The history of sending monarchs into exile and how Nigerians stood against it

The history of sending deposed monarchs into exile has been a part of Nigeria's reality long before the dawn of time. But in recent years, no dethronement and banishment of a sitting monarch has generated more controversy than that of Emir Muhammadu Sanusi II, the 14th Emir of Kano.

Dethroning a monarch in Africa in the past was usually a big deal and sometimes, a matter of life and death. It wasn't until the British invasion of Africa and the subsequent deposition of many Kings that the idea of going against a monarch became prevalent. For example, among the Yoruba of Oyo Empire, the Alaafin could only be dethroned if the Oyomesi Council or Kingmakers proposes it through the Bashorun (head of the Oyomesi Council), and the Ogboni or Divine Council accepts it through their leader, the Oluwo or Chief 'Ifa.' Once this happens, the Oluwo will command the Alaafin's suicide and one of the Oyomesi also had to die with him. The demands and procedures that must be followed before that happens made it impossible for the monarch to be dethroned over trivial issues. 

In the emirate tradition, once an emir loses his throne, he will be banished to a remote location and placed under guard until the appointment and coronation of a new emir. He will not be allowed to receive visitors and may not enter the emirate again for the rest of his life.

In pre-colonial days,  the decision to dethrone an emir was usually carried out by the emirate council which included kingmakers and respected dignitaries. And they took caution to prove that the emir had done some misdeeds that warrant his dethronement. But, with the coming of colonialism, then military regime, and democracy, it is not so; the emir has become answerable to the political leadership in which his emirate falls under and must rule at the pleasure of state authority. State Governors now have the right to appoint or remove traditional rulers and this has led to indiscriminate dethronement and sending into exile of emirs who will not play to the tune of these political leaders. This power tussle always stems from the belief that the traditional stool is grand and autonomous, and ought not to adhere to transient powers of the state governors.

The British colonialists who popularised this idea of casual dethronement were notorious for using deceptive means to depose and send powerful and "stubborn" monarchs into exile. Uncooperative monarchs were just bundled from their kingdoms and put in a ship to a faraway colony where their influence had no effect. This period witnessed the deposition and exiling of great monarchs like King Jaja of Opobo whose influence was so great that he had to be sent to Saint Vincent in West Indies around 1887, Oba Ovoramwen Nogbaisi of Benin Empire who was exiled to Calabar in 1897, Oba Kosoko of Lagos exiled in 1851, and many others. High profile monarchs were not the only victims, even warrant chiefs appointed by the colonialists were promptly removed when they erred or no longer served the intended purpose.

Nigerian politicians learned the habit, and as early as 1954, Chief Obafemi Awolowo deposed and exiled the Alaafin of Oyo Adeniran Adeyemi II for supporting the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons against the Southwest regional party, Action Congress. Similar occurrences played out through the first Republic, military regime and currently in Southern Nigeria.

In Northern Nigeria, there has been a number of dethronement and exiles of monarchs, even in the recent past.  Muhammadu Sanusi I, the 11th Emir of Kano was deposed in 1963 by Sir Ahmadu Bello; Umaru Tukur the 11th Emir of Muri was dethroned in 1986 by the Governor of old Gongola State Yohana Madaki;  Ibrahim Dasuki in 1996 was removed as the Sultan of Sokoto by Sani Abacha; and in 2005, Kebbi State Government dethroned the 19th Emir of Gwandu Mustapha Jokolo. Though the case of Mustapha Jokolo had led to litigation, the current victim, Alhaji Muhammadu Sanusi II, the 14th Emir of Kano has generated a lot of public reactions. 

On March 9, 2020, the Emir who had been at loggerheads with the Governor of Kano state, Dr. Abdullahi Ganduje,  was accused of disrespecting constituted authority and was thereby dethroned, placed under house arrest, and banished to Nasarawa State. His request to serve his exile in Lagos with his family was denied as he was led by a convoy of police, military, and security operatives to a military airbase from where he was transported to Abuja and from there to Loko in Nasarawa. The next day he was moved from Loko in a police helicopter to Awe, a remote town in Nasarawa State. 

The tradition of sending deposed monarchs into exile was condemned as outdated, illegal, and against the constitutional provision which guarantees the right to freedom of movement and to freely reside in any part of the country. The argument was not that he should not have been dethroned, but that the law was set aside and his rights were totally disregarded in a manner that does not fit democracy.

Following heated pressure from the supporters of Sanusi II, the verdict of the case challenging the legal basis for his arrest, detention, and humiliation filed by his lawyers was pronounced by Justice Anwuli Chikere of the Federal High Court, Abuja on March 13, 2020. The Court ordered the immediate release of the deposed Emir who had been placed under illegal house arrest in Awe, Nasarawa State.

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