Today, our discussion will center on a word, or expression if you like, innovated during the final year of the Abacha era. It is called Ta-zarce.
Traditionally, rulers enjoy power in Hausaland, as in other monarchies, ad infinitum. The earliest expression used to hyperbolize the desire for an everlasting rule was the wish that it lasts until the arrival of Mahdi (Arch Christ). I remember a praise song composed by Sani Dandawo for the late Emir of Yauri, Muhammad Tukur. In it he was advising that contenders to the throne of Yauri, among its princes, should give up hope of succeeding him. His reason was simple: He has consulted astrologers on the tenure of Tukur. They have told him that it will last until Mahdi (sai Mahdi). Mahdi to the Hausa is like infinitive to the mathematician.
But this is often the language of the praise-singers and poets. It is not the tradition of God. As He had it, Muhammad Tukur died, before the arrival of the Mahdi, sometime around 1980, as did his father Abdullahi. Yakubu Abarshi who inherited the throne from Tukur also died in 1998 (?). Mahdi did not appear. Our father, the incumbent Emir, Professor Zayyanu Abdullahi, succeeded him. May his reign last until the arrival of the Mahdi!
Allah ja zamanin Sarki
In ordinary palace lexicon however, people do not go as far as Sani Aliyu Dandawo did. The king, as we have seen above, may not live long to see Mahdi. Nevertheless, some form of expression is desired to show him, and – today – the public office holder also, that may his reign or office last as long as possible. Since in traditional set up, death is the major factor in succession to leadership, the common man usually says, “Ran Sarki ya dade (May God grant the king long life!).” Another expression, Allah ja zamaninka, specifically signifies a prayer that God extends the reign of the king as long as possible.
Let us move from prayer to contention. In monarchies, self-succession is unknown. The ruler is meant to last on the throne until his death. The attention of the monarch was therefore largely focused only on a possible overthrow. It could be through the action of a superior force whose invasion could not be resisted, or of an equal that will engage the kingdom in a battle.
The contenders to the throne, who used to be many, had limited choices. Few of them left things to God. Others attempted many possibilities. Among them was collaboration with foreign powers, as we saw in the story that formed the basis of the book Magana Jari Ce.
These uncertainties and continuous struggle for the throne has given rise to instability of past nations. Even where they were stable, like where a king rules for forty or fifty years, kingdoms were faced with stagnation. Huge resources, including lives, were used to keep the incumbent on the throne.
Sai ka yi
Democracy in this case has offered a better alternative. It has made power egalitarian. Modern democratic governments have subjected leadership to tenures in which citizens decide on the continuity or otherwise of their leaders. This is the theory. In practice, the provision does not always work easily. Most democracies, especially in developing countries, are dictatorships, where leaders rig elections and emasculate opposition to ensure that they rule forever.
Subjecting leadership to tenures helps to silence the guns of opposition for a while, until the next elections. Peace was achieved because it reduced the exasperation that the incumbent will rein until Mahdi or only when overtaken by death. Contenders therefore, instead of going sub, would wait anxiously for next elections.
Before the election, the supporting expression used for a contender to the seat or throne is “sai ka yi” (literally, you must do it), an expression concocted during the Second Republic, most likely in Kano, and used thereafter in the city and, now, in many others.
There were controversies over the self-succession bids of Babangida and Abacha. None of them expressed the intention of succeeding himself, but the dribbles of Maradona and the silence of Abacha were enough pointers to the fact that they would wish to remain, perhaps, sai Mahdi. Well Babangida had to step aside, after exhausting his baggage of tactics.
Abacha, who was already enjoying sai ka yi any time he paid a visit to his hometown during Babangida, came to power after ‘persuading’ Shonekan to resign. After five years, beneficiaries to his power started to persuade him to succeed himself through a transformation from a military leader to a civilian president. He refused, until his death, to expressly commit himself. A mountain of opposition started to grow, and it was then, I think from a pulpit in Sokoto, that ta zarce was invented. The expression was used briefly during the year of Abacha and it almost died away with his death, on the belief that no military leader will return in the near future to seek a transformation into civilian President.
But we were wrong. Ta-zarce has returned in full force. In many parts of the North, the word is used today by the masses at the sight of any incumbent politician that they are pleased with. It is said to governors and local government chairmen. Since they are in their first term in office, it is likely that we will see the escalation in the use of this term as we approach the next election. Thereafter, it will die down, since the constitution does not allow for a third term. Sai ka yi will return and take over.
Implications of Ta-zarce
The word and its usage that both appear pedestrian and simple is not however without its far-reaching political implications. The obvious significance of Ta-zarce is that it connotes the approval of the people that says it of the performance of the person in office. If you like, we can describe it as a popular feedback mechanism that tells the governor or local government chairman that his people are with him and that, come 2003, he can count on their votes.
They might not have been with him in 1999, but he must have done something that bought them over to his side, like electricity, road, hospital, schools, etc. At that instance, saying Ta-zarce signifies not only their allegiance or decampment but also their being part of a vanguard for his re-election bid in 2003. In this case, I have observed that a decamping opponent is more anxious and more likely to use Ta-zarce than a bonifide member of the party in power.
The threat of Ta-zarce
To the opposition, Ta-zarce is a threat and a sign that they may have to wait for a period longer than the first term. With nothing in their hands to comfort their supporters among the masses, they would cash on the lack of performance of the incumbent administration to win election by presenting themselves as an alternative. Well, in some constituencies where local government chairmen and governors are performing ridiculously below expectation, their permutation of such aspirants will definitely be correct. They have every cause to be hopeful for the gun of Ta-zarce is silent there. They can even be anxious for 2003.
But where Ta-zarce obtains, it adds nothing but frustration in the mind of the opposition. For those who may not be supported by age, and coming from the same zone as the incumbent in a two-zone state like mine, Ta-zarce means a possible wait of sixteen years! This might be too long even for a 50-yr old contender. In a local government like mine, where we have three districts, the waiting could be as long as 24 years for contenders from the same district as the incumbent. That is too long even for a 40-year old. Such contenders are only left with the hope that something should happen that would tilt the balance of tenure in their favor. May their prayer return unanswered!
I will advise such aspirants to give up hope on the seat. They should rather decamp and proclaim Ta-zarce camp in order to enjoy the spoil. If that is not possible, they should form a “principled opposition” as Former President Shehu Shagari would call it, without keeping an eye on the seat.
The good in Ta-zarce
On the positive side, the proclamation of Ta-zarce encourages those administrations doing good to continue. For the first time in our political history, there is an expression of appreciation by the masses. They have shifted from a position of indifference to that of concern over development. They are now concerned with convincing government to repair their school, construct their road or electrify their areas. If the proclamation of Ta-zarce will make administrators understand that development is the surest way of winning a second term, they will definitely be inclined to continuing along the same track. That will be an encouraging shift in politics in this part of the country.
An example will not be a bad idea. I was listening to a radio program – Gaskiya Dokin Karfe – on the allegiance visit paid to His Excellency, the Governor of Bauchi State by the people of Lame. There is a widespread rumor that an adviser to Obasanjo who is from Lame district is aspiring to be the governor in 2003. (I have already told his aide that it won’t work, purely based on the above permutations.) The masses there see that his desire is likely to prevent the Governor from executing projects in the district. So one day, led by the Local Government Chairman and the Sarkin Yakin Bauchi, the District Head of Lame, they flooded the government house to pledge their allegiance to His Excellency.
In the interview conducted during the occasion, almost everybody was asked a question about Ahmadu, as we commonly call the governor, and Danlami, the local government chairman. The answer was the same. Ahmadu ta-zarce, Danlami ma Ta zarce! Yes. They have every cause to say so. Ahmadu is becoming exceptional for his projects. They were wise to make sure that they were not left out. So they seized the opportunity to request for the construction of a road in the area which no administration earlier attempted to take seriously. And typical of Ahmadu, he promised that it is finished (an gama). And the promise of Ahmadu, like that of Saifud-Daulah, is as good as done. His future tense according to al-Motanabbi is as good as past. They returned home very happy. Ta-zarce has earned them development. Engineers were immediately sent to the site the following week.
Obasanjo and Ta-zarce
If Ahmadu and Danlami are told Ta-zarce, the masses around this area are silent on the person at the top of the hierarchy. I have not heard of a place where the President was greeted with Ta-zarce in the North. If the philosophy of Ta-zarce as expounded above is correct, it means that the President has to improve his performance. It shows that up to this moment, the masses in the North have not lost their reason. Their memory still holds, surprisingly. I hope it will not be cut short by cosmetic pronouncements and a reshuffle that has not made any difference.
The dividing wall between Obasanjo and the North still stands erect. The President had a bad start politically. Though he seems to retract from those blunders, reminiscent feelings generated by his appointments, policies and language are still everywhere. There is also the difficulty of substantiating his performance. The problems he inherited are still unresolved: Electricity, fuel, education, roads and so on.
It is getting to two years and there is little to show on the ground. Corruption runs unabated. His tribesmen are not helping matters. And when it comes election in 2003, I doubt much if he will be able to convince them to vote for him in place of an Oduduwa candidate. In the remaining two years he needs to work 36 hrs a day to convince us through performance.
We should not forget that our democracy has failed four times as a result of Ta-zarce. We have already warned against that possibility come 2003. Already, there are enough loopholes in electoral arrangements that can serve as a recipe for a crisis. The appointment of election officers by incumbent governors would make malpractices easy, as commentators say.
If political parties, including the PDP at the national level, desires to be given a second chance by the electorate, they must work hard and bring substantial benefits to us. Then Obasanjo will, like Ahmadu, earn tazarce wherever he visits. I will even write it in my column. Right now, no way. Poor Mr. President!