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Emir of Kano Municipal, Muhammadu Sanusi II

Life is a stage where humans come to play multiple and different roles. While there are actors on the stage seen by the audiences, not all listed actors come on stage at the same time. As some mount the stage to act their assigned roles, others leave the stage when they have executed assigned roles. The important thing is that there must be performance so that the audience remains entertained and stay glued to the play. But the scriptwriter knows which actor should lead, what is to be projected and the impression to be created and sustained. However, there is usually a difference between the public self of the actor being projected and private self of the acting individual. With other words, there is on-stage actor who interprets script and project the character assigned while the off-stage personality is the normal person. This implies that the actor acts a script whose character may be different from his person in real, off-stage situation.

Using Erving Goffman’s dramaturgical perspective, I analyse the dethronement of Sanusi Lamido Sanusi (SLS) as a performance with many pre-arranged actors and others as co-opted. In doing this, I show how the poor as a social category continue to be used as bargaining chip by the elite and the politically exposed Nigerians. They use the masses to shield themselves when they fall out of favour with power centers and falsely attribute their ‘victimisation’ as arising from devotion to the masses. I show why we need to go beyond ‘on-stage performances’ of SLS to unpack how his back stage political performances might have triggered his ousting from the royal stool of Kano.

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The performance of Sanusi’s dethronement was well scripted as recruited actors came to the stage to embellish suspense, tension, comedy and heartbreak. From the Kano State House of Assembly, to the Executive Council and the use of police to enforce the ‘coronalisation’ of the ‘disobedient’ ex-emir, the ‘Gandu’ power bloc made the dethronement of Sanusi a metaphoric Corona-virus treatment. Coronalising Sanusi involved isolating him in Awe before he was legally quarantined and released to rejoin his community of friends. The drama got spiced up when ‘rufai’ of Kaduna state who has not been able to check the menace of banditry stepped on stage to assist his childhood friend. I see no difference between ‘rufai’ and ‘Gandu’. ‘Rufai’ who is now putting up performance to assist his disfavoured friend used similar executive power to crush Senator Shehu Sanni.

The historical reality, often untold or neglected in the ongoing narrative is that while SLS made history through the circumstances surrounding his ascendancy to the Kano royal stool, he has also become history by the tensions and factors associated with his dethronement. In his 1983 inaugural lecture entitled “The Presence of the Past”, late sociologist, Professor Onigu Otite, argues that the contemporary (historical) analysis must necessary involve the past, the link and the present. Some traditional rulers were worse off than contemporary governors, and possessed absolute powers of life and death in the pre-colonial era. The colonial period saw many of them selling their people into slavery while very few stood their ground to defend their kingdoms. The pre-colonial superiority, supremacy, and dominance which traditional rulers had has become the past of their presence with the coronalisation of SLS. The post-colonial reality unveils constitutionally limited royal fathers. Rather than been fathers to all, some of them are involved in off-stage ‘transactional’ performance of candidate endorsement for election, alignment with political parties and getting contracts from government which unfortunately reduces their respect, influence and makes them a willing pawn to Governors.

Of what use is Sanusi’s royal activism to ‘Gandu’ since his speeches were not directly talking about Kano — the Lagos of Northern Nigeria? What could have made the peace parley teams unable to resolve the crisis? Certainly not the impression been created through his expressions. In the unfolding dramaturgy, the off-stage performances are being silenced while projecting his public expressions of taking side with the vulnerable.

The dethronement performance also gained popularity due to the problem of insecurity which southern Nigeria links to the North. Banditry, herdsmen attacks (kidnapping) and Bokoharam terrorism are some of the security threats leading to the formation of Amotekun in western Nigeria. They joined the projected image of SLS to back up their claim on the call for restructuring. They joined his projected public image as a cerebral and vocal person whose utterances need to be taken seriously especially in the areas of ‘restructuring’ the federal character principle and quota system.

At the end of the day, it is all performance — the comment on the dethronement is a rational strategy and performance by the Kano government, SLS and the subjectively sympathetic public. As human beings, we choose the angle from which we want to act on the basis of maximum advantage. Beyond theatrical performance, we must continue to subject the private self and public projected self of these exposed persons to scrutiny in order not to be used to be fooled. The important questions are: why would anyone introduce policy to control birth when northern politicians need them to win elections? Why should they educate their citizens when a liberated mind will challenge misrule? Why should they fear insecurity when they are protected by state apparatuses? What the dramaturgical perspective contributes to the Sanusi dethronement discourse is to foreground the contradiction between the private (political activities of the dethroned emir) self and the projected royal activist self. This will enable us to see and understand that the actor on stage represent a different character off-stage. The whole story is yet to be told and it goes beyond royal activism.

*** Dr Oludayo Tade, a sociologist sent in this piece via