The Khalifah !
The origin of the Tijaniyya sect is said to date back to the 1830s, and was reportedly introduced to Nigeria by the Sokoto caliphate. The Tijaniyya Order is a Sufi Order with over 50 million followers. There is no difference in belief or worship between Tijjaniyya followers and other Muslims on the Sunni path. The movement spread widely across West Africa at the hands of a Sufi saint, Sheikh Ibrahim Niasse. His first visit to Nigeria in the1930s was at the invitation of Sanusi Lamido’s great grandfather, the 10th Fulani Emir of Kano Abdullahi Bayero.
In 1963, when Sanusi’s grandfather abdicated the throne and was sent on exile till his death, the Sheikh appointed Sanusi’s grandfather as Khalifa in Nigeria.
One can safely say history is now repeating itself because today, our personality cover this week, SANUSI LAMIDO SANUSI II is following his grandfather’s footsteps to the letter. Not only did he leave the Palace as Emir of Kano, he is now the Khalifah of Nigeria, just as his grandfather was. This new role is filled with even more responsibilities because of what it represents.
Under him, the well being of over 50 million followers lies on his shoulders for good leadership. His new title feeds and compliments his insatiable drive to make a positive impact in the lives of the people he remains so passionate about, those under his watch.
Sanusi hopes to bring his educational and professional experiences to play in achieving these goals, particularly in empowering the girl child, a cause very close to his heart. He believes there would be substantial growth if core problems are addressed and uprooted. For a man whose looks belies his inner strength, it seems he groomed from birth to carry a lot of weight on his shoulders and he is not in any way afraid to do just that. EXECUTIVE EDITOR, RUTH OSIME speaks to this captivating man to share his thoughts and state of mind especially now that he has turned 60!
You have always been a larger than life personality when you worked in both the private sector as a banker and the public sector as the Emir of Kano. After your role as a serving Emir, you were given another title. Can you please tell us what that title is and what it represents?
The Tijjaniyyah Order is a Sufi Order whose adherents constitute the largest number of Muslims in Nigeria and indeed, Africa. There is no difference in creed or articles of faith or belief or worship between Tijjaniyya followers and other Muslims on the Sunni path – the path of the Prophet and early generations. The Schools of Jurisprudence deal with the outer form of worship and conduct. Sufism deals with the soul, (the Nafs), which is the core of Man and the locus of sincerity in our relation to God and mankind, and also the source of good and evil. The path of the Sufi towards God is one that aims to adorn the soul with such qualities as sincerity, humility, perseverance, gratitude, love, modesty etc while ridding it of evil diseases like ingratitude, hatred, envy, covetousness, avarice etc.
Muslims seeking this path follow the methods of a shaykh and in our case, we follow the path of Sheikh Ahmad Tijjani. (19th Century Saint born in Algeria and died in Morocco). Think of it in material terms as a man suffering from a bodily ailment who follows the regimen prescribed by the doctor he trusts in the hope of a cure. It does not mean that other doctors are not qualified but everyone goes to the doctor he or she believes is tried and trusted. In Nigeria alone, there are over 50 million Tijjaniyya Muslims. The movement spread widely across West Africa at the hands of a Sufi saint, Sheikh Ibrahim Niasse of Kaolack, Senegal. His first visit to Nigeria was in the 1930s at the invitation of my great grandfather, the 10th Fulani Emir of Kano Abdullahi Bayero.
He established a strong bond with him as sheikh and disciple and also as friends which continued after the Emir’s death with my grandfather, Emir Muhammadu Sanusi I. In 1963, my grandfather was compelled to abdicate the throne “voluntarily” by the northern government and sent to exile in Azare in the present Bauchi Stare. In 1965, Sheikh Ibrahim Niasse, as support for my grandfather, sent a letter to all Tijjaniyya followers appointing my grandfather, Sanusi I, his Khalifa in Nigeria, which at that time, combined spiritual and symbolic leadership. Almost all Tijjaniyya followers trooped to Azare to pay homage and accept his leadership and he remained the Khalifa until his death. So the role I have now is effectively succeeding my grandfather as Khalifa the way I succeeded him as Emir. I was appointed by Sheikh Mahy Niasse the current successor of Sheikh Ibrahim, on the recommendation of the vast majority of the Sheikhs of the Order, as Khalifa in Nigeria and surrounding countries.
Of course, the times, and the challenges, are different. In my grandfather’s time, the issues were more of doctrinal disputes and debates about authenticity and legitimacy.
Now, my title as Khafila in Nigeria is about unifying the movement, activating all that latent energy, and seeing how 50 million Muslims can address contemporary challenges around education, economic empowerment, social reform and good governance in our country. It is also about addressing prohibited innovations in faith matters and strengthening the moderate credentials of Sufis especially in a world of extremists and terrorists.
My leadership will therefore, be naturally more like a modern political servant-leader than a spiritual head as we have thousands of shaykhs who are far more educated and competent in the exoteric and esoteric sciences of Islam than myself.
It would seem, apart from the fact that my grandfather was also the Khalifa, the consideration was that the movement at this time does need a leader that is modern and progressive, so my educational and professional background were major factors.
Many would say you were somewhat targeted because you refused to be intimidated and stop critiquing the way the government ran things. You did not care whose ox was gored to draw attention to what you saw as failure in governance. Are you still very vocal about your views on how the government is running things?
When I was Governor of CBN and employed by the federal government, I did not stop being vocal about things. When I was an employed Emir and fully conscious of the vulnerabilty of my position, I did not stop. I have always said that if as a Prince you keep quiet when there is a need to speak up out of fear of political authority, you are not a Prince but a slave wearing a turban.
The truth is that there is not much to say. For a decade, every Nigerian will bear me witness, that I predicted that if we did not change course we would end here. The country could not afford the waste and corruption in the subsidy regimes. We needed sustainable tariffs in the power sector. We needed to watch overheads and bloated spending leading to an insustainable debt profile. We needed to build up reserves and resilience to shocks. For making these points and raising the alarm on huge leakages in the system, I was asked to leave the CBN.
The new government came in and did nothing to change course. We continued paying trillions of naira in petroleum subsidy. Even when oil price was low and government had credibility, we refused to take advantage of that window. And then we borrowed from the capital markets and CBN to fill the hole we were creating. Of course this means an expansion in money supply, high inflation, devaluation and unsustainable debt-service ratios. I advised in 2016, that if we did not change course, this government would end like its predecessors in ignominy. I advised that the attempt to hold the naira up artificially was doomed to fail.
These are things we were taught in years of sitting in economics classes and they are not rocket science. Every trained economist could see we here heading towards economic collapse. I was speaking as a true friend but I became the enemy. In 2019 I said the country was heading towards bankruptcy. Again, I was marked an enemy. Even the masses on whose behalf I was speaking, believed I should keep quiet. I objected to my state government borrowing $1.8b for a light rail project with all the out of school children, malnutrition and low HDI indices we had. I also called for free and fair elections and advised the people to vote for honest and patriotic leaders who were competent. These to me, was my duty as Emir.
I do not know if these things led to my being “targeted” as you say, but I do know that no one can escape the Divine decree. When God says your time is up, it is up. Not doing what I believe is right can never get me one more day on the throne than decreed by God. When that day comes I would leave the throne dead or alive. You may be right because the letter given to me accused me of “insubordination” to Government. The governor also later gave an interview to Channels where he said my offense was that I was a “social critic”. I have never engaged anyone on this issue because it would diminish me.
The sum of the matter is, I made a deliberate choice to give up a position with my honour intact and my head held high rather than to bow to arrogant power and humiliate myself in order to remain in office. It was a choice I made knowingly, I am proud of myself and happy with my life. And God continues to uplift me and grow me from strength to strength.
So back to the economy, where are we today? Last year, we spent 80% of revenues on debt service. I believe we have one of the worst debt-service to revenue ratios in the world. FG retained revenue is currently less that N4trillion per annum but the forecast is that by 2025, debt service will consume N4.8 trillion. The difficult decisions we did not take in 2016, are almost impossible now. If we deregulate fuel subsidy fully, we will need to pay almost N400 per litre. But that is because in the last five years, we have had a massive devaluation of the currency from less than N200 to $1 to N500 now at the parallel market and over N410 officially. If we had a stable exchange rate, the price would be less than half that. But we had to have a devaluation because the CBN is not getting the dollars it should as NNPC keeps holding back billions in the name of subsidy. Recently, there was a letter from NNPC saying it can make no remittances to FAAC at all.
And the CBN has had to monetize government deficits to combat recession. So inflation and devaluation became inevitable. If the right decisions had been taken in 2016, we would have saved the Treasury trillions instead of relying on debt and printing high powered money. We would have had price and exchange rate stability. We would have built reserve buffers to cope with COVID. Every trained economist could tell youth is for free. Monetary dominance is no less dangerous than fiscal dominance. The economic problem pre-dated this administration but this was precisely why we needed a change in 2015. Sadly, we did not take the difficult decisions that needed to be taken on time and now, we are paying for it. The situation we are in was foreseen, it was avoidable and it is almost entirely self-inflicted. Even withoit COVId we were running downhill.
I am not speaking now because everyone can now see what I predicted. Search the internet and as far back as 2011 all the way to 2019, you will see that I have been saying this is where we will end up. I can not be jumping and laughing and saying I told you so because the people are suffering.
I can also not offer any more advice because it is clear to me that those who speak the truth in this system are considered the enemy. I speak on issues not individuals but cannot help it if politicians have been so surrounded and spoilt by sycophants that they think every friendly advice not laced with praise-singing is an insult.
We pray that God grant the leaders wisdom and that fortune smiles on us. With the right policies, a global recovery and debt relief, we can still pull out of this mess. The Finance Minister is my sister and friend and I pray for her all the time as she has inherited one of the most difficult jobs in the world at this time.
Usually by 60, most people start winding down to pursue less stressful ventures or even, pick up a hobby they enjoy. They become less perturbed about the daily challenges of life and embrace more pleasurable pursuits. What is your take on that?
(Laughter). Ok. Those who know me will tell you I have always worked hard and played hard. That is the story of my life. I have always set for myself the highest standards of performance. But I have, at the same time, never really avoided “peasurable pursuits” as you call them. So I have not missed much. I take pleasure in new challenges. Now I have published one book (a selection of published articles) which will be presented to the public this August. At that presentation, I intend to raise funds for my SDG challenge with a focus on bringing education to underserved populations, especially the rural girl-child. The book is entitled “For the Good of the Nation” and it is a compilation of some of my interventions as a public intellectual between 1998 and 2005. I am currently a Research Fellow at the African Studies Centre and concurrently an Academic Visitor at St Antony’s College, University of Oxford.
I have used the time there to complete so far, the first draft of 16 chapters out of a 20 chapter book on my years at the CBN. The book will be entitled “Confronting Vested Interests: Central Banking in a Rentier Economy.” It may make me some more enemies though, as I intend to document for posterity, an inside view of the banking crisis of 2008-2011, the reforms we pursued in the CBN and my conflicts with politicians and political authority. It will give an insight into how the elite in this country, irrespective of religion, ethnicity and even political party, simply come together as a system to extract rent and undermine the poor.
I am still taking things out and putting things back in and trying to minimize sensational revelations. In early September, I will pick up on my French language program as I am trying to improve my fluency. I have been admitted and will enrol from late september at SOAS, University of London, for a PhD in Law. This, plus my SDG work, I think, show that I am not planning to disappear. In a sense, having started my life as an academic, I am at this stage going to do a PhD and finish that one bit of unfinished business in my life – and also publish books.
As you are aware, for the past few weeks, the emergence of new female MDs of banks has been trending as women especially, are excited that more ceilings have been broken by women taking charge of the reins in various banks. As a former banker, what advice will you give them to enable them make even stronger strides in their tenure?
Excellent question. As you know in 2012, I led the Bankers committee into declaring a year of women in banking. Within the CBN, I promoted eight brilliant women to Director positions at a go. It was a real revolution. Before I became governor in 2009, only four women had risen to Director in the 50-year history of the CBN. Imagine having eight of them running areas traditionally monopolized by men, such as Banking Supervision, Risk Management, Consumer Protection, Branch Operations etc. We issued guidelines compelling banks to publish data on gender equality. We asked that at least 50% of new entrants to banks be female, and 40% of top management and 30% of Board members.
What is happening today with the surge of female band MDs, is the result of the seeds we planted in my time as Governor, and it shows how with a regulator focused on diversity, the industry can be transformed. This is why even as a nation we need leaders committed to women and to gender equity who will push laws and regulations across the board in support of diversity.
Our constitution keeps saying we must have a Minister from every state. Well how about saying no more than 60% of the cabinet can be from one gender? How about diversity laws for electoral seats to ensure female representation? Why can’t at least one of the three Senate seats in every state for example, be declared an all female-contestant seat? On our national currency, all the Naira notes, there is only one woman, an anonymous woman among several men on the N50 note. Intially, she was in the centre of the men, then the note was reissued and she was pushed to the margins. Just looking at the Naira tells you that we are a patriarchal society with little sensitivity to the great role women have played and continue to play in our history.
When I was governor, I proposed the introduction of a N5,000 note. Apart from the economic efficiency arguments, the note was designed to address this issue. The image on it was that of three women, Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, Gambo Sawaba and Margaret Ekpo. These were three great amazons from west, north and east, who blazed the trail on women’s rights, gender equality, girl child education and women political participation in the First Republic. They were active in the decolonization and independence movements. I wanted to honour the Nigerian women as “founding mothers” since the Naira had up to then, been used to honour “founding fathers” like Herbert Macaulay, Tafawa Balewa, Obafemi Awolowo, Nnamdi Azikiwe and Ahmadu Bello. I wanted to show that our independence was won not just by heroes but by heroines from across the ethnic divide. I also wanted, in placing these women up there on the highest note of the land, to make the debate on how we treat our girls, our wives, our female colleagues, a topic of discourse. I wanted to place gender at the centre of politics. As you know, the National Assembly and Nigerians in general, fought against this project and President Jonathan, who had approved it earlier, caved in to pressure and cancelled it. Those opposed to it had no valid argument. I recall a Senator suggesting to me that placing women on N5,000 note was “debasing” our founding fathers who were on lower denominations! I hope the N5,000 will be revived by the CBN especially now that the naira has lost so much value, we need higher denominations. Even those who were too blind to see the efficiency angle before can see it now.
So, the best advice to these fine women bankers is first to go out there and prove that they can do better than the men, as the female Directors we appointed in CBN did. Second, do NOT be “queen bees” who love the attention of being the only female there. Keep the ladder, reach out and help other women to the top. Implement women friendly policies, have creches, pay for the babies and nannies of nursing mothers when they go on official assignment abroad, encourage remote access and work from home for women on extended maternity leave etc. Finally, the real gender issues in Nigeria are far beyond getting women to Boards. For each one of you, there are millions of girls who are not completing primary school. Issues of forced marriage, domestic violence, arbitrary divorce, “sex for grades” in universities, bankers are Nigerians and you cannot just be focused on money. Use your position and power to fight for the Nigerian girl and woman, especially the poor and voiceless ones.
There has also been this long standing rumour that you might run for President in the near future. Is this something you will consider and if not, why not?
I have never been interested in party politics and I have no interest now. The option was always there before I became Emir and I was not interested. Politicians had offered me the presidential ticket before and I rejected it. Tinubu wanted me to be the flagbearer of ACN for example. I declined. Now, as an Emir, I am a father to all, so even if I had an interest, I would not drag the position into partisanship. I will continue to serve the country in any way I consider appropriate but I have no interest in holding any elective post.
Looking at the profiles of politicians who have run this race, it seems like we keep recycling the same people over and over again. In fact, the candidates who seem most credible usually don’t stand a chance because they lack political structure which explains the swinging chairs with the choices we are left with. How do you think this pattern can be broken to give more credible candidates a fair chance?
I think we need to ensure a fair electoral process that allows those voted by the people to emerge. Look at the noise on electronic transmission of votes. INEC says it can do it but politicians are opposed to it. Even the chairman of the Senate Committee that recommended it in the first place turned round to undermine his own recommendation. But also look at the lack of democracy internally with the parties themselves and the role played by security services, INEC and the judiciary, in stealing mandates. When you set rules that you have no intention of abiding by, only the really determined or really desperate can join the game. Can you imagine playing against a team where the referee allows your opponents to score freely from offside positions and also awards penalties to them arbirarily? That is Nigeria’s elections for you. The best legacy the President can leave now is a strong electoral law and ensuring that the progress made by INEC under professor Jega is built upon and not reversed.
A man like you must be very busy with work and various commitments. How do you find a balance with your ‘me’ time, family time and work?
I work woth my family around me and also take being a father and husband as part of my work.
You were one of the most colourfully robed Emirs of all time. You brought so much style and panache to the role. What do you plan to do with all those attires? Would you one day, open a museum to house these outfits so people could visit and see the richness of your cultural history?
I am still the 14th Emir of Kano and the Khalifa of Tijjaniyya. I continue to dress like an Emir as that is the tradition. The only thing that has changed is I have handed over the instruments of office – the twin spears, the staff of office, the sword, knife, bow and arrows of Ibrahim Dabo. There are two things here. One is being an Emir which is a muslim title elected traditionally by kingmakers. In Islam, Emirs are never deposed or removed until death. The second is that with colonialism and now modern government, Emirs are employees of the state who can be sacked or suspended by the government. So I have been relieved of the burden of being a government employee but remain Emir of Kano until my death.
This is the beauty of the institution. Once an Emir always an Emir. I have not resigned and I am not dead. Apart from the instruments of office and the fact that I do not play an official role, I retain all the privileges of an Emir for life. I dress like one, can have my royal umbrella, sit on a throne (Karaga) etc.
Historically, the governments for this reason, kept the Emirs in forced exile. The British did it to Emir of Kano Aliyu and Emir of Zazzau Aliyu among others. In post independence Nigeria, we saw my grandfather, Emir Umar Abba of Muri, Sultan Dasuki, Emir of Gwandu Jokolo, all forced into years of exile after deposition. In my case, I broke the jinx and the government failed and I do not think after me, any Governor will attempt to send an Emir into exile in a democratic regime. So this is why people find all this strange. It is almost like having an Emir-at-large or in diaspora with another one in-situ.
As for attire, I have always believed that when you lead, you must think of your people in appearance. As a banker and as governor of CBN I considered myself as representing Nigerians at meetings of the world bank or IMF or some other place. I needed to be better dressed or at least, as well dressed as every Central Bank governor in the world including the Fed Chairman. As Emir of Kano,the people of Kano have a right to expect their Emir to dress in a manner reflective of their grandeur and rich history. So when I wear clothes to come out at any function, I have to think of my people and if they will be happy or disappointed to see their Emir in those clothes just like I did as a central banker with my bow ties and nehru jackets. I therefore, spend a lot of time choosing my own fabric and sometimes, designing my own outfit and using the best tailors.
Everyone has a bucket list of sorts. Some have ticked most of their boxes while others are yet to tick as much. Are there any more boxes you will like to tick on your bucket list?
Oh yes. So I have been a Chief Risk Officer, a Chief Executive Officer in a bank, Governor of Central Bank, Emir, MTN global board member, Khalifa. I have ticked the book publication box. There is the PhD box ahead of me. I also want to strengthen fluency in both French and Arabic as I am now an African Statesman and these languages are necessary. I had memorized the entire Quran many years ago but my busy life and age have led to forgeting large portions of it so I also plan to re-memorize the Quran and this time retain it with Allah’s help. So yes. There are boxes to tick. And when ticking these, so long as I am alive, I will create new boxes. You have only one life but as you can see, you can live many lives – as an academic, public intellectual, banker, regulator, traditional ruler, religious scholar, corporate board member. We have to thank God for life, health, opportunities and the parents we had. And I intend to keep having new lives and new role and just ticking all these boxes .
You can say anything about me but no one should
ever have reason to doubt that I have not lived a boring life. It has been accomplishment and excitement from the beginning, and hopefully to the end.