Thirty-nine years after, Awujale moment for Sanusi, by Azu Ishiekwene

Azu Ishiekwene.

Conversation with Azu

“Politicians are often very intolerant of contrary views to theirs. If one differed from them on any issue one automatically became an enemy.” – Oba Sikiru Adetona

The day after Governor Abdullahi Ganduje dethroned Mohammad Sanusi II, Sarkin Kano and banished him, the question that kept coming back to me was: What is going on in Sanusi’s mind? Was he in despair, denial or defiance? Or the whole range? What was he thinking?

I found a book that helped to answer the questions as if Sanusi himself were providing them. The author of the book, the Awujale of Ijebuland, Oba Sikiru Adetona, had walked this road before and survived to tell the story.

The book is entitled: Awujale: The autobiography of Alaiyeluwa Oba S.K. Adetona Ogbaga II. Two chapters of it would easily fit into the unfolding draft which may be entitled, ‘The Odyssey of Mohammad Sanusi II, Sarkin Kano’.

Although the Awujale’s account was from events that occurred nearly four decades ago, the story of this independent-minded and forthright traditional ruler could well have been speaking of the current predicament of Sanusi. Change a few names, dates and places and the substance would be almost exactly as it has been playing out in Ganduje’s Kano today. Some things never change.

Bisi Onabanjo was the governor of Ogun State at the time. He had been very good friends with the Awujale. The Oba wrote extensively about how he helped Onabanjo settle a serious health problem and also came to his rescue when he was setting up his press, which later turned out to be an important business and professional investment. What are friends for?

Then, things fell apart. As it has been between Ganduje and Sanusi, the relationship between Onabanjo and Awujale began to deteriorate when politics started to encroach. According to Awujale, he had disagreements with the leader of the Action Group (AG), Obafemi Awolowo, among other things, over a policy he believed Awolowo had used to unfairly target Chief Timothy Adeola Odutola, a prominent Ijebu businessman when Awolowo was the Federal Minister of Finance.

The Customs and Excise department had imposed additional excise duty on tyres when Odutola was planning to set up a bicycle tyre and tube factory in Ijebu Ode, sparking accusations that Awolowo, who supervised Customs, deliberately imposed the duty to spite Odutola and give Dunlop and Michelin undue advantage.

Matters came to a head years later when Awolowo was running for the presidency on the ticket of the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN), while Onabanjo was running for the governorship of Ogun on the ticket of the same party.

Awolowo lost, but Onabanjo won bringing the battle between the Awolowo/Onabanjo/UPN and the Awujale to Ogun, to Ijebuland, and specifically to the doorstep of the Oba’s palace.

With considerable help from Concord press (owned by MKO Abiola, a mortal foe of the UPN), Awujale criticised UPN policies he thought were not good enough and did not consider himself the errand boy of anyone in the Government House. Onabanjo’s government became uncomfortable and started looking for a bad name for the dog in order to have excuse to hang it.

The opportunity finally came when Awujale wrote Governor Onabanjo a nice letter informing him he needed to travel abroad on medical grounds. The letter, according to Awujale, had details of where he would be staying and his telephone number, just in case.

“He replied,” Awujale wrote, “that he (Onabanjo) wanted more particulars about my health and trip to enable him to take a decision on whether to grant my request or not.

“I replied that my letter was written out of courtesy to keep him abreast of my absence, and not to ask, in the manner of the Civil Service, for permission about my travel.” In order words, Awujale told the governor to mind his business, which did not include matters of his personal health or freedom.

I will return to this story.

Keep in mind that the accusations against Sanusi is that he disrespected lawful instructions from the office of the governor; that he persisted in absenting himself from official meetings and programmes of the state government; and that he had the effrontery to challenge the Kano State Emirate Law 2019, which essentially balkanised the Kano emirate, subverted precedence and ranking order, and re-assigned to the governor whatever prerogatives kingmakers had left.

There have also been suggestions that Sanusi’s criticism of Ganduje’s $3bn railway project and two public speeches admonishing Northerners against having children they will not look after and challenging its leaders to do things differently, were perhaps the last straw.

Imagine, for a moment, that Sanusi also dared to do what the Awujale did; that is, after informing the governor that he was planning to travel and the governor asked for additional information, he responded by telling Ganduje that he would not be treated as one of the civil servants in Kano State.

But the Awujale did not even stop there. Not only did he tell Governor Onabanjo that he didn’t need his permission to travel; he travelled, rebuffed pleas by top government functionaries for him to return; and when the pressure to return became too much, he changed his telephone number without telling anyone!

If Sanusi ever dared to go this far, banishment would have been child’s play. Ganduje – or any of today’s governors in fact – would have stoned him out of his palace or tied him to a stake in the public square and executed him one bullet at a time. Dethronement and banishment would have been like amnesty.

Of course, Awujale did not go scot-free. When he returned from his medical trip, the state government suspended him and later set up a commission of enquiry to probe him in what was clearly a politically tainted trial.

The panel had such broad terms of reference that it included everything from the management of his businesses, trade or profession, to the causes and circumstances of his visits abroad; and from his personal relationships with his chiefs and elders to why he had neglected a particular traditional festival which was held once in a year!

After the enquiry, the panel turned in a report of the indictment in the evening and the next morning, the government announced that the Awujale had been deposed!

Sanusi was deposed on Monday but he was marked long before then. His strong political views, which were sometimes at variance with the circumspection required of his office; his closeness to former Governor Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso who appointed him, but who subsequently fell out of favour with the powers that be in Kano and Abuja; and most of all, his barely disguised opposition to Ganduje’s second term, marked him out as government enemy number one for which he has paid the price.

But it’s not over yet. No matter how far away he is removed, Sanusi has reawakened something that Ganduje may delay, but cannot stop. The North will, willy-nilly, save or destroy itself, and the consequences for good or ill will reach the farthest parts of the country. Neither the palace nor government house will be the same again.

As it was with Awujale in Ijebuland 39 years ago, the end of this chapter of Sanusi’s life is not the end of the story. Whether, like the Awujale, Sanusi returns to his throne or not, whether he returns to Kano or not, the book is not finished, yet.

Ishiekwene is the MD/Editor-In-Chief of The Interview.


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