ROAD TO AZARE
Did you know that in May 1962, on the departure of the British colonial administrator and then Governor of Northern Nigeria, Sir Gawain Westray Bell (1909-1995), many people in the North and beyond including Alhaji Muhammadu Sanusi, late Emir of Kano and grandfather of the current Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, (who himself rightly nurtures an ambition to become the Emir of Kano someday), felt that the Sardauna of Sokoto (1938-1966) and Premier of Northern Nigeria, Sir Ahmadu Bello (1909-1966) might follow the example of Chief Obafemi Awolowo (1909-1987), ppointing the then Ooni of Ife, Oba (Sir) Adesoji Aderemi (1889-1980), as Governor of Western Region, by recommending an emir to be Governor of the North?
As the Shehu of Bornu, Alhaji (Sir) Umar Ibn Mohammed el-Kanemi (1873-1968), was well advanced in age, the lot would easily have fallen on either the Sultan of Sokoto, Sir Abubakar, or the Emir of Kano, His Eminence Alhaji Muhammadu Sanusi…either of them would have filled the position with dignity. But Ahmadu Bello had different plans. Instead, he chose his best friend, Sir Kashim Ibrahim (1910-1990) who, a few weeks later, received a congratulatory letter from the then Governor-General of the federation, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe (1904-1996) and a formal announcement which was made in London on 1st June, 1962 by Buckingham Palace.
It was not until this happened that “the generality of Nigerians and especially the people of Bornu knew about the elevation of their son to this symbolically important office and within minutes, Kashim Ibrahim's modest home on Dandal Way became a point of human convergence.” The average Kanuri saw Kashim's achievement as his own and a vindication of Kanuri's religious and cultural primacy in Northern Nigeria. In the estimation of the Kanuri, Kashim Ibrahim was second to none…even their old Shehu now belonged to the past. Kashim Ibrahim was soon knighted by the Queen in recognition of his contribution to the evolution of modern Nigeria which brought him considerable joy.
But this joy was soon overtaken by the gathering storm of political crisis in Western Nigeria where, as it were, there was a schism in the ruling party in the region, the Action Group, led by Chief Awolowo, and the fact that the faction led by the Premier, Chief S. L .A, Akintola (1910-1966), had sought the support of the North and its political leadership. However, another matter that was of more immediate concern to Kashim Ibrahim as Governor of the North was the problem which was brewing in Kano that concerned an administrative enquiry into the financial affairs of the Kano Emirate. Needless to say, the report of the enquiry seriously implicated the Emir of Kano, Muhammadu Sanusi, in a series of improprieties and actions considered detrimental to order and good governance.
Emir Sanusi, a man known to have his way as far back as to the time when his father was on the throne and he was Ciroma, was one of those responsible for the success of the Northern People's Congress (NPC) in the election of 1951, and was virtually a founding member of the party. His emirate was the most single local administrative unit in the country and he ruled it with a firm hand. He combined both power and a handsome pay packet because his emirate was well endowed. In fact as far back as 1914, Emir Muhammadu Sanusi earned 14,000 Pounds a year when the Governor-General of Nigeria, Sir Frederick Lugard (1858-1945) earned only 6, 600 Pounds. Sanusi was, in actual fact, treated as primus inter pares among the Emirs of Northern Nigeria despite ranking 4th after the Sultan of Sokoto, the Shehu of Bornu and the Emir of Gwandu. Even at one time, only the Emir of Kano was deemed important enough by Lugard to represent the North on his Nigerian Council of 1914 when he made Sarkin Abbas, the Emir of Kano, along with the Alaafin of Oyo, Oba Gbadegesin Ladigbolu I, members. Coupled with the fact that he was a minister of state without portfolio and maintained a large palace in Kaduna over and above that in Kano. The mother of it all being that when Sir G.W. Bell, the Governor of the North, proceeded on leave in 1961, Sanusi, the Emir of Kano, acted for him. When the Sardauna himself became premier, he too treated Sanusi with consideration. Both men were well received by the Saudi King (1953-1964) Saud bin Abdulaziz Al Saud (1902–1969), (who was named Prime Minister on 11th October 1953, but unlike his father King Abdulaziz (1876-1953), was not a competent head of state), when they toured the Middle East together in 1958. No doubt, the two men were very close friends up until 1962.
From 1962 onwards, the Sardauna not only embarked on tours to non-Muslim areas of the North where people were being converted, sometimes by force, to Islam. He also began to assert himself much more aggressively in the North and seemed to feel that his position as Premier was that of a grand emir who was superior to all other traditional rulers in the North including the Sultan of Sokoto.
Of particular interest was an incident which the Sardauna did not find funny one bit and which he considered an affront. It was during a formal occasion in the race course when the Emir of Kano stole the spotlight by arriving in full splendor and pageantry after the Sardauna had been seated and the whole assemblage had to stand up for the Emir in traditional homage and honour. It was just too much for the Sardauna to bear.
But it pleased the Emir so much to get back at the Sardauna in this way especially since he had thought that he (and not Kashim Ibrahim) was the most suitable man to be appointed Governor of the North, more so when he had acted in that capacity while the incumbent was away on leave in 1961. It seemed natural for him to have felt slighted by the action of the Sardauna.
Other possible grounds of disagreement between them severally abound, one of which was in 1959 when the North celebrated its internal self-government. The Emir, Muhammadu Sanusi, had calculated that he would sit in the 'royal box' with the Sardauna, the Sultan and the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester, Prince Henry and Princess Alice, Who had embarked “on a tour of Eastern Nigeria, the Southern Cameroons and Lagos as the Federation of Nigeria approached full independence and entry into the Commonwealth, beginning 12th May 1959.” But he was simply told to sit somewhere else.
Another ground was the Emir's opposition to the provincial bill passed by the Sardauna's government which culminated in the appointment of some House of Assembly members as provincial commissioners who enjoyed not only the rank of ministers in the regional government, but were also given official precedence over the emirs. It would seem that insult was added to injury when the provincial commissioner for Kano was a Sokoto man, one Alhaji Aliyu, Magajin Gari of Sokoto, who happened to be of Sokoto royal slave origin. For the Emir, this was the height of it.
But the Sardauna was not done yet. He passed a land tenure law which transferred certain highly lucrative powers of land allocation from the emirates to the regional government thereby striking at the Emirs's purse. Kano was the hardest hit being the most economically important to the regional government. This was to much for the Emir.
Again, the Emir of Kano was the Muqqadam (Leader or High Priest) of the Tijaniyya Tariqa, a highly successful Islamic brotherhood with votaries in many parts of Northern Nigeria and an external inspiration in Senegal. Heavily patronized by the commercial class, the brotherhood was modernist in approach and it preached a creed of self-improvement without the crippling fatalism common to its rival, the khadiriyya, which originated in Baghdad in the 12th century, and which was headed by the Sultan of Sokoto and largely bankrolled by the Sardauna.
Despite the unserious religious differences between the two tariqa, and because the Sardauna considered himself the champion of Islam in the North, the leadership of a much more popular Islamic tariqa by the Emir of Kano was construed by him as a challenge.
The leadership of the Emir of Kano and the Sultan had also stepped on the Sardauna's raw place when they protested directly to the British Governor of Northern Nigeria about the interference in local affairs of Northern People's Congress party stalwarts, thereby bypassing the Sardauna. For a man who neither forgot not forgave easily, the Premier was clearly not happy with both men.
Lastly, the prickly relationship between the powerful Sardauna and the Emir soon assumed a political dimension over a domestic matter like a divorce when one of Alhaji Muhammadu Sanusi's sons divorced his wife who was the daughter of the Emir of Gwandu, the Sardauna's distant cousin.
Whatever the cause of friction between the two men, the Sardauna certainly did not like the arrogant air which the Emir of Kano affected whenever they were together. After all, the crime of an emir which bordered on injustice or even downright misappropriation and embezzlement was commonplace in those days and which could have been glossed over completely, not to say swept under the carpet…and if necessary, perhaps, a private warning and verbal chastisement would have sufficed. But owing to the aforementioned mutual antagonism between the two scions of the ruling aristocracy in the North, the Sardauna pressed home his attack as an opportunity to humble the Emir.
It was against this backdrop that the administrative board of enquiry into the affairs of the Kano emirate (at the instance of the Sadauna) recommended that the Emir of Kano should be dethroned. Governor Kashim Ibrahim knew that the situation was political dynamite capable of blowing up with disastrous consequences for the North, and so pleaded for caution when he learnt that the Sardauna had decided to ask the Emir to resign.
He warned the Sardauna of possible violence in Kano and its exploitation by political opponents in Kano, advising him to consider the strength of the Emir, the fact that Kano alone produced nearly 25% of NPC members in the House of Assembly, and that the government can only ignore them at its own peril.
But the now stiff-necked Sardauna felt so impregnable that he refused to budge, insisting that the EMIR MUST GO. He told Sir Kashim to perform his constitutional duties as advised by the government, that the enquiry had been going on for a year even before he became Governor and that it had nothing to do with him.
As it was more than obvious that the Premier would not shift his ground on the matter, Sir Kashim was left with very little choice. He, therefore, sent for the Emir of Kano, Alhaji Muhammadu Sanusi, to meet him at Government House in Kaduna. After the normal exchange of greetings and pleasantries, Sir Kashim, at first dreaded how to begin and finally broached the subject of the enquiry, capping it with government acceptance of the recommendation of the board that the Emir should be removed from office, and asked him if he had anything to say. Sanusi simply replied, “nothing.”
Immediately after this, and having been taken aback by the Emir's non display of emotion at the verdict, Governor Kashim Ibrahim brought out a prepared resignation letter for him to sign, which the Emir signed without a word. Then, the Governor proceeded to deliver the coup de grace when he quietly demanded to know where the Emir would like to go, into exile…to which Sanusi replied, “Azare”, a small town in Bauchi province. And there he henceforth stayed for nearly 20 years before returning to Wudil about 6 kilometers from Kano.
As forewarned by Governor Kashim Ibrahim, the politically versatile Kano people refused to stomach the audacity and arrogance of the Sokoto man who had done what no other person, whether living or dead, foreign or indigenous, had ever done to any Emir of Kano, that is, remove him from office. Thereupon, an announcement of the founding of a political party, the Kano Peoples Party (KPP), was made on Tuesday, 16th April, 1963. Mallam Bello Abdulkadiri became the President of the new party while Mallam Ali Wazirichi emerged as its Secretary-General.
Beneath the gloss of the new party's claim of wide supporter-ship base outside the province of Kano, it was certainly evident that its real popularity was from within Kano and that a breakaway faction of the ruling NPC which represented the youth wing had become impatiently angry under the Sardauna's growing autocracy even before the KPP was formed. The youth wing too constituted itself into a party in Kano known as the Northern Youth Movement. But of the two, the greater challenge to the NPC in Kano came from the KPP which had 36, 423 registered members within months of its establishment.
The KPP was unequivocal in its representation of Kano nationalism as well as its resentment against people from outside the province whose penchant was to lord it over Kano people due to the patronage of the Sardauna. All this was in spite of Kano being the economic nerve centre of the North that produced the wealth which the Sardauna now used to undermine its positional primacy in the North.
In 1963, the Kano Peoples Party soon got in touch with other political dissidents in the North to form what was called the “Northern Progressive Front” as a major opposition to the NPC. The Progressive Front consisted of the Northern Element People's Union led by Alhaji Aminu Kano (1920-1983), the United Middle Belt Congress led by J.S. Tarka (1932-1980), the Kano-based Northern Youth Movement, the Zamfara Common People's Party, the Nigerian Tin Mines Workers' Union, the Middle Belt Tin Mines Workers' Union and the Northern Federation of Labour.
They claimed in their manifesto that the decision of all progressive forces in the region to come under one political umbrella stemmed from their unanimity of purpose against feudalism and imperialism, which the NPC symbolized in the North. This, they posited, was predicated on the conviction of the parties and organizations that as long as those opposed to oppression, suppression, and exploitation in Nigeria remained disunited in waging a concerted effort and determined struggle against the forces of reaction and oppression which the NPC represented, so long will the good people of Nigeria struggle under the jackboot of feudal oppression.
They aimed amongst other things, from striving to abolish or reform the judicial system which they claimed had been oppressively abused by the reactionary elements in the NPC, to wanting to emancipate women, ensure rapid economic development of the North, agitate for state creation which will particularly include Kano state. But it was an ironical twist of history that what essentially was a working class movement was anchored to the prestige of the deposed emir, Alhaji Muhammadu Sanusi, who himself had been one of the greatest supporters of the politics of reaction and intolerance in Northern Nigeria.
Nothing could be far from the truth to suggest that the deposed emir was involved in the politics of the KPP, but the sympathy for him and his cause coupled with the general reading that his dethronement was an insult to all Kano people, merely helped to aggravate the situation even further. As a result, Alhaji Muhammadu Sanusi exercised considerable restraint, refusing to champion the cause of Kano nationalism, exclusiveness and opposition to what was termed Sokoto arrogance which the Sardauna represented. But he could also have restrained himself probably due to the secret threat of prosecution which Ahmadu Bello had issued against him since his offence was said to be an indictable one, and that if he behaved himself, he certainly would be let off the hook and saved the indignity of a celebrated and scandalous trial. It could also have been the deep-seated commitment to traditional institutions in the North, a system he had spent his entire life to uphold, which forced him to accept his terrible predicament with equanimity
Whatever was responsible for his acquiescence, the leadership of KPP was left to its own resources. These resources, material and human, were not great at all, and definitely could not match those at the disposal of the regional government. Political witch-haunting soon became the order of the day: members of the Kano People's Party were quickly hounded out of jobs and the economic interests of many of them were greatly hampered…the last straw being the withdrawal of the trade permits of some of their financial sponsors and backers. A stitch in time, they say, saves nine. The crowning of a new emir in the person of Alhaji Ado Bayero (b.1930), previously Nigeria's ambassador to the Republic of Senegal, calmed the troubled political waters of Kano. and so, the government was able to nip political radicalism in Kano in the bud.
The dirty work of the regional government was completed by its well tried Native Administration judicial machine (the Alkali Court) which tried the entire executive committee of the KPP in June 1963, and committed them to prison forthwith for using abusive and “annoying language” in references to the Premier, Alhaji Ahmadu Bello. That's how the KPP was stopped in its track and the Sardauna's victory over the Emir of Kano was total.
This victory, at once, signaled to all other emirs that the Premier was a Babanemir and would not brook any challenge to his own power which he saw as being independent of the support previously given him by the emirs. The fear of the Sardauna soon became the beginning of wisdom and he seemed to be saying to the emirs: “Follow my religious and political direction if you wished to retain your positions.” The question of who was in charge was no longer in doubt. The Sardauna retained control and his prestige increased all over the North and nobody dared cross swords with him again.