Let The Sultan Be

When former Governor Abdullahi Umar Ganduje of Kano state started having issues with Emir Muhammadu Sanusi II, there was no indication that other Emirs and Kings, especially in the north, intervened to reduce the tension. They stood by as the conflict persisted, ultimately resulting in Sanusi’s dethronement. Treated as solely Sanusi II’s problem, he faced the situation alone and succumbed to the overpowering executive authority of the governor, leading to his downfall.

Although the current Kano state government reinstated Sanusi II, ongoing litigation with no clear resolution and the presence of two claimants to the Kano Emir stool indicate that things may never return to normal. The Kano Emirate’s prestige, even among its princes and princesses, is doubtful to be restored. Loyalties are now divided between Sanusi II and Bayero.

As Kano navigates its emirate conflict, another is brewing in Sokoto, where concerns are growing over alleged plans to dethrone Sultan Muhammad Saad Abubakar III. Despite the Sokoto Government’s denial, signs indicate efforts to either dethrone or significantly reduce the Sultan’s power and influence. A key indicator is the amendment to the Sokoto Emirate Council Bill, which aims to strip the Sultan of the authority to appoint district heads. This bill has already passed its first and second readings in the state House of Assembly.

Section 76(2) of the Sokoto Local Government and Chieftaincy Law grants the Sultanate Council the power to appoint district and village heads in the state, subject to the governor’s approval. This provision was respected until the current administration, which views it as an encroachment on the governor’s authority and seeks to change it. Without the power to appoint district and village heads, the Sultan or the Sultanate council may lose the ability to punish them, leading to issues of control. Imagine a Sultan without the power to appoint or discipline district or village heads.

Many view the amendment as part of a larger plan to not only reduce the Sultan’s powers but also to dethrone him. Those determined to dethrone the Sultan have made their intentions clear. During the campaigns, one of the frequent slogans was “sabon gwamna, sabon sarki” (new Governor, new King). The plot to dethrone the Sultan has long been in motion. But will it succeed? Only time will tell.

Proxy War
The situation in Sokoto suggests that the state governor might be fighting a proxy war on behalf of a powerful figure in Sokoto politics who has a grievance with the monarchy. While this conflict continues, Governor Ahmad Aliyu must heed the wise counsel of various stakeholders, including the Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC), the Council of Ulamas, and Vice President Kashim Shettima, and abandon any plans to reduce the Sultan’s powers or dethrone him.

Swim or Sink Alone
Just as it happened to Sanusi II and Emir Mustapha Jokolo of Gwandu before him, other Emirs and Kings are remaining silent. There is no indication that they are intervening, even discreetly, to support one of their own. They seem to have forgotten the lesson from Martin Niemöller (1892–1984), a Lutheran pastor in Germany who initially supported many Nazi ideas but became critical of Hitler’s interference in the Protestant Church. Niemöller is best remembered for his postwar statement: “First, they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”

It appears that one by one, the monarchs are being targeted. This trend is concerning. Like a wildfire, events in some northern states suggest an uneasy relationship between political power and some palaces. It is increasingly evident that some governors are determined to dethrone or at least reduce the powers of certain monarchs.

However, the fault is not entirely with the politicians. The monarchs, in some cases, have failed to live up to the expectations of their revered positions. Their dependence on government and political office holders for nearly everything is notorious, as is their involvement in politics. This has led to a steady decline in the respect they once commanded and has sparked discussions about their relevance among the masses.

Two factors—their questioned relevance and their embarrassing dependence and political involvement—have caused traditional rulers to lose the respect of both the masses and the political class. This has emboldened governors to treat them lightly and often threaten to dethrone them at the slightest provocation.

It is clear that the erosion of respect and relevance for the monarchy is occurring. While the nation considers a defined role for traditional rulers, all Nigerians of good conscience must denounce any attempt to undermine the revered Sultan under any pretext. As the Council of Ulamas rightly noted, “The Sultanate represents the collective identity and heritage of Nigerian Muslims, transcending state boundaries…any assault on the Sultanate is an attack on our collective dignity…”

The Sokoto state government should set aside any grievances with the institution or the person occupying the office and focus on the bigger picture. Their priority should be addressing the numerous developmental challenges facing the state rather than attempting to reduce the Sultan’s powers or dethrone him. Let the Sultan be!

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