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Kano emirates imbroglio – a reflection

By Gambo Dori
EVEN though the feud between the Kano State Governor, Abdullahi Umar Ganduje and Emir of Kano, Alhaji Muhammadu Sanusi II, had simmered for many months, yet when it broke into an open conflict many were taken aback. Of course an assault on the very prominent Kano emirate is bound to raise eyebrows here and there, but, for me, there were really no surprises. Many of us have witnessed this kind of conflict over the years, not only in Kano but in other parts of Nigeria, particularly where vestiges of the ancient kingdoms are still evident. That is why, for me, I just sighed, muttered to myself saying: ‘Here we go again.’

Ganduje, Kano
GOVERNOR Abdullahi Ganduje and Emir, Muhammadu Sanusi 11.

I guess another person who would be watching these Kano events keenly would be the professor of history on a sabbatical as chairman of INEC, Mahmood Yakubu. He is now even at a more vantage point in the arena to gather material to update his well-researched, Emirs and Politicians. That’s a book I would recommend as a must read for anyone wanting to comprehend and really come to terms with what is happening in Kano today.

Since the turn of the last century when the British came visiting to the northernmost part of the country with their maxim guns, the emirates have been in a state of flux. After the emirates were subjugated, one after the other the relationship that emerged between the emirs and the conquering overlords was clear and unambiguous. The British were the senior partners. Period. But even then there were moments of stress. Many emirs who could not stomach the overbearing British officials and resisted, lost their thrones and were exiled from their kingdoms, many to Lokoja where they languished till death.

That was the fate of Emir of Kano, Alu Maisango, who was deposed and exiled to Lokoja in 1904. Other emirs who lost their thrones in the same period include those of Zaria, Kwasau, Bida, Malam Abubakar; Gwandu, Muhammadu Aliyu; Gumel, Abubakar Dan Abubakar; Lamido of Adamawa, Bobbo Ahmadu and Ibrahim Nagwamatse of Kontagora. Some resistance was even met with completely abolishing the lineage as it happened in Katsina where in 1906 the Dallazawa dynasty was replaced with a completely new one, that of the now reigning Sullubawa.

The second phase of the assault on the traditional institutions came up in the dying days of the colonial regime in the 1950s. It was a period when the new emerging political class were primed and in a hurry to take over. There could be no accommodation in the political space with emirs who were not ready to face contemporary realities, and with the assistance of the outgoing colonial masters severely cut them to size.  Again that became the fate of Emir of Argungu, Muhammadu Sama’ila, who was deposed in 1953 and was sent into exile. The same punishment was inflicted the following year on the Emir of Bauchi, Yakubu III and Mustafa III of Dikwa who also lost their thrones and were sent into exile. The Attah of Ebira, Ibrahima, followed suit in 1945. In 1956, Umaru Obosi, the Attah of Igala was also deposed and sent off to Dekina where he decided to commit suicide. Finally, just before independence, Muhammadu Sheshe who succeeded Sama’ila as Emir of Argungu was also deposed in 1959 and exiled.

Bryn Sherwood Smith, the Northern Region Governor in that period chronicled these sordid events in his autobiography, But Always as Friends. Smith, a colonial officer came to Nigeria in 1921 in his early 20s, and served for most of his adult life in the North. For most of the substantive years of the Lugardian Indirect rule he was in Sokoto, Zaria, Kano, Minna, provinces before being elevated in 1952 to superintend the affairs of the Northern Region as the Lieutenant-Governor in the dying days of the colonial regime. It was as governor that he was directly involved in the deposition of these Emirs.

In fact, in all the cases, the offending emir or chief would be summoned to Kaduna where the governor would admonish and personally hand over the deposition letter to him. The reasons for all these depositions at that time were ostensibly tied to one type of maladministration or the other. But the bottom line really was the emirs’ autocratic behaviours as perceived by the educated elites who were the emerging power brokers.

Even the Shehu of Borno, Sanda Umar Kyarimi, was within a whisker of deposition in 1953 due to reported cases of large scale corruption in the native authority administration. Rather than call the Shehu to Kaduna, the governor after due consideration of the rather exalted position of Borno in the hierarchy of things in the North, decided to visit Maiduguri to read the riot act to the Shehu.

As the Shehu spoke neither Hausa nor English, the governor took along as his interpreter a Borno indigene, Malam Musa Daggash, then a Forestry Officer serving in the headquarters in Kaduna. Many years later Malam Musa retired as Permanent Secretary Federal Ministry of Defence and was appointed as the pioneer General Manager, Chad Basin Development Authority, CBDA, Maiduguri in the early 1970s. I served in his office as an Admin Officer at the start of my public service career in the mid-70s.

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I recall Malam Musa, when in his lighter moods regaling us with stories of that singular event when he came to Maiduguri with the governor to issue the Shehu with a warning. He said when eventually the governor sat down with the Shehu in the Residency and he was in between, what was most difficult to him was to find the right, soft and diplomatic Kanuri words to convey the harsh words of the governor. At the same time, though knowing that Sherwood Smith was fluent in Hausa and Fulfulde but did not know any Kanuri language, Daggash had to find the right English words to soften the Shehu’s strident replies.

However, this ended rather well as the senior Borno elites of the time, Shettima Kashim Ibrahim and Wali Mohammadu Ngileruma rallied round the Shehu to retire the corrupt officials and help cleanse up the mud around the palace. Many officials were replaced, including the Waziri, thus allowing a breathing space for the Shehu to reign unperturbed till his death in 1968.

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During the First Republic, the onslaught recorded on a major traditional kingship was incidentally against the grandfather of the present Emir of Kano, Muhammadu Sanusi I, who apparently fell out with the politicians of that era. The main reason as many surmise was the autocratic attitude on the part of the emir which was out of place with the emerging realities. Matters came to a head in 1963 when the Muffett Commission investigated the Kano Emirate administration under the emir and found him wanting. He was sent on exile to Azare.

Matters quietened for a while till the beginning of the Second Republic when Kano boiled again. That time it was a battle of supremacy between the Emir, Ado Bayero and the Governor, Abubakar Rimi. We had the same motions of the creation of emirates that unfortunately culminated into a riot that claimed lives. At that time the newly created emirates did not see the light of day as a subsequent regime in 1983 obliterated them.

As we continue this subject next week, we examine why the politicians in Kano have a number of times been at loggerheads with the Emir. Keep a date with this page.


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