Bello Kirfi And The Price Of Insubordination

January 14, 2023

6.7 min readCategories: Opinion

By Suleiman Abbah

It is an established custom that emirs and key traditional title holders should only be seen and not heard. Some Emirs and title holders however violate this important tradition and would talk like parrots anywhere, anytime and on any topic — this erodes the mysticism and prestige around their persons and the institution in the eyes of the people.

Historically, this attracts summary dismissal in the case of title holders and outright dethronement in cases that involve emirs. The latest case of insubordination-related discipline meted out on high-profile traditional title holders in the Northern Nigeria emirate system, is perhaps the sacking of Alhaji Muhammadu Bello Kirfi by the Bauchi Emirate Council as a council member and Wazirin Bauchi.

This is the second time that Kirfi would be sacked as Wazirin Bauchi. He was suspended in 2017. However, on August 5, 2020, he was reinstated. It was gathered that the Bauchi governor, Bala Mohammed, facilitated his reinstatement. The council hinged his sack on disloyalty and disrespect toward the state governor amounting to gross insubordination.

Alhaji Kirfi is not the first Waziri to have faced disciplinary action for insubordination and by far might not be the last. A recent example is when in 2020, Wazirin Zazzau Ibrahim Muhammad Aminu, chairman of the Zazzau Kingmakers committee was suspended by the Kaduna Kaduna state government for dishonouring an informal invitation and was subsequently taken to court claiming violation of the government’s rule.

While still in court, Aminu was expelled and stripped of the Waziri title who was the administrative officer or prime minister; and replaced by Khadi Muhammad Inuwa Aminu in 2021. The history of palace discipline that involves the dethronement of emirs or dismissal of palace chiefs, particularly in the Northern part of Nigeria, has been around for ages.

The dethronement of traditional rulers can be referred back to early 1900, when some emirs from the North refused to pledge allegiance to the colonial administrators, as a result, many of them were dethroned and banished from their respective kingdoms.

It will be recalled that in the 1950s, the Emir had plotted the dethronement of the then Atta of Igala Ameh Oboni (Agaba Idu). The Atta’s offence was his refusal to bow before the Sultan of Sokoto, Chairman of Northern Nigeria Council of Chiefs during the Council’s meeting in Kaduna, the capital of Northern Nigeria.

Ameh Oboni was given the option to remove his crown and bow or be removed from office. But the Atta was a god and could not bow to any human being. Knowing that by the Igala tradition, his dethronement implied that none of his descendants would ever be allowed to be crowned Atta after him, Ameh Oboni accepted to remove his crown and bow.

Several years afterwards, in April 1963, as Mohammed Sanusi was chauffeured from Kaduna to his palace in Kano after a council meeting, he heard on the car radio of his dethronement by the Government of Northern Nigeria. Most recently, Muhammad Sanusi II: The former Nigerian apex bank chief ascended the throne after the death of his uncle, the late Alhaji Ado Bayero, in 2014.

The powerful emir is known to have a vast knowledge of both Islamic and Western education; he was also the most outspoken traditional ruler in Northern Nigeria during his reign. The deposed emir was in a political war with the Governor of Kano State, Abdullahi Umar Ganduje, just before the 2019 general elections. The tussle became apparent when the Governor sent a bill to the State House of Assembly seeking to add four additional emirates, to the State.

On March 9, 2020, the Government of Kano State announced the dethronement of Muhammad Sanusi II, on grounds of Insubordination. He was also banished from the State. Previously, Mustapha Jokolo, a retired military officer who ascended the throne of Gwandu as the 19th emir following the dismissal of his father in 1995, was dethroned as well after spending 10 years on the throne. He was also banished from the State and moved to Obi in Nasarawa State.

His dethronement was announced in June 2005, by the Government of Kebbi State which accused him of Insubordination. The famous Sultan Ibrahim Dasuki, ascended the throne of Sultan of Sokoto, and President Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs in Nigeria, succeeding Sultan Siddiq Abubakar III after his death, in November 1988. Sultan Ibrahim Dasuki was removed from the throne, on April 20, 1996, on grounds of Insubordination, by the former Head of State and Commander in Chief of the Arm Forces Federal Republic of Nigeria, General Sani Abacha and banished from living within the Sultanate.

Muhammad Sanusi I, the powerful emir of Kano ascended the throne, in 1954, following the death of his father, emir Abdullahi Bayero. His vast knowledge and influence made him become among the most influential traditional rulers in Sub-Saharan Africa during his reign. The emir was accused of insubordination by the Northern Nigeria administrators and was dethroned in April 1963. He was also banished from staying in Kano, he was asked to leave for Azare, in Bauchi State.

Emir Abubakar Dallaje of Katsina was removed from the throne in 1906, by Sir Fredrick Lugard, who was then the Governor General of the Northern protectorate, the dethronement came to many as a surprise, because the king was so powerful and popular during his reign. Emir Abubakar was accused of insubordination and refusing to pledge allegiance to the colonial administrators and was replaced by emir Muhammadu Dikko, who ruled Katsina until he died in 1944.

Note that all the dethronements that happened were a result of allegations of Insubordination. When you work in the field of management, you will inevitably have to deal with an insubordinate employee or staff member. While this is a common occurrence, it does not make it any easier to deal with what happens to you.

Verbal abuse, such as the use of profanity and insults, may or may not be grounds for dismissal. Commonly referred to as “shop talk,” the manager must decide whether the language was out of the ordinary. If not, then insubordination may not have been intended. Another cause for dismissal due to insubordination is the refusal to perform a manager’s direct order. This may manifest itself in a verbal or nonverbal refusal.

As a result, each incidence of refusal or delay should be carefully documented in an employee’s file to verify a history of insubordinate conduct, and this was exactly the way the Bauchi State government and the Emirate Council approached Kirfi’s serial and serious misdemeanour. When the Emirate Council felt that there was a pattern of willful disobedience on the part of Bello Kirfi, it took care to document it and reported it to superior authority, in this case, the state’s Governor.

Relics from a period when monarchies dominated this region, they rely now on regional governments for their funding and their succession is regulated by elected officials. Granted people have differing opinions. Sometimes a subordinate disagrees with the leader or boss. Although this is not insubordination on its own, where the person confronts and disagrees with the boss in front of everyone else as regular outbursts like in the case of Bello Kirfi, then it becomes ground for insubordination.

Often, insubordination may be the result of inexperience or bad judgment that can be remedied with a quick word. When it’s chronic and willful, it’s a different matter entirely. In the case of Bello Kirfi, he was confrontational in front of the rest of the state’s Governor, and the public; questioning the governor’s authority, which can lead to poor overall morale in the Council, defaming Bala’s person, spreading rumours that divided the Bauchi community and making inappropriate comments regularly.

While in particular the Waziris and other traditional title holders lack practical power, their patronage can be key at elections when Nigeria’s politicians jostle for votes. But their role remains ambiguous — and when Bello Kirfi began to talk up, some cautioned that he was overstepping the boundaries and flouting the strict protocol of the palace. What followed is now history.

Abbah wrote in from Zaria.

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