Elevation to the Emirate of Kano does not much constrain the forthright Sanusi Lamido Sanusi. On 2 may, he packed out the auditorium at the Paris headquarters of Le Monde, one of the world’s leading liberal newspapers.
Resplendent in flowing white robes and turban, Sanusi spelled out his remedies for the deepening conflict in the Sahel.
As leader of the Tijaniyya branch of nigeria’s Sufi Muslim community, Sanusi is now the second-most-important islamic leader in Nigeria after the Sultan of Sokoto, who heads the Qadiriyya branch.
Many Nigerians of all faiths cheered in June 2014 when Sanusi was chosen to become the traditional ruler of the country’s second-biggest city. Six months earlier, Sanusi had clashed with former President Goodluck Jonathan after asking awkward questions about missing oil money.
Economic failure, not a fight about faith, is at the heart of the Sahel’s crisis, Sanusi told the audience in Paris. “For me, the priority is to bring the water back to the lake and to revive agriculture,” he said, pointing to the shrinking of lake Chad by 90% over the past four decades.
Bordering Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria, the lake Chad basin had supported fisheries and livestock, providing tens of millions of people with fresh water. Now its dwindling expanse is a measure of regional decline.
“Three hundred years ago, this was one of the world’s great trade routes. […] We have to rethink the Sahel,” argued Sanusi. He called for a plan to revive trade between West and north Africa.
Consolidating security and rebuilding economies as soldiers push back against Boko Haram will require both coordination and innovation, said Sanusi: “Maiduguri [the main target of the Boko Haram insurgents] and all of the Sahara have immense potential for solar energy. One only needs to see what Morocco has done.”
Sanusi, who was targeted by the insurgents in December 2014, when a group of fighters attacked the emir’s palace and killed more than 100 people in Kano, says there is no Islamic basis for Boko Haram’s declarations.
But he warns of the dangers of fundamentalism: “For me, Wahhabism and Salafism have a certain intolerance in common with groups such as Boko Haram. […] Islam in Africa has its own schools of thought, its ancient empires and its own history. And we have no need for Saudi Arabia and Iran to explain Islam to us.”
Sanusi’s personal bridge-building between Islamic theology and the financial world continues after his appointment in June 2015 as chairman of Black Rhino, an affiliate of the US-based Blackstone private equity company. His condition for taking the appointment, he says, was that at least part of Black Rhino’s $5bn investment fund would be used for bankable projects in Kano.
When asked what role a traditional ruler has in politics, Sanusi briefly struck a diplomatic pose: “to counsel and to advise”. We hear that the government’s economic team has already received a few policy missives from the emir’s palace.
Rebirth of a governor
31 July 1961 – Born in Kano
1985 First merchant banking job, Icon Limited
June 2009 – Appointed as Central Bank Governor
Feb 2014 – Suspended by President Jonathan after exposing $20bn oil fraud
8 June 2014 – Crowned Emir of Kano, having succeeded his great-uncle