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Removal of Sanusi: Questions for Awka

The dramatic dethronement of the powerful Emir of Kano, Muhammad Sanusi II, on March 9, 2020 by the governor of Kano State is a compelling story all its own, but it highlights the question of why the long-lingering kingship crisis in Awka, with its deeply debilitating effect on Awka political economy, has not been decisively tackled by the governor of Anambra State. Is the Awka crisis more intractable? Are the contending forces more formidable? Or is there a Machiavellian attempt to keep Awka politically embroiled, weakening its ability to compete for authoritative allocations? Awka Times weighs up the evidence.
By Chudi Okoye
It wasn’t quite the ‘ides’ (i.e. middle) of March, as in the Shakespearean tragedy, Julius Caesar. But a local soothsayer might well have warned Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, the erstwhile Emir of Kano, to beware the ‘tides’ of March!
It was high noon on this fateful day in Kano as news broke of high palace drama in the ancient emirate: Following a long-drawn series of political and ideological confrontations with factions of the secular and clerical wings of the Northern establishment, the 14th Emir of Kano Emirate, Muhammad Sanusi II, was dethroned on March 9, 2020 by Gov. Abdullahi Umar Ganduje of Kano State.
It was an ignominious end to the regnal career of the public intellectual who urged changes upon the reactionary institutions of the Islamic North, just as he had nudged the chaotic institutions of the Nigerian banking sector towards radical reform when he served as Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN). With his reformist agenda, he clearly confronted the powerful forces that controlled the institutions of finance and monarchy. He had to go.
As Central Bank governor, though acclaimed the world over for his reforms, Sanusi made powerful enemies and could not even make it to a fifth-year tenure before being chucked out. He had been appointed CBN governor on June 3, 2009, only to be dismissed on February 20, 2014.
As a reform-minded emir admired by liberal constituencies in Nigeria and beyond, he made even more powerful enemies and could not make it to a sixth-year tenure before being edged out from what could have been a lifetime perch for the 58-year old. He had been appointed Emir of Kano on June 8, 2014, coronated on February 7, 2015, only to be dethroned on March 9, 2020. The reason offered for his dethronement was an exercise in studied deprecation: “insubordination” and “disrespect to lawful instructions from the office of the state governor and other lawful authorities.”
In each of these dramatic dismissals, Sanusi was removed as the ‘Ides of March’ loomed. Sanusi’s well-groomed career, in money management and monarchy, ended almost as a Shakespearean tragedy.
To compound his misery, within hours of being dethroned as emir, Sanusi was reportedly banished from Kano to Loko, a nondescript mini-port town on the banks of the Benue River in Nasarawa State. There was epic drama surrounding his eviction from Gidan Rumfa, the grand 33-acre palace compound of the Emir of Kano which dates back to the 15th century. The eviction was marked by rushed indignities as a phalanx of security and other vehicles whisked him away at bolting speed through the vaulting gates of the palace. Sanusi’s destination into potential oblivion had just begun, though there is scant certitude that this highly opinionated intellectual will suffer his political banishment in sullen quietude.

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Emir Sanusi exits Kano

After Kano, Rethinking Awka Kingship Crisis

The brutal efficiency with which the powerful Emir of Kano – a well-regarded professional and highly connected Fulani aristocrat – could be removed by a state governor is proof of the power of elected politicians in the current democratic dispensation in Nigeria. The fact that Sanusi was removed so unceremoniously, without much apparent concern for popular reprisals, offers a poignant statement of the balance of power between elected officials and traditional rulers.
But if the Kano State government could deploy such brutal efficiency in dealing with monarchic intrigue, why cannot, or why has not, the government of Anambra State moved with decisive vigor to stamp out the kingship crisis long festering in the capital city, Awka? We have reported prodigiously in Awka Times  the unresolved conflict which has seized the capital monarchy in Anambra State.
The basic facts of the Awka kingship conundrum are as follows:
  1. The purported dethronement in 2017 of the Awka traditional ruler, Eze Uzu II, His Majesty Obi Dr Gibson Nwosu, who appears to have lost significant support among Awka people but is nonetheless officially recognized by the state government. The Governor of Anambra State is considered, in the political zeitgeist and governing laws for the kingship institution, as the ratifying authority in the selection of an Eze Uzu. So official recognition imbues Eze Uzu Gibson Nwosu with significant advantage, despite his loss of support among Awka chieftaincy institutions and apparent dissipation of popular support.
  1. The purported enstoolment of a new traditional ruler in Awka in the person of Augustine Ndigwe, “His Imperial Majesty, Eze Uzu III, Obi of Awka”, per his regnal claim. Ndigwe, like Nwosu, lacks overwhelming support among Awka people, as shown in Awka Times survey. Neither appears to enjoy commanding acclamation as the incumbent Eze Uzu, with Nwosu polling at a narrow plurality of 44% versus Ndigwe’s 39%. Ndigwe does suffer a statutory handicap, not being or likely to be recognized by the current administration in Anambra State, but he has the strategic backing of key chieftaincy institutions including Ozo Awka and the Council of Kingmakers, and also Otochal Awka, the revered oldest man in Awka gerontocratic tradition.
This then is part of the political situation in Awka today, a stalemated contest of “crowns” as it were, each side believing itself to possess the more credible claim to the Awka Stool and decidedly unwilling to concede.
Into this mix is thrown the crisis of Awka Development Union Nigeria, which has been longer in gestation, with contested factional claims to the position of ADUN president general and the right to conduct new ADUN elections.
There are several other aspects to the political tension in Awka, but the interlinked cases of kingship and town union crises are the ones in which the government of Anambra State could play a decisive role. But strangely the government’s role has been at best muted and indecisive, and even, some allege, partisan and Machiavellian.

Intricacies of Awka Kingship Crisis

Amidst the myriad political conflicts roiling Awka, we have not seen the Anambra State government play an assertive role, either to mediate the conflicts or, as we saw in Kano, to impose its will. The government seemingly prefers to take a side in the factional fight. In the kingship conflict, the state government has stood solidly behind Eze Uzu II Gibson Nwosu, refusing to acknowledge his purported impeachment and dethronement. Nwosu remains the officially certified incumbent, just as the government adamantly refuses to countenance Ndigwe’s claim to the Awka kingship stool. That of course is its prerogative.
Awka Times learned from sources in Ndigwe’s insurgent camp that after Nwosu was impeached in 2017 due to alleged breach of the kingship code of conduct, documents pertaining to the breach were sent to the state government’s ministry of chieftaincy and local government affairs inviting the government to verify the charges and impeachment process. The source indicates that government did not respond.
Similarly, after Ndigwe was installed by the breakaway elements of the Council of Kingmakers, the government was again sent notification with a request for recognition and certification. Again, sources say, the government was unresponsive. Perhaps government considered these maneuvers to be illegal and thus wished not to indulge them.
There is some divergence in how each of the kingship factions construes the role of government in the emergence of a traditional ruler. The Nwosu faction seems to consider the state authority something of a hegemon that confers recognition and certification, and thus political legitimacy. The Ndigwe faction, by contrast, insists that it is the community that selects its monarch and that legitimacy issues from the people. It argues that it is incumbent on government to certify a monarch chosen by the community.
The truth is probably in between these two claims.
The Awka Traditional Ruler’s Amended Constitution 1986 at Sections 8 to 14, and the Anambra State Traditional Ruler Law 2007 at Part II Sections 3 to 9, provide for the selection, presentation, recognition and certification of a traditional ruler. As we previously argued in Awka Times in our analysis of these laws:
There is… an unequivocal and irrefutable case to be made that the authority of an Eze Uzu is established upon formal recognition and certification by the Anambra State Governor. Going by the provisions of the Awka Traditional Ruler’s Constitution [and the Anambra State Traditional Ruler Law], the Governor would appear to be the ultimate grantor of rulership authority. But the matter cannot be as simple as that. For, while the Governor has ultimate certifying authority, the [Awka] constitution and its founding [state] laws make it clear that the Governor will be required to endorse the community’s choice, in so far as the proper selection procedure is followed and the candidate meets the criteria specified in state law. To an extent, the Governor’s constitutive power might be [considered] fiduciary, in that he is constrained to endorse the candidate chosen through the institutional processes of selection involving the whole community. The Governor cannot wantonly subvert the will of the people if the community speaks with one voice. However, the power of the Governor becomes more autonomous when there is ambiguity in the community, when there is contestation for the Stool and a crisis of legitimacy ensues.
The governor’s powers are also compelling with regard to decertification of a traditional ruler, though he exercises that power on the sufferance of a two-thirds majority in the State House of Assembly.
There is a significant difference between the decertification powers of the Anambra State governor and what transpired in Kano State on March 9th. In Kano, according to the press statement announcing the dethronement of Sanusi II, the Governor Ganduje acted in accordance with the Kano State Emirate Law 2019, and effectuated the dethronement and removal in concert with the Kano State Executive Council “after due consultation with the relevant stakeholders”. The charges levied against Sanusi, as indicated above, were “disrespect” and “insubordination” shown towards the state governor and other “lawful authorities”. This sort of deprecatory attitude towards the Kano monarch recalls the statement made in 1982 by a former governor of Kano State, Abubakar Rimi, with regard to the then Emir of Kano, Ado Bayero. Speaking to an NTA interviewer who was questioning his treatment of the  supposedly powerful emir, Rimi retorted, his eyes flashing and his manner dismissive:
You are really trying to make the Emir of Kano something which he is not. Let me tell you something my friend. I will advice you to stop talking about this Emir of Kano. The way you press people, and the way our political opponents want to regard the Emir, that is not the way we regard the Emir. As far as we the elected government of Kano State are concerned, as far as I the Governor of Kano State am concerned, the Emir of Kano is nothing, nothing, nothing but a public officer… who is being paid from public funds, and whose appointment is at the pleasure of the Governor of the State, and who can be dismissed, removed, interdicted, suspended if he commits an offence. There is nothing absolutely unique about Ado Bayero, Emir of Kano. He is equal to any one of my eight emirs, and believe me, if he commits any offence which will make it necessary for us to remove him, we will remove him, and we will sleep soundly.
This was a remarkable statement from the radical governor which found resonance 38 years later in the inglorious discrowning of Lamido Sanusi.
We are accustomed to thinking of northern emirs as powerful potentates. But it appears that the governing laws under which they are selected and dismissed, at least in the case of Kano, offers more expansive powers to the governor than in Anambra State. In Anambra, according to the traditional ruler laws of Awka and the state, the monarch is selected or appointed by the community and only presented to the state for recognition and certification. The Staff of Office and the Cap are presented to the selected Eze Uzu by the community through the Council of Kingmakers, whereas the governor, following presentation and recognition, merely issues a certificate. By contrast, in Kano State, as in Rivers State and elsewhere, it is the governor that presents the staff of office to the traditional ruler.
We see a similarly counterintuitive reality with regard to the removal of a traditional ruler in Anambra. In Kano, it took merely a concert of the “Executive Council” and “consultation with the relevant stakeholders” for the emir to be dethroned. In Anambra, a traditional ruler can be decertified and derecognized by the governor, for breach of the code of conduct or to maintain public peace, but only with the approval of two-thirds of members of the State House of Assembly. Even at that, the decertified monarch merely loses recognition by the state. He ceases to draw official remuneration, cannot attend government fora in an official capacity, etc. But his Staff of Office and Cap remain the insignias of authority the withdrawal of which remains the community’s prerogative.
The Awka Traditional Ruler Constitution, at Articles 15 (a) to (d), provides for the removal of the Eze Uzu on ANY one of the following grounds:
  • “Mental Capacity”
  • “Proven case of public misconduct or conduct which is contrary to the Awka Chieftaincy Code of Conduct”
  • “Withdrawal of recognition by the Government of the day”
  • “If the incumbent is adjudged by Awka Community through Ndichie of having committed “Alu” (Abomination)”
The constitution then details, at Article 16, the processes that will be followed by the Council of Kingmakers to try the Eze Uzu, and impeach him, if found guilty of the alleged charges.

The Law and the Role of Government

The constitutional arrangement sketched above shows that in Awka, as distinct from Kano, there may be concurrent jurisdiction between community and state government in the legitimation of the traditional ruler. This constitutional framework erects the possibility that an Awka traditional ruler may be decertified by the state governor but could still retain community legitimacy. Conversely, it seems, an Eze Uzu may retain official government certification but lose community legitimacy if duly impeached for any of the reasons cited at Article 15!
It is a legal architecture which grants the community a measure of independence and seemingly affords it some protection from the vagaries of partisan politics.
But, alas, it is also a constitutional design that could engender factionalism and stalemate if the state government and the commanding institutions of the community are at odds. Depending on the relative strengths of the factions, the government of the day may be more or less able to impose its will on the community. When the factions are stalemated, as seems the case in Awka today, the government may have less room to maneuver than if one faction had overarching superiority.
Sadly, given the politics of resource competition in the state, it also means that frictional communities could be vulnerable to Machiavellian officials wishing to kindle tensions in competing communities, the better able to extract authoritative allocations for their own native communities. Such, too, is likely the case in terms of how Anambra state government officials are managing the crisis in Awka.
In conclusion, given what we have seen above, it may not be possible for the Anambra State government to intervene in the Awka kingship crisis quite as forcefully as did its counterpart in Kano. The constitutional arrangement in Anambra does not lend that latitude of state power, it seems.
But whatever the constitutional constraints against more forceful intervention, nothing stops Anambra State government, if it means well for its long-suffering capital, from mediating Awka political conflicts, such that instead of taking sides as some allege, it acts more as an honest and perceivably disinterested peace broker. That is the more certain way – in the absence of a deus ex machina as in Kano – to finally break the fever of kingship crisis in Awka.

Chudi Okoye writes for Awka Times Magazine. (


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