Legal ruling leaves north Nigeria royal dispute in limbo

A federal court in northern Nigeria's largest city, Kano, has annulled the reappointment of an influential traditional emir, in the latest round of a tense dispute between two royals over the throne.

The royal tussle, dubbed "Game of Thrones" by locals, is part of a broader political fight between the ruling APC party and opposition NNPP for control of Kano State, the region with the second largest number of voters.

Nigeria's many traditional rulers have no constitutional powers but are important cultural custodians, wielding enormous influence in Africa's most populous country.

The dispute broke out last month when Kano State governor Abba Kabir Yusuf reappointed former emir Muhammadu Sanusi II to the throne, four years after he was deposed. 

His predecessor Aminu Ado Bayero was removed after Kano lawmakers amended the emirate law, created in 2019 by former governor Abdullahi Umar Ganduje, an APC chieftain and a rival of Yusuf, a NNPP leader.

But after he was deposed, Bayero returned to the city the next day and declared himself the bonafide emir, triggering a standoff between the two royals and a legal battle in several courts.

In a ruling on Thursday, federal judge Abdullahi Muhammad Liman nullified the reappointment of Sanusi and recognised his dethroned predecessor Bayero as the rightful occupant of the throne.

"I hereby order that every step taken by the (state) government is null and invalid," Liman said in the judgement read in the courtroom, heavily guarded by security personnel.

The court said that despite a previous restraining court order, Yusuf illegally went ahead and reappointed Sanusi. 

It ordered a stay of execution of the judgement pending an appeal before another court by the Kano government, challenging its jurisdiction. 

Tension has built in the city, with Sanusi moving into the palace where he holds daily court. Bayero is lodged in a royal guest house a few kilometres (miles) away where he receives his supporters.  

Both palaces are heavily guarded by military and police. 

The emir of Kano by tradition is the second most senior Islamic ruler after the Sultan of Sokoto, the highest religious leader in Nigeria's predominantly Muslim north. 

Sanusi, a respected banker and former central bank governor, was in 2014 appointed the 14th emir of Kano by then state governor Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso. 

Sanusi was removed in 2020 by Ganduje, Kwankwaso's deputy and protege, for "disrespect" and "insubordination". 

But the two Kano heavyweights, Kwankwaso and Ganduje, had parted ways and become political foes. 

Kwankwaso belongs to opposition New Nigeria People's Party (NNPP), while Ganduje is the national chairman of the ruling All Progressives Congress, or APC. 

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