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Thursday, May 20, 2010

Atiku and the Kano Intifada

Atiku and the Kano Intifadah
The reader might have come across times when stones were used as weapons in history. For example, in the antiquities, a rain of stones was used to annihilate the people of Prophet Lot as a punishment from heaven. Similarly, when the Abyssinian monarch, Abrahah, attempted to wipe out the Ka’abah in Mecca, God destroyed his army using pebbles from hell delivered by birds. The father of monotheism, Abraham, also used stones to send the devil away while he was on his way to sacrificing his only son, Ishmael. Muslims have maintained this practice to date. They repeat it annually during Hajj at the jamra.
Today, stones have become the first hand weapons of the weak, on whose face all doors of justice are closed. Champions in using these missiles are the Palestinians in their struggle – called intifadah – against Israeli forces of occupation. In Nigeria, the masses have discovered the potency of these missiles. There are strong indications that pebbles and shoes are gaining popularity among the masses who do not have any share of air time in the government controlled media; neither do they possess any ammunition to fire against those that betrayed them among their elected executives and representatives.
Thus when elder statesman and Danmasani of Kano, Dr. Maitama Sule, arranged to launch his book in Kano on 4 May 2001, I doubt if he expected that it would turn into a little Gaza or Ramallah – ending prematurely in a commotion that saw the Chief Guest and his host pelted with stones and shoes.
It is not our intention to render a graphic portrait of that incident here nor lend it any measure of support. Ordinarily, the event would have been left to fade away from our memories. But this week two governors – Dariye and Yerima – also got their own fair share of stones. It seems the masses are convinced, mistakenly though, that some of their politicians are deaf and only these pedestrian missiles could deliver the message of their plight accurately into their heads.
It is therefore important to recall the Kano incident because many people see it as a security threat that the government should study carefully and for which a solution is necessary before 2003. This article is our contribution to that study. We have reviewed the events and attempted to trace their origin. In it we have advised government officials wishing to avoid such catastrophes and the general public on how they can use democratic institutions to deliver themselves from the ‘tyranny of the elected.’
The chain
It will be a big mistake for government to listen to people who suggest that the Kano incident was an isolated event. Kano was not the first time Vice-President Atiku Abubakar had an encounter with missiles. It happened a week earlier at Kafancan and Kachia during his five-day visit to Kaduna State. That prevented any rally taking place at Makarfi – the hometown of his host, the Kaduna State Governor. They entered the town quietly and left without visiting anyone. The question here is, if the governor of a state is scared of carrying a Vice-President to his hometown, who among us is safe to visit any part of Nigeria for a political campaign?
Political opponents of Atiku were quick to explain that Kafancan and Kachia intifadah were directed against him. No. Not even when he shamelessly condemned Buhari for joining politics on the ground that he was a former military dictator who had no plan to hand over power to politicians. I am more comfortable supporting the theory that the stones were directed at Makarfi by his political opponents from within the PDP.
Now, to Kano. Some two days before the incident at the book launching, the Vice-President and Kano State governor, Rabi’u Musa Kwankwaso, went to commission a project at one part of the town. On their return, they received the least greeting they expected. People were pointing their ten fingers at the officials, doing what the Hausa call dakuwa. I can tell you what dakuwa is but I cannot tell you the offensive language that accompanies it.
People now complain, with the benefit of hindsight though, that Governor Kwankwaso should have seen the abuses as security threats. He would have remained behind to address the issue and assess the situation before the Vice-President returns the following Saturday for the book launching. Instead, he followed the Vice-President to Abuja. He only made sure that all arrangements were completed for the importation of ‘supporters’ from various local governments of the state to receive his host.
The ‘supporters’ came in large numbers. And here lies the problem. Governors are always anxious to prove that they have the necessary support to deliver their states to the President. Compelled by the desire for deceit but incapacitated by popular backing, they resort to hiring crowds. There is every danger in this because such crowds have the potential of turning into a mob whose behaviour is very difficult to predict.
Various interpretations have been given to the Kano incident. One, I heard Adamu Ciroma in Jalingo drawing a parallel between the stoning of Atiku in Kano and that of Prophet Muhammad in Ta’if. But as Sheikh Aminuddeen Abubakar said this was a grave mistake, if not a blasphemy. That was the Prophet of Islam and this is Atiku, only.
Two, embarrassed by the situation, the Kano State government was quick to shift blame to the APP. This led to the arrest of Alhaji Haruna Danzago, for the simple reason that the commotion started with the arrival of Buhari. But did the APP also sponsor the intifadah at Kafancan and Kachia? When has APP in any PDP state mustered enough strength, courage and resources to attack a sitting Vice-President and its resident governor?
Three, a more plausible theory is that opponents of Kwankwaso from within the ruling PDP organized the incident, as it happened earlier at Kachia and Kaduna. Something similar has once happened in Gombe when a podium was turned over as the State Minister for Power and Steel was addressing a PDP rally. The party definitely knows who organized it.
The fourth theory, which the press were interested in picking quickly, linked the incident to General Buhari directly. There was even an editorial in one of the southern papers intimidating him that the same will happen to him when he visits the zone of the Vice-President for campaign. To buy this argument is to divert the ruling PDP from the numerous problems it is presently facing.
I have also read the interview of Alhaji Lawal Kaita in which he charged Buhari of breaching protocol. Perhaps Kaita does not know that Buhari himself suffered from the commotion that day. He stayed outside for over an hour unable to enter the hall due to the thickness of the crowd. On his way out of the hall he could not reach his car. He was rushed into a strange CVU car that had no cooling facility at all. The place was hot and the atmosphere was tense as missiles were flying over the car. Many of his close associates also could not reach their cars. They had to return to their rendezvous point in taxis, some of them barefooted. (I said that is good for them. They must taste, at least once in thirty years, the inconvenience from which the masses suffer daily. They are into politics. Abi?)
If there was any breach of protocol then it should be directed against the host of the occasion – Maitama Sule – because he announced, when Atiku was about to deliver his speech, that Buhari had long ago arrived the venue and was stranded outside, unable to reach the hall. The Emir of Kano, who should know what is protocol better than Kaita, then volunteered some of his guards to usher in Buhari. I sincerely believe that neither the Danmasani nor the Emir thought that the arrival of Buhari was enough to make the gathering spontaneously go ‘wild’ the way it did.
For 30 minutes the hall was booming with applause. When finally the Vice-President got the opportunity to start his address there were jeers all over. We must recall that, with Buhari joining politics, the political atmosphere in the country, particularly in the North, has changed in the nine days before the Kano incident. The presidency had earlier told Nigerians that there is no credible challenger to Obasanjo. They are now quiet. Buhari has at least saved us from that tyranny. As we said earlier, the Vice-President condemned that decision publicly just a week before. Now, people, who are naturally given to drama and amusement, had this rare occasion: Buhari is in politics and possibly he is going to run against the wishes of Atiku and Babangida. And all the three have gathered in one hall.
The people were quick to cease the opportunity to express their support for Buhari, even if it were only to spite Atiku and Babangida. The crime of Babangida is known, combined with the fact that he is not the best friend of Buhari since 1985. The jeers of “sit down, sit down, we do not want your speech” silenced Atiku. He finally folded his paper and went back to his seat. When Babangida attempted to come forward, the crowd shouted at him with unprintable names and asked him to sit down. He complied. My personal opinion here is, well, booing could be permitted, but calling a former head of state such names is least expected from the dwellers of a city as ancient as Kano, particularly if he has not been convicted of the capital crime yet and his accusers cannot prove the offence other than the circumstantial evidence of his apparent luxury. Kano is a Shariah state and its citizens must guard against qazaf, I advise.
Well, the jeers inside gave rise to the commotion outside. We cannot tell with any degree of certainty whether the missiles were directed at Kwankwaso or at Atiku, or both. It is therefore a tall lie to link Buhari, who was then only one week old in politics, with a momentous event like this. But this is politics. People feel they are free to undermine their opponent anyhow.
Few days later, Atiku visited Adamawa where he was scheduled to attend the wedding fatihah of one of his aides in Mubi. The government learnt that the residents of the town were planning an intifadah against the Vice-President and the state governor for totally neglecting the area. (It takes three to four hours to reach Mubi from Yola, instead of one a half). Initial ‘incentives’ sent from Yola did not avert the danger. So a tight security was prepared. The father of the bride was also requested to shift the venue of the fatihah from his house to the more secured palace of the His Royal Highness, the Chief of Mubi. I reasoned with them. But the father I learnt refused, protesting that if it will not take place in his house they should give up the idea of marrying his daughter. People, for this rejection, instantly turned the father into a local celebrity, carrying him over their shoulders around the town.
These incidents were not restricted to Atiku. Joshua Dariye, the Plateau State governor, did not have it easy at Langtang last week. The Zamfara State governor was also stoned at Tsafe as he was returning form the tour of newly created local governments in the area. Obasanjo, if we remember, caught the intifadah cold after the Kano incident. He rushed his condolence visit to the victims of the plane crash in Kano because he was afraid of missiles. He came hours before schedule and did not have the patience or the courage to meet with the relatives of the victims personally.
Intifadah is fast becoming part of our political culture. It seems people are using it to express their disapproval with the status quo. They are successfully using it to cow the leadership until it finds it difficult to move around except under tight security conditions. It is a development that must be checked because it threatens peace, the very foundation of democracy. In the remaining few paragraphs, I have suggested ways by which a resolution could be achieved, not believing that it is too late.
One, the people must realize that this is a democratic era. Agreed that they have the right to express themselves, but they can only do so through legitimate means. First they can try, wherever possible, to express their opinions using the media and other peaceful means. Engaging in violence will only give the PDP government an excuse to trample on the rights as individuals during an election year. If there is a lot of violence, Obasanjo can use it as a pretext to declare a state of emergency and continue beyond 2003.
The second option will come in the next ten months or so, when they will have the opportunity to vote for fresh leaders, if they wish. The ballot box is there, waiting to contain all their anger and frustration with the present government. Let them fill it with anti-Atiku, anti-Makarfi, anti-Kwankwaso and anti-whoever votes. Let them ensure by all means that their votes are counted and reported correctly. That will be the grievous injury they can inflict on those in power today. We are not under occupation, so let us leave intifadah to the Palestinians.
On the side of government, the following suggestions and advices will definitely be useful. The degree to which governments have monopoly over government-owned media has reached painful levels for the opposition. Take the NTA news for example. Everything there is Obasanjo, and nothing for the opposition. We are tired of this monotony. The same thing with radio stations belonging to the federal and state governments. A room is required that will provide the opposition and the people the opportunity to express their opinions. It is the refusal to do so that results in intifadah.
However, the greatest antidote against violent public protest is good governance. That has been the focus of this column for the past three years. We have said it, time without number but to no avail. To ga irinta nan. Now that the missiles have started flying, perhaps, consideration will be given to our ‘noise’.
As an illustration, the government should investigate what has made Buhari popular among the masses. All the common man can remember today about Buhari was that he once saved him from the exploitation of people like Tsoho DanAmale who used to run court sessions in his house, detain people there for not paying usury on the debt he gave them and hoarded thousands of tonnes of grains when the masses could not find enough in the markets in 1983. Buhari also fought for their freedom against bad governance. That should be the goal of our leaders today. Can they revert to this ideal before 2003? It is doubtful.
I will also advise, on a serious note, that governors and the Vice-President should order for cars that are stone proof. The cars they use now are impermeable to bullets, which are sharp objects, but not to stones and shoes. Stones could sometimes be precise with catastrophic results especially when launched from the hand pad of the oppressed. Let us remember that David killed Goliath using just one stone.
Finally, if these suggestions have failed, Atiku must henceforth stop sitting in the same vehicle, sharing the same space and time with any of his hosts. He should know that more often than not a stone does not have the precision of laser-guided missiles or precision bombs. So once the Vice-President falls within its margin of error, he becomes vulnerable, though the target might be Makarfi, Kwankwaso or Boni Haruna. The target was actually these governors, not our beloved Vice-President who bothers himself very much with the sad state of education and industry in the North. He has twice presided over educational summits attended by northern governors who equally care about education to the extent of paying our brothers and children N3,000.00 as scholarship per annum, and at a time when Kano would remain for weeks without electricity and as a result over 80% of its industries have been relocated to Ogun State.
So thank you Atiku. You are the best Vice-President we ever had, and Obasanjo is the best thing that ever happened to the country. Take care when next time you visit Kano. We have no intention of converting Sani Abacha hall into another jamra, or the villages of Mo’tafikat

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