The Spiritual Leader in The Tijanniyah Sufi Order Of Nigeria

Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, born 31 July 1961 and known by the religious title Khalifa Sanusi II, is a spiritual leader of the Tijanniyah Sufi order in Nigeria. He belongs to the Dabo dynasty and was the emir (sarki) of the ancient city-state of Kano. Born in Kano in 1961 into the royal family, he is the grandson of Muhammadu Sanusi I. He succeeded his great-uncle Ado Bayero on the throne on 8 June 2014. During his reign, he fervently advocated for cultural reform in Northern Nigeria until his dethronement by the Kano state government on 9 March 2020.

Sanusi is a prominent traditional and religious figure in West Africa. As the Khalifa of the Tijaniyyah Sufi order in Nigeria, he arguably wields politico-spiritual authority over the second-largest Sufi order, which boasts over 30 million adherents. Raised in the royal palace of his grand-uncle, he received both religious and secular education in his youth. Before his ascension, Sanusi was recognized as an Islamic intellectual, academic, political economist, and banker. He served as the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria from 2009 to 2014, implementing banking reforms until his suspension for exposing a $20 billion oil scandal.

Sanusi was born on 31 July 1961 in Kano to the ruling-class Fulani family of the Sullubawa clan. He grew up in the palace of his great-uncle Ado Bayero, who reigned for over five decades. His father, Aminu Sanusi, was a prince and diplomat, serving as the ambassador to Belgium, China, and Canada, and later as the permanent secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Additionally, he held the title of Chiroma of Kano and was the son of Muhammadu Sanusi I, the 11th Fulani Emir of Kano, who reigned from 1953 to 1963 before being deposed by his cousin, Sir Ahmadu Bello.

Sanusi began his religious education at home, learning the Qur’an and the teachings of Prophet Muhammad. He attended St. Anne’s Primary School, a Catholic boarding school in Kaduna, then moved on to King’s College, Lagos from 1973 to 1977. He earned a bachelor’s degree in Economics from Ahmadu Bello University in 1981. After graduating, he dedicated a year to his National Youth Service, teaching at a girls’ boarding school in Yola. He then returned to the university to complete a master’s degree in Economics in 1983, after which he lectured at the faculty for two years.

Sanusi later journeyed to Khartoum to study Islamic studies at the International University of Africa. There, he became fluent in Arabic and delved into the Qur’an, law (fiqh), and philosophy (falsafa). He familiarized himself with the works of esteemed Western thinkers and Islamic scholars and explored the four Sunni madhhabs: Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi’i, and Hanbali.

In 1985, Sanusi began his banking career with Icon Limited (a subsidiary of Barings Bank and Morgan Guaranty Trust) as a merchant banker. He eventually rose to become the head of financial services and then manager of the office in Kano. In 1991, he took a break from banking to study Arabic and Islamic studies at the International University of Africa in Khartoum. By 1997, he was back in Nigeria, joining the United Bank for Africa and working in their credit and risk management division. He rapidly advanced to the position of general manager. In 2005, he joined the board and became the executive director responsible for risk management at First Bank of Nigeria — Nigeria’s oldest bank and one of Africa’s premier financial institutions. In January 2009, he became the chief executive officer, marking him as the first northern Nigerian to head the bank.

On 1 June 2009, President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua nominated Sanusi as the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria. He was confirmed by the Nigerian Senate on 3 June 2009 amidst the global financial crisis. The effects of the crisis severely impacted the Nigerian economy and its banking system, with the stock market plummeting by nearly 70%. Sanusi took charge during these tumultuous times, rescuing top-tier banks with over ₦600 billion of public money. He dismissed and imprisoned chief executives responsible for mismanaging customer deposits and took a hard stance against banks implicated in financial crimes. Sanusi attributed the downturn in the capital markets to “financial illiteracy” among Nigerian investors. He introduced a consolidation process aimed at reducing the number of Nigerian banks through mergers and acquisitions, strengthening their accountability to depositors. Furthermore, he spearheaded efforts to bolster investments in infrastructure and to support small and medium enterprises.

Sanusi’s tenure ushered in a wave of extensive banking reforms, often referred to as the “Sanusi Tsunami.” These reforms were anchored on four pillars: enhancing bank quality, ensuring financial stability, fostering healthy financial sector evolution, and guaranteeing that the financial sector contributes to the real economy. Sanusi was instrumental in the development of the cashless policy, where financial transactions occur without the use of physical banknotes or coins but through the transfer of digital information (essentially an electronic representation of money) between the parties involved. He was also a vocal proponent of Islamic banking in Nigeria, a stance that drew criticism from the Christian Association of Nigeria. He notably butted heads with the National Assembly over its budgetary spending, which accounted for 25% of all government revenue, and opposed the International Monetary Fund’s recommendation for currency devaluation. Sanusi also advised the government on the need to remove the fuel subsidy, asserting that it fostered a culture of corruption and economic inefficiency. However, this move was unpopular, leading to the emergence of the Occupy Nigeria movement, which demanded his resignation.

His reforms evoked a mix of criticism and praise within the industry. In recognition of his groundbreaking reforms and his campaign against corruption in the sector—particularly notable during the financial crisis—The Banker magazine honored him as the 2010 Central Bank Governor of the Year. Sanusi is widely lauded for curbing corruption within the banking industry and promoting a risk management culture within Nigerian banking circles. He has been a speaker at numerous international events, including the 2013 World Economic Forum. In December 2013, a letter from Sanusi to President Goodluck Jonathan was leaked, revealing that the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC)—an entity with a track record of financial irregularities—had failed to remit US$48.9 billion of government oil revenue to the central bank. By February 2014, after shedding light on the US$20 billion NNPC scandal and following a series of public investigations, President Goodluck Jonathan suspended Sanusi from his role as the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria. In April 2014, Sanusi won a legal battle against the federal government after being detained and having his international passport seized by the State Security Service.

On 6 June 2014, Emir Ado Bayero, who had reigned as the Emir of Kano for over five decades, passed away, prompting concerns about succession within the royal family. On 8 June 2014, Sanusi, a grandson of the former Emir Muhammadu Sanusi I and the holder of the traditional title of Dan Majen Kano (Son of Emir-Maje), was announced as the new Emir of Kano. This decision sparked significant protests, especially from supporters of Sanusi Ado Bayero, the Chiroman Kano (Crown Prince) and son of the late Emir Ado Bayero. Allegations arose, suggesting that Governor Rabiu Kwankwaso had meddled in the king-making process.

Sanusi’s selection to succeed his granduncle, Ado Bayero, as the Emir of Kano on 8 June 2014 was steeped in controversy. Many speculated that this move was politically motivated to shield him from potential corruption charges linked to his tenure at the central bank. The general expectation had been for Bayero’s son to ascend as the Emir, leading to protests against Sanusi’s appointment. Sanusi was officially crowned as Sarki Muhammadu Sunusi II (anglicized as Sanusi) on 9 June 2014, becoming the fifty-seventh monarch of the ancient city of Kano. This places him hierarchically as the fourth-most-important Islamic traditional ruler in Nigeria, following the Sultan of Sokoto, Shehu of Borno, and Emir of Gwandu.

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