Sarkin Kano HRH Muhammadu Sanusi II
Ibraheem A. Waziri
(MY Leadership Newspaper Column)
Few weeks ago in the much civil and highly regarded Facebook group, Synopsis, we attempted understanding the true meaning of apostasy in Islam. A sister requested for a clarification, specifically from me, about the recent conviction and condemnation to death, by hanging, of a Sudanese Muslim apostate. Before I responded, another brother, had plucked out an old 2004 article written about the subject matter by HRH Muhammadu Sanusi II aka Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, including his reply to me. I was in my 20s then, when I wrote, disagreeing with the manner of his conclusions.
With the “discoveries”, the discourse continued to build around my difference with him. How, over time, I evolved in learning and experience to have now agreed with his then, conclusions, on the subject matter, to the extent that, I am able to give them – at the risk of sounding immodest – better contexts and effects. It was after that, but on the same discussion thread, I made a personal observation. Since Shehu Usman Danfodio, I wrote, there has not been a scholar who attempted doing to the Muslim community of Northern Nigeria what Sanusi did to it in the last two decades. In the many of what he used to term, his interventions. He addressed societal problems, through religious spectacles, in the light of changing times and compelling contemporary sociocultural demands.
No sooner than I made that observation, Dr. Sheriff Ibrahim Al-Muhajir, a PhD candidate on Islamic jurisprudence – not that he fully captured my meaning though – submitted, that Sanusi is not an authority in Islam but is considered to be an informed contributor in Muslim related discourses. Perhaps this is the point of divergence among those interested in Islam in contemporary Nigeria. While Sanusi has always insisted of not being an authority in Islam or its jurisprudence but rather someone making informed observations and raising relevant questions about its twists and turns, many others cast at him, first charges of claims in authority – an arrogant one for that matter – who had the mission of changing the flow and conclusions of Islamic scholarship in Northern Nigerian Muslim culture. It is from this misreading also that negatively intended labels as a Shi’ite, Mu’tazilite, Kharijite, Modernist and others spring forward against him.
It is my conviction, though, that Sanusi in truth is not an authority in Islamic jurisprudence. He is or was a banker and a social commentator who only made informed observations based on personal wisdom and practical understanding of how things should work in Northern Nigerian contemporary Muslim community and within the context of a multi-religious, multicultural setting. He severally made reference to the 19th century Danfodio Jihad as a product of scholarship that departed from the then widely accepted tradition of the Muslim world, that the doors of Ijtihad were closed, and that nobody could come up with anything new. The Jihad, in that regard disregarded that notion and founded a new Islamic state on sound political and administrative trappings that took into consideration time, environment and other relevant social indices.
It is in a similar strain that Sanusi, to my understanding, felt that the concept of state has evolved not only in Muslim Northern Nigeria but the whole of the Muslim world partly due to colonialism. It then became only necessary, he seemed to have thought, that the Muslims here and elsewhere should embark on general revision of their body of literature to come up with a set of rulings or understanding or interpretation that will go with the spirit of these times, our times. He believed that these must be done following the social chain and values that pragmatically and progressively provide a logical link from past, to present and to future. The dictum, as I understood Sanusi saw it is, adjust to change but do not compromise time tested values. Thus he got convinced that there was no contradiction between his often termed progressive stance and his traditional mental outlook or inherited values.
It is not to my reckoning, if there’s any individual who made a similar attempt within the structures put by the 19th century Jihad here and for the last 200 years, until him. It is then why I feel, relative as his success may have been – an assessment that should actually be left to future historians – he deserves some positive comparison with the 19th century Jihadists in terms of focus, goals and vision. The springboard of this pattern of thought is in the fact that the prophet of Islam knew that he could not solve the problem of his time and those of the generation coming after him. Thus, he avoided choosing and endorsing a leader for the then young Muslim community after his demise. He allowed them with the challenges of their times.
So Sanusi learnt from that and felt responsible for the challenge of our times and rose to them. While doing that he invoked the aid of all excellent scholarship within his reach from the East and the Western Worlds since history. He married them with what he came to know and perceived to be an Islamic truth in its pristine form. Even then he once, humbly, admitted to me in an email exchange in the year 2002, how handicapped he was to assume the task of shaping out a contemporary jurisprudence for the Northern Nigerian Muslims. He pointed at Dr. Bashir Aliyu Umar, a Phd in Hadith from the Islamic University of Medina and later CBN’s consultant on Islamic Banking, as among the kind of people who are capable and equal to such tasks.
One other achievement that can be attributed to him, of course in my opinion, is the fact that since colonialism, he has been the only public intellectual who successfully married, at highly and deeply philosophical levels, his Nigerian identity with his Muslim identity. Prior to his interventions, northern Muslim intellectual establishment was of two segments, the liberals, symbolized most prominently by the person of late Prof. Yusuf Bala Usman. They epitomized the ideal patriotic Nigerians often downplaying their northern Muslim identity. The second segment is formed of conservatives. They are characterized by the persons of late Dr. Ibrahim Tahir or even Dr. Mahmud Tukur. They placed their northern Muslim identity as most prominent, thereby giving the idea of Nigerian patriotism a different outlook. Sanusi, it was, who cerebrally argued and displayed that one can be a proud Muslim northerner and at the same time a passionate Nigerian patriot and with equal strength at each level. The themes recurring through his essays were about Muslims in multi religious environment, and their issues in identity, ethics and values in social and political settings. Probably, he was the first, in this part of the world who made constant these themes – with extraordinary flow of logic and substance – anchoring and running through all his public interventions.
On professional front, it is my view that Sanusi has been a very practical person who knew how to masterfully and creatively harness talent to maximize benefits. This is evident through his career as a banker and later a public servant. Each step has been laced with complete innovations that guaranteed outstanding rewards which left spectators awed.
At the level of personal disposition, self-view or realization, Sanusi has been very conscious of his responsibilities to others. While he was the CBN governor, a personal friend sought for some clarifications about how CBN policies would improve his business and requested me to book an appointment with Sanusi for clarification. Before the appointed date, my friend rescheduled the meeting three times and each time I would only mail him about our inconveniences and he would copy his secretary and ask her to book us on our preferred date. When we eventually met, the reception was exceptionally sumptuous as all relevant CBN personnel were made available to my friend for his information about the policies. Now before you think that it was my rapport with him that guaranteed such attention, just consider how many Nigerian ministers or executive governors will accommodate a not-always-correct and agreeable public commentator that way? Especially when he is the type that takes liberty at rescheduling appointments with Oga anyhow?
Of course we have had our fair share of disagreements and often in our email exchanges he would declare that he would not ever respond to my takes again. But not sooner than later an issue would come up and he would feel compelled to address me or the points I raised. I still have many issues that I feel were not properly addressed or where done incorrectly in many of his essays. All that I am saying here is I believe he has not been in the habit of making selfish arguments just to win a debate or accomplish a purely personal goal. Sanusi can be wrong but not selfish in argumentation.
The question now is how do all these help now that he is the emir of Kano? It is my belief that Sanusi’s consciousness about his identity and source of values; his deep and rare appreciation of his own heritage; pragmatic understanding of the idea of the evolution of the state; mastery of the nuances of contemporary world Muslim discourses coupled with excellent track record of being able to always accommodate goals to condition and subordinate ideals to reality, will go a long way in helping the caliphate maximize the gains of modernity and herald the coming of a new era, a new range of hopes and breakthrough for the Nigerian nation.
It is my prayer that the prince will see in this an opportunity to extend the frontiers of Islamic scholarship and help raise/impose a reasonable standard in public preaching and representation of Islam throughout Nigeria. Certainly in these climes no Islamic cleric, scholar or preacher will refuse the summons of Sarkin Kano. None will want to violate his self-evident and well-intentioned orders. The efforts of the Sultan Sa’ad Muhammad III at interfaith dialogue are also expected to record a boost, benefiting from the insights, learning and experience of the new Sarkin Kano. I hereby implore His Royal Highness to step up pointers and initiate discussion with His Eminence in this regard. I say this while being absolutely convinced that Sanusi is a respecter of authority and hierarchy. He once admitted to me how he aired his view about an issue only after seeking clearance from Kano Emirate then. Also to this date all the records of his correspondence with Mr. President, Goodluck Jonathan were laced with high degree of decorum and respect for the person and the office of Mr. President. I am almost sure we are having a perfect King in Kano and within the emotional and cultural spectrum of our past, present and future as Muslims Northerners, children of Kanem Bornu and the Caliphate; who are also Nigerians!