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Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Interview (2): Gwamma Malama - A True Love Story in Hausaland

Interview (2)
By Dr. Aliyu U. Tilde

Gwamma Malama, A True Love Story in Hausaland

Gwamma Malama is one of the most famous women in Hausaland. She was not famous by her profession but by the heart she shared with the most renowned singer yet in Hausaland – Alhaji Mamman Shata. That was over 50 years ago. But she is still kicking. He in turn composed for her a love song unrivalled by any – in my opinion – among the dozens he made for various women he came across in his life.

At the age of 86, I met Gwamma still strong yesterday in her native town, Kankia, Katsina State, on my return journey from Maradi. She is a jovial lady who must have captivated many during her youth, as Shata acknowledged in his song.

She was picked as a young girl by Native Authority officials and taught specifically how to administer injections to patients and during vaccinations exercises. Recruited in Kankia, she was transferred to Katsina, Kaduna, Malumfashi, and many other places. It was while she was in Malumfashi that she first caught the attention of Shata, then also a slim, handsome boy with long “Afro” hair, marauding from one playing ground to another across Hausaland, but particularly in the old Katsina Province (now Katsina State).

When I mentioned her love affair with Shata, she felt shy, covered her face and laughed until her forehead almost touched the ground. She pleaded, saying, “Please leave that matter, for among us are my children.” But when after she normalized her position, I told her that Shata did love her, she readily replied, smiling: “And I loved him too.” Then came another prolonged laughter before I said, “That made the two of you Romeo and Juliet!”

I think Shata was captivated not by her beauty alone. Gwamma said she used to wear the most expensive dress and bracelet of her time. Combine this with her status as a female health worker – when you hardly meet female public officials in Northern Nigeria - you have a girl that everyone would love, particularly the artist. So if her dress had brought her out among other girls - and you know she had the money to outwit them, being a health worker – her status must have played a subtle role in pulling Shata towards her. When it comes to association with women, man differs from other animals, said Charles Darwin: He often goes for status, not simply biological features.

The affinity between Shata and Gwamma was instantaneous. He must have noticed her during her posting in Malumfashi such that immediately she appeared at the playing ground for the first time they were to meet, the Gwamma pulled his heart like how a magnate would pull iron filings. Shata instantly improvised one of his most memorable songs – Gwamma Malama. When I asked her where she met Shata and how their legendary love started, she answered, saying, “It was right there and then.”

Shata would continue to sing his Gwamma song wherever he went. I watched him repeating it on TV in far away Sokoto in the early 1980s, over thirty years after he invented it. The most comprehensive version of the song was recorded by EMI in Lagos, obviously after Gwamma was transferred to her hometown, Kankia. That transfer pained him, but he assured Gwamma, in a metaphor, that it is the nature of public service – difficult but sweet:

The rodent of the anthill is difficult to dig (and catch)…
But its meat is sweet.
The rodent of the waste heap is easy to dig
Throw it away; its meat is bitter(in taste).
Likewise, public service is sweet but difficult:
Gwamma! I was told that you have been transferred to Kankia.

Yet, distance did not extinguish the fire of their love. Shata continued to visit her in Kankia and later Katsina. She recalled that when he later sustained a fracture, he was treated by one Danazumi there in Kankia. I can easily imagine Gwamma cooking for him throughout those sorrowful days. Her Shata was sick!

Two stanzas that make the song a bit wild to the pious ear except if it listens to them from the perspective of a literati as it does to those of Imru’ul Qais, Abu Nuwwas or Qais Majnun – was where Shata invented a wound and pleaded with his Gwamma to violate her professional ethics and treat him. Listen to him, luring her to his nest:

I have sustained a wound on my body
Come and examine it for me
Oh Gwamma! Come and examine it for me, in camera.
Then give me an injection of aphrodisiac

The relevance of such old songs is how they graphically portray the social condition of Hausaland before leisure was completely divorced from our lives. To me they do not only teach and entertain; they are historical records too.

Having seen Gwamma “live” in Kankia, I asked Sada, my guide, to escort me quickly to a shop. We returned with a small gift, which I presented her with at the end of the brief interview. My remarks then:

“Hajiya Gwamma! Here are two wrappers: This is in recognition of the service you rendered to our people in those days when there were so many diseases but few health workers around. This other one is given in memory of your Shata, who stuck your name on our lips, painted your portrait as a beautiful and expensive girl in our memory, and made you a Mecca for us his fans and students of Hausa literature alike. And this N2,000.00 is for tailoring. Thank you so much.”

She accepted the little gift with all pleasure.

The Interview

Me: We are here today in the company of a famous woman in Northern Nigeria. She is among the health workers during the First Republic and with whom Shata acquainted the acquainted the world for over 50 years now. Her name is Hajiya Gwamma Malama. We will discuss briefly with her. Hajiya! You are welcome.

Gwamma: You are welcome too.

Me: I will ask you some few questions without wasting much of your time. First of all, were you a health worker?

Gwamma: Definitely.

Me: How did it start?

Gwamma: When I was employed, I was asked what work I would like to do. I replied, “Whatever you my employers wish.” They then said, “Okay. Can you administer injections?” I replied, “No one is born skilled. If I will be trained, I can do it.”

Me: Where were you first posted to?

Gwamma: Here, Kankia.

Me: Then to where?

Gwamma: Katsina, then Kaduna…I know everywhere in Kaduna (laughter).

Me: Good. In your work, did you serve under Europeans?

Gwamma: Yes. We worked with Sister… … …

Me: No. No. You don’t have to remember their names. That was up to the First Republic. Right?

Gwamma: Yes.

Me: And you continued beyond the coup and the civil war…

Gwamma: Yes… even after the civil war.

Me: So you used to administer injections in hospitals and during vaccination exercises, when there were many diseases like meningitis, small pox, wounds, etc.?

Gwamma: Yes. Both…

Me: Let me tell you. We were your patients then… (laughter). If I were to show you my legs, you would count over seven large wounds of all kinds… (laughter) but due to your effort all such diseases are now absent…

Gwamma: Yes. They are absent.

Me: May God reward you abundantly. Does the government pay you any pension?

Gwamma: Yes. I receive pension.

Me: How much?

Gwamma: It is not much, just N6,000.00, monthly.

Me. That is good. I will now ask you about something. You are not famous because of your public service. (Gwamma started laughing) You are famous because of the song that Mamman Shata did for you. What was actually your relationship with Shata, if I may ask?

Gwamma: Laughter….Laughter… (After a while she spoke, but still laughing). My children are around. Please don’t ask about that here. (I visited her with some two elderly looking people, Sada and Musa, who are in their 60s, perhaps, and two of my sons - Omar and Omer - were managing the cameras).

Me: But he really loved you…

Gwamma: And I loved him too… (Laughter)

Me: That made you Romeo and Juliet… (Laughter).

Gwamma: (Again she became consumed by laughter)

Me: At what time of your life did he compose the song for you?

Gwamma: I was fairly grown up then.

Me: So did you just hear the song first on radio or…

Gwamma: No. Everything started at the theatre, there and then.

Me: In Malumfashi...

Gwamma: Yes. In Malumfashi. Later, he used to visit me here (in Kankia), then in Katsina…

Me: Now that so many years have passed because as you told me some moments ago you are 86…

Gwamma: Yes, I am 86.

Me: What would you tell the younger generations?

Gwamma: You see I sometimes say there was no war like Hitler’s. Even those of Saddam Huseyn or Ojukwu were not as bad. You know the final moment of Hitler is unknown. Did he commit suicide? No one knows. His body is not found to date.

Me: Finally, what would you like to tell your numerous fans that listen to your song and would love to meet you, one to one?

Gwamma: (laughter). Then, we used to adorn ourselves with cinkuna (?). Do you know them? (laughter)

Me: No. I don’t.

Gwamma: We used to wear them from neck to knee. They are like the gold jewellery of today. If a young man would meet his friend who did not go to the market that day, he would ask the friend: “Did you go to market today?” The friend would say, “No.” Then he will say, “I did. Gwamma was terrific.” (laughter and clapping)

Me: So you were really into fashion then? Wao! You were spending your salary on dresses? That must have endeared you to Shata. You must have stood out amongst your peers so much so that once Shata saw you from afar, he had to enquire about you. (laughter)

Gwamma: Actually, when he sustained a fracture, he was treated here at Danazumi’s house.

Me: Oh sorry! Finally, what advice would you give to younger generations?

Gwamma: Well, they should try to tread the world cautiously, with the fear of God in their mind. For us, our time has passed; only repentance is left. It is now theirs.

Me: Oh. Oh. Thank you. Thank you. Viewers, this is the end of our chat with Gwamma Malama. As you can see she is still strong. She can get up quickly and walk about without any difficulty. Thank you.

Gwamma: Thank you.

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Interview (1): An Evening with Balarabe Musa

Interview (1)
By Dr. Aliyu U. Tilde

An Evening with Balarabe Musa

In his interview with Aliyu U. Tilde of the Premium Times, on 13 April 2012, the first executive Governor of defunct Kaduna State and the Chairman of Conference of Nigerian Political Parties, Alhaji Abdulkadir Balarabe Musa, bared his mind on a number of issues in contemporary Nigerian politics. Sitting in residence in Kaduna, Musa spoke on his participation in NEPU and PRP, taxation, corruption by the children of emancipated masses, his call for a revolution, his support for Obasanjo, his differences with late Malam Aminu Kano and Abubakar Rimi, his involvement in G34 movement, North-south pilitics, etc. In this marathon interview, Balarabe Musa was hot. He indicted a number of personalities. He rated Obasanjo an idiot, Rimi good only for "make-up" (kwalliya), Ekwueme very weak, Falae lacking in principle, President Yaradua a tragedy, the Kaduna Mafia as “are greedy, selfish, reckless but very intelligent", and present stock of northern leaders as "mere commodities". After some discussion regarding governance during the colonial era and the First Republic, we went ahead to discuss the politics of emancipation.

QUESTION: What do you think was the reason behind your performance as PRP governors?

With all modesty, I will say that we PRP governors distinguished ourselves due to the training we received from our party. But there would always be good and bad people. And as I speak to you in 2012, if checks are made, it will not be impossible to find in this dispensation governors that have distinguished themselves like the PRP governors.

QUESTION: Coming to the contribution of NEPU and PRP. Malam Aminu Kano and the likes of Saadu Zungur brought up people like you. You were lucky to have the opportunity to implement what you learnt from them as governors. But there is presently the fear that the children of Talakawas (masses) who were emancipated have betrayed that struggle. After they have attained political leadership, there is nothing to show more than corruption and and outright theftof public funds. Here, are you of the opinion that the cause of your struggle is betrayed by the children of the very masses you emancipated?

There are two things here. Today, the system of governance has been bastardized. The practice today has become so bad that it is almost impossible for anyone to live within his means. If you take the ordinary worker for example, you will see that he can hardly live on his salary.
Two, NEPU and PRP only tried to cultivate public awareness. Moreover, they administered only two out of nineteen states then. Therefore, their effort was just a start, not enough to totally emancipate the masses to the extent that they would avoid these bad habits. What NEPU and PRP did was to emancipate the mases from traditional rulers and colonialists. But it has not emancipated them from western educated elite who inherited the two. Those involved in corruption admittedly now are educated children of the masses. Unless total emancipation of the masses is attained, this trend will continue.

QUESTION: Do you then see any possibility for that total emancipation in the future, given the fact that despite your saintly character, people, including some governors who were former PRP members, preferrd to join the PDP in preference to your party have, the PRP?

As I told you, the present political system and leadership that it portends are based on selfishness. But there will be a change someday, though it may not come in a way people would like.

QUESTION: Through elections?

Those on power would not allow it so. Even if a good person wins the election, he will not be allowed to attain power. Examples here are Abiola and Buhari. As Professor Nwosu recently said, Abiola did win the June 12 elections. Buhari also won presidential elections since 2003 and 2007. There was no election in 2011.

QUESTION: Now, in what way do you anticipate the coming change then?

There must be a struggle like the Arab Spring or a more thorough one like the Bolshevik and Maoist revolutions. Those in power have amassed so much wealth and they have corrupt record. So they will not allow any better person to defeat them. In addition, the opposition parties that have seats at states and local governments are not better than the PDP, unlike during the Second Republic when governors of GNPP and PRP showed some level of transparency. The situation now is so bad that nothing can check them. The only way is through a revolution.
QUESTION: Now let us return to the Second Republic. Recently, there was a debate on one of the internet groups regarding your abolishment of poll and cattle taxes as PRP governors during the Second Republic. As undergraduates, I remember we were very happy with the measure. However, a revision of our contemporary history has shown that the measure has has some negative effects on the economy of the country, especially in the North. It created unemployment, weakened the authority of government and encouraged apathy. Even one of your diehard supporters during the debate categorically supported the reintroduction of these taxes. Sir, have you developed a second thought about the abolishing of those taxes that you made?

There are three things here. We abolished those taxes because of they were a burden and a source of oppression not only on the masses but also on the agents of the NA system – mainly the district and ward heads. These agents were annually tasked with collecting specific amount of taxes regardless of whether the amounts are reasonable or not, or whether their wards could afford them or not. Some of them had to resort to oppressive measures in order to meet the demand. It was a burden which many of them were glad to see it done away with.

Two, tax has to be commensurate with the income of people. If a person cannot afford to feed himself, how do you tax him? Under the former system, you are taxed because your name is on record, regardless of whether you are living or not, whether you can afford it or not. This is unjust.

Three, the essence of taxation is to contribute your quota to development. Now what is the essence of taxation if what you pay is stolen or misappropriated?

Yet, even during our time there are categories of people, like workers in the public and private sector, that continued to pay tax according to their abilities.

In short, three things are associated with taxation. One, it must not be oppression or a means of oppressing the masses. Two, it must be done commensurate with the income of the citizen. Three, it will be used for development and not misappropriated.

QUESTION: What then would be your advice regarding taxation today that will encapsulate the three points you just enumerated, given your training as an accountant?

Right now, there is no need for any advice because nobody will use it.

QUESTION: You mean the governors will not take it?

How would they take it? These are people who are not even afraid of God. People today are no longer afraid of God, unlike before when a mere saying of Allah ya isa was enough to instigate remorse in them. This time is only for struggle and revolution. But that revolution must be based on fear of God and faith in Him, in which case the struggle would even be a regarded as a Jihad.

QUESTION: Okay sir. At the end of the interview, I would like to raise two issues. It is normal even in scholarship for people to differ from their mentors. We have seen that between Malik and Shafi’I; between Afghani and Abduh; and even between Aqqad and Sayid Qutb. Now, you and late Abubakar Rimi, after the 1979 elections were won and you came to power, PRP became embroiled in bitter conflict to the extent that you were expelled from the party. I remember at that time, you pitched camp with the 'progrssive' southern parties like the UPN, NPP and even with clandestine politicians like Shehu Yar’adua as you recently revealed. What lessons would younger generations learn from that conflict?

It is good that you mentioned how such conflict were found in Muslim history. That was the type of conflict that happened between us and Malam Aminu Kano. But here there is a difference between me and Rimi. I have been a NEPU member since my days as a clerk during the colonial era. Rimi was only a member of PRP.

Actually, we rebelled against Malam. What happened was that the issue started from Kano. Kano was different from Kaduna because unlike the latter, the former comprised of masses, traditional rulers, western educated elite and ulama. When the issue of gubernatorial candidate came up during the second republic, nobody among the elite came forward except Salihi Ilyasu, who then was a civil servant in Lagos and who some powerful civil servants managed to get him disqualified. PRP had to look for someone else. That was how Abubakar Rimi was picked. So there is a difference between us.

Now after the election was won, conflict started in Kano, though the majority of the house of assembly members in Kano was from PRP, unlike my case in Kaduna where I had a majority NPN assembly. Late Salihi Ilyasu became the chairman of the party in Kano. He prepared a list of commissioners and took it to Malam Aminu for approval. Lawal Dambazau, on the other hand, alerted Rimi on the development and advised him to make his own list. Malam would approve it, he anticipated, forgetting that he has endorsed the other one. Malam endorsed it and it was subsequently approved by the House.

Back in 1974, we realized that Malam had a health problem that renders him almost unaware of happenings around him whenever it struck. It was this illness that some evil people around him exploited, making him approve things which under normal circumstances he would reject. It was under such circumstance that our expulsion from the party was obtained.
A reconciliation committee was formed under Umaru Chief. Rimi and I agreed to be taking directives from the party only when it came from Malam directly. As governors we were bound by the constitution of the country with which that of the party may be in conflict. We trusted that Malam, given his experience, would know how to reconcile the two. An agreement was reached and a date was fixed for its submission publicly before Malam. But just before that could happen, those people got Malam to change his mind. From then things went bad.
We in Kaduna supported Rimi because if he were overcome, we would become an easy prey to those people. We also hoped that our action would make Malam contemplate his action and investigate those matters accordingly.

The party eventually became divided into ‘yan santsi and ‘yan ta’bo factions. We the governors met in 1980 in Lagos and appointed Malam’s deputy to become the head of our faction.
Effort was made to reconcile the two. the party formed a committee under Chukwumereji. He spoke to Malam, Rimi, myself, legislators, etc. It will be good to see the contents of the report.

Later when Malam realized how those people were making him to take decisions detrimental to the interest and unity of the party, he started some measures for reconciliation. This caused me to return from London where I was living after my impeachment. It was planned that a big gathering would be held at Malam’s house, including journalists. It was while we were waiting at Wada Abubakar's house for the gathering to hold at 10am that we received the information that Malam has relapsed into his sickness. The gathering could not hold and Malam eventually died.

After his death, we reasoned that since Malam did not live to realize his dream of uniting the party, the best honour we can give him is to ensure that we carry the effort to fruition. The party became united. Hasan Yusuf of Damaturu became the party chairman, Michael Imodu continued as the deputy, And I became the vice president. Rimi decamped to NPP. That is how we continued with PRP until today.

QUESTION: This leads us to the last question. Prior to this time, politics in Nigeria was regionally based. Though there was Plateau state that was in NPP already, Rimi’s decamping to NPP was the first time the Hausa-Fulani would pitch camp with a party from the south in a subordinate position. Before that Saadu Zungur had joined the NCNC but later, as he showed in his poem Arewa Jamhuriyya ko Mulukiya, he showed that a durable political intercourse between North and south was difficult due to difference in tradition. Since Rimi and other 'progressives' started to intercourse with the South since 1983 elections, the practice has continued through the Babangida and finally culminated in the formation of the PDP. Rimi in fact has revealed that PDP was named so in his house. Most of those who partnered with him since 1983 were brought in to form it. Now, after over a decade of its formation, happenings within the PDP have once again proved Saadu Zungur right. Obasanjo was elected as a unity candidate who the North believed could trust. But immediately he took over, things turned different. When northerners started to condemn him, I remember you were among those who argued that people should give him some time. However, after the 2003 elections, you too became critical of him and indeed became the Chairman of the opposition Conference of Nigerian Political Parties.

Here, some people believe that that was Zungur’s prophecy come true after 50 years of composing that poem. I do not know if this sequence of history – from 1983 to date – that I tried to thread across is correct or there is a correction to make about it. Also, given how Nigerian politics has become so much ethnically based once again and the preponderant feeling of betrayal in the North, do you think here will come a time when the two sides would cohabit once again under another umbrella like it happened in the PDP? I said this because many elections have taken place but the south has always identified with their own. It has shown that it is ready to elect a southerner no matter his defects even in preference to a better northern candidate. What will you say on these issues?

You have said many things. I would like you to bring back the last aspect of your question later. But I will try to correct some notions that I know are not correct.

The first political party in Nigeria was NCNC led by its first leader, Herbert Macualay. After his death which followed a campaign visit to Kano, Zik became the national chairman of the party. Saadu Zungur was since the beginning a member of NCNC, which was a national, not sectional party. He was its secretary. So Zungur could not have made a mistake because NCNC was the only party in the country then. It was later that NEPU was formed in 1950, then NPC and Action Group in 1951. NEPU was formed as a result of the problem found in NCNC.

As a result of the formation of NEPU, the colonialists formed NPC and Action Group. Most of the persecution of NEPU happened because the colonialists were afraid of the reincarnation of reformist Mahdi (of Sudan) in the North and its communist ideology as reflected in the Sawaba Declaration.

You mentioned that Rimi has claimed that PDP was conceived in his house. I am not sure if this is true but it could be possible. The history of PDP preceded its name. The Kaduna Mafia started to oppose Abacha and formed the G16. They invited me to a meeting at Adamu Ciroma's house. There I told them this: "The problem you enumerated were nationwide in nature. We are tired of people using the North to exploit us. Two, you have been with Abacha until recently. Are you forming this group now because Abacha has expelled you from his government? But agreed that these problems are on ground. So if you want us to join the group, it must be national, not restricted to the North."

That is how G34 was formed. We used to meet at Jerry Gana’s house in Abuja. Rimi did not know about this because he was then in prison. All the political gatekeepers of the country used to attend the meeting.

After a while we learnt that when Abacha became jittery, he met with Adamu Ciroma behind our back. We challenged the leadership of the group under Ekwueme for meeting with Abacha without our approval. We told them that the military is now afraid of us. If you isolate yourselves, they will overpower you. Later, they started taking steps for transforming the G34 into a political party. We objected and said, "G34 is now popular. Why would not you leave the group to remain as an umbrella "with the purpose of serving to discipline political parties such that they can be credible enough to restrain the military." And if the military would take over power, we as a group should reject them. Three, any party that wins credible elections, though the group will continue as an opposition umbrella, it should allow the party to work for the people.

The most shocking thing was that in spite of the political record of Rimi and that these things happened while he was in prison, just few days after he was released, when I went to attend the meeting of the group at Jerry Gana’s house, I was told that it will now hold at Rimi’s house. I was shocked. Rimi is dead. May God have mercy on him. For me, “I did not regard Rimi as disciplined enough” to handle this task and I did not see any logical reason why we would leave Jerry Gana’s house – someone “who was more tolerable than Rimi at least at intellectual level. Shi ken nan, things relocated to Rimi’s house. Then “I suspected something.” And you will be surprised at the people who used to go to Rimi’s house. They included Ojukwu, Bola Ige and even Adamu Ciroma who had the least respect for Rimi. “So I was frightened” that there was something sinister. I refused to go to the meeting that day. That was the last time I had anything to do with G34, which eventually became PDP. So it is possible that after this occurrence, the name PDP was given to the party in his house.

QUESTION: So the idea of the group remaining a vanguard that would check the excesses of political parties was abandoned… now it is a fully blown political party.

Yes. Exactly, we wanted it to be like the current CNPP. Unfortunately, the CNPP has become worthless. We only maintain the name in order not to give PDP the impression that they have been left alone to do as they like.

QUESTION: And about your relationship with Obasanjo..

Okay. PDP was formed and all political gatekeepers in the country joined it. We in the PRP did not have a register. Our philosophy in PRP is that whether we are registered or not, we will continue to exist as a movement for political mobilization. So we could not contest in 1999. But before then, an army officer – a General in fact – came here and met me. He discussed with me which candidate would the North support to ensure the unity of the country. Would it be Falae, Ekwueme, Rimi, Obasanjo or who? The army officer came soliciting our support for Obasanjo.

I told him that Obasanjo has a number of problems. But after a several visits and prolonged analysis, we agreed that Obasanjo “constituted the least risk". In fact, my analysis was public: As for Rimi, if I could remember I said some things about him which people did not like. I said, Rimi is only good for make-up (kwalliya), he cannot be “considered for anything serious". Ekwueme is so weak that he was of no use to Shagari in spite of the problem that Shagari had. Again, he was our chairman of G34 but he allowed this mistake to be made. And I mentioned that we put forward Ekwueme as a leader on a number of things but we ended up with failure, right from the time we were at Kiri-kiri prison during the Buhari era where we lived like brothers. There too he demonstrated extreme weakness. Falae, on his part, was the author of SAP. And if you read his writings, you will understand that he does not have principles. His only credentials are that he was associated with Awo’s struggle due to his marital relationship with Ajasin. Beyond that Falae was empty. I said under the circumstance, Obasanjo is the least risk we can take, despite the fact that any candidate in Nigeria is a risk. Later I was to use the same logic to support Buhari, given that he is not a thief and he has courage.

So I actively campaigned for Obasanjo. My analysis was once published by the PDP in eleven newspapers. But even during the campaign, I refused to associate with Obasanjo because he was distributing money through that general that was visiting me. Even after Obasanjo won neatly, I refused to see him, in spite of the pressure from that general.

After Obasanjo spent one year in office, I analysed his performance and concluded that he will end up in tragedy. A foreign newspaper published it. So Obasanjo was advised to arrest me but some people objectedto that. Instead, he was advised to invite me based on our commitment in the PRP to the principle of assisting any party which we helped to come to power. So he invited me through the same general. I told the general that I have done my best to assist him but we will not participate in his government because he has betrayed the people. Two, I am not a contractor so I will not go and be waiting for days before i could see Obasanjo. There, the general guaranteed that I should go and see Obasanjo and tell him my mind. I agreed out of respect for the general.

I went and saw Obasanjo within 15 minutes with the general. Where I understood Obasanjo is an idiot or he was being used was that immediately after the three of us sat down and exchanged pleasantries, Obasanjo asked me, “What do you want?” I told him, “As the President who is shouldering this enormous responsibility, you should not asked me what I personally want as the first question. You should ask me my feelings about your style of governance, given that I supported your election. Even if I should have something to ask, this concern should be the primary one. But since you are about to see the American secretary of state now, I will return to my people to discuss how we can assist your government to correct some things. When we are done, we will submit a written memo to you.”

That is how we came up with a twenty-one page memo. Dr. Bala (Usman) was with us. I gave it to the same general. Obasanjo acknowledged its receipt and commented on the points we raised in the memo. I remember that the first thing we warned him against was privatization. It was wrong, ethically or politically. Two, marginalization. No body expects margninalization under him, much less to allege it. It is a shame, particularly his comment that he was favouring the Yoruba because he was consoling them. We said he had no reason for doing that. We showed him the state of corruption and how things are worsening, etc.

After his comments, the general – who used to see three of us in the North at least once every fortnight – returned. I told him, “Look. Now that we have done the first thing, I can tell Obasanjo what I want.” (Then, I needed to only pick my phone and say I would like to see Obasanjo and his secretary would immediately arrange for it.) So I met Obasanjo and told him that now that we have done the first thing, I would like to tell you what I want. What I want is a register for PRP. He said, “Ahh. I am not a dictator.” I told him that it was he who registered APGA which had less spread than PRP. "Our party had also better spread than AD which was restricted to the southwest. And I can remember in 1979, it was you who registered PRP on merit. PRP is now stronger because subsequently we do win local government elections. Lastly, in your government there are enemies of the PRP, particularly members of the Kaduna Mafia, like Adamu Ciroma, who will do all they can to fight us. So since we have supported you, strengthen us in such a way that we can defend ourselves.” He said, “Ah yes. Bla bla. I know PRP's demands are modest and not difficult to meet.” But nothing happened. Instead, it was deliberately organized to ensure that PRP has not won election anywhere simply because the Kaduna Mafia – who “are greedy, selfish, reckless but very intelligent…

QUESTION: Sir, who are the Kaduna Mafia? We have heard a lot about them since we were small. From what you said now, it is obvious that Adamu Ciroma was among them.

Let me tell you. Kaduna Mafia is a collection of groups of civil servants and intellectuals of Ahmadu Bello University and institutions connected with ABU like Vom, New Nigerian, NNDC, etc. The death of Sardauna created a vacuum in Northern Nigeria. It is they who tried to fill it. They first emerged immediately after the coup while I was in study in England. As a critic in NEPU we were watching political development particularly in the North where powersas stronger. We noticed that they have formed a group under Mamman Daura. They had a magazine through which we used to follow their development. They were expanding their sphere of influence to the extent that at a time, no northerner can hold an executive position without a note from one of them. As I said, their leader was Mamman Daura; others included Adamu Ciroma, Umaru Dikko, Ango Abudullahi who was serving as their boy; Ibrahim Tahir was like their intellectual leader given his sound western education and the adavantage he had of Islamic education, Sola Saraki, and so on. It was an informal group that could be identified only by those who knew them. So we used to call them Kaduan Mafia (laughter), a name that was publicised by a Tiv journalist called Jibo or so who had problem with the group.

Anyway, in the end, it was clear “that we could not continue supporting Obasanjo without undermining our camp.” So we started attacking him publicly.

Question: Okay. About the last aspect which you asked me to delay until you have made these clarifications. Now it is clear that there is a problem with politics in Northern Nigeria. We seem to be at the crossroads. The constitution requires a candidate to get at least 25% of the votes cast lest about twenty-four states of the federation. From our recent experience, even if the North presents a very credible candidate, the south has shown that it will not vote for him. Buhari is an example. During the last election, he did not meet that requirement in any state in the south. How would this situation lead us to the unity of Nigeria and the possibility that the two sides would reconcile and live under one political umbrella in future?

I will answer your question in brief. The North that you talk about is no longer like the one we knew before during the colonial era and the First Republic. Now, the leadership of the North is worthless. Before, during that era, even if you do not subscribe to a northern leader, you will agree with that he commands dignity. It could be called false dignity of the imperialist or feudalist, but it is dignity all the same. He would not dance naked as the southerner would do. But today that dignity is not there. Leaders of the North are worthless. “They are just a commodity.” The corruption of the southern leadership derived from that of the North. Let me give you an example.

South south once teamed up with the North to keep Nigeria one. It supported the North in every election. But northern leaders gave themselves in in such a way that Sardauna and Tafawa Balewa would not do. Then for whatever reason, Jonathan became the vice-president under Yar’adua. Umaru Yaradua was himself a tragedy which the North allowed to become the president, though that is a different issue altogether. For no fault of Jonathan, a situation arose where he should be the acting president. But the leaders of the North objected "due to their limited calculations", though the constitution has indicated that Yaradua should appoint him acting president. If it were the former northern leaders like Sardauna, "they would have seen it as a matter of honour". Though there is a risk, they would say, it is better to take the risk than to betray (our partners). In the end, Jonathan even became the president.

Two, look at the ongoing corruption. If the northerners had been upright, would they have allowed what is going on today? If it were not for Shagari, this country would not have been in the unfortunate situation it is today. In 1979, the south initiated zoning. Members of their ruling class made the following calculation: With the discovery of oil, this country will become very wealthy. It should return to civilian rule. And the only guarantee against the return of the military is to elect a northern president especially from the Hausa-Fulani stock because he has a massive support in the North. Northerners would mobilize more than southerners to uproot the military. What remained was who would be the candidate.

At that time, the southern leaders objected to the candidature of Sola Saraki, Adamu Ciroma, Danmasanin Kano, etc. They said these are our intellectual equals. So they preferred someone from the emirate system. That is how Shagari was brought in. This was the Shagari who once said he did not see himself becoming anything better than the local government chairman.

(Unfortunately, the battery of the camera ran down as he was making this last point.)

Aliyu U. Tilde
26 May 2012

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Discourse 344. Buhari vs. PDP: The Dog and the Baboon Parable

Discourse 344
By Dr. Aliyu U. Tilde

Buhari vs. PDP: The Dog and Baboon 2015 Parable

A fight between the dog and the baboon must be one of those very rare encounters in the Animal Kingdom. Animals fight over territory, food, mates, and in defence of their lives, or of the young. It is very hard to foresee the two animals fighting over any of the above because on most of items, the paths of the two animals hardly cross.

In Africa and particularly in Hausaland where this near impossible idea was contrived as a proverb, such a fight can only happen under the influence of man when in hunting he sets the dog to catch the baboon or its baby. In that case, that fight would surely be one to witness.

The dog uses its power of speed and strong canine teeth, the baboon his powerful shoulders, limbs, claws, hands, and under extreme conditions, his teeth. And this condition is extreme – a fight for his life or that of his baby. So we better assume that the baboon will deploy his entire arsenal.

The camera of kare jini biri jini Hausa proverb often pictures a very fierce and inconclusive fight between two contenders. We can picture the dog first barking incessantly, with its jaws wide open hoping to scare the baboon into submission. The well-built baboon, on the other hand, is not a coward. He would not jump up the trees to escape the attacking dog; he would not fly. He turns wild too, flexing his muscles, beating his wide chest and destroying the surrounding shrubs to intimidate the dog. He jumps at a branch, breaks it and hurls it at the dog, but the carnivore remains recalcitrantunder the command of his master, barking, barking … and now ready to charge.

And the fight ensues and continues for several minutes and, perhaps, hours…

As the proverb depicts, the fierce fight ends inconclusively with both parties sustaining deeps cuts and innumerable browses. Each contender was lucky to survive it and returns to its shelter licking its wounds. The dog gives up hunting for that day, returns home and is granted a sick leave by its master. The baboon keeps his life and his baby and remains in his territory or migrates to a safer one. The only conclusion reached was that the dog learned to avoid the baboon henceforth, while the baboon learned to include the dog among its dangerous enemies in the Kingdom.

In the above, I have tried to capture the proper context and scenario of the proverb. It simply connotes a situation where the fight for something is fierce, where you give your challenger a good run for his money, but where despite the ferocity of the contest, its outcome was not conclusive. In short, when you tell your contender that za a yi kare jini biri jinni, it simply means the battle will be fierce. In the case of Buhari, he was promising his supporters from Niger State that 2015 elections will be fierce; or put in another way, the PDP wIll not have it easy. Simple.

How this simple statement translated into a political missile that says Buhari is promising a bloodbath come 2015 remains one of those sad stories in our practice of journalism.

Let us have a re-read of the mistranslation:

"If what happened in 2011 (alleged rigging) should again happen in 2015, by the grace of God, the dog and the baboon would all be soaked in blood.”

Does this reflect the proper context and meaning of the Hausa proverb kare jini biri jinni that we explained above? No. That is because, among other things, if by the time both the dog and the baboon are soaked in blood, both would have been dead, a picture which the proverb never envisaged. It would have been better for the reporter to say, “Come 2015, I promise you, the fight will be fierce.”

Here, I must say that the words of Buhari were misinterpreted, perhaps deliberately, to entertain the Nigerian public with a sensational story that will keep the presently near-static mill of public opinion running once more, or to invent a weapon to knock him down again in the ring of 2015 presidential contest.

But, to be fair to the reporter also, it was a mistranslation that I think was informed by the history of the General’s consistent call for mass action since 2003, of CPC’s unguarded campaign utterances in 2011 and how they were widely believed to have inspired the post election violence that year, and of the strategy of the General’s supporters of the ANPP especially in Bauchi state in 2007, a la his doctrine of protect your votes, a kasa, a tsare, a raka.

These were the elements in the background that also informed the supporting and opposing comments which trailed the publication of that mistranslated proverb. Nigerians became divided overnight into three camps.

The first group – Buhari’s opponents – jumped at it saying, “Aha. There we go again. This notorious and bloodthirsty coup plotter is still dreaming of a bloodbath.” If Buhari, by his statement, was serving such opponents with a notice of an impending doom, they did not heed to it. They did not show any sign of repentance from the sin he is accusing them of. Instead, they continue to direct their accusing fingers at him.

On the other hand, his supporters, the second group, to me, showed the most disheartening response. They did not take the pain to verify and analyse his statement. Not a single one of them came over to say that he was misrepresented. Have they done so, it would have cooled the atmosphere and reassured us. They adopted the mistranslation, in situ, as if it were right, and presented an alibi, saying, “Only election riggers are be afraid of Buhari’s statement. Would there be a bloodbath in 2015 as a result of rigging, it is the PDP that should be held responsible.”

The third group, we the onlookers, are terrified that we will be disastrously caught in the crossfire, once more, as it happened to hundreds of Nigerians during the 2011 elections, when, especially in Southern Kaduna and Bauchi state, the lives of the innocent were lost and thousands of people displaced to date across Northern Nigeria.

Here was a corper medic, for example, riding an ambulance in Toro, stopped and hacked to death by the very people he came all the way from the East to serve after his long and tedious training as a doctor, at a place where he had nobody to protect him except the mores of civilization. His sin was simply that he did not belong to the ethnic group or religion of Buhari, the opposition presidential candidate. The mob on that fateful day was found wanting in those mores, defective in conscience. That is how many like him paid the ultimate price across the state.

And there was a primary school girl in southern Kaduna, witnessing her primary school teacher hacking her father to death in Zonkwa, Southern Kaduna, for no crime but that the father belonged to the religion other than that of the incumbent President, Goodluck Jonathan. She never thought that the savage gene of the teacher would overcome the etiquette of civility that her familiarity with him would engender. On that fateful day, humanity was lost, the feeling of civilization was gone, and no guarantees were kept. Months after that massacre, the girl would tell her story to the ears of a deaf and dumb nation that allows the assassin teacher to walk the streets freely, earning his salary. That is how hundreds of the like of her father died and thousands of her type continue to suffer as the politicians behind the crimes remain unscathed.

To date, nobody is man enough to directly or remotely claim even a vicarious responsibility for those atrocities. The PDP that is accused of rigging the election refused to admit that it rigged it in the first place. Instead, it shifted the blame to Buhari, citing what it called his “inciting statements” at his campaign rallies. Buhari and his supporters, on the other hand, returned the blame to PDP, with three reasons: he was a victim not a partaker in the violence; the dastardly acts were carried out not by his supporters but by hoodlums who did not spare him either; and that it was in fact the ruling party that instigated the violence in the first place by rigging the elections. So did the trading in blame continued until our father, Justice Ahmed Lemu, inconclusively closed the chapter.

His panel came up with an ingeniously ambivalent verdict, saying both Buhari and the PDP are right. It said it is true that Buhari inspired the violence but it is also true that PDP's rigging machine provoked it. In effect, the report claimed, there is an egalitarian share of the blame. Case closed. Court!!!

With that we return to our churches and mosques to pray that may God have mercy on those departed souls! And may he protect us, the living, the onlookers, the ordinary citizens, from the evils of power – of its keepers and seekers alike.

I was caught by the same fever when I read the mistranslation in English. I wondered how Buhari could make such a statement after his widely condemned “lynch them” directive of 2011. But when I heard his actual words in Hausa two days ago, I quickly understood that he said nothing unusual, for it is proper for politicians to inject hope in their supporters. Telling a delegation of such supporters that his party will put up a fierce fight next time is just one of those confidence preserving measures.

With this, I hope our journalists will in future show a better sense of responsibility in their reportage. They should use their brains not their minds. We are tired of hearing Buhari mistranslated by a section of the media. More importantly, however, our politicians on both sides of the divide, should refrain from any contemplation of violence or cheating, or asking their followers to take the law into their own hands, whatever the situation would be. If they think that winning an election is a religious duty, then they must not forget that none of our two dominant religions call to violence as a means of winning power or as a reaction to defeat. In Islamic tradition, the injustice of forty years is preferred to the fitna (unrest) of a day.

The government and INEC must do their best to ensure free and fair elections in 2015. The electoral body has two years ahead to fully prepare for it and get rid of imperfections. Let there be a clean fight that ends in a clean winner and a clean loser. If the government is not ready for this, my dear friend, Professor Attahiru Jega, should throw in the towel. The defeated in this case - whether baboon or dog - must accept defeat and allow us live in peace.

If our advice is not accepted, we shall then pray that may our compassionate God deliver us from the evil of that day, when the dog and the baboon fiercely slug it out in the court of Nigerian election. We pray that He restricts their evil to them. And on that day, neither the dog nor the baboon should not return home clean. We are tired.

Oh Lord, answer our prayer.

Let all peace-loving Nigerians say Amen.

20 May, 2011

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Discourse 343. To Niger Republic In Search of Aisha

Discourse 343
By Dr. Aliyu U. Tilde

To Niger Republic In Search of Aisha

The road to Aisha was not straight. In fact, just an hour before I finally met her, I almost lost any hope of our union. But when I met her finally, the toil proved to be worth undertaking.

The first difficulty was caused by my fading memory. Before I could find her I had to find Tchima Illa Issoufou, the BBC correspondent in Maradi who aired the voice of Aisha in a report on food shortage last March. As I tried to remember her particulars which Tchima mentioned at the end of the report, I mistakenly thought she said Aisha came from Unguwar Hardo outside Damagaran.

So I set out for Damagaran – or Zinder, as the French call it – very early in the morning through Bauchi, Dutse, Gumel and then Babura. I crossed the border at Babban Mutum and reached Damagaran through Magarya an hour before sunset. The road was not good, I must say, though it was far better than what I am used to between Jos and Saminaka. The shallow potholes, though numerous, were filled with sand unlike the car-swallowing ones we have on some Nigerian roads.

At Radio Amfani in Damagaran, I was told that Tchima lives in Maradi, not Damagaran. A colleague of her was able to connect the two of us on phone. I then booked an appointment with her against the following morning. And so without much waste of time, I was out of Zinder chasing the sun on my way to Maradi, though the red star did not take time before it disappeared from my sight altogether. The road was perfect except for the bumps that are located at every settlement along the 300 km stretch. By the time I checked into Jangwarzo Hotel in Maradi around 9.00pm, I discovered that I have covered a distance of 930km that day.

The following day, as I was discussing with some officials at Universite de Maradi, Tchima called and together we went to pick a female friend of hers, Rakiya of Radio Amfani, who would later prove to be very useful in locating Aisha. Tchima would readily confess that she is not good with directions, something that her friend Rakiya does with fascinating ease. Tchima on her part could recall fine details of conversations and faces with an amazing accuracy, as we will see shortly. The two makes a perfect company for any one in search of Aisha under the prevailing circumstance.

Together we left Maradi that afternoon for Gidan Hardo Isa which is in Hawan Dawaki ward. We left the Maradi-Zinder road at Gazaoua (Gazawa) and drove along the quiet laterite road until we reached Hawan Dawaki, at every point guided by the good senses of Rakiya to whom we conceded defeat in any argument regarding direction. It was in this village that Tchima interviewed Aisha and her friends a year ago when they came in the entourage of the President. From there we were guided to remoter village south east of the Gazaoua-Maiadua road.

At Tuburtu, a person I thought was old enough to know Hardo Isa said there was nobody with that name among all the Fulani settlements around. I returned to the car and told my already tired co-travellers, “Il y a une probleme”. However, the old man was kind enough to direct us to a settlement where the oldest Fulani leader around lives. I left Tchima and Rakiya in the car and trekked about a kilometre away where I met Hardo Jibgau in his hat. He counted, and my heart started racing in despair, all the five hardos in the area and said there was only one Hardo Isa. Mentioning Isa immediately rekindled the hope of locating Aisha. He described the site for his son who volunteered to lead us there. After promising Jibgau that i will look for his sister Rabi, the mother of Hardo Ango at Gadan Maiwa in Bauchi state where he once lived, we returned to the car and drove through the narrow sandy path until we arrived at Hardo Isa quarters. Aisha must be living in one of them, we hoped.

The quarters are sparse. Like other Fulani quarters, they form a group of houses separated from one another by distances that could be as wide as 500 meters. Before we could even pull the brakes, there was Tchima at her best: from afar she amazingly spotted one of the women, Fatouma, that were with Aisha the day she interviewed them. We approached the woman who was processing some guinea corn in a motar.

First, the apprehensive Fatouma denied being at the spot of the interview that day. She did not even go to the event, she claimed. Tchima and Rakiya tried hard to describe Aisha to her but she declined knowing anyone like that. Aisha did not help matters either. She did not give Tchima her actual name during the interview. However, as the women realized that we were not there to bring any trouble, they opened up and named Aisha, pointing at her house, some 300 meters away. They sent for her and she arrived shortly. Tchima instantly recognized her. As she sat on an empty mortar to answer Tchima, the clear voice of Aisha as it was aired on BBC hit my ears unmistakably.

Aisha is middle-aged, dark, slim and medium in height. She is a guest every journalist would like to host. She is not shy to speak her mind, eloquently and frankly. Yet, when she spoke to Tchima about the food shortage they were facing last year, she was kind enough to acknowledge the effort of government in distributing foodstuff even though she was yet to receive any personally. What was more interesting in that interview was how she kept on entrusting her hope in God, “E. Ana rabawa amma mu Allah bai ciyar damu ba tukun”. What a good citizen! And God did not fail her. He did not wait much after the interview was aired to answer her prayer as well as that of others around her in Gidan Hardo Isa.

The following forty minutes we spent there before we started our return trip to Maradi were among the happiest moments one could experience in life. It is fascinating to see other people happy, especially when something good visits them unexpectedly. A unique blend of joy and gratitude remarkably changed their faces before us and I had to fight hard to suppress the tears their happiness instigated in my eyes. God is gracious. Very gracious. Whatever little aid we took to them was from Him. We remain grateful to Him for the opportunity.

We bade the residents of Gidan Hardo Isa farewell amidst the joy that surrounded their homes. You would think Zaytouna, the teenage girl of Aisha, would jump into the car out of sheer happiness. As we drove back to Maradi, the eastern sky had better news for the inhabitants of that region of the Sahel. Rains fell just before sunset. And by the time I went to bed in Maradi, they have arrived at the regional capital in considerable quantity to make the rest of the night enjoyably cool for our sleep.

Throughout my visit, I was delighted by the development and orderliness of Niger. If the Ghana I saw in 2007 had given me the hope that Africans can achieve good governance different from what obtains in Nigeria, Niger brought that message closer home because of its proximity and our cultural affinity. Niger is no longer a country of hunger and underdevelopment as the media portrays it. Of course, shortage of rains will contnue to be a problem in the Sahel but the country is increasingly becomng adept in facing the challenge.

What is more interesting is how the contrast with Nigeria would bring out Niger as a true jewel of the Sahel. Right from the first village after the Babban Mutum border, one cannot fail to discern the difference. "With their opposites, things become clear," said Al-Mutanabbi.

Their primary schools, except those built by communities – and all public buildings for that matter – are built to an impeccable standard. The nearest types of structures in Nigeria to which one could compare the official primary school buildings I saw in their villages are those built here by professional companies like Julius Berger. Even their very large and numerous agricultural stores have defied the instable earth and violent winds of the Sahel. They stand rigid and intact. Contrast this with the subhuman standard classrooms in both our public and private schools, the vandalized and empty stores that were mercilessly stripped of their fittings and roofs by the gluttony of thieving officials, etc.

The student/teacher ratio is small in all the schools I visited. I have not seen any classroom holding under shade. The same children go to school morning and afternoon, including Saturdays as it used to be here in the 1960s. There are sufficient instructional materials and the standard of learning is really high compared to ours. The Primary III children I met at Gurguji, some kilometers away from Magarya, were reading and writing composition in French. On the other side of the border, it is not uncommon to find Nigerian children in SS III who cannot make a single sentence in English – after 12 years of seducation.

The comparison is the same even on matters of governance. Nigeriennes - commoners and elites alike – that I spoke to are unanimous on one point: that ‘doka’ – or rule of law – is the fundamental difference between their country and Nigeria. Niger is where one can say nobody is above the law and readily win a nod. Officials do not engage in the bizarre corrupt practices that take place in Nigeria with impunity. They have a genuine patriotism for their country.

Officials in Niger have direct contact with their people and they show remarkable concern for any plight that might visit them. Officials, including the President, convene ‘town hall’ meetings even in the remotest areas. In fact, the reason why we learn about their food shortage is precisely because the government is concerned about the welfare of its citizens. There are millions of Nigerians under similar circumstance but I have never heard of any effort by government to provide food for them and their livestock. Who cares in Nigeria if you or your cow would die of hunger? Even the “fuji” or cattle vaccinations exercises that were common up to the 1960s have completely disappeared. And when the vaccinations are done in order to patronize a party official, they are counted as a favour to the herdsmen.

Millions of our children are malnourished in Nigeria; we lose hundreds of thousands of cattle to hunger annually. But the world does not know about our hunger for two reasons: one, hunger is the last thing the world would expects to exist in a leading OPEC country and, two, Nigerian officials are too wicked to give it a damn. By contrast, government in Niger knows that its population would take it to task on any lapse, more so if there were reports of animals dying of hunger. The government too is responsive and does not pretend that it is rich. If a cry would bring assistance from donors, it is ready to do it loudly. And it does not wait for them. Along the way to Hawan Dawaki, Rakiya keenly showed me what they called "demi lun". As the name applies, these are half moon basins which government pays villagers to dig on vast areas and plant them with drought tolerant grasses. The ones we saw along the way to Hawan Dawaki were still not harvested, indicating that the cattle, as we saw them, will escape the lethal effect of the drought this year.

The present government in Niger is particularly doing well. Throughout the regions of Zinder and Maradi, there is a common sight of trucks carrying food and animal feed to stores and people in the hinterland. A journalist that is critical of the regime confided in me that if this dry season passes without significant incidents of human and animal deaths, he would lead a delegation of his colleagues to commend the President in Niamey. President Mohammed Isoufou is not waiting for them. He is already trying his best to fulfill his campaign promises. He promised building 2,500 classrooms annually throughout his tenure, for example. In his first year that just ended, he has built 2,800. This is remarkable in a country with just a population of 15 million and which is regarded among the poorest in Africa. At the peak of the recent fuel subsidy crisis, by contrast, the federal government in Nigeria promised to put thousands of buses on the roads of Nigerians cities. Nothing came out of that simple promise. How much would it take to buy a bus in a country that receives billions of naira daily as rent from oil companies?

The result of the responsiveness of government and its resolve to institute rule of law is the prevailing atmosphere of security and peace. The governor of Maradi, Sidi Mohamed, drives around his capital city freely. I saw the richest person in the region, Umaru Laouli Gago, driving in the city alone in his car. And when night falls, I am sure both will go to their houses and sleep quietly. Nigerian governors cannot dare drive around their capitals without a coterie of hostile and trigger happy security personnel. In fact, mine is reported to have requested his House of Assembly to allow him officially relocate to Abuja. It refused. If he would come to town, it may be once a month or less, since Boko Haram placed him on its hit list in spite of his apology. In the Southeast and South-south, the rich have resorted to residing in hotels, for fear of abduction by kidnappers or attack by armed robbers. Of what worth is our wealth?

Now, there are no go areas even for the Nigerian president, like Eagle Square that is just a kilometre away from Aso Villa, many places in Abuja and security risk states like Borno. By contrast, the President of Niger travels to very remote areas to meet his people and pass the night along with his ministers in mobile tents pitched in open air. I remembered the story of Kusroe's (Persian) messenger who was shocked to meet the second caliph, Umar Bin Al-Khattab, taking a nap under a tree in the outskirts of Medina, alone without any guard, when his domain had already encompassed the entire Arabia, Syria and Palestine. He said, “I wish my King will enjoy the same level of tranquillity!” I also wish to see President Goodluck Jonathan’s campaign train in Tilde one day where he will pass the night in a tent at the foot of the Shere Hills. Hahahahaha…

As a result of rule of law also, Niger is one fo the democracies to beat in Africa. Tchima told me that if there is any manipulation, it could only take place before balloting. But once the ballot is cast, nobody can change the result. Results are announced instantly at polling station and agents are given their copies of the return sheets. Every party collates its results independently at its situation room. Immediately the pattern shows the winner that would emerge, Tchima assured me, other candidates would call that candidate on phone to concede defeat and congratulate him or her. “Shi ke nan,” she said, waiving her hands as we drove towards the Jibiya border.

That is Niger, with its scant resources and population. And here is Nigeria, with over a hundred billion naira spent on elections, with a PhD as President, with hundred times more policemen than those in Niger, with thousands of election officials that include numerous professors and PhDs as returning officers, with thousands of magistrates and justices, and with thousands of lawyers. Yet, we cannot afford to be honest enough to conduct a single credible election. What a shame!

The reason is simple. The Qur'an says, “Say, the bad and the good cannot be equal even if the quantity of the bad has amazed you. So fear God, Oh people of talent, such that you can succeed.”

It was then I realised the stupidity in the idea I put across to Aisha back in Gidan Hardo Isa the previous evening. I asked her why they would not just cross over to Nigeria where there is enough grass for their cattle and arable land to grow crops. She said they prefer to remain in Niger in spite of the difficulties. “If we leave, to whom do we abandon this place: these huts, this fence, this land? Let our men go and search for whatever they could get for us. But here we shall remain.”

More oil is discovered in the Sahel. Definitely, Niger will get rich in the next two decades. I told Tchima that I am afriad that the grip of the state on the affairs of the country may become loose. She disagreed, averring that more resources will be committed to law enforcement comensurate with the challenges. After two days of discussion, I conceded that Niger will face the challenge of wealth squarely, given the long experience it has in French style of administration and the blessing of learning from the bad experience of its 'oil rich’ southern neighbour.

In the end, I returned home pleased with my union with Aisha and her people, and, more importantly, with the first hand knowledge that our northern neighbour is not as poor as we think. It is developing fast; its riches are increasing by the day; and its people are proud of it. Its people are Africans too, except that they believe in rule of law. With it, their future would certainly be better than ours. I cannot help but wish them success.

If any of my readers, any student of law or any Nigerian official wants to breathe the air of rule of law, he or she may not need to visit far away Europe or America. Niger is closeby. That was the prayer of the late Mamman Shata before his benefactor, the late Emir of Daura, Alhaji Muhammadu Bashar. Hear him in the famous LP, Kwana Lafiya Mai Daura:

“In kasar waje ta yi nisa Mamman
Nan kusa ma kamar nan Nijer
In ga Magarya, jikan Abdu
Kai ni Damagaran, dan Sanda
Sannan sai ka kai ni Maradi
In kwana in gaida Sarki Buzu.”

By sheer coincidence, not by the design of my pocket - unlike Shata, this was the same route I took in search of Habiba few days ago and forty-one years after I heard that song for the first time as a primary school child.

As I bade Tchima farewell at the border and thanked her for her invaluable help, I was immediately greeted on the Nigerian side before I drove into Katsina by sights of blown roofs of newly built classrooms, by a large acreage of firewood bales (not a single piece have I seen sold by the roadside in Niger), by police and soldiers soliciting for tips even under the current security situation, by bare walls of stores that used to harbour tonnes of fertilizer and other agric inputs, and by a people each left to his own devices.
I was definitely back to Nigeria, my one and only country, the land of religion without faith, of nothing amidst plenty, of poverty amidst wealth, of ignorance amidst knowledge, of impunity amidst laws, and of dictatorship amidst democracy.

8 May 2012