Should our traditional institutions be privatised?

THE furore over the removal of the Emir of Kano Muhammadu Sanusi II from the throne of his forebears may not die down any time soon. Much of the saga, as far as I know, is a storm in a tea cup – a tale of smoking guns and mirrors. Shakespeare’s obiter on the tragedy of Macbeth seems apt for this very Nigerian drama: “This life, which had been the tomb of his virtue and of his honour, is but a walking shadow; a poor player, that struts and frets his hour upon the stage, and then is heard no more: it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing”.

There are many who speculate that the whole thing was an enactment intended to whip up sympathy and curry favour in the mass political imagination. The whole thing smells like what the great Nnamdi Azikiwe would have described as “a three-day wonder”: the dawn raid by police to get him out of the palace, which he had expected and prepared for anyway; the long drive to the little provincial town of Loko in Nasarawa State.And oh no, Loko it was not to be. They detoured to the ancient salt-mining town of Awe. Being no place for a king, he fled; disappointing the local population.

Everybody knows, since Jokolo of Gwandu, that the medieval practice of banishment for dethroned kings is unconstitutional, as determined by the Supreme Court. And so, the lawyers went agog. In the ungenerous and illiberal language that is rife in social media, one commentator notes: “From the dethronement to the banishment, to the court order and the release from exile, everything was stage-managed and totally qualifies as hilarious nonsense and ingredients.”

Within 30 hours, the deed had been done. The court had determined that any dethroned king whose liberties had been curtailed and who lands on any piece of Nigerian soil, is a free man. The king takes his family and flees to Lagos. With a glint in his eyes, he reveals to the press in his home-grown estuary: “That’s where all my friends are.”

He did not need to explain himself. The king formerly known as SLS had always described himself as a “Lagos boy”. He grew up there while his father was in the civil service; rising to the exalted position of first envoy to Beijing. He attended the posh Kings College, where, we are told, he turned the school upside down within one week of his arrival. He had to be given detention by his House Captain, Atedo Peterside, who was a busy HSC boy with no time for little rascals. They became the best of friends.

Whatever the record of SLS at the CBN, one thing that leaves a sour taste is the saga of Inter-Continental Bank and the alleged involvement of Bukola Saraki.

Several of these related issues cast a shadow over an otherwise illustrious career.I shall not raise the case of Gideon Akaluka which continues to enrage Ndigbo. Sanusi’s allegations about the missing US$20 billion turned out to be a hoax. He did not assume a neutral political position as expected of a central banker.

There is a restless, if not reckless streak, in the man. He does not seem to enjoy clean breaks. He needs to raise a lot of dust when he feels the need for a career move. He allegedly made some unseemly statements about how Sharia was not more comprehensively being implemented in the North; leaving UBA in a cloud. He did not leave CBN before needlessly provoking Goodluck Jonathan beyond the level of forbearance.

He usurped the throne, if truth be told, through his networks in the political and business power circles. There had been a number of assassination attempts on his uncle and father-in-law Emir Ado Bayero, a retired diplomat of high intellectual culture, wisdom and royal decorum. After his death, the kingmakers had allegedly concluded on one of his sons as successor.

One of the stories making the rounds is the so-called “Curse of Agaba Idu”. In the 1950s, his grandfather Mohammed Sanusi I had allegedly plotted the dethronement of the then Attah of Igala, Agaba Idu Ameh Oboni. During a meeting of Northern Emirs and Chiefs in Kaduna,he had publicly scolded the Igala monarch for not removing his crown and prostrating before the Sultan of Sokoto. He was given the choice of doing so or being dethroned. A man of wisdom, Agaba Idu knew that dethronement would forever deny his progeny from ever ascending the throne of his forefathers.

Legend has it that as soon as he kowtowed and removed his crown, wild honeybees descended upon the august assembly. The meeting ended abruptly. The Attah Igala then went up to Sanusi and prophesied to him that he and his seed will always suffer the disgrace of dethronement.

In 1963 Mohammed Sanusi I was dethroned and banished to Azare in Bauchi State.

When I broached the subject of the Curse of Agaba Idu, some of my friends from the Caliphate were upset. A professor friend told me that, “if you believe this, you will believe anything”.

It was the Roman statesmen Pliny the Elder who famously exclaimed, “Ex Africa semper aliquid novi” – out of Africa there is always something new. I have no doubt that some people in Africa can invoke wild honeybees. My grandfather Baba Gambo Galadima Sarkin Tukura was a legend and a warrior during his time. Among his powers, he could invoke poisonous bees. I know that for a fact.

People who dismiss this story purely on intellectual-scientific grounds perhaps do not remember the story of Bode Thomas and the Alaafin of Oyo. In the sixties Olabode Akanbi Thomas, popularly known as Bode Thomas, was the number 2 after Obafemi Awolowo in the hierarchy of the Action Group party. He was a brilliant and charismatic lawyer who, together with Remi Fani-Kayode and Rotimi Williams, had formed the first indigenous law firm in Lagos.

On November 22, 1953, he had assembled a meeting of the Oyo Divisional Council of which he was Chairman. All the councillors had stood up except the elderly Alaafin Adeyemi II. Bode Thomas was alleged to have asked the monarch, “why were you sitting when I walked in? Why can’t you show me respect?” To which the old king replied, “shey emi lo gbo mo baun? emi ni ongbo bi aja mo baun” (is it me you are barking at like a dog like that? Keep barking). The story goes that upon returning home to Yaba that evening, Bode Thomas started barking like a dog. His death on 23 November 1953 shook the whole of Yoruba land.

Dethronement of traditional rulers did not start yesterday. Oba Adeyemi II was dethroned by the Government of Western Nigeria. Others that have met a similar fate include: King Jaja of Opobo; Oba Ovonramwen Nogbaisi of Benin; Sir Olateru-Olagbegi, Olowo of Owo; Mohammed Sanusi I;Sultan Ibrahim Dasuki; Emir of Gwandu Mustapha Jokolo; and the Emir of Muri Umar Abba Karim.

In my opinion, the turban did not sit too well on the head of Muhammadu Sanusi II. He was what the late Zaria Marxist scholar Ntiem Kungwai would have dismissed as a “feudal radical”. You cannot be sitting on a throne that sucks in 10 percent of all local government funds on a monthly basis and be lamenting the fate of the Almajiris.

Traditional monarchies are the custodians of immemorial tradition. They are respected by the people. In times of upheaval, they can be more effective than government in calming down troublemakers. But they are also sometimes known for practices that the British would dismiss as being “repugnant to natural justice, equity and good conscience”.

As far as I am concerned, the real debate is yet to emerge on the economic and financial costs of maintaining such highly expensive feudal monarchies throughout our country. During the Indian constitutional debates, Gandhi and Nehru ensured that the constitution was silent on the position of traditional rulers. They were, ipso facto, consigned to the status of private institutions.

As our country faces a worsening crisis of fiscal governance while battling the challenge of balancing the budget, we need to debate a more sustainable financing model for traditional institutions to ensure that they are not such a drain on the public treasury. Constitutional government in a free republic demands nothing less.

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