The Saga of the Kano Emirate

The Saga of the Kano Emirate

Sanusi Lamido Sanusi and Aminu Ado-Bayero. Collage by THE REPUBLIC.

the ministry of political affairs

The Saga of the Kano Emirate

In Kano, a tussle for the emirate’s throne between Muhammadu Sanusi II and Aminu Ado Bayero has revealed the shaky legitimacy of traditional Nigerian monarchs. How their once inviolable thrones, emblematic of timeless authority and cultural heritage, now teeter under the weight of modern Nigerian politics.
The Saga of the Kano Emirate

Sanusi Lamido Sanusi and Aminu Ado-Bayero. Collage by THE REPUBLIC.

the ministry of political affairs

The Saga of the Kano Emirate

In Kano, a tussle for the emirate’s throne between Muhammadu Sanusi II and Aminu Ado Bayero has revealed the shaky legitimacy of traditional Nigerian monarchs. How their once inviolable thrones, emblematic of timeless authority and cultural heritage, now teeter under the weight of modern Nigerian politics.

For many Africans, leadership has historically been best espoused through the numerous monarchs and traditional leaders that dot the continent. History is filled with records and achievements of Kings and Queens waging wars, conquering cities and showing service from their thrones. Independence-era leaders, many of whom would later take on attempted monarchies of their own, are rivalled only by the many leaders who fought bravely against colonial efforts and remain icons, albeit mostly relegated to history books. As a result of this history, with many stools predating modern African countries with their colonial imprints, many thrones are revered for the longevity and legacy they represent.

Yet this status is at threat by a force stronger than colonial imposition, religious movements or even populist revolutions—retail politics. Most Nigerian thrones no longer follow set succession formats, to eldest children or designated heirs, but are appointed by state governors because of the patronage that comes with the role. Governors are often given names from a shortlist curated by kingmakers, from which they select an individual with outsized influence who could play a key role in consolidating a politician’s influence in their state. For example, Oba Rilwan Akiolu of Lagos, crowned in 2003 by then-Lagos governor, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, has been a steadfast ally and repeatedly criticized Igbos for voting against Tinubu’s party, the All Progressives Congress (APC). 

Perhaps no throne has been as politicized in recent years as the Kano Emirate. In a scene reminiscent of HBO’s Game of Thrones or a drama set in ancient feudal times, there are two claimants to the throne, and they are supported by different political groups. On the one hand, Emir Muhammadu Sanusi was appointed by Governor Rabiu Kwankwaso, dethroned by Governor Abdullahi Ganduje and reappointed by Governor Abba Kabir Yusuf. On the other, Emir Aminu Ado Bayero was appointed by Governor Ganduje and the attempted removal by Governor Yusuf has led to a controversy in a key state in the country.

This incident has brought the nation’s most populous state, according to official records, and the commercial capital of the north, to a standstill. Regrettably, the victims of the comedy of errors are the citizens and followers who are rightly bemused as to which leader to genuflect for. 


To establish their control over the Nigerian colony, during the 1800s, British officers warred against and eventually demanded fealty from different kingdoms that make present-day Nigeria. This meant that future occupants of the thrones were subject to British approval, a power that was subsequently transferred to Nigerian political office holders after independence. Most times, governors accept the shortlisted nominee provided for any of the thrones within their state. But, in some cases, personal animosity or political exigence inspires a desire to ensure a more collegial choice. When politics and tradition clash, the result usually leads to an unhealthy outcome. 

The recent debacle in Kano’s emirate is not the first time that a governor has sought to whittle or reduce the influence of the state’s pre-eminent traditional leader. In 1963, Muhammadu Sanusi I, then emir of Kano, was the subject of a probe instituted by Sir Ahmadu Bello, the Sardauna of Sokoto and premier of Northern Nigeria. This was a political move—the Northern Elements Progressive Union (NEPU), the nominal opposition in the north, had made charges against the Kano Emirate but withdrew the charges once it became clear that the Northern People Congress-led regional government was interested in reviewing the emir. As the main regional opposition, NEPU had to ensure it stayed in opposition to its rival party. According to a 1975 journal report by noted scholar and former Northern Nigeria civil servant, D.J.M Muffett, this review of an influential emir was also driven by growing restlessness in the emirate and the rise in general unrest. This led to the eventual dethronement of the emir, and the coronation of Muhammad Inuwa, who ruled for just over three months before being succeeded by Ado Bayero.

In April 1981, during the Second Republic, Governor Abubakar Rimi of Kano State appointed four new emirs in Auyo, Dutse, Gaya and Rano, who were meant to be equal in rank to Emir Ado Bayero. Rimi described the emirs as being ‘mere public servants working under the directives of their local government chairmen,’ and had earlier opened an investigation into the finances of the Kano Emirate. Rimi had fallen out with Aminu Kano and the Peoples Redemption Party and believed that Ado Bayero was a bulwark against some of his modernizing reforms. Rimi also openly dismissed the prestige of the emirate, citing that the emir could be replaced or dismissed by the governor while citing the emirate’s dependence on public funds and equating them to officers serving ‘at the pleasure’ of the governor. His eventual defeat, during a 1983 bid for re-election, led to his successor, Aliyu Bakin Zuwo, reversing the emirate split and allowing Ado Bayero to rule unencumbered. 

In 2014, in the midst of a contentious re-election battle, then-president, Goodluck Jonathan was met with a report from the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) governor, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, indicting his key allies in charge of the petroleum sector of embezzling money. In response, Jonathan suspended Sanusi from office, and the latter eventually resigned his post. Sanusi, a prince of the Kano Emirate, was seen by the opposition as a strong voice to highlight the flaws of the Jonathan administration and would need a strong platform with which to continue doing so. At the same time, on 6 June 2014, Ado Bayero, the longest-serving emir of Kano, passed on and left one of the nation’s most eminent stools vacant. Convention meant that Rabiu Kwankwaso, the governor of Kano, who had just made the move to defect from the then-ruling People’s Democratic Party to the opposition APC, would be responsible for the final selection. This provided an opportunity for Sanusi to transcend the civilian role of a technocrat and become a traditional leader able to support their cause in the battleground Kano. Within two days, the former CBN governor became Emir Muhammadu Sanusi II and assumed the throne, instead of Aminu Ado Bayero, the late emir’s son, who many expected would succeed his father. 

Most monarchs steer clear of political affairs and avoid speaking on government policies. But Muhammadu Sanusi II, who had never shied from such roles when he was CBN governor, remained an outspoken leader. He criticized the federal government and was embroiled in an investigation by the Kano state government, then led by Abdullahi Umar Ganduje, who would later fall out with Kwankwaso—his former boss, predecessor, and the man who appointed Sanusi II in the first place. As a result, Ganduje faced a bitter re-election battle against a Kwankwaso-backed Abba Kabir Yusuf, which was marred by controversies and was only achieved after a supplementary election. But, perhaps tellingly, many in Ganduje’s camp believed that Yusuf’s strong showing was not just down to Kwankwaso, but also attributed to the emir’s tacit support. The enmity between the two men would only fester and, in December 2019, in a bid to weaken Sanusi II’s influence, Ganduje divided the Kano Emirate and created four more emirates in the state. Three months later, Sanusi II was dethroned and removed as emir of Kano, 57 years after his grandfather was similarly dethroned. As a kingdom should not ordinarily have two kings, he was exiled out of Kano, while Aminu Ado Bayero was named his successor. 

Sanusi’s network and stature meant he was always going to remain a prominent personality, even without a throne. He became Khalifa of the Tijaniyyah Sufi order in Nigeria in May 2021, a senior religious title that brought more authority, and remained sought after for his expertise. In 2023, a term-limited Ganduje was helpless as he saw Yusuf win his bid for the governorship with Kwankwaso’s support. While many expected Sanusi’s reinstatement, a protracted court case on the governorship election, that saw Yusuf lose the tribunal hearing at some point, meant this matter was relegated to the back burner. In May 2024, however, Yusuf reinstated Sanusi II as Emir and reversed Ganduje’s decision to split the emirate. Bayero, with the purported support of Nuhu Ribadu, the powerful National Security Advisor (who is also his in-law) returned to Kano within hours of his removal and took occupation of another palace in the state. Court rulings have been seemingly exchanged supporting both leaders and limiting actions. Citizens took to the streets protesting Sanusi’s reinstatement, leading the government to ban such actions. The ancient city still has two kings in two palaces, each claiming ownership of a throne that has been in the news for all the wrong reasons. 


The endurable displeasure of Wande Coal’s fans is that being true to himself as a gifted singer, Wande Coal didn’t even try to plagiarize himself or duplicate the formula that gave him his first success. He simply descended into sweet mediocrity. After fans’ long wait, the second album, curiously titled Wanted (Wande Coal relying on a bygone appeal of himself), was an incredibly weak album, with a corresponding bromidic intro by Seyi Law in an attempt to address the artist’s lassitude or return; followed by an even more terrible track list. In retrospect, the album is like a document of Wande Coal’s self-indictment on the state of his almost-lost career at the time. 

Reviewing the album in 2015, the year of its release, culture critic, Oris Aigbokhaevbolo, judged that Wande Coal was in doubt. Clearly. It was a less-disguised kamikaze project to fill the void that’d replaced the artist’s name. It was less inventive with sound and silently passed almost unnoticed. The songs were without charge and it was easily deducible to judge that Wande Coal put no soul into it. Its second track, ‘Superwoman’, tried to recreate ‘Ololufe’, and by exception was the only song on the album ahead of its time. The song was prophetic about the kind of sound that’d be popular years later in the cohort of Oxlade, Fireboy DML, Joeboy, and CKay. The other songs pass by easily; not even the eponymous ‘Wanted’ convinces a second listen. The single, ‘Baby Hello’, which comes later in the tracklist, is where we feel Wande Coal at last (the missing charge); maybe he’s in his best form when most passionate (‘The Kick’, ‘Iskaba’). 

Did the dissolution of Mo’ Hits affect Wande Coal and plant setbacks in his trajectory? In Mo’ Hits, Wande Coal, one of the two youngest singers in the crew, shone, not to prove himself as the group’s star. His energy—not only because he was a new kid artistically replenished—could have been drawn from a sense of having a strong music family. To reckon was also the dynamic of the artist/producer relationship he had with Don Jazzy, which ensured guidance and synergy.

In 2011, Mo’ Hits All Stars, which gave Wande Coal a family, was signed to American singer, Kanye West’s G.O.O.D Music. But the next year, D’Banj, who Kanye West expected would be produced by Don Jazzy, broke up with the latter, leading to the dissolution of the former music group. Although Wande Coal, alongside Dr SID and D’Prince, was drafted into the new label, Mavin Records (which Don Jazzy started in 2012), Wande Coal left the label the next year over a copyright dispute and launched his label, Black Diamond Entertainment. Music streaming wasn’t popular yet and artist management remained very traditional; it turned out that Wande Coal failed to properly manage his only signed artist: himself. Not a very introspective artist, he couldn’t turn his challenges into great art as is often the case. 

What resulted in Wande Coal’s setback or disconnection from his genius? For culture critic, Jerry Chiemeke, who I interviewed briefly via email, Wande Coal’s trajectory is a curious case. Minus what pertains to the legendary status accorded Wande Coal, Chiemeke wonders: ‘Would there be anything left?’ The seven-year delay of a sophomore release hurt the waning momentum Wande Coal suffered since the artist had already lost the platform and leverage Mo’ Hits/Mavin provided, which Wand Coal’s career never quite recovered from. According to Chiemeke:

Some would suggest that he got complacent and believed in his own hype. This is harsh, but I think he could have been more deliberate in keeping tabs on the pulse of things, how the industry was evolving, the transition between eras, and even the explosion of sounds for which you could draw a straight line from him. Several artists like Wizkid (and later, Fireboy DML) were able to own their space due to the impact of Wande Coal’s first album. But what of the things that may have been happening behind the scenes? We may never know. Did he lose motivation? Was he battling with his mental health?

Yewande Osamein, a day-one fan of Wande Coal I chatted with on X, wondered if the artist’s dipped performance could have been ‘poor management or lack thereof? Also, personal issues he faced; he apparently had a breakdown at a point. Who knows? Either of the two.’ The breakdown she refers to are rumours in the last decade that kept resurfacing of the artist’s battle with himself and of alleged addiction to substance use, the latter of which has never been confirmed. Needless to say, it sounds a lot like a familiar trope.

Talent is not always enough, and it is a known paradox that geniuses have been known to stumble—as James Baldwin, the prolific African American writer once put it: ‘I know a lot of talented ruins.’ Was M2M a glitch in the matrix when it was released? It appears inserted into a period not of its time, remaining a unicorn in the nostalgia of Nigerian pop history. Its only probable comparison with similar status is the sophomore LP, Gongo Aso (2008) by 9ice. Wanted (2016), which took Wande Coal seven years to release, tragically flopped. Coinciding with a time when the Nigerian music scene was in its initial rehearsal for a new age, Wande Coal’s eclipse began: Wizkid’s ‘Ojuelegba’ (2014) had come before, setting the stage, followed by crossover project Sounds From the Other Side (2017). Skales’ ‘Temper (Remix)’, sampling Fela’s ‘Sorrow Tears and Blood’ began the new age’s proper assimilation of Fela’s Afrobeat into its sound, as seen in Airboy’s ‘Ayepo (Remix)’ (2017). Tekno’s ‘Rara’ (2017), Tiwa Savage’s ‘All Over’ (2017), and Seyi Shay’s ‘Yolo’ (2018) all introduced a new tempo. And on his stellar Outside album (2018), Burna Boy delivered the last stroke with ‘Ye’, already heating up the scene with songs like ‘Gba’, and ‘Déjà Vu’. All these prepared the deluge of 2019 for the trio of Joeboy, Rema, and Fireboy DML, in ‘Baby’, ‘Dumebi’, and ‘Jealous’, respectively, sealed by Davido’s A Good Time (2019) album, which featured hits like ‘Fall’, ‘If’, and ‘Blow My Mind’. This was the prelude or beginning of the Afrobeats boom and Wande Coal’s star power had nearly atrophied.

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Political leaders have increasingly become more interwoven in the appointment process of a traditional leader, and the political impact of their choices means that these selections have become less insulated from politics. But what this also means is that traditional leaders can barely tie their emergence to a divine right to rule, but merely to appeasement of the appointing authority—a political official. It means that this legitimacy can be given and also taken away. As a result, Kano is not the only area with a throne subjected to the vicissitudes of political life. 

According to Sada Malumfashi, a freelance journalist, ‘The problem has persisted since the local government reforms of 1976 by (Olusegun) Obasanjo’s military administration, when the power of traditional rulers especially in northern Nigeria was essentially stripped. What we are seeing in Kano now, isn’t new.’ Malumfashi’s point is buttressed by several recent instances.

In 1988, after the death of Abubakar III as Sultan of Sokoto, the kingmakers selected his son, Muhammadu Maccido, as his successor. However, Ibrahim Babangida, then military president, waded in and imposed Ibrahim Dasuki as the next sultan, leading to riots and protests over political incursion. In 1996, Sani Abacha, who became head of state, removed Dasuki and named Maccido as the new sultan, a throne he held till his death in 2006.

Similarly, former Kaduna governor, Nasir El-Rufai, was accused of disregarding laid down processes in the selection of the emir of Zazzau in 2020. The kingmakers had shortlisted three names, including several prominent princes and the son of the former emir. Yet, El-Rufai rejected the original list and requested a new process which some believe was designed to favour his preferred candidate, Ambassador Ahmed Nuhu Bamalli, who has since led the emirate. 

Sometimes, these issues can also cause delays that would ordinarily cripple kingdoms if this leadership was sorely needed. Since the death of Lamidi Adeyemi III in 2022, there has been no Alaafin of Oyo, one of the most revered thrones among the Yoruba. In September 2022, the Oyomesi, the kingmakers and ruling council, nominated Prince Lukman Gbadegesin as the next Alaafin and submitted his name to the Oyo State government. But the process has been mired in controversy over some kingmakers disavowing the nomination process and some taking the government to court over fears of a different candidate being imposed as Alaafin. Governor Seyi Makinde would no doubt have been distracted with a busy re-election campaign in 2023, but the stool remains empty a year into his second term. 

This begs the question, if traditional leaders trace their legitimacy to political office holders, then to what extent is the need for maintaining such expensive monarchies? If Oyo did not fall due to the lack of a substantive Alaafin, or if Zazzau remains under the control of an emir who was not meant to emerge through this process, then what is the utility of these ancient stools? Have these monarchs become relegated to simply propagating ancient customs through the pageantry of their roles but essentially deprived of the real power that was originally attached to these thrones? 

It is difficult to answer these questions, as culture and tradition are fervently defended and cherished in Nigeria. But the value and viability of these monarchies, within an increasingly modernized community, is a discussion that must be had at some point 

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Another looming problem is the lack of independence to figure out what stories we get to display. As a creative, I believe that the emergence of an enduring film tradition is inextricably linked to the independence of our cinema, an independence that we can’t claim to have had at any point in our young country’s history.

In the 1950s, the Enugu regional government sought to answer that question and gain that independence. At the time, Lloyd Young, an opportunistic independent producer out of Burbank, California came upon Nigerian shores looking to make his film, Mark of the Hawk. Young’s production company and the Enugu regional government made a deal. The Enugu regional government held up their end of the deal by providing Young with locations and subsidized costs with the filmmaker promising to ‘help’ the Eastern Region develop a Hollywood-style ‘movie colony’. That promise, to date, stands unfulfilled.

Presently, we have profit-driven international partnerships with our biggest studios to consider and with these media houses owning production studios, distribution houses and theatres (vertical integration, a vicious tool of monopoly in film industries), less populist Nollywood productions and independent filmmakers are at the mercy of these budding conglomerates. An example is FilmOne Entertainment whose international partners (exclusive theatrical licenses in West Africa) range from the Coca-Cola Company to the Walt Disney Company, Warner Brothers Discovery, Sony Pictures Entertainment to Empire Entertainment.

With so many of these companies to strategically satisfy, we find less and less of our indigenous and independent films on the screen with, for instance, local cinema giant, Filmhouse’s available screens (their theatrical chain) going to the company’s produced (and distributed) films and industry favourites. Given that FilmOne Entertainment has a 75 per cent market share in distribution in West Africa and is the largest theatrical chain in Nigeria (controlling 47 per cent of the industry as of 2023), it signals a growing threat to the industry, as far as displaying less populist indigenous and independent films go.

The control will influence the direction of stories emerging from our industry, with other studios looking to make the ‘kinds of films’ that will appeal to the team at FilmOne Entertainment, in a bid to secure whichever prime theatrical showing spots are still available to the rest of the industry. To paint a clearer picture, on the weekend of 23 February 2024 to 25 February 2024, seven of the top ten best-performing films at the box office were distributed by FilmOne Entertainment.

It’s encapsulated in Ofeimun’s aforementioned quote that an enduring film tradition had not emerged in the late 2000s. He then went on to say, ‘The great Nigerian film has not yet been made. When would it be made? Who will make it? Within what themes can such a film be made?’

Ofeimun’s questions are worth answering if we must come into our own as an industry. Already, a major animated television series, Iwájú, has been produced by Disney in collaboration with a British-based, Nigerian-helmed studio and Nigerian voice talents. However, Iwájú was received poorly by the Nigerian viewing audience, with many claiming that the show encapsulates nothing but the ideas of what the West thinks the country is.

This isn’t further helped by the fact that Disney+ the streaming platform hosting the series is not available in Nigeria. Whatever the result might have been, it signals a definite growing interest in the medium, one that has, in the past, depended on folklore and myths for source material. How much of a future does this medium have in our industry and will this medium—folklore source material already tried and tested—be a good place to start telling stories that deftly reflect the realities of our society?

It also begs the question of just how much control we can exert in the animation space in Nigeria if we are beholden to the expertise of established industry players like Disney. Is there a risk of losing control of the budding industry to foreign entertainment’s financial interests?


Interestingly, there has already been a promising move towards exploring myths, legends and folklore among independent Nigerian filmmakers. The critically acclaimed Juju Stories (2021) by the Surreal 16 Collective (Michael Omonua, Abba T. Makama and C.J Obasi) is a three-film anthology in which the filmmakers each tackle a juju story rooted in Nigerian legend. The three filmmakers take care to adapt these stories in modern contexts, laden them with all the societal ills and fears, while also finding space to consider their thematic pursuits as filmmakers. The films touch on ill-fated love, class and its consequences, and an almost religious obsession with a friend, taking care to reflect current Nigerian realities in the worlds that these stories occupy.

Obasi’s Mami Wata (2023) is another indie production that leans towards that direction with considerable success and acclaim. It touches on the decline of traditions, the erasure of culture and the heavy hand of those who perpetuate modernity for personal benefit. As far as considering the representation of West African spirituality on the big screen, it succeeds in sidestepping the demonizing approach endemic to Nollywood and instead celebrates the beliefs and the worship of the oceanic goddess, a first in New Nollywood Cinema, also visually representing Black skin’s beauty, with the hues and shadows creating an ethereal effect underrepresented in Nigerian Cinema.

In the animation space, we find Ajaka: Lost in Rome (2023), a story about the oft-forgotten elder brother of Sango. Ajaka finds himself in Rome, betrayed, captured and made a gladiator and must find his way back to Oyo, to take his revenge on Sango and those who conspired to depose him. Produced by Spoof Animation, the nineteen-minute reimagined animated film is exceptional, engaging and cohesive, providing a strong basis in Nigerian cultural heritage which is in sharp contrast to Iwájú which, even though it’s set in a future that we cannot exactly predict, finds no basis in the realities that would have connected a Nigerian audience to the body of work. Ajaka: Lost in Rome has received critical acclaim from local audiences and critics with the production company seeking funding to make a feature-length film, pushing the boundaries of what animation can do on the Nigerian cinema landscape.

Another short film worth spotlighting is Ugo Azuya’s Swimming in a Sea of Trauma. A deft, dense body of work with a six-minute thirty-second runtime, the film explores the trauma incurred due to the genocide of the Igbo people during the Nigerian Civil War. Azuya imbues this story with the specificities of Igbo spirituality, also engaging with trauma that Nigerian regime after regime has, to date, refused to engage or acknowledge. It succeeds in opening up a dialogue about this deeply traumatic event in our country’s history and conversations about this reality will only move us in the direction of healing these wounds.

In mainstream Nollywood, The Origin: Madam Koi-Koi, a television series based on the urban legend of Madam Koi-koi, a tale legendary across secondary schooling institutions in Nigeria, was released in 2023, heralding the possibilities of more folklore and myth adaptations being created for a wider, theatre-going audience. Looking across West Africa, we find similar stories steeped in mythos endemic to their respective regions, including Philippe Lacôte’s Night of the Kings and Jean Luc Herbulot’s Saloum.

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It can be argued that this ‘divine right to rule’ was only simply a façade designed to help keep people in line. After all, most monarchies saw elected kingmakers choose from eligible princes in royal households. And, in some cases, these thrones were even seized by force. For example, in 1894, the emirate was under the control of the sultanate in Sokoto, and the sultan named Mohammed Tukur as the new emir instead of any of the four sons of the recently deceased emir. Aliyu Babba gained control of the emirate after a series of costly wars, proving that a monarch could assume control after conquest, rather than through a divine mandate. Traditional leaders no longer have the ability or the space to expand their territories or wage wars, which makes them strictly and sorely dependent on an appointing authority. 

A major evolution in the relationship between rulers and the ruled was the change in how legitimate citizens saw these leaders. As kingdoms become subservient to the crown, and then political offices, it has become necessary to review the role that they play in societies. This is not limited to Nigeria—there are increasing republican movements across the world, even in the United Kingdom, where the ascension of Charles III as king to succeed the long-lived Elizabeth II has seen several calls for a review of the British royal family. 

The oft-cited case for traditional rulers is their role as custodians of our culture and defenders of our historical values. But are these values really as unique or isolated as they once were? For example, if we cite traditional worship and the pre-eminence of the different deities we worship, can that really be valid if many of the kings openly worship a Christian or Islamic God? In the case of northern emirs, there is the case that there is a fairly theocratic element to their rule, especially in the case of the sultan of Sokoto and the emir of Kano who lead the religious sects, Qaddriya and Tijanniya. respectively. But most non-Islamic monarchies openly accept and worship a Christian God—and primacy there is still in the hands of prelates and pastors and not these traditional leaders. 

If we are to move to the question of cultural activities, the question is if significant funds are needed to fund docents who live in elaborate palaces. After all, the practices and traditions are often well-known and documented and in practice can be done by a designated official every time. Similarly, most palaces that host the stories of these great kingdoms of old have increasingly become Ship of Theseus experiments—if there have been enough rebuilds and repaints, at what point is this still the same palace that held ancient histories? If several art and historical artefacts are still held in museums around the world, to what extent has the presence of any old throne helped in making a substantial case for their permanent return? 

Some have argued, perhaps myopically, that these actions can only happen in areas where leadership is more politicized and where leaders are a bit more radical and not mindful of the powers that their leaders have. While this piece has focused on Kano, we can see the lack of an Alaafin in Oyo and court cases brought against the Ooni of Ife. It took 36 years since Rimi’s move against Ado Bayero, but Ganduje similarly made a move against Sanusi II. Similarly, a reported plot to dethrone the sultan made the rounds and even led to Vice-President Kashim Shettima issuing a thinly veiled threat, in June 2024, against the Sokoto State government, which has itself pushed back. It only takes one governor, mindful of the powers reposed in them by the constitution, to make a similar move and it will not matter where or who. Malumfashi agrees saying that ‘at this rate, it seems every governor might decide to come with their own set of traditional rulers and do away with the existing if they have a sour relationship.’

If traditional leaders are surely now in the category of appointees who serve ‘at the pleasure’ of a governor or president, then what do they get in return and why are they different? Perhaps the question lies in the acknowledgment that our politics is still at an infant stage and in need of a space where leaders can be spoken to truthfully. At their best, traditional leaders are elder statesmen able to traverse the political divide and help bridge the gap in a way that political affiliations can deny. Also, while the time will come when few people remember the weight of former kings and queens in the pre-independence era and their ability to speak truth to the colonial authority, many still do remember and associate their rulers with that aura and authority. As a result, traditional rulers still remain the embodiment of leadership in a country desperately in need. They may not have the powers to follow through with what they know, but they can play a key role in helping to move the needle forward and help ensure a steadier relationship between the citizens and their public servants. Finally, these leaders may not have the divine right to rule, but people across different divides provide legitimacy through their interaction and acceptance of these leaders. It can be argued that monarchs who are unable to serve their people can easily be dispensed with and the many relatively stable democracies do show that there is still a class of leadership being dispensed.

In the series finale of HBO’s Game of Thrones, it is remarked that few things unite a people than a good story. These kingdoms, and their thrones, provide this in ample quantity. The defiant, historical protestations of Jaja of Opobo or Kosoko in Lagos, who would later be exiled for daring to defy the crown, are examples of a proud people pushing back against oppression. The ancient kingdoms of Benin, Bornu, Oyo and Sokoto speak of historical territories led well, and the more egalitarian monarchies in Igboland also show how ancient lands that form present-day Nigeria were able to govern effectively before the advent of Western democracy. In its own way, it also points to the way forward that citizens can find ways to ensure good and accountable governance. 

In a not-so-distant future, there will be questions asked about the relevance of Nigeria’s many monarchies, the weight they have on the public purse and their continued existence in an era where they are more dependent on a political ally than the right to rule. But that day is not in 2024, with its different challenges and a country still more divided than ever before. For citizens to live in a Nigeria that can reach that moment, it will require all the wisdom and expertise Nigeria has. In the custodians of our culture, there is a last line of defence⎈

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