Zazzau: A Governor’s Assault On A Tested Emirate Tradition, By Nasir Aminu

Updated: Dec 6, 2020

in the history of succession in Zazzau and most emirates in northern Nigeria, this tradition, this process and practice, have been largely maintained except, of course, in some isolated and unfortunate incidents… In all these, nowhere has the legal process been so violated and adulterated as in the recent incident in Zazzau…


Since 1804, kingship has been the focal point of the traditional political system in the Fulani emirates of northern Nigeria. The emir occupies the highest traditional political office and wields an overriding political power as a monarch. As a spiritual leader, the emir is expected to represent the true meaning of leadership in the Islamic faith.


Succession to the kingship is decidedly patrilineal, limited to the descendants of royalty. From the age of puberty, aspiring princes simultaneously begin to master the dynamics of the political relations within the emirates, as they go through formal educational development, like every individual. Over time, competitive advantage is built as they get entrenched within the emirate political system. They then generate and maintain some streams of pledges of allegiances from major political players within the emirate’s bureaucratic system.


It is these allegiances that determine whether a prince becomes an emir or not.

Like all democratic political systems, access to political power within the emirate system is not limited to the membership of a political group. It includes political relations, and the consensus of political groups and elites within the system. Thus, the mere accident of birth as conferring legitimacy on a prince to access the throne only satisfies a fundamental condition but not the right, in any sense, to access to the throne.


Thus, it is a prince’s ability to nurture social and political networks within the emirate political establishment that makes him a strong contender for the throne in the event of the demise of an emir.


After the demise of an emir, the kingmakers use the customary law to select a successor in relation to traditions of the Islamic practice. Until the subjugation of the Sokoto caliphate by the British conquest, the Sultan was responsible for approving the kingmakers’ selection and appointing the new emir. The responsibility was later to rest on the British colonial governor, who thought it could not be done better. After independence, the burden was passed onto the premier of Northern Nigeria, and finally, onto the state governors.


Prior to this, the most direct attack of the due process happened in Borgu, where the kingmakers’ selection was ignored for the governor’s choice. However, the Zazzau incident dwarfs what happened in Borgu. The wrong actions in Suleja and Borgu were restored after protracted legal battles, as the kingmakers’ selections finally prevailed in those cases.


In the history of succession in Zazzau and most emirates in northern Nigeria, this tradition, this process and practice, have been largely maintained except, of course, in some isolated and unfortunate incidents. These isolated incidents where those in Suleja in 1993, Sokoto in 1992, Gwandu in 2003, Borgu in 2000, and Kano in 2020. In all these, nowhere has the legal process been so violated and adulterated as in the recent incident in Zazzau (2020).


Prior to this, the most direct attack of the due process happened in Borgu, where the kingmakers’ selection was ignored for the governor’s choice. However, the Zazzau incident dwarfs what happened in Borgu. The wrong actions in Suleja and Borgu were restored after protracted legal battles, as the kingmakers’ selections finally prevailed in those cases.


In Sokoto, a unanimously selected sultan was removed by a military administration. That incident is recorded as the most recent external political power play for the traditional institution since the removal of Emir Sanusi I of Kano in 1963. A similar practice was replicated in Gwandu, where a series of lawsuits followed the external intervention, as it happened in Kano.


Above all, the consequences of the incidents that occured across these emirates led to a deep division within the region, which has hampered economic development. For every dethroned emir, family ties are severed, political allegiances change, and community trust is lost, even though the perpetrators end up being forgotten.


…the governor sought to undermine the legal process challenging his unilateral action. He has been openly threatening the kingmakers, who are independent defendants in the lawsuit, to adopt an attorney of his choice. One of the kingmakers has been suspended, others have been queried, and one has even conceded to the governor’s decision.

The Zazzau incident is unique in two dimensions. First was the way the governor disrespected everything about the customs and traditions of the people, regarding the appointment of an emir. The manner in which the governor attacked the fabric of the traditional institution is disturbing. Specifically, he attacked the moral authority of the kingmakers with unsubstantiated bribery allegations. The attack was targeted at the three most prominent of the kingmakers: the Waziri, the Limamin Kona and the Limamin Juma’a. These three are the leading members of the traditional cognoscenti sitting at the helm of the cult of ulama in the emirate, with far-reaching influence on the palace bureaucracy. By attacking these group, the governor sought to manipulate the public into submission to his dictates. Interestingly, a governor who is fond of governing via the social media, like Trump, is currently advocating for the highest respect for secrecy.



Secondly, the governor sought to undermine the legal process challenging his unilateral action. He has been openly threatening the kingmakers, who are independent defendants in the lawsuit, to adopt an attorney of his choice. One of the kingmakers has been suspended, others have been queried, and one has even conceded to the governor’s decision. Also, the court building where the suit has been heard so far was burgled after the judge persistently declined to move the trial to the State attorney’s comfort zone. There are also reports of threats to the judge hearing the case.



Nonetheless, the lawsuit brought against the governor’s action is bridging the divisions across the emirate. There is strong optimism that authorities can be challenged when injustice is done. The governor is gradually learning that destroying the levers of an institution that sustains the badges of the African identity, a cherished collective heritage, is not as easy as reading it in a book.



El-Rufai will have to fight against many forces of nature, including all the princes within the Zazzau emirate, except the rarely lazy ones. Usually, these category of princes are those who lack any competitive advantage in the traditional system, other than the fact of genealogy.



Nasir Aminu is a senior lecturer in Economics at the Cardiff Metropolitan University.


Published by Premium Times 4-Dec-2020.






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