Nigeria: Lamido Sanusi, the activist king who spoke truth to power

By Akin Irede
Posted on Tuesday, 22 February 2022 16:54

Nigeria's central bank governor Sanusi Lamido Sanusi attends an interview with Reuters at the World Islamic Economic Forum in London
Nigeria's central bank governor Sanusi Lamido Sanusi at the World Islamic Economic Forum in London October 30, 2013. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth

Traditional institutions and figures are known for their conservatism and are expected to ensure that cultural practices and customs remain largely unchanged. However, for Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, a top banker who would later become the 14th Fulani Emir of Kano State, Nigeria, his own mission was the opposite.

Sanusi is the quintessential rebel and this has shown in nearly every position he has ever held. He was the Governor the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) who pushed out top bank CEOs for corruption, and became a critic of the government’s policies and a whistleblower which would cost him his job.

He gave up the ‘suit and bow tie’ life permanently for a turban and royal regalia, becoming one of the most senior Islamic figures in the country and the monarch of a highly conservative city. As Emir, he challenged conventions and sought to topple centuries old practices abruptly. To activists, he was a maverick, the poster boy for social change. However, critics called him a hypocrite, a progressive fraud who sought to reap the benefits of conservatism but evade the responsibilities that came with the position he held as the custodian of the customs of Kano.

Born into the Dabo dynasty of Kano, Sanusi was barely a toddler in 1963 when his grandfather, Sir Muhammadu Sanusi I, a relatively progressive monarch, was forced to abdicate over a feud with the Premier of the northern region, Sir Ahmadu Bello, the most powerful politician in the country at the time. Indeed, the apple didn’t fall far from the tree as Sanusi, who took up the name Muhammad Sanusi II, would himself be deposed like his grandfather 56 years later for feuding with the country’s political establishment.