. As my senior Alhaji Shehu Kaikai once reminded me, “There is a person to tell the truth; there is a time to tell the truth; and there is a way to tell the truth.” All three conditions are very important if the purpose of telling the truth is to effect a change, not just to rattle feathers.
I think it is wrong to assume that all the other Northern emirs that are keeping quiet in public by covering their mouths with amawali are not telling the truth to governors, ministers and presidents. It is true that a lot of the selfishness and rot that has afflicted Nigerian society has also afflicted royal fathers, but not all of them. Unless we sometimes have the privilege to speak privately with some royal fathers, we never get to know what advice they offered in private and what effect it had on public policy and the conduct of political rulers. There is a lot of it.
Hajiya Shahida also said, “He has already accomplished his ambition of succeeding his forefathers and frankly he is the same person I knew as the banker and central bank governor. As an emir, he has not changed and he will be the same person even as an ex-emir if it comes to that.” Again, I see problems with that statement. Succeeding to the throne of ancestors should not just be for the heck of it. One should aim to keep the throne for a lifetime in order to sustain its majesty and aura and also make a difference to the community. If emirs are deposed or they abdicate with the regularity of local government chairmen, very soon the thrones will not be worth it.
The statement about her father remaining the same person as banker and emir is also a bit strange. Different callings call for different habits. There is an old Hausa saying that when the music changes, the dancing must also change. When I think about it, transition from banker to royal father should actually be easy compared to transition from other callings. Daily Trust on Saturday recently listed many soldiers, policemen and Customs officers that now sit on royal thrones. I can imagine the wrenching career transition that they went through. A friend told me that in 2006, when Brigadier General Muhammad Sa’ad Abubakar had been the Sultan for a few days, he saw Army Chief General Martins Luther Agwai walk in and he did not know when he stood up. The Sultan has since adjusted admirably.
My remarks today are not directed at the Emir of Kano. During the 1976 US presidential debates, candidate Jimmy Carter criticised President Gerald Ford for signing a certain UN treaty but Ford replied that the Vatican also signed it. Carter quickly said, “I am not criticising His Holiness the Pope. I am talking about Mr. Ford.”
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