Reflections on the dethronement of Muhammad Sunusi II

[Caveat: This is an unpopular opinion. If you really don’t want your cherished truths interrogated and questioned, please go no further. Thank you.]

The euphoria that diffuses after the unceremonious dethronement of the emir of Kano, Muhammadu Sunusi II, and the expected disappointments and celebrations (as the case may be) it has generated couldn’t have allowed for a sober reflection and meticulous interrogation of his short reign. The escalation and devastating effects of the Covid-19 pandemic that immediately followed make the task even worse. May we witness the speedy end of this pandemic.

There are two considerations to be borne in mind when writing about the enigma that the dethroned emir of Kano, Muhammadu Sunusi II, represents: one, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi the firebrand intellectual who takes no prisoner; two, Muhammad Sunusi (II), the emir of Kano. This essay will attempt to discuss the rather short stint— but dramatic — days of the latter, and unburden the perplexed minds on some bewildering questions repeatedly asked: was MS-II misunderstood? Was MS-II a victim of what Chris Ngwodo called “the tyranny of tradition”— the acceptance and celebration of the cultural alibi that has been used to justify and rationalise a host of social plagues ranging from the rejection of western education and the preponderance of child marriage to the sentencing of children to a life of destitution as ‘Almajirai’, the subjugation of women and the denial of education for the girl-child? Is the society he so much love[d] to emancipate inherently incapable of transitioning to ‘modernity’? Or perhaps, more appropriately, did MS-II really understand the societal moorings, yearnings, temperament and aspirations of his people? I will attempt to answer these questions in three subheadings: the crises of legitimacy, the fallacy of social engineering, and the way forward.

The Crisis of Legitimacy

By legitimacy, I didn’t mean MS-II suffered rejection from his subjects. Far from it. He was accepted by all despite initial reservations by rival contestants and the general public. The crises of legitimacy, which I believe, MS-II suffered from were that of the general acceptance of the populace as one of their own that they can identify and relate with, someone whose ownership they can claim and trust as a carrier, conveyor of the message of change and an ambassador of cultural reform. 

In essence, the messenger matters. And contrary to the cliché that insists on ignoring the messenger and concentrate on the message, the message matters of course; however, the messenger matters too, if not more. Humans, I think, tend to accept the message if they can relate well with the messenger. Once there is an element of misgivings or reservations about the messenger, chances are more favourable to the fact that they will throw the baby with the bathwater. This, I think, was what happened to MS-II’s civilizing mission. No doubt, MS-II mean[t] well for his community. But, more often than not, one may mean well but have poor grasp and appreciation of the task at hand and the methods of achieving it. If one says that is the case with MS-II, one may not be heavily mistaken. Unlike his grandfather, whose dethronement was followed by protests and demonstrations so much that it led to the formation of a political party (The Kano People’s Party) and The Kano State Movement (a movement for the creation of Kano state as distinct from Kaduna, the headquarters of the Northern Region), there was not any demonstrations, protests or revolts from the people of Kano when MS-II was dethroned. On the contrary, we saw photos of people beaming with smiles, cheering and welcoming the new emir. That says something, one may say.

The Fallacy of Social Engineering

Social engineering, as far as the Anglo-Saxon definition of it is concerned, is a farce; it had never happened, it is not happening and it will not happen in the foreseeable future. One needs not to go far to see the extent of the woeful performance of Bretton Woods Institutions’ prescriptions of system strengthening, capacity building, technology transfer, experience sharing et cetera, et cetera in governance space. The same can be inferred in the so-called humanitarian work and development interventions. 

MS-II’s mission of civilizing the natives, viewed from this angle, can be best described as being ‘self-defeatist’ for it ignored and dismissed a fundamental idiom that underlies change in Hausa-Fulani lexicon: Rigar aro ba ta ado. And, in the words of late Dr. Waziri Junaidu, when your world is put aside you feel no respect for any other. In his effort to bring change to his people, rather than aligning to the cultural values and mores that shaped the history and temperament of his subjects, MS-II chose to market his ideals in a borrowed garb of Anglo-Saxon societies and their extensions in North America. Perhaps it is not too difficult to identify the reasons why largely-borrowed ideas and institutions have had exceptional difficulty in establishing themselves effectively, for non-universal values, as Mahmud Tukur put it, are seldom successfully transplanted from one cultural milieu to another.  

Engineering of social change in any society has to be organic, methodical, gradual and inclusive, with significant buy-in from the people it’s meant to change for good. And this can only be achieved if the social engineer deeply immersed him or herself into the culture, values and political temperament that shaped such a society. 

Going Forward

There is no denial that Kano state and, by extension, Northern Nigeria are neck-deep in the ocean of what appears to be insurmountable problems, bedevilled by abysmal socioeconomic indices, which are justifiably attributed to the failed social policy, poor governance and of course retrogressive practices that have kept the region mired in a crisis of development for decades. Interestingly, this was what MS-II lived all his life fighting for which, unfortunately, he had to pay with his throne. [I hope I will be forgiven for being simplistic with this position.]

Reflecting on the tragedy that had befallen MS-II and the lessons we can learn and adapt going forward, I asked myself, rhetorically:

1. MS-II meant well for his people, he echoed and advocated for what would have been the best thing to have happened to his people, yet his people rejected his message and prescriptions? Instead of the usual dismissal of the populace as ignorant, retrogressive and what have you, why not interrogate His Highness’ approach to marketing his ideas? The content of his message? The medium of communicating his message?

2. Covid-19 has provided a perfect case-study for us: why is it that professors and veterans of Public Health, Epidemiology and Infectious Diseases Specialists could not convince the public on the existence of the coronavirus and its devastating effects but religious ideologues have done otherwise effortlessly and effectively? How did they do it? What are they doing differently? What lessons can we learn going forward?

3. Like I once asked: beyond the entertainment and artistic value of our writings, engagements, sophistry exhibitions, what is the value of our intellection? Who exactly are we intellectualizing for and for what purpose? Why have our writings, engagements not effected any significant change in our societies? What is the scope of our narratives? We blame our politicians but in reality are they not doing much better than we are? Are there no lessons we can learn from the distances they cover to sell their messages? How is it that members of political parties crisscross the country in a way and manner that intellectuals do not?

In conclusion, I think our intellectuals and reformers should recognize and accept the critical role and relevance of traditional scholars and Ulama in engineering social change. Religious leaders are critical stakeholders in driving cultural, political and economic reforms that we are in dire need of. They have the numbers. They have the audience. And they have the legitimacy. Downplay their influence at our own peril. They should be partners in driving reforms and policy formulation instead of stumbling blocks that our intellectuals, policymakers and reformers have reduced them to; for no meaningful reform will ever be achieved without their buy-in, inputs, and support. Like it or not, disagree with them or not, they have the tools and the influence that can make or mar any advocacy presented to the people. 

Tilde writes from Bauchi and can be reached at

Subscribe to our newsletter for latest news and updates. You can disable anytime.