The government in northern Nigeria’s Kano state has approved a law to split the 200-year-old Kano emirate into five.

The controversial move is seen by many as a strategy to weaken the current emir of Kano, Muhammadu Sanusi II, who has been critical of the government.

But the authorities say his emirate – the largest in the country – has been broken up with the aim of moving the traditional institution closer to the people.

The emir of Kano – one of the most influential traditional and religious leaders in Nigeria – will now be left with just one-fifth of his domain.

The four new emirates are Rano, Gaya, Karaye and Bichi. The district heads of these areas were answerable to the emir of Kano but they will now have equal status as him.

Emir Sanusi – a former governor of Nigeria’s central bank – has not yet commented on the decision.