36 Sanusi Lamido Sanusi II, Emir of Kano, Nige­ria

Muham­madu Sanusi II talks to The Africa Re­port about anger in Nige­ria, in­se­cu­rity in the Sa­hel, the West’s hypocrisy and the re­la­tion­ship be­tween Is­lam and pol­i­tics

The Africa Report - - CONTENTS - Sanusi Lamido Sanusi Emir of Kano, Nige­ria

Step­ping regally out of a vin­tage but pris­tine pale-blue Rolls-Royce, sport­ing ex­quis­ite damask robes and a colour-co­or­di­nated tur­ban, the Emir of Kano Muham­madu Sanusi II is an un­likely tribune of the peo­ple. His aris­to­cratic lin­eage stretches back cen­turies and the young Sanusi seemed des­tined for a charmed ex­is­tence, a none-too-de­mand­ing as­cent to one of the most pow­er­ful po­si­tions in Nige­ria’s rar­efied north­ern elite. That proved al­to­gether too dull for the young Sanusi Lamido Sanusi. In­stead, he charted his own course, mak­ing sure to take aim at the fi­nan­cial, po­lit­i­cal, and, most re­cently, reli­gious es­tab­lish­ment on the way up. A fiercely ar­tic­u­late speaker, he seems com­pelled to at­tack the shib­bo­leths of the rul­ing class from which he sprung. His fan base across the coun­try fluc­tu­ates, but he re­mains tremen­dously pop­u­lar with young Nige­ri­ans, reach­ing out to all eth­nic­i­ties and reli­gious faiths. Some just en­joy the spec­ta­cle of a scion of the aris­toc­racy lay­ing into the coun­try’s rul­ing class with such aban­don and evoca­tive lan­guage. More con­spir­a­to­rial minds hy­poth­e­sise that he is com­mit­ting class sui­cide or has em­barked on a long-term clan­des­tine cam­paign for the pres­i­dency. By all ac­counts, nei­ther in­ter­pre­ta­tion is right. The Emir of Kano is a philosopher king who rev­els in new ideas, de­ter­mined to mod­ernise north­ern Nige­ria. He stands out be­cause so few of his coun­ter­parts in the rul­ing elite take on this role of public in­tel­lec­tual, es­pe­cially when it in­volves de­liv­er­ing in­con­ve­nient truths to the bas­tions of power. Sanusi’s first big clash with au­thor­ity was on his re­turn from study­ing Is­lamic law and fi­nance in Su­dan in the early 1990s. Then Gen­eral Sani Abacha, another Kano man, sus­pected Sanusi of mo­bil­is­ing a grass­roots move­ment against his op­pres­sive regime. Af­ter dodg­ing that bul­let, per­haps lit­er­ally, Sanusi went on to head one of the top com­mer­cial banks in the coun­try, First Bank of Nige­ria. It was as gov­er­nor of the cen­tral bank that Sanusi rose to su­per­star­dom in Nige­ria and around the world. His first cam­paign – against grand cor­rup­tion in the bank­ing sec­tor – sent shock­waves across Nige­ria in 2009. He took six com­mer­cial banks into ad­min­is­tra­tion un­der the cen­tral bank’s tute­lage and had two of their chief ex­ec­u­tives ar­rested. By so do­ing, he had averted a melt­down of the fi­nan­cial sys­tem. Five years later, he shocked Nige­ri­ans again, an­nounc­ing that some $20bn in oil rev­enue due to the cen­tral bank for sales be­tween 2012 and 2013 had not been trans­ferred from the state oil com­pany and was un­ac­counted for in of­fi­cial fi­nan­cial re­ports. Af­fronted by the mes­sage that he was pre­sid­ing over an ad­min­is­tra­tion skilled in grand lar­ceny, Pres­i­dent Good­luck Jonathan sus­pended Sanusi, and se­cu­rity men con­fis­cated his pass­port. By June 2014, Sanusi was back in the spot­light as the newly en­throned emir of Kano. Tak­ing the helm of Kano’s 700-year-old king­dom has not di­min­ished Sanusi’s ap­petite for straight talk­ing. Within months of Pres­i­dent Muham­madu Buhari’s elec­tion in April 2015, Sanusi was crit­i­cis­ing the gov­ern­ment’s eco­nomic pol­icy, in­clud­ing its re­fusal to float the naira and its plans for heavy for­eign bor­row­ing. Then, in April of 2017, ad­dress­ing an in­vest­ment fo­rum hosted by his friend Nasir El-ru­fai, gov­er­nor of Kaduna State, Sanusi lam­basted the north­ern elite for hold­ing the re­gion back: “Other Mus­lim na­tions have pushed for­ward girlchild ed­u­ca­tion. They’ve pushed for­ward science and tech­nol­ogy. We [in north­ern Nige­ria] have adopted an in­ter­pre­ta­tion of our cul­ture and our re­li­gion that is rooted in the 13th cen­tury […], that re­fuses to recog­nise that the rest of the Mus­lim world has moved on.” Con­ser­va­tives, such as Ango Ab dull a hi–who chairs the

Sanusi stands out be­cause so few in the rul­ing elite speak truth to power

North­ern El­ders Fo­rum – and Zam­fara State gov­er­nor Ab­du­laziz Yari, hit back quickly. A Kano jour­nal­ist, Jaa­far Jaa­far, fol­lowed with an acer­bic cri­tique of Sanusi, re­mind­ing him that his grand­fa­ther had been de­throned as emir. Their cam­paign to oust Sanusi has run into the ground for now. Pres­sure from such crit­ics might have per­suaded oth­ers to mod­er­ate their views, but not Sanusi. He re­mains as en­thu­si­as­tic as ever for rad­i­cal change, as he ex­plained in an in­ter­view with The Africa Re­port in Paris.

TAR: The cri­sis in the Sa­hel is deep­en­ing on all lev­els (see TAR 94 Sept. 2017). What should be done as a mat­ter of pri­or­ity?

SANUSI LAMIDO SANUSI: When the French talk about the Sa­hel, they are talk­ing about how many more French troops you need to deal with th­ese ter­ror­ists in Al-qaeda in the Is­lamic Maghreb. When China talks about the Sa­hel, it’s about re­viv­ing trade routes […]. That’s the kind of con­ver­sa­tion we need to have. The Sa­hel was a ma­jor part of global com­merce; it was the tran­sit point of trade from Asia to the At­lantic and to Europe. The cities of the Sa­hel – Tim­buktu, Gao, Kano, Agadez – were the rich­est cities in Africa be­fore the steam ship, be­fore colo­nial­ism. Many of the coun­tries in the Sa­hel are part of a great Arab Is­lamic civil­i­sa­tion – the of­fi­cial lan­guage of com­mu­ni­ca­tion was Ara­bic. If you take Kano, for 600-700 years the of­fi­cial lan­guage was Ara­bic. We had Bri­tish colo­nial­ism for 60 years, and to­day the of­fi­cial lan­guage in Nige­ria is English. Ara­bic is not an of­fi­cial lan­guage.

What are the im­pli­ca­tions of this?

Mil­lions of chil­dren study the Ko­ran and Ara­bic, un­der­stand the lan­guage – but on pa­per they are il­lit­er­ate be­cause they don’t speak English. That means there is no op­por­tu­nity for them to be­come med­i­cal doc­tors, to be­come en­gi­neers, to be­come econ­o­mists, to be­come his­to­ri­ans. If you study Ara­bic, you can study Ara­bic phonol­ogy, you can study the ha­dith, you can study the Ko­ran, you can study Is­lamic law – which is fine. But you do not have other ar­eas of knowl­edge that open op­por­tu­ni­ties for you in a mod­ern econ­omy. Now, the re­sult is you have dis­grun­tled peo­ple who end up in the hands of some rad­i­cal scholar who sets them against the sys­tem, and they be­come ex­trem­ists and ter­ror­ists. When we are con­cerned about se­cu­rity, we must go back in the his­tory of the Sa­hel and look at the re­bal­anc­ing of our cul­tural pri­or­i­ties, the re­open­ing of trade routes. I would like to see the French go to look at Niger and say: ‘How many so­lar pan­els do we need to gen­er­ate 10,000MW of elec­tric­ity? How many in­dus­tries can we pro­duce? What kind of crops can we en­cour­age to halve de­ser­ti­fi­ca­tion and give the farm­ers ac­cess to Euro­pean and Asian mar­kets?’ So you com­bat an en­vi­ron­men­tal prob­lem that has cre­ated poverty, and you also cre­ate eco­nomic em­pow­er­ment for the pop­u­la­tion.

Do you think Morocco should in­te­grate more closely with West Africa and join the Eco­nomic

Com­mu­nity of West African States (ECOWAS)?

If you look at what it has been do­ing in its ex­pan­sion into the African bank­ing in­dus­try, links with its phos­phate in­dus­tries, sell­ing fer­tilis­ers, at­tempts to im­prove cul­tural ties with Ti­janiyyah and other Sufi broth­er­hoods, Morocco is one coun­try that has taken the con­scious de­ci­sion to find strength from its his­tory. If you think of the trans-sa­ha­ran trade routes, you can think of West Africa and the Maghreb as one sin­gle eco­nomic block – the big­ger the bet­ter. Europe is ex­pand­ing. Turkey wants to be­come Euro­pean. Turkey has never been Euro­pean, but it wants to be. The cul­tural and his­tor­i­cal affin­ity be­tween, say, north­ern Nige­ria and Morocco is much stronger than affin­ity be­tween Turkey and France.

Should West Africa re­think its trade routes and eco­nomic com­mu­ni­ties?

The coun­tries in West, Cen­tral and North Africa need to un­der­stand that while they are po­lit­i­cal en­ti­ties based on maps drawn by em­pires, they are also part of some­thing that’s much big­ger. Kano and Kaduna are part of Nige­ria, but they are also part of Sa­hel. Ev­ery time we think of devel­op­ment, it is how do you move goods from La­gos to the north, and goods from the north to La­gos? We’re not think­ing of how do you move goods across north­ern Nige­ria to north­ern Ghana with­out com­ing to La­gos. You’ve got to think of ECOWAS both as con­sist­ing of coastal states and as a Sa­he­lian re­gion and try to make that con­nec­tion. The thing is to look at coun­tries like Morocco and this at­tempt to en­gage with Africa rather than just dis­miss it as: ‘Th­ese are Arabs go­ing to West Africa’. There is some sense, given the his­tory, to what they are do­ing. There is a way in which we can reach some ar­range­ment ben­e­fi­cial to both Morocco and to us in West Africa. When Morocco said it wanted to join ECOWAS, there was this sem­i­nar in Abuja that urged the gov­ern­ment to re­ject it as an at­tempt to chal­lenge Nige­ria’s supremacy in West Africa and said that this coun­try [Morocco] has noth­ing in com­mon with West Africa.

Is the West hyp­o­crit­i­cal about democ­racy?

This idea that we want peo­ple to have democ­racy but we only ac­cept the re­sults if it con­forms to what we want […], I mean look, I don’t want Don­ald Trump, but I wouldn’t ask for his as­sas­si­na­tion. I would vote him out af­ter four years. But that’s who Amer­i­cans voted for, and we’ve got to live with that. What we want is for the West to ac­cept that if the Arabs vote for a Mus­lim Broth­er­hood party, let them vote for them. Af­ter four years, let the peo­ple in those coun­tries de­cide they do not want them.

How wor­ried are you about this tide of ul­tra-na­tion­al­ism and growth of neo-fas­cist par­ties?

The world goes through th­ese phases. You’ve had an eco­nomic crash. When peo­ple get into dif­fi­culty, they look for who to blame. They turn around, and it’s the Mus­lim, it’s the black, it’s the for­eigner, it’s the Jew – it’s al­ways hap­pened his­tor­i­cally. What we need is a suf­fi­ciently large num­ber of sen­si­ble and calm hands who will say to peo­ple: ‘This is wrong.’ The West has the ad­van­tage of hav­ing at se­nior lev­els of po­lit­i­cal lead­er­ship highly ed­u­cated, cos­mopoli­tan peo­ple – whether they are on the right or on the left – who un­der­stand the long-term im­pli­ca­tions of en­cour­ag­ing th­ese kind of move­ments. I think Trump is an ex­cep­tion, I don’t think you’ve had an Amer­i­can pres­i­dent be­fore – not even Rea­gan was this bad – who en­cour­aged this kind of re­ac­tion. I don’t think it’s go­ing to be a trend. I don’t see that it’s pos­si­ble in France or in Ger­many or in the Nether­lands.

If eco­nomic con­di­tions don’t im­prove in Africa, do you think you will see the growth of mass protests, mass po­lit­i­cal mo­bil­i­sa­tion against the rul­ing classes?

It de­pends on what you’re look­ing at. What is Boko Haram? What are the herder-set­tler clashes? What’s all this kid­nap­ping and rob­bery in Nige­ria? In a sense this is the Nige­rian ver­sion of peo­ple com­ing to the streets to demon­strate. Th­ese peo­ple are marginalised, they feel there is no fu­ture. They are against the sys­tem – they just do it the wrong way. If you have bad gov­er­nance, if you have

Sur­rounded by the pomp as­so­ci­ated with his role as Emir, Sanusi ar­rives at the salah dur­bar

in Kano. Above all he wants to see rad­i­cal so­cial and eco­nomic re­forms

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