Conversation with Azu
The Sarkin Kano, Muhammad Sanusi II, always wanted to be to local. Even in his heyday as governor of the Central Bank, he said he was often amused when public office holders fought for appointment as ministers, state governors, ambassadors or for any position at all on the big stage.
All he ever wanted after his tour of duty at the Central Bank, he said, was to be Sarkin Kano, the emir.
He got his wish. But as it has turned out almost from the onset, and progressively ever since, he has been subjected to far more siege than he might have experienced even if he had become Secretary General of the United Nations. Yet, it appears to be a largely self-imposed misery.
The Sarkin Kano wanted the best of two worlds, but much to his grief, a third is being created for him – a hyperlocal ruler. A local emir with the power, glory and omnipotence of a global icon is a mirage. Local with global reach is the stuff of advert copy. In the real world, to change local, you must make haste slowly.
It was not only that what he wanted all his life was not in the office he passionately desired, it was also, in a significant way, anathema to it. Two years ago, a courageous journalist with deep interest in the North, Ja’afar Ja’afar, published an article in which he directly accused Sanusi of financial recklessness.
Ja’afar claimed that about six weeks after the Sarkin Kano was enthroned the emirate’s safe was raided and, within two years, stripped of over N4billion, apart from nearly N500million spent on luxury cars. That was outside the millions of naira spent on travels and phone calls, which more than doubled the annual overheads of the palace.
Just the sort of thing that the Sarkin Kano condemned in the Goodluck Jonathan government for which he earned brownie points.
Why did he not see the plank in his own eye? Why did it not dawn on the Sarkin Kano who comes from the worst poverty-endemic zone in the country and who himself said that if we do nothing that Nigeria might remain the world’s poverty capital for another 30 years, that his lifestyle was inconsistent with what he was preaching?
And this is not kicking a man who’s down. There are, of course, other versions of the story out there. It’s been said, in some circles for example, that Sanusi’s problem started after the 2015 election when he made a pitch to President Muhammadu Buhari for the Senate presidency for his friend and old King’s College schoolmate, Bukola Saraki.
Beyond old boys’ ties, Saraki, once chair of the Nigerian Governors’ Forum, was also instrumental to Sanusi’s appointment by President Umaru Yar’Adua as Central Bank governor.
The Sarkin Kano felt obliged to repay a good turn. Buhari rebuffed him, but his friend, Saraki, got the Senate presidency through the backdoor, to the displeasure of the party and the Presidency. He was said to have returned again, this time, to ask for a reprieve for Saraki during his trial at the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT). That second visit cemented the impression that the Sarkin Kano was a man to be kept at arm’s length.
Yet, the failed episode of quiet diplomacy may not have been his biggest undoing. If at that stage, the cold war was between Sanusi and Abuja, the Sarkin Kano brought the battle home when he said of Governor Abdullahi Ganduje’s $1.8billion agreement with China in 2017 for a light rail project with the China Exim Bank: “At the end of the day what do you benefit from it in a state like Kano or Katsina?
“Where are you going to? You are not going to an industrial estate to work. You are not going to school? You are not going to farm. You borrow money from China to invest in trains so that your citizens can ride on them and go for weddings and naming ceremonies.”
To be fair, the Sarkin Kano has used his considerable clout to the benefit of Kano. Part of the fruit of his effort is Black Rhino’s partnership with Dangote for a $150million 100 megawatt solar electricity project in the state, apart from other efforts to revive Kano as a trading and industrial powerhouse.
But his China quip was the inconvenient truth: Inconvenient for Ganduje who in spite of his credentials has proved to be one of the most incompetent governors in Kano’s recent history, and certainly inconvenient for Sanusi whose arrogance robbed him of the benefit of the wisdom of his own words.
Sanusi handed his enemies a stick, inviting the last straw when he openly – and rightly – praised the state commissioner of police, Muhammad Wakili, for resisting Ganduje’s blatant attempt to rig the keenly contested governorship election, before the election was declared inconclusive.
Ganduje is on a roll, but he would choke on his own spite. Wait and see. The governor is not after the Sarkin Kano because he has suddenly seen the light and recognised that neither a predatory emirate nor weekly carnivals of state-sponsored weddings will save Kano. He is not after the Sarkin Kano and the kingmakers because he has seen the need to restructure the centuries’ old emirate and make it more responsive.
Nor is he even motivated by the ideological difference that spurred a similar tampering under former Abubakar Rimi; the “emancipation” mantra that instigated a similar exercise under Solomon Lar in Plateau; or the ethnically charged agenda driving gerrymandering in Southern Kaduna under Nasir El-Rufai.
It’s venge-fest pure and simple; the sort of thing that Ganduje’s in-law and outgoing Oyo State governor, Abiola Ajimobi, did in Ibadan, shredding the Olubadan’s domain in spite of the law and shamelessly naming streets after himself.
Reliable sources said the Sarkin Kano resisted all entreaties to support Ganduje in the tight governorship race. The statement from the palace after the inconclusive poll that politics should not be a do-or-die affair, it was said, was aimed at the governor in his vulnerable moment. Politicians interested in 2023 poured petrol into the fire, telling Ganduje to mark the Sarkin Kano as his number one enemy.
Now, it’s payback time and among the most deadly armies in the governor’s service are those from within the royal household, including Aminu Ado Bayero, one of the Sarkin Kano’s bitterest rivals for the throne.
I’ve been intrigued by the pathology of this spite. Why is Ganduje determined to bring down the house Uthman dan Fodio built, instead of taking on the Sarkin Kano directly, if he has a case against him? Is it necessary to destroy the foundation to take the house to the next level? Why stir up the potentially deadly embers of a royal feud to quench one man’s perceived inordinate ambition?
How can a governor who came to office with some of the best academic and experiential credentials make such a profound mess of his first four years in office that he’s literally twisting by a judicial thread? How can a man who came to power with considerable goodwill be at deadly odds with both the king and the kingmakers so soon afterwards?
A few of the answers go back to the beginning – to Ganduje’s rise to power. He was handed power by his former boss, Rabiu Kwankwaso, who not only held him in contempt for the most part of his tenure, but once reportedly said to Ganduje’s face that he would remove him from office if he didn’t perform. Ganduje was in office but an orphan in power, a complete hostage to the Kwankwasiyya movement.
Kwankwaso’s bitter exit from the ruling APC was the window Ganduje needed to team up with Abuja and reclaim his mojo, one drop of testosterone at a time. Not only has he regained sufficient confidence to shake down contractors, he is pulling down electoral and monarchical strongholds – whatever bears allegiance to the Kwankwasiyya order.
With the matter back in court, the game of thrones, which is just one aspect of the unfolding drama, has only changed gears. It promises to be a foreboding season.
Ishiekwene is the Managing Director/Editor-In-Chief of The Interview and member of the board of the Global Editors Network.