Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Religious politics in the north of Nigeria

Traditional leaders in Nigeria have a great deal of authority even though they're not mentioned in the constitution. In the north, the traditional leaders are religious authorities and usually stay out of politics, but the newest emir is already enmeshed in politics. What affects will this have?

Modern mind in a seat of tradition
RESPLENDENT in sweeping robes and twirled turbans, Nigeria’s emirs, scions of the northern sultans of yore, are still among the most influential leaders of the country. The most recent addition to their ranks, Lamido Sanusi, is already one of Nigeria’s foremost figures—and has one of its best minds. His recent election as emir of Kano makes him the country’s second-highest authority in the Muslim north… His appointment may also create tension with President Goodluck Jonathan, who sacked him in February as governor of the central bank after Mr Sanusi spoke out against corruption in high places.
Kano in north central Nigeria
For centuries before the British imperialists arrived in what is now northern Nigeria, the emirs ruled as kings. Today they hold little constitutional power, but their influence is still huge. They act as peacemakers, rally public opinion, preserve religious tradition, and endorse political candidates. On paper, they are neutral. But Mr Sanusi’s election is politically charged.

Sanusi as emir
When Kano’s respected former emir, Ado Abdallahi Bayero, died on June 6th, many expected his son to succeed him. A committee of kingmakers usually presents a list of candidates for the position, but Kano’s state governor, a member of the opposition All Progressives Congress (APC) party, took the final decision. By picking Mr Sanusi, he has entrenched a vocal critic of the government in the emirate…

Mr Sanusi has a history of speaking out against government corruption and presidential ineptitude. He was sacked by Mr Jonathan as the bank’s governor for alleging that oil revenue worth $20 billion had gone missing from the national coffers.

As emir he will be expected to be less controversial…

But he is bound to rub up against the country’s floundering establishment. He is sure to influence the views of the northern electorate and its political classes as next year’s presidential election approaches. And he may bolster the APC’s current dominance in the Muslim north. Some predict that the 2015 vote could be the closest since Nigeria returned to civilian rule in 1999.

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