KANO, June 8, 2014 (AFP) – Hundreds of youths took to the streets of Nigeria’s second biggest city yesterday to protest against naming the ousted central bank chief Lamido Sanusi as Emir of Kano, the country’s No. 2 Muslim leader.
The Kano state government named Sanusi to the traditional royal title, taking over from the previous incumbent, Ado Abdullahi Bayero, who died on Friday aged 83 after a long battle with cancer.
The Emir of Kano is second in the triumvirate of Nigeria’s Muslim leaders behind the Sultan of Sokoto and before the Shehu of Borno. The role, which dates back centuries, involves stewardship of Islam in the Muslim-majority north.
But many eyed politics behind the appointment, given Sanusi’s previous attacks on the government which led to his suspension as head of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) in February, and the allegiances of Kano state governor, Rabiu Kwankwaso.
Youths brandishing tree branches threw stones and set fires on the road to the state government headquarters, shouting “We don’t want Sanusi” in the local Hausa language, an AFP reporter caught up in the protest said.
The gangs supported the candidacy of the late emir’s eldest son, Aminu Ado Bayero, who holds a royal title and is currently a popular district head in the ancient city, which is noted for its Muslim scholarship.
He was also allegedly backed by the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) of President Goodluck Jonathan, while the main opposition All Progressives Congress (APC) were said to favour Sanusi, who is the grandson of the late emir’s brother.
Kwankwaso was one of a number of influential state governors, most of them from northern Nigeria, who switched sides from the PDP last year, triggering a wave of similar defections in parliament. The APC is expected to push the PDP close in next year’s general elections.
There was no immediate word on the appointment from 52-year-old Sanusi himself but he was expected to attend prayers for the soul of the late emir in Kano today.
In Sanusi, Kwankwaso had to confirm the recommendation of four “kingmakers” – royal officials who meet in closed session to consider the succession – and now the APC have a high-profile potential ally in their camp.
Sanusi was suspended on government charges of financial recklessness and misconduct, soon after he alleged that the state-run Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) misappropriated $20 billion in public funds.
Internationally-respected, Sanusi was named by Time magazine as one of the 100-most influential people in the world in 2011. He has previously been unafraid to challenge Jonathan and his government, which has been tainted by graft.
His suspension was widely seen as politically motivated because his highlighting of alleged corruption at the heart of government had earned him powerful enemies.
Some in Nigeria attributed his outspoken comments to his background and allegiances to the north, with Jonathan a southern Christian and the country almost evenly split north-south along religious lines.
Sanusi told AFP in an interview soon after he stood down that Jonathan was a “simple man” trying to do his best but was surrounded by incompetent, fraudulent aides. Since then, he has fought court cases against his suspension and mounted a legal challenge against the confiscation of his passport.
The Sultan of Sokoto, the Emir of Kano and Shehu of Borno are revered, influential figures and have been seen as key in bridging the often fractious divide between Muslims and Christians in Nigeria. But they have recently come under pressure to speak out more against the threat posed by Boko Haram militants waging an increasingly violent insurgency in the north.
The previous emir and his counterpart in Borno both survived assassination attempts by Boko Haram, angered at their co-operation with Nigeria’s secular government.