By Muhammad Abu Ihsan
The news of the installation in Sokoto of His Highness Muhammadu Sanusi II as the Khalifa of Tijjaniyya in Nigeria, after the reign of late Khalifa Isiaka Rabi’u, who had risen to the position after the demise of HH MSII’s grandfather, Sarki Sir Muhammadu Sanusi I. Maasha Allah.
This is a very powerful spiritual and political position. Extremely so. It also comes with serious implications for the new Khalifa, and for governments, as well as for traditional leaderships around the country.
It compounds the Kano problem because Tijjanawa always project their loyalty to the Tijjaniyya leadership, transcending all political and administrative boundaries. Since Kano is still a home of Tijjaniyya (as it is of Izala, and of Qadiriyya) the ascension of HH MSII to the leadership of Tijjaniyya in Nigeria seriously erodes the influence of Sarkin Kano Aminu Ado Bayero, and of any governor in Kano, as religious and political loyalty now go first to MSII.
Also, nationally, since Tijjaniyya is still the Islamic sect with the largest following in the Muslim North, and certainly the dominant theology in the Yoruba West, the religious and political influence of a dethroned emir, HH MSII, in Nigeria today, has grown substantially larger than it was, when he was the Emir of Kano. His dethroned grandfather, Sarki Sir Muhammadu Sanusi I, although the leader of Tijjaniyya in Nigeria during his lifetime, had become ascetic after dethronement in 1963, and restricted himself, until his death, to personal spiritual ascetism without any public activity, even after the PRP government of Abubakar Rimi had made serious attempts to draw him out, after returning him into Kano territory (he chose Wudil) from exile. However, with MSII active nationally and internationally in general public issues, in religious matters, in academic and intellectual engagements, and in corporate, as well as in multilateral engagements, his very high visibility, despite the limitations dethronement could have imposed on him, has just hit the stratosphere, and this is no exaggeration. For starters, elderly and revered Sheikh Dahiru Bauchi, a Tijjaniya behemoth who was in serious rivalry with the late Khalifa Isiaka Rabi’u, has no such issues with the new Khalifa MSII. If anything, HH MSII is regarded as a student and son by Sheikh Dahiru Bauchi. Similarly, another great Tijjaniyya leader of far-reaching influence all over Africa and the Middle East, Sharif Sheikh Ibrahim Saleh, Nigerian Muslim’s Grand Mufti, plays a father role to HH MSII. It then means that the new Khalifa leads a fully unified Tijjaniya, whose call can pull both the Isiaka Rabi’u and Dahiru Bauchi millions into Kano Race Course, Murtala Square Kaduna, or the Eagle Square in Abuja.
Additionally, HH MSII has over the years, been quite close to the key ulama and followers of the Ahlus Sunnah side (Izala and Salafiyya), such that their continued cooperation and partnership can be taken as guaranteed. His strong disapproval for Shi’a and Shi’ism further enhances this relationship and partnership with the Ahlus Sunnah (Izala and Salafiyya).
It is also worth noting that the investiture of the Khalifa position, instead of holding in Kano, due to current constraints, but could have held in Kaduna, Abuja, Ilorin, or Ibadan, took place instead, in Sokoto. This is highly significant. The support of His Eminence the Sultan, while a boon, creates further problems because Sarkin Kano Aminu Ado, although hierarchically number three in the Sokoto Caliphate, and by protocol number four in Northern Nigeria, the recent butchering and subinfudation of Kano Emirate by Governor Ganduje has substantially diminished the current Emir, while the ascension of MSII to the position of the Khalifa of Tijjanniyya has compounded that problem. The excellent personal relationship between His Eminence the Sultan with MSII, something the dethroned Emir also has with quite a number of senior emirs, obas and obis around the country, all further elevate the status of MSII and unfortunately diminish the current Emir of Kano. This is potentially problematic, and must be handled with extreme care.
Event in Sokoto may have been understated and deliberately underreported, but it registers very high on the Nigerian political Richter Scale. Tijjaniyya is a monolithic political force in West Africa, from Yoruba land, through Hausaland, into Ghana, Niger, Mali, Burkina Faso, Senegal, Mauritania, and Morocco. It goes through Algeria, Tunisia, troubled Libya, Egypt, down into Sudan and Chad, and other parts of Muslim East Africa. The prestige and influence of the Khalifa of Tijjaniyya extend into these territories.
With Buhari’s popularity and support substantially diminished, reinforced by his entry into his lame duck period before exiting office in 2023, Khalifa Muhammadu Sanusi II may just have emerged as the most powerful, and influential Nigerian, despite his dethronement as Emir of Kano, just a little over a year ago. Again, while this is significantly positive, it can also be quite problematic, unless those problem areas are carefully managed. Tension within Kano and its subinfudated satellites of Bichi, Rano, Karaye and Gaya, and especially with Sarkin Kano Aminu Ado, will continue. Also, for the remainder of his tenure, with Governor Ganduje and his small coterie of contumacious political allies and handlers, one of which, Abbas, is related to MSII.
Constitutionally, HH MSII, like every Nigerian, has the freedom of movement. He can therefore travel and move around freely in any part of Nigeria. He can settle and live in any part of the country. The Constitution guarantees him this fundamental right. But for the moment, without and legal compulsion, he has constrained himself to stay away from Kano. This is understandable. But with his ascension to the position of the Khalifa of Tijjaniyya, a position based in Kano since its creation, and with the inevitable pull on him of Kano’s majority Tijjanawa for frequent presence and leadership, how long can the Khalifa keep himself away from Kano? And can Kano ever quietly receive Khalifa MSII, and not, literally bring out more than ninety percent of the citizens out into the streets to welcome him? “Ba a sarki biyu a gari daya” – there can never be two kings in one city/kingdom – according to an Hausa dictum. Are we going to see that in Kano?
From now on, wherever HH MSII goes in Nigeria and West Africa, he not only attracts bigger welcoming crowds than he did when he was emir, he also gets the reception of a head of state in some of those places. Especially in Ghana, Senegal, Niger, Morocco, and Sudan. Thanks to the spiritual and political power of Tijjaniyya leadership.
HH MSII must therefore ponder his new position, power and influence, and also take into cognisance his peculiar position of a dethroned emir of Kano. He should then evolve an appropriate administrative and protocol regimen that lessen, or ideally eliminate all possible jurisdictional conflicts with other leaders in their territories, most especially in Kano. Similarly, the government and traditional leaderships there should also evolve and adopt administrative and protocol flexibilities, accommodation, and general goodwill, for the sake of the people, and for general peace, progress and security.
Wishing the new Khalifa of Tijjaniya in Nigeria a very peaceful and progressive reign.