9 Feb 2015

A very modern African monarch – meeting Emir Muhammad Sanusi II

Slender ten-foot-long silver trumpets glinted in the noon sun, their two-tone blasts echoing around the thick mud-brick walls of the ancient Gidan Rumfa royal palace, modernised 500 years ago.

From an inner courtyard, surrounded by chanting praise- singers and technicolour-robed bodyguards, the new Emir of Kano emerged. He sat high on a magnificently decorated black stallion, his fist punching the hot, sultry air, master of all he surveyed. The city of Kano had seen nothing like this for half a century.

It was close to forty degrees and King Muhammad Sanusi’s turbaned head was shaded by a vast white parasol, his face partly veiled. He wore sun-glasses. His shoulders were draped in ornate, gold-embroidered robes. On his feet, gold slippers. His attendants fussed and danced around him.

Quite a reversal of fortunes for a man fired from his last job by the president, exactly one year ago. Back then, he’d been dressed in pinstripes, the governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria. Back in 2010, Dr Lamido Sanusi had been crowned Central Bank Governor of the Year by the FT’s Banker Magazine.

He lost his job after he wrote to President Goodluck Jonathan, pointing out a US$20-billion black hole in the national finances. Someone, it seemed, had had their nose in the trough. The President appears to have been rather ungrateful for his Central Bank governor’s help. Dr Sanusi’s passport was confiscated; he was accused of “financial recklessness” and of being a sponsor of Boko Haram.

It did not take King Sanusi long to find a new job. We watched, awe-struck by this breathtaking pageantry. His noblemen, Fulani and Hausa, lined up to prostrate themselves before him. Emirs, traditional rulers, State Governors arrived in polished vintage Rolls Royces from far and wide.


Security was tight; the Boko Haram leader, Abubakar Shekau, had posted a video threatening to kill the Emir. He refers to him, even now, as “the late Emir” in part because he puts the education of women above most other priorities in northern Nigeria. In November, a Boko Haram suicide bomber attacked the royal mosque during Friday prayers, killing 150 people.

The 57th Emir of Kano takes the throne of an ancient monarchy, dating back to 999 AD. He is the 14th Emir of the Fulani Torodbe clan – the Muslim Fulani tribe conquered the Hausas in a jihad in 1805.

To Nigerian Muslims, he is second only in authority to the Fulani Sultan of Sokoto, whose ancestors founded a vast Islamic Caliphate, an empire comprising 30 emirates spreading across what is now northern Nigeria and Niger, stretching from modern-day Burkino Faso to Cameroon. The Sultanate was conquered by the British in 1906.

‘Right, let’s get started’

For Emir Muhammad Sanusi, his accession to the throne was the fulfillment of a life-long ambition following in the footsteps of his grandfather. These days, the State Governor of Kano holds all the political power, but the Emir’s post carries weight.

He is renowned for his moral and spiritual authority, and for his refusal to shy away from controversy. He has opposed the adoption of Islamic law in northern states, which put him on a collision course with more conservative Muslims – and Boko Haram. It is his job to appoint district and village heads and all the imams in his emirate, which, he says is a system which allows seamless communications top to bottom, bottom to top.

Having watched the Emir’s coronation and been invited into the Palace to observe the courtesy calls from other Emirs, we sat in a spectacular throne room for our interview. He strode in, shook my hand, snapped off his dark glasses, arranged his robes and said: “Right, let’s get started.”

He talked about how extremism had its roots in poverty. I asked him what northern Nigeria could do with US$20-billion. He laughed.

“You could do lots,” he said. And that’s when he really got going. Watch this space. There’ll be more from Emir Muhammad Sanusi II on Channel 4 News in the days to come.

Follow Jonathan Miller on Twitter: @millerC4

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