The Emperor Strikes Back

Nigerian governors are powerful. If you don’t know, think of what Oyo State governor, Abiola Ajimobi, told those unruly students in 2017 in Ibadan, when they dared to heckle him while he was addressing them: “We (that is himself) are the constituted authority”. As the ‘constituted authority’, governors can do and undo anything.

The Report
The Report

Many of them have not only imperial pretensions. They see themselves and act like real emperors. The rest of us are their vassals. They are in power, not for the general good but for their self-aggrandizement. Very often, they remind us of this unpalatable fact so that we don’t forget like those Oyo students did during their confrontation with Ajimobi.

When you rub them the wrong way, they easily fly into a purple fury. As Governor Adams Oshiomhole did in Benin City in 2011. He barked at a widow, who was one of many people doing illegal street trading, to “go and die”. He had ordered the poor woman arrested and her meagre wares seized. The woman cried and pleaded for mercy to no avail.

But the optics of the incident was bad for the “Comrade” governor, who had sold himself as the man of the people. Not just people but ordinary people. Following the widespread condemnation of his very insensitive treatment of the woman, he later relented. He invited her to his office, apologized and subsequently rehabilitated her. For the woman, her encounter with the man of power ended well for her. She was lucky.


“Whatever [Emir Sanusi] did wrong is no justification for Ganduje’s overkill of assaulting the foundation of the Kano Emirate and planting mines that could explode and burn down the state.”

Emir of Kano, Muhammadu Sanusi 11, may not be as lucky as the illegal Benin street trader. He has lost his vast Kano Emirate. And he may yet lose his throne. Kano State’s overlord, the unflappable Governor Abdullahi Umar Ganduje, is really pissed off by what Sanusi did. He allegedly threw his royal support behind the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP governorship candidate, Kabir Abba Yusuf, who is a protégé of Senator Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso, in the highly contentious and controversial gubernatorial election.

To Ganduje, Sanusi’s flirting with the ‘enemies’ is an unforgivable heresy. Therefore, it must be severely punished even if the illustrious Kano Emirate history and ancient traditions have to be upended. And show Sanusi that he is the emperor, de facto and de jure, of Kano.

In 72 hours, the suborned House of Assembly, in a wanton display of extreme diligence, passed the Kano State Emirs Appointment and Deposition Amendment 2019 Bill. Ganduje gleefully assented to it the same day it got to his desk. In fact, the bill went through first, second and third reading in one day. The Assembly had used the previous 48 hours to consider a petition calling for the creation of more emirates in Kano. One Ibrahim Salisu and his law Chambers, who is, unquestionably, Ganduje’s proxy, wrote the petition.

The law, parochial, vindictive and illogical, dismantled the Kano Emirate within the twinkle of an eye and reduced Sanusi to a subordinate of a local government chairman. That is how inelegantly Ganduje defined Sanusi’s new status. He said triumphantly that, Sanusi should be reporting to a council chairman and not to him.

Ganduje’s legislative magic has enabled him to achieve his overarching objective of cutting Sanusi to size by dividing his Emirate into five – Kano and the four new ones, Bichi, Karawa, Rano, and Gaya. Further rubbing salt and pepper into Sanusi’s royal wound, he installed his cousin, Aminu Ado-Bayero, eldest son of the late Kano Emir, Ado Bayero, as the Emir of Bichi.

Like the governor, the new ‘Emir of Bichi’ has no sense of history, and he is obviously driven by a burning desire for revenge. He had contested the Kano emirship in 2014, after the demise of his famous father, with Lamido Sanusi Lamido and many other aspirants. He lost, and Sanusi emerged as the new emir with the influential support of Kwankwaso, who was the state governor while Ganduje was his deputy.

A very self-absorbed Aminu Ado-Bayero would rather help Ganduje burn his fathers’ house down and desecrate his 1,000-year-old heritage than seeing Sanusi sit on the storied Kano throne. The wily governor has exploited the division in the Kano Emirate royal family to carry out his coup against Sanusi. Indeed, his decimation of the Kano Emirate and rubbishing of Sanusi is the equivalent of a military coup d’état.

Ganduje’s treacherous brinkmanship very well reflects the impunity with which many governors rule their empires. They are usually out of control, with nobody and no law circumscribing their powers. Not even the president, with all the immense powers invested in him by the constitution, can check them. The president is beholden to them particularly when he depends on them to fund his election and deliver their states. All presidents since 1999 had to deal with this reality.

The state legislative assemblies that have the responsibility to provide the needed check and balance are toothless. They are easily co-opted into supporting whatever the governors want and do. The governors apply the carrot-and-stick treatment to whip them into line. No form of dissent by the legislators is tolerated. Any legislator, who challenges the governor, commits political suicide and kisses his chance of returning to his seat goodbye. The rapid response of Kano House of Assembly to Ganduje’s demand for the dismantling of the Kano Emirate is a demonstration of the supine submission of state legislators to their governors.

In the absence of any serious check on their powers and deviant conduct, many governors turn their state treasuries into their personal banks and create future financial security for themselves and families. They indulge in reckless spending for their personal comfort.

There is the case of a governor who reportedly racked up a bill of over N250 million in just one month for hiring of private executive jets for his local travel. Where the jet couldn’t fly to because there is no airport, he used a helicopter. Some governors have private jets bought with state funds for their exclusive use. Such unlimited spending of public funds enables many of them to leave office stupendously wealthy, compared to their financial status before they became governors.

Do the governors think? Do they ever engage in moments of deep introspection over the myriad of problems confronting their people? The answer lies in Ganduje’s prioritizing of the humbling of his enemies by dismantling the Kano Emirate over more urgent matters, like the insecurity threatening the whole of the north-west. He once lamented that he didn’t know the number of almajiris roaming the streets of Kano. They are estimated to be more than four million and growing. What has he done to take those children and unskilled jobless youths off the streets, and put them in schools and job-training centres?

Ganduje’s ill-advised assault on Kano Emirate typifies the quality of our political leaders at all levels of government. They can’t solve problems. But they are only more adept at compounding them and creating new ones. Having gotten away with the alleged ‘Gandollar’ bribery scandal – thanks to the selective war against corruption – and snatched victory in the governorship election literally at gunpoint, he’s feeling on top of the world and untouchable.

Given the pervasive insecurity in north-west generally and the volatility of Kano in particular, Ganduje’s action must be rolled back before it snowballs into another needless, bloody crisis. President Muhammadu Buhari ought to be outraged by what has just happened in Kano, especially because of its potential to worsen the already very bad security situation in the north. He must put politics aside and call Ganduje to order, letting him know clearly that his perilous misadventure cannot stand. Buhari, being ‘Baba-go-slow’ who hears and sees nothing bad done by his own people, must be pressured by northern leaders, led by the Sultan of Sokoto, Muhammadu Sa’ad Abubakar, to act now before it is too late.

Emir Sanusi is arguably a provocateur and a gadfly. He has an insufferable penchant for making those in power very uncomfortable by his trenchant stream of criticism of their actions and policies. And he is no saint. But whatever he did wrong is no justification for Ganduje’s overkill of assaulting the foundation of the Kano Emirate and planting mines that could explode and burn down the state.

Even emperors, no matter how powerful they think they are, must be told they have limits. Now is the time to lay down such a marker. And it’s Buhari’s responsibility to do so. He can’t blame the PDP if he fails to act and Ganduje’s vindictive action rebounds badly with terrible consequences.

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