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Deposed Sanusi: Lessons For Niger Delta

I consider an analysis on the deposition of the former emir of Kano, Alhaji Sanusi Lamido Sanusi  in a Whatsapp  post as brilliant. But to me there are three important points in the article that need to be interrogated as follows: First, is it right to suspect that the President is in the know of what happened in Kano? Yes, President Buhari is a public servant whose every action should be subject to national debate and analysis.

If there was any doubt about the President on the matter, it has been cleared by the early assignments in the itinerary of the new Emir. It was reported that the new Emir was received within 24 hours of his sudden ascension, by President Buhari in the Villa. Why was it so important and urgent for President Buhari to receive the new Emir of Kano? Has President Buhari received any traditional ruler with such haste? Is there such a protocol that the Presidency must allow a new traditional ruler to meet with Nigeria’s President?

 I doubt that the Amanyanabo of  Bonny, Opobo or Nembe, the Oba of Benin, the Obi of Onitsha, the Tor Tiv or the Oba of Lagos among other traditional rulers, have had the opportunity of a prompt invite by the President. Should the President not extend to them similar courtesy of a prompt invitation, for the sake of fairness in a nation bound in freedom, peace and unity?

Second, in my view a major weakness of the analysis is a surprising wrong conclusion: “ that you cannot be a traditional ruler and an activist” for a better society. Yes, you can! In fact all of us should be activists to change Nigeria’s ruling system of mass poverty and those who continue to profit from it. And Emir Sanusi has demonstrated that it is possible. He made the Emir of Kano’s seat an advocacy platform for economic and civil rights for the poor. His position is so eloquent that traditional rulers cannot continue to dodge a duty to define the future and prospects of the society they rule.

As Emir of Kano, Sanusi II refused to follow tradition to stay blind and quiet in order to keep the luxurious life of an eminent office in Nigeria. Sanusi didn’t want to pretend that the increasing poverty of the masses in society was ok. He chose to speak out against a society that produces more helpless slaves.

First as Central Bank Governor under President  Goodluck Jonathan, he spoke out against so much wealth in the hands of a corrupt few while poverty flooded the land. And as Emir of Kano, he said something is wrong with a system that produces more poverty in the North. Nigeria knew that truth all along, but the ruling class won’t let anyone attack the system behind it. Islam and poverty were wrongly juxtaposed as being together.

 Sanusi took the challenge to attack the ruling class in the North by unmasking the rulers as the one who are giving Islam a bad name. He quoted Prophet Mohammed to prove his case that Islam is against man-made poverty; that is poverty from wrong policies in the society.

The same argument applies to our Niger Delta Governors, legislators, sundry politicians, Church leaders and traditional rulers. Sanusi’s voice rings loud and clear in his silence: How can you claim to be Christians? Not when the local and State governments continue to produce poverty and misery, their cronies steal  their way to a life of luxury! Jesus Christ did not embody that in his life style and not in his teachings.

Thirdly, there are important lessons about the emirate system which the Niger Delta and the non- emirate North need to learn from what has happened in Kano. (a). Northern Emirs are sometimes directly chosen by Governors and Emirates created by Governors, as happened in Kano. It is not so, for the traditional institution in the Niger Delta. We should be careful not to affiliate our ethnic institution to the philosophy and practices of the Fulani Emirate system.

(b) By its historical and logical presentation, the Emirate system is clearly an imposition on indigenous ethnic groups of each state concerned. The Fulani own the Feudal system and the emirate structure that sustains it, as conquerors of the indigenous communities they lord over. This is internal colonialism that has been left intact by the Nigerian State since 1960. But in the Niger Delta, our chieftaincy system does not follow the pattern of internal colonialism that defines the emirate system, where a group of occupation such as the Fulani, is a dominant minority.

(c). We need to redefine how our traditional institution and governments (Local Governments and State Governments) should relate. Why do we need traditional rulers’ stools to be classified or given recognition by government? Can we find a better way of managing that process of authentication of chieftaincy stool or throne without partisan political sentiments?

Also, we need to redefine how those holding political power and our traditional rulers should relate in order to harness public confidence as a crucial resource for economic development. For instance, a study by GRAIN Consulting in 2013-2014  and in 2017- 2018 ( before  the general elections) showed that among top five things Niger Delta people resent, is why they see as arrogance, disregard and abuse they suffer from political office holders, Civil Servants and traditional rulers. Maybe it is worth addressing now to avert the danger of perceived internal colonialism. Even worse is what we see now.

Since 1999 our “royal fathers” have been steadily reduced by government pressure to conduct themselves as “royal servants” of the Governor and his associates. Yet the people in power are indigenes of each State. For them to treat our traditional institution as a public service appointment is to sow seeds of ethnic disharmony and mutual suspicion for the future.  It is a confrontation that assaults our history as a people. Even the colonial masters couldn’t win that battle. But today it tends towards increasing fragmentation of groups within each clan and ethnicity.

We need to have our Houses of Assembly hold public hearings and call for ideas to redefine the function of traditional rulers, code of conduct and a payment system that does not make traditional rulers subservient to the government of the day. The traditional institution should embody the spirit, values and aspirations of each clan or ethnic group in a State. It should not exist at the whims and caprices of a Governor or the demands of partisan politics. To kick a traditional ruler around or to ignore the protocol of decency in exchange between government officials and the traditional institution is to degrade the ethnic group that the institution represents in each Local Government Area or State. It is a slap that no compensation can off-set in history!

d) Niger Delta traditional rulers through their South-South forum should reach out to parallel regional bodies to refuse underlying feudalist sentiments and  internal colonialism about the traditional institution. For instance, the idea that only the Sultan of Sokoto or someone from the core North can be the Chairman of Nigeria’s traditional rulers’ council is an abuse of our traditional institution. That appears to be the philosophy the emirate system is built upon.

In the Niger Delta the chieftaincy institution is historically different. It’s root is indigenous among the clan or ethnic group of each kingdom. They are not a conquered people. We need to educate our politicians by urgent and positive debate towards a legislative process to show that we are not running a quasi-emirate system in the Niger Delta. No Governor or Local Government Chairman should be allowed to treat any section or group in the constituency as “a conquered people”. That is not the way of democracy.

Traditional rulers represent an institution that is a foundation stakeholder of our society. Political parties or governments come and go, but our traditional institution remains. It has to be treated as a proper stakeholder of our society in terms of function, Code of Conduct, protocol and a transparent reward system that is protected from partisan meddling or Chiefs who seek to inflate their position.

Finally, sustained and subtle exposure to the emirate system could lead to a “contagion effect” of a social equivalent of the dreaded “Coronavirus”. No Governor in Niger Delta states should be tempted on his own or by outside political forces to violate our history. Installation, suspension or outright removal of any traditional ruler or chief must be in accordance with the tradition of the people in that particular part of the Niger Delta.

 Amaopusenibo Bobo Brown, veteran journalist and emeritus National President of Nigerian Institute of Public Relations, is the Managing Consultant /CEO of Grain Consulting, Port Harcourt.

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