Friday Discourse (226)
Aminu Kano: the Journey to Aso Rock
The tree of people's liberation which Malam Aminu Kano planted over half a century ago is still yielding fruits. A lot has changed in our political landscape for the common man since the people were gradually freed from the oppressive practices of British indirect rule and its chief aristocratic structure – the Native Authorities (N.A). The struggle of Malam Aminu, or Malam as he is simply called, compelled the Premier of the Northern region to start moderating those policies by initiating the local government reforms that resulted in the termination of the N.A. Later in the 1970s, the influence of Malam, chiefly through his disciples like Professor Bashir Ikara, carried the local government reforms to their logical conclusion, consigning any vestige of the N.A. to the cargo of history. Thus, though the party which Malam led up to 1966 – the Northern Elements Peoples' Congress (NEPU) – did not form a government, it, nevertheless, became the greatest catalyst for change through its stubborn commitment to liberation politics.
By the end of the 1970s, Malam's party, the Peoples' Redemption Party (PRP), the last Nigerian party to be truly driven by ideology, secured the leadership of the important states of Kaduna and Kano, the political and economic seats of northern conservative elements respectively. Though both governors – Balarabe Musa and Abubakar Rimi – slipped out of Malam's hand halfway through their tenure because of the difficulty in balancing theory with practice, their leadership left a record that is yet to be beaten by any governor in this country. In my opinion, the two were the most dedicated, most honest, and most performing governors we ever had since 1978. I think Balarabe, the governor of old Kaduna State, still has only a house, while Rimi could still be considered poor among Nigerian politicians, despite the enormous wealth of the State he governed and the ministerial positions he held at the federal level when the country was neck-deep in corruption.
The contributions of Malam through the influence of his doctrine have moderated the conduct of many Nigerian administrators, academics and politicians. By the time of his death in 1982, he would not have known how long his legacy would last or whether his impact would one day cover the entire Nigerian political landscape.
On 31 December 1983 the last government representing the northern conservatives was toppled. Muhammadu Buhari, then a Major-General in the Nigerian army with NEPU antecedents, became the Head of State. For the next twenty months, the person who became synonymous with discipline and honesty led the country in a manner that could now only be recalled with nostalgia. It is a widely held view that toppling Buhari was the second greatest mistake made by the military in this country; the first obviously was to earlier plunge the country into civil war. Buhari, an alloy of Malam, remains to date not only the symbol but also the champion of those values and ideals which he practiced as Head of State in the 1980s.
When he joined politics in 2002, Buhari won the hearts of the people, and he got every vote except the incumbency vote, which unfortunately in Nigeria is up 60% of the entire votes in the country! He may also be running in 2007, if his party leadership fails to sell his recently acquired presidential ticket to Atiku Abubakar.
Both Malam and Buhari might have lost to incumbency the chance to reach Aso Rock on a political platform. Nevertheless, the establishment, being human, sometimes make mistakes. History, including Nigerian history, is replete with previously underestimated leaders. Haruna Uji, a famous Hausa musician used to say, Kara da kiyashi, daukan maras sani (an ant on a stick will be carried along unknowingly). And we have been praying for such mistakes which change the course of history. If the event of last Sunday is anything to go by, Malam Aminu Kano, might reach the presidency, finally. This may be regarded as an optimistic assessment of the situation. However, given the moment, I would rather choose to side with hope than with despair.
The ruling Peoples' Democratic Party (PDP), which we have many times dubbed Peoples Destruction Party, held its convention a week ago and the incumbent President pressed the buttons of incumbency to ensure that Umaru Musa Yar'Adua, the present Governor of Katsina State emerged as its presidential nominee. Since I learned through the live comment of AIT that Umaru was a very active member of the PRP my mind has not ceased from thinking or, say, hoping that he will prove the incumbent president wrong. Umaru, I have concluded after listening to and reading many comments, will be on the side of the people when he becomes President, not on the side of the Obasanjo, who hopes to use him as a stooge. The rise of Umaru to Presidency will be the first time that the dream journey of Malam is realized through the ballot box, not withstanding the bourgeois identities of the party that will shove him into power. The colour of our dress, for example, is in no way determined by the colour of our cars or offices.
You see, antecedents are difficult to change. They may be concealed when the circumstances are unsuitable for their manifestations but they will definitely remain entrenched in the conscience. And whenever the person is free to express them, they will naturally surface and take control because conviction is one of the greatest sources of free energy. The Arabs often say man shabby ala shay'in shaba alaih, or simply what the English refer to "old habits die hard." In fact, they hardly die. This is our prayer for Umaru, a prayer that is informed by an extensive analysis of his antecedents and his tenure as Katsina State governor.
Learning that he was an active member of PRP automatically placed him, in my mind, among those who decided to be on the side of the masses when, of course, coming from one of the elite families of Katsina, he had every opportunity to side with oppressors. The PRP, a continuation of NEPU, was ideologically driven, a party of sacrifice for the common good, and the only one that could be said to be a true representative of the left, as the BBC World Service quickly alerted the Western world the day the party won the governorships of Kano and Kaduna in 1979. If it were not for the deliberate bifurcation of Nigerian politics into SDP and NRC, conscientious elements of the PRP like Umaru would have formed a new-PRP. But for lack of space to manoeuvre he joined the SDP which was considered to be 'a bit to the left', as the then president once would put it.
But even before the PRP, Umaru was a member of MPN in his university days. This was an unrepentant leftist students' union under the tutelage of unrepentant Marxist lecturers, like the late Yusuf Bala Usman, who became the Secretary to the PRP Government of Kaduna State. It is true that most of us find it difficult to extricate ourselves from the ideologies we held at that impressionable level of our cognitive development. There was little wonder then that Umaru after graduation could only find PRP most suitable when the country returned to politics in the late 1970s.
Also consider his choice of profession. As a graduate of chemistry at both first and second degree levels Umaru did not choose to work for a pharmaceutical or oil company; neither did he use his family position to acquire a lucrative office in the civil service, despite the position of his powerful elder brother, Shehu, who was the second in command when Obasanjo was a military Head of State. Umaru chose to be a lecturer, clearly in emulation of his ideological mentors back in the university.
Then came his grassroots approach to politics when he was in SDP. Early this week, Mahmud Jega, a former lecturer colleague of mine and now editor of the influential Daily Trust, wrote extensively on this part of Umaru (Back cover of Daily Trust, Monday 18 December 2006). Umaru is a politician who thought the vote of every commoner was important, going by Jega's account, so he took every pain to meet him at his habitat. The same commitment was repeated when he contested under the PDP in 1999, sometimes reaching remote hamlets alone, after his campaign team remained behind after reaching the brink of collapse. Up to that point in his political career, I cannot find any reason to justify the claim that Umaru has betrayed his leftist background.
Nor was there any reason, other than modesty and caution, for Jega to title his piece Many sides of Yar'Adua, because, candidly I could not see any side other than the PRP side in his narration, notwithstanding his mention of some "controversial" stories of the bad conduct of some business "moguls" who are close to Umaru. But, Jega, being himself a leftist from head to toe, knows very well that Umaru was the closest person to the left among our present governors. Let us dwell on this a bit, for, as al-Mutanabbi would put it, the values in objects are better appreciated in contrast.
Umaru, as the present governor of Katsina state, run his office with the same modesty one would expect from Malam Aminu Kano or Buhari. Jega told us that as a guest to the governor, he was served a plate of white rice with two pieces of meat. Contrast this with the sumptuous dishes that are served to guests of other governors daily in a wasteful manner. He also told us how he was sweating at the governor's personal residence, along with the governor, after the lights went out during an interview. Upon inquiry from Jega, Umaru – the governor – explained that for fear of corruption, he would not like to accustom his family to a luxury he cannot afford later. Here, I think not only Marx, but also Umar al-Khattab, will doff his hat at the humility of Umaru. Contrast him with other governors who are spending hundreds of millions in erecting personal homes, guest houses and chalets for themselves, their families and guests.
Then it is also noted that he is not on the list of governors investigated for corruption by the EFCC. It is not surprising because, if we may ask, what has Ribadu got to investigate in a plate of danwake or white rice, or in a house that does not even have a generator. Rather, we should charge Umaru with the offence of stacking the treasury with over six billion naira at a time when other governors are already indebted to the tune of over twenty billion naira, five months to the end of their tenure.
Those governors have carted away with billions from their treasuries and squandered several more. It is not surprising, therefore, that none of them considered Umaru worth befriending. They did not keep his telephone number, up to two weeks ago. (Now they do, I believe). None of them ever invited him to commission a project in his state; and none of them ever thought he would even dream of becoming a presidential nominee of the PDP. We can go on and on.
These are the reasons why I still think Umaru is on our side. There is no doubt that in the struggle to maintain his control over his domain, given the type of party he belongs to and the parasitic nature of our elite, he might have committed some errors here and there, which will surely be exaggerated by the elite. Some people might have taken advantage of their proximity to him. But Umaru is human, like all of us, like Marx, like Umar. But I doubt how many people critical of him would live up to his ideals if they were to be in his position. So I deliberately chose to be interested in that thread of ideology that has manifested itself in his humility, honesty and sense of accountability. I think it is strong enough to weave a cord of hope, not that of despair.
Clearly Obasanjo did not study closely the antecedents of Umaru. Rather, the President misinterpreted his simplicity and honesty for docility or even foolishness – the governor's refusal to steal and squander when called upon to do so by both opportunity and time. The President hopes to remain in power by proxy of Umaru.
Some readers may accuse me of ideological deregulation given that in the above rendering of Umaru, I chose to sacrifice the means for the end, or elevated prospect over process. I am, they will contend, unmindful of the bourgeois motive, structure, forces and process through or by which he was nominated and may subsequently become president. But I want such readers to realise that, as I said before, it takes just a small mistake in the political process to change the course of history. In nature too, it takes a single mutation out of a billion others to change the future identity of a species.
They should also realise that I did not justify the means, though, truly, I might have welcome its end. I only see in this mutant the prospect of a better future for the common man whom, I hope, will clog the machine of the ongoing poverty aggravating programs. More importantly, however, these prospects compel us to encourage Umaru by reminding him of his noble ideological background, his history as an activist on campus as well as his good practices in government. This is the approach that God adopted initially in addressing the Children of Israel in the Qur'an, in spite of their age long defiance. Umaru deserves our support not condemnation. I once praised him over his generous contribution to the establishment of School of Basic and Remedial Studies, Funtua. He sunk over half a billion in the project when other governors could not even pay the paltry sum of N15million that they each pledged. Where the prospect is bright, a leader deserves applause more than censure.
In conclusion, I will say, either way, Malam Aminu Kano must be smiling from the grave, knowing that one of his disciples, Buhari or Umaru, is about to occupy the highest office in the country. While we wish both of them the best in campaign and office, we will continue to pray that God grants Malam eternal peace.