/ 31 May 2024

North Nigerian city caught in ‘Game of Thrones’ royal standoff

Nigeria Lifestyle Religion Marriage
Feuding: The recent restoration of the Emir of Kano Muhammadu Sanusi II to the throne has set off a power struggle among emirs in Nigeria. Photo: Aminu Abubakar/AFP

Northern Nigeria’s largest city Kano has been gripped by tension as two rival royal figures wrestle over an influential throne key to control of one of the country’s most important political fiefdoms.

Dubbed a Nigerian Game of Thrones by local media, the royal tussle underscores how traditional institutions are increasingly becoming tools of political power in Africa’s most populous country.

Emirs in the mostly Muslim north, alongside Obas or kings and other traditional rulers in the predominantly Christian south, still wield broad influence outside Nigeria’s elected government. 

The emir of Kano by tradition is the second-most senior Islamic ruler among Nigerian Muslims after the Sultan of Sokoto. 

Last week, Kano’s state governor Abba Kabir Yusuf restored former emir Muhammadu Sanusi II to the throne, four years after he was deposed by the previous governor.

His successor Aminu Ado Bayero was removed on Thursday alongside four other emirs after Kano assembly lawmakers amended the emirate law of 2019 that established them.

As the drama unfolded, Bayero returned to Kano under the cover of night and the following day declared himself the bona fide emir, citing a court order restraining his dismissal pending a hearing early next month.

 “We call on the authorities to do justice in this matter. Kano is a very influential state in Nigeria. Whatever affects Kano affects Nigeria,” he said.

As legal battles continued, Kano’s high court barred Bayero from presenting himself as emir, pending the June hearing. 

Sanusi moved into the palace last Saturday, where he now holds daily court, while Bayero is lodged in a royal guest house a few kilometres away where his supporters pay their respects. 

Sanusi accused political leaders of “Balkanising” the power of the emirates by creating numerous posts instead of one. His return restored order in Kano, he said.

“What the government and the assembly did is a rescue mission,” he said, when receiving his reinstatement letter.

Both palaces are heavily guarded by military and police personnel.  

Kano city has maintained relative calm but there are fears the impasse could degenerate into violence before the court hearing, with the supporters of the two royals becoming increasingly restless.  

On Sunday, 26 May, Bayero supporters staged a protest condemning his removal. But critics believe protests were sponsored by pro-Bayero politicians.  

Hours later, the police said they had uncovered “a plot” by “miscreants” to cause violence in the city and attack selected government buildings including the state assembly and the governor’s official residence. 

The thugs were being sponsored by politicians, Husseini Gumel, the state’s police commissioner, told reporters in his office.  

The royal squabble between Sanusi and Bayero is also a proxy fight for political control between former governors of the state. 

Sanusi was appointed the 14th emir of Kano in 2014 by then Kano state governor Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso, who was a member of the then opposition APC party.  

He was installed to succeed his grand-uncle and Bayero’s father who died on the throne. However, Sanusi’s troubles started after Abdullahi Umar Ganduje succeeded Kwankwaso as governor in 2015.

Ganduje, who is the national chairman of the now ruling APC, was Kwankwaso’s deputy and political protege when Sanusi was appointed emir but the two fell out and turned political adversaries.  

Sanusi was dethroned in 2020 for “insubordination” to the state government after months of pressure by Ganduje, including a probe into accusations of financial mismanagement of palace funds.

Sources with knowledge of the feud said Sanusi’s removal was for open criticism of Ganduje’s policies as well as his support for Kwankwaso’s candidacy for the 2019 elections in which Ganduje contested and won a second term.  

Nigeria’s many traditional rulers have no constitutional powers and rely on regional governments for funding but are important cultural custodians, wielding enormous influence in society. 

Their patronage can be key at elections and in winning public support for government policies.

By reinstalling Sanusi, the governor fulfilled a campaign promise and ensured the consolidation of his political authority and that of his opposition NNPP party and its patron Kwankwaso.  

Observers say that Bayero’s fightback is Ganduje’s way of countering Kwankwaso and ensuring the political relevance of the ruling APC in Kano.   

Last Saturday, the Ulama Council, a group of influential Muslim clerics in Kano, called on President Bola Ahmed Tinubu not to throw the city into anarchy by taking sides in the standoff.  

“Mr President as the leader of the nation should not allow the contest for a royal stool to degenerate to violence,” the clerics said. 

“We are calling on Mr President to allow the people of Kano state to resolve these issues amicably,”  the council said. — AFP