Title: For the good of the nation – Essays and Perspectives
Author: Sanusi Lamido Sanusi
Reviewer: Ozolua Uhakheme
Publisher: Alfa Communications Limited
Going by every measure, For the good of the nation-Essays and Perspectives, a compilation of writings of the former Governor, Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), and 14th Fulani Emir of Kano, Muhammad Sanusi II, is a rare book of our time.
It was in the works for about a decade until this year when it was formally released. At the conceptual level, the content of the book was to focus on Sanusi’s papers and articles between 1998 and 2005, but that was not to be.
“Although I agreed in principle, I did not believe I was ready yet for this publication. Many years later, after leaving the Central bank of Nigeria in interesting circumstances, becoming Emir of Kano, and going through similarly interesting experiences, I decided the time is now right for this book to come out,” says Sanusi in a preface to his book.
The five-part book published by Alfa Communications Limited takes the readers on a journey into the mind and thinking of the banker-writer, who had his first ‘published’ article at age 14 as a form four student of the famous King’s College, Lagos in 1975/1976 academic session. The book offers the readers a plethora of topics and issues of national interest.
The foreword and introduction to the book were done by Governor of Kaduna State Nasir El Rufai and the late Prof Pius Adesanmi (who passed on in 2019) respectively. These set the tone for the comprehension of the collection that spans identity, politics, and democracy, reflections on Shari’ah, SLS and gender question, Islamic theology and philosophy, and three critical interviews. From his discussions and analysis on Western or Islamic philosophy to history, anthropology, Nigeria’s politics of ethnicity, and religion, you will find that Sanusi is at home with all these issues that are hitherto perceived as contentious. As a courageous public intellectual, a trait he nurtured at the feet of his father diplomat, Ambassador Muhammad Aminu Sanusi, he tells the story of his chequered route to manhood, and the trajectory of Nigeria’s postcolonial development.
Reading through most of the articles and writings, one question readily resonates, that is, is Sanusi one of the credible voices for the voiceless and defenders of the oppressed? He dares where many tremble. As a background to understanding his criticisms against the elite as well as speaking truth to power, it is imperative to have in-depth knowledge of his training. A trained economist from Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria; training in Islamic Studies and Shariah at the International University of Africa, Khartoum, Sudan.
Despite his radical social background, Sanusi adopts a social-scientific approach to religion. ‘’I don’t take a religious studies textual approach but the approach of contemporary social theory, basically applying general rules of interpretation and discourse to the study of Islam. I am cautious of the fact that the knowledge that is produced in Islam is the knowledge that is produced in the historical and social context and therefore does have a robust secular content though on the face it looks like religion. And that has been the source of tension between me and traditional scholarship,’’ he admits.
Part One of the book Identity, Politics, and democracy, features articles such as Issues in restructuring corporate Nigeria, Values and identities in the Muslim north, In defense of Reverend Father Kukah, The northern cross in Nigerian politics: Ethnic bigotry and the subvention of democracy, ISLAM, Christianity and Nigerian politics; Tribute to Thomas Paine (1737-1809.) among others.
The 509-page book, which is an auto/biography is a compendium of history, politics, economy, identity, and sociographic of nationhood. It contains some 36 essays and interviews spanning about two decades. Some of the essays and interviews were written as op-eds in national dailies, as lectures delivered while others are responses to critics.
The diversity of its contents makes the book irresistible to many readers. Expectedly, the opening essay of Part One talks about the recurring national question: Issues in restructuring corporate Nigeria (earlier published in Weekly Trust October 1, 1999). Sanusi treats this topical issue with frankness and inclusiveness thus providing evidence that he is not a discriminatory speaker of the truth only to the elites and intelligentsia on the other side of Nigeria’s ethnoreligious fault lines.
In analyzing the topic, he identifies both objective and subjective variables such as the viability of federating units, the structure of the First Republic, Shariah and religious intolerance in the north, the Yoruba elite, and Area boy politics, Igbo marginalization and Niger Delta, and the need for justice.
Sanusi believes strongly that notwithstanding the challenges and differences, all Nigerians have a right to maintain their diversity, but this should only be based on the respect of the same rights as other Nigerians. His hope however rests on the younger generation that will pick up the pieces and leave those coming behind with a legacy far more progressive than the one we inherited.
Similarly, another issue he addresses is the criticism against Reverend Father Mathew Kukah’s appointment as Secretary, National Political Reform Conference. Prompted by two articles by Garba Deen Muhammad and Kabiru Yusuf, Sanusi in his response In defense of Reverend Father Kukah picks holes in their criticisms saying ‘we owe it to ourselves and to this country, to announce our faith in one Nigeria, a nation in which we can be Muslims without being enemies to fellow nationals. We have had decades of Muslim leadership that brought no benefit to Muslims, and the false promises and fears that are raised to deceive Nigerians need to be exposed.’Part Two consists of articles mostly on Islamic laws and Shari’ah such as Politics and Shari’ah in northern Nigeria, The Shari’ah debate: A Muslim intervention, Thinking aloud: How not to debate the Shari’ah, Democracy, human rights, and Islam: theory, epistemology and quest for synthesis, and Shari’ah in Nigeria: The intellectual roots of Islamist discourses among others. In particular, Basic needs and redistributive justice in Islam: The panacea to poverty in Nigeria, offers readers insight into Sanusi’s propositions on how to end widespread poverty in the land using Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe’s concept of the ‘radical democratic imaginary.’
The article stresses the fact that the people responsible for the plight of the Muslim northerner are no other than the northern Muslim elite, adding that ‘we must never let this elite forget that and we must remind our people that their true enemy is not the Nigerian constitution which guarantees their freedom and equality, not the poor Southerner or Christian, but their rich fellow Muslim who has dehumanized them and kept them in perpetual deprivation.’
According to Sanusi, the panacea to this is effective participation of civil society- the press, the universities, professional associations, and NGOs by unraveling the mystification and unveiling the pretenders, though is difficult to do in an environment in which every northerner or Muslim is being demonized.
In Part Three, gender and women issues form the thrust of the topics of the five essays. In Shari’ah and the women question, Sanusi says that the introduction of Shari’ah in Nigeria comes with lots of confusion, noting that if Shari’ah is to be relevant, new priorities must be set, options reevaluated as society changes and evolve.
He observes that the flexibility and evolution needed for the law to be applicable and relevant to every time and place are denied the Shariah by the very failure to contextualize rulings in their historico-cultiural specific milieu.
He notes that the wholesale adoption of Shari’ah law and its forced implementation on modern society has the effect of seeking to turn back the clock of history and revert us to the cultural conditions, value systems, and even ideological priorities of medieval Arabia. This, he says, is more evident in the obsession of all modern attempts at implementing Shari’ah with the woman question. “Of a certainty, the prophet of Islam and Quranic Revelation did come up with guidelines for women in terms of conduct, dressing, and the regulation of cross-sexual interaction. But there is no evidence that the prophet was obsessed with the woman question as we seem to be or that it formed the corner piece of his message. By comparison, the degeneration of political values and the emergence of new hereditary monarchies in the Muslim world came with a shift in the focus of Islamic discourse in the realm of public policy,” he says. He maintains that the interest of the Holy Prophet and his companions where women were concerned lay in freeing them from bondage to man, giving them rights in marriage, inheritance, participation, and economic empowerment as well as Rising their status to one of equality with men. Sanusi warns that if care is not taken, the wholesale adoption of the legal rulings and priorities of this milieu will lead to the religion of Islam being used as a divine license for inherently unfair gender relations, which are a part of the northern social formation. Supporting his position with what Shehu Usman Dan Fodio says about women, which was driven by a desire to improve her lot, Sanusi advises states adopting Shari’ah to take responsibility for the conduct of uneducated and fanatical youths whose actions can give Shariah a bad name. “These youth need to be controlled. Secondly, the states implementing Shari’ah need to take bolder public strides in defense of their women. Policies on women’s education, job opportunities, and reverse discrimination have to be put in place. Stiff penalties should be meted to adults who subject girls to forced marriages, underage marriages, child labor, etc. It is these practices coupled with a lack of education and a weak economy, which are at the root of vices like prostitution,” Sanusi says. In his usual bold and courageous manner in speaking truth to power, Sanusi disagrees with D.S. Yola on the status of a non-Muslim in a contemporary Islamic state. Non-Muslims in a contemporary Islamic State is one of his articles in Part Four of the book that dwells on Islamic theology and philosophy. While Yola believes in the validity and feasibility of the paradigmatic construct in contemporary Nigeria, Sanusi does not accept it as a valid interpretation. To him, ‘does paradigmatic construct reduce Nigerian Christians to second-class citizens in an Islamic polity? Or is it a blueprint for war undertaken in the name of religion or is such an interpretation merely an exercise in galvanizing cheap frenzy as Yola assets?’ Sanusi admits that historically, Islamic society was a major advance in human civilization long before women ad inheritance in the West. He however noted that despite this freedom and liberties, Islamic society never equated the Muslim citizen with the non-Muslim, the freeborn with the slaves, and the man with the woman in terms of social and political rights. The former CBN Governor seems to reaffirm what the late Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia once said that:” until the philosophy which holds one race superior and another inferior is finally and permanently discredited and abandoned; that until there are no longer first-class and second class citizens of any nation; that until the color of a man’s skin is of no more significance than the color of his eyes; that until the basic human rights are equally guaranteed to all without regard to race,’ world peace will be a fleeting illusion. Part Five contains interviews such as I speak truth to power, and tow interviews with the Financial Times.
The book is for any Nigerian that desires to learn the plain truth about Nigeria, its contradictions, and possibly the way out of its national malaise.