Thursday, 22 July 2010

Yakowa's Yoke


This is not an easy time to rule Kaduna State. No time has ever been. But as the general elections loom closer, the situation is proving to be ever more dicey. One, you need to win the confidence of the people by executing developmental projects, to prove that you know why you are in office in the first place. Two, you must be cautious in walking the state’s notorious tight rope of ethnic and religious balancing, careful not to upset the elastic peace and tranquillity among the various tribes and the religious faithful. Three, you need to work hard towards winning your own election and not lean too hard on the luck of getting it on a platter of gold. In short, you must prove yourself. And if you are Mr. Patrick Ibrahim Yakowa, it can be frustrating.

As president, Alhaji Shehu Shagari once compared Nigeria to a silk gown, the babbar riga type worn by northerners. While wearing a silk gown, according to Shagari, you are required to constantly hitch up the right side onto your shoulder and do the same with the left hand side. The problem, however, is that after successfully hitching up one side, the gown would slip from the other side, invariably making it difficult for you to keep still and enjoy your outfit.

Now, Kaduna appears to be a more complex silk gown. A violent history of sectional politics has made the state a totally different kettle of fish. Until in recent years, ethnic and religious riots in the state had led to the massacre of thousands of people. Consequently, there is a persistent notion that governing Kaduna is like sitting on a gunpowder keg that can explode any minute. A former governor of the state once told me that his greatest challenge in the state was not how to deliver the good things of life to the people but keeping the peace and security; he would wake up suddenly in the middle of the night and sit for hours, praying that the day would come and go without an ethnic fight breaking out somewhere in his domain.

For 62-year-old Yakowa, the nightmare is no less forbidding. Until what Father Mathew Hassan Kukah referred to as “the miracle” of last May 5 happened, it was almost unthinkable that somebody from Fadan Kagoma village in the southern part of the state would ever become governor of the state under a democratic dispensation. The unwritten rule was that southern Kaduna people should be contented with the second slot at the Sir Kashim Ibrahim House while a “Hausa” man from the north serves as governor. That rule, which found comfort in the ethnic politics that perpetuates domination of the minorities in our nation, presupposed that the majority northerners, who are predominantly Muslim, would always win the gubernatorial elections.

It took the miracle of May to change that. Now someone from among the minorities is ruling the state, thanks to the nomination of the state governor, Mohammed Namadi Sambo, as vice-president by President Goodluck Jonathan. Even so, there was a mild dissent by some sectional champs against Yakowa’s God-ordained ascendancy. Not that he was not qualified for the post. The narrow-minded question was not whether he was qualified by education or by working experience but by his ethnic and religious background. The proponents of this view chose to ignore the fact that Yakowa is a dyed-in-the-wool former civil servant who had attained the highest rungs in the civil service. A 1972 graduate of Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, he had retired from the federal service as a permanent secretary and, years later, served as minister of Solid Minerals Development. He was appointed secretary to the government of Kaduna State in September, 2003. He had been deputy governor since July, 2005. On the political field, he served in many capacities. Yakowa has seen it all.

Ordinarily, he should only worry about completing Namadi’s tenure in 2011. But from day one, he found himself fending off ethnic and religious missiles, frantically declaring that his government is for everyone – Muslim, Christian, whatever. Sadly, this matter has become almost the main issue today. Yakowa harped on it on the day he was inaugurated as governor, and last Saturday when his fellow southern Kadunans organised a grand reception for him in Kafanchan. It is clear that Yakowa wants neither Kaduna citizens in the North to think that they have “lost power” nor those in the South to think that power is now theirs. The fragile peace in the state requires that the chief executive keeps making this enlightened reminder. He also needs it for his own election. To make real history, he needs to win election on his own merit. To achieve this, he must not only be just and impartial in his administration but he must also be seen to be so. He must win everybody’s trust in order to record a feat akin to that of Barack Obama.

Meanwhile, a lot of work remains to be done. Certain projects under Namadi were slow, such as the completion of the state university campus in Kafanchan and the take-off of the new Millennium City in Kaduna. Yakowa is also faced with the problem of yanking himself from a seeming Namadi personality cult in the governance of the state. Now it is as if the government’s 11-point agenda cannot be Yakowa’s because it was the brainchild of his predecessor. The campaign for the 2011 polls revolves around the former governor. Come to think of it, the simple task of appointing commissioners has been mired in controversy, with the governor caught in the web of intrigues relating to the vice-president.

Many residents of the state see no problem in electing Yakowa as long as he keeps his promises to the people. As for me, I don’t care where he comes from. There are southern Kaduna politicians I wouldn’t recommend for even the chairmanship of a local government area; Yakowa is not one of them. The man had preached peace even before becoming governor. Now overcoming his greatest problems – maintaining the peace and winning next year’s general election – requires winning the confidence of the people. He has since recognised that without these two ingredients, he cannot hope to achieve both. A lot has been achieved in the area of security, thanks to the brinkmanship of the then governor Ahmed Mohammed Makarfi and its sustenance by Namadi. The security outfit, Operation Yaki, has succeeded in reducing the crime rate. Religious intolerance – the albatross around the state’s neck – is at all-time low. The people are genuinely interested in peace. If not, the deadly religious killings in Jos (and this week in Jalingo) would have spilled over to the Crocodile City. That signposts enough good luck in Yakowa’s hands to goad him into deepening the spirit of brotherhood in the state. The biggest history he could make is transforming this luck into an electoral victory next year. Miracles, such as that of May 2010, happen only once in a lifetime.

Published in LEADERSHIP on Saturday, 17 July 2010

Gafasa: A Look At The Grassroots Man

A Gentleman Politician in the Making: Rt. Hon. Abdul'aziz Garba Gafasa, a biography by A’ishatu Iliyasu; published by Century Research and Communications Ltd., Kano, 2009; 402 pp.

By Ibrahim Sheme

Much of the history of Kano is known to people conversant with the origin of Hausa city states. This book, which is essentially the biography of the current speaker of the Kano State House of Assembly, is rich, too rich, in the historical origins of Kano culture, religion, aristocracy, and politics. In a whopping 80 pages, this interesting section captures the nascent establishment of one of the most populous city state in sub-Saharan Africa.

According to the book, which draws from known historical sources such as the famous Kano Chronicle, Kano originated from two waves of human migration from the northern parts of the continent. A small community about 60 miles from the present day Kano, Gaya, played a significant role in the establishment of Kano. Gaya was the first port of call for the migrants from eastern Sudan, the Maghreb and the Middle East. Its inhabitants were blacksmiths who engaged in the production of iron ore for making farming equipment. In the course of searching for ore, the blacksmiths moved to and from Dala and Gwauron Dutse, two hillocks in present day Kano rich in iron ore. Subsequently, several settlements grew around the hills, at once boosting the population of idol-worshipping settlements that were already in the places.

The nascent Dala and Gwauron Dutse inhabitants had established an elaborate system of religion based on a mix of idolatry and Eastern religions, especially Islam, complete with hierarchy of priesthood. This, with the continued influx of the Gaya crowd and other migrants, was transformed across the centuries into a more sophisticated feudal system which survives to this day, with great innovations that were drawn from the multifarious cultures that suffused into the city state across the centuries. Islam was the most significant role player in this transformation. Because of its very sophisticated political and religious structure, Kano has become easily the most politically conscious city in northern Nigeria.

The book, A Gentleman Politician in the Making: Rt. Hon. Abdul'aziz Garba Gafasa, captures Kano's growth from a small community of idol worshippers to its present status as a centre of everything from commerce to politics, Islam and learning. It is unflagging in its extenuation of how the royalty developed, as well as the growth of the various hamlets, villages and towns that helped make it the second most populous city in Nigeria. It tells us how the pre-Jihad administrative system was formed and the impact of both the Sokoto Caliphate and the British colonial rule on the system. Chapter 2 is entirely devoted to the reason for Kano's high population, a divisive issue in today's national politics.

Abdul'aziz Garba Gafasa, the subject of this book, hails from the old Gaya District - the area that played a key role in the establishment of Kano. In the foreword, the state governor, Malam Ibrahim Shekarau, describes him as "a down-to-earth grassroots politician." The subsequent chapters actually prove this. The speaker is a prince of his hometown, Gafasa, a town under Ajingi Local Government Area of the state. His family have been holding the traditional title of Dagaci of the town till today.

Abdul'aziz was destined to grow in stature as a politician not because of his family pedigree or educational attainments. Even he has said in the book: "To be sincere, I never thought that I would one day be in this position, although I came from a traditionally and politically enlightened family." He was born in 1962 in Gafasa. His highest educational qualification is a diploma in Economics from the School of Social Serviceas and Rural Community Development, Rano, Kano State. And the highest position he attained in the civil service was as a Cooperatives Officer in the state chamber of commerce. Nonetheless, Abdul'aziz had a secret weapon for his rise through the ranks: his close links to his people at the local level, his modesty and humility and, above all, his deep empathy for the progress of the people. A mix of these has created a politician revered and loved by people in the villages, the city, the government and the parliament.

Prior to his first foray into politics in 1996, he had been actively involved in self-help groups in his village, becoming the chairman of the local self-help association. This automatically situated him within first-hand experience with problems at the grassroots level. His sterling performance there qualified him for invitation by his people to come and represent them when elections came up. He was therefore elected as a councillor in the local government. A few years later, he was elected as a member of the state House of Assembly under the platform of the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP). On June 5, 2007, his colleagues elected him speaker of the House. He is the seventh person to occupy the exalted position in the history of party politics in Kano. As speaker, he is the number 3 citizen of the state, after the state governor and the deputy governor.

Gafasa's tenure is full of action and substance. The book shows how the young politician set out to prove his mettle, using his recognised tactics of carrying everybody along, respecting his elders, and maintaining an iron-cast link to the grassroots. One word that summarises his style was provided to the author of the book by a colleague of his, Hon. Lawal Sani Burji, who represents the Doguwa constituency in the House, who says Gafasa is "approachable". This is unlike many of his predecessors in Kano and fellow speakers in some other states who see positions of power as a high horse. He simply lacks the superciliousness of many persons of power at the local, state and federal levels.

In the book, we encounter how Gafasa makes it a point of duty to carry his colleagues along while at the same time ensuring a cordial relationship with the executive arm of government headed by Governor Shekarau. The aim is to create and maintain an atmosphere free of rancour in which governance is fully geared towards serving the people. In return for his accommodating mien towards the executive, the House appears to be getting anything it wants, including an increase in its constituency projects from N40 million to N60 million. In order to ensure accountability to the people, the speaker set up a House committee to supervise constituency projects. For this, Gafasa's colleagues are full of praise for him.

Under the speaker, lawmaking is real business; many laws and bills have been passed by the House, which any parliament would count as the greatest achievement. Chapter 5 of the book gives a rundown of the House's achievements during Gafasa's tenure. It also gives a list of the speaker's own performance in his Ajingi constituency - provision of roads, mosques, schools, water, etc. The next chapter is an interesting exploration of the relationship between the speaker and the state governor right from April 14, 2007 when Shekarau was sworn in as governor. The last chapter reproduces newspaper reports on Speaker Gafasa's official duties and activities.

Poignantly, when the speaker was asked to provide a self-assessment of his tenure, he said his greatest achievement, apart from bringing development activities to his people, is that governance in Kano State is being conducted peacefully, thanks to the good relationship existing between the legislature and the executive arm (p.167).

The book is a rich compendium of Kano's political history, based on the odyssey of an upcoming grassroots politician. The speaker of the Kano State House of Assembly, Alhaji Abdul'aziz Garba Gafasa, is portrayed as a man of the people, selfless, humble and team player, one whose purpose in politics is service delivery rather than material aggrandisement or haughty power games. In trying to make these points to the reader, the author has succeeded immensely. The book is therefore a recommended read for anyone interested in Kano's emergence and transformation as the greatest of the Hausa city states, legislative work and what it takes to survive in the muddy waters of Nigerian politics.

As biographies go, this one also has its strengths and weaknesses. The book is illustrated with colour photographs showing Gafasa's activities as speaker of the House. Disappointingly, however, only two (black and white) photographs show his background, one as a young man and the other a secondary school group picture. More photographs of his background would have cast light on who he really is, such as Abdul'aziz as a community leader before venturing into politics, his parents, his family house, his activities as a grassroots politician in Gafasa and Ajingi, and his own wives and children. The book is also sorely silent on his family: who are his wives? The place of women in his life (mother, maternal relations, sisters, wives) is totally absent. And to think that the author is a woman!

There are typographical errors in the book; a more diligent editing would have taken care of that. On page 103, a list that should have been tabulated appears as a single column, a mixed up block of text. Many paragraphs are not indented.

The book is also bereft of anecdotes from Hon. Gafasa's childhood, school days and his activities both on the hustings and in the parliament. His humanity would have been better portrayed by that. This impression is worsened by the fact that Abdul'aziz Gafasa is presented as infallible; a mention of some of his human flaws would have shown us his other side. This is obtainable from his childhood friends and political observers.

However, the book's greatest strength is its first-person testimonies from people that know the honourable speaker both at the village and in the parliament. These include his parents' mates, his brothers, childhood friends and other members of the House of Assembly. But even in this I saw a lapse: not a single woman was interviewed. Secondly, apart from Malam Shekarau's testimony, not a single member of the executive arm of government was asked to comment on the speaker, not to talk of businessmen, religious and traditional figures, and academics. This would give an unintended notion that the book was designed to be a one-sided hagiography.

One must commend A'ishatu Iliyasu, who is, like the speaker, also emerging in her chosen field of endeavour - writing. The 25-year-old member of Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA) has since begun to carve a niche for herself in this field, having at least two novels in her kitty, one in Hausa and the other in English. She holds a National Diploma in Business Studies from Kaduna Polytechnic. She is at present a reporter with the Kano-based Concern magazine. This book is clearly a continuation of her march towards intellectual accomplishments.

Published in LEADERSHIP last Friday

Friday, 16 July 2010

The Death Of Zoning

Until he recanted on Thursday, Okwesileze Nwodo had worn the garb of the killer of the zoning agreement within his party. The national chairman of the PDP officially announced the long-awaited death of that annoying entry in our political lexicon. With a devil-may-care chest-thumping reminiscent of our recent dark past, Dr. Nwodo had intoned on Wednesday: "There is no zoning on the ground right now. Absolutely, there is no zoning... If we think that we need to revisit zoning today, let us revisit zoning. But the one we did in 1999, no, no, no, no, it has been jettisoned by the PDP itself."

Naturally, the proponents of zoning were aghast. They must have screamed: "Has the national chairman gone bananas? Where was his sense of decorum?" Either Nwodo did not consult with other party bigwigs before making his comments both to the BBC earlier and the Nigerian press on Wednesday, or he was playing some game. His swift rebuttal through a spokesman, who made a bad job of trying to show that the national chairman had been misquoted, looked suspect. The damage has already been done. Now we can also relish the discovery that the ruling party is, as Balarabe Musa said, in disarray. Nwodo's doublespeak also suggested to the nation that the "biggest party in Africa" is no longer confident about the next elections; it's disunited, and its future looks grim.

Meanwhile, we, the downtrodden onlookers, have been clapping. Nwodo had pricked us where it ached most. Zoning, an anachronism in democracy, was a PDP ploy that was manufactured for the exclusive convenience of a clique within the party. Its creation was due to the discovery that the choice of Obasanjo as president was a wrong one after all. The man who was freely elected in 1999 was turning into an ogre. He had begun to play the chess game of power elongation ahead of the end of his two-term tenure in 2007. In 2006, I was one of three persons who visited the then Vice President Atiku Abubakar at his official residence in the presidential villa. During the visit, Atiku, who looked pained, told us that the roots of Obasanjo's third term dream had been planted right from 1999. He went on to tell us a long story about how his boss began to plot his life presidency right from when he was first elected.

In retrospect, one could see clearly why the then wise men of the ruling party, who were working solely to preserve their own interests rather than the nation's, came up with the zoning idea. They calculated that after Obasanjo, a Northerner should mount the saddle in order to stop the presidency from remaining perpetually headed by a Southerner. Without zoning, the Frankenstein monster they had all helped to build, i.e., the PDP, which operated in accordance with the president's whims and caprices, would trample and smother anyone in its way. Even the mammoth North would be incapable of stopping the monster's charge.

Goodluck Jonathan's PDP appears to be different. Nwodo seems to have come on board in order to do the dirty job of ensuring that Jonathan is elected next year. But Nwodo himself is appearing to be toeing the president's line of ensuring that the party he heads plays only by the rules. He has pledged his readiness to resign if anyone tried to mess him up. He says he is willing to take on the former rider of the monster, Obasanjo, if he tried to be funny. Nwodo had had a "wahala with him in the past" and was surprised that the former president didn't try to block his appointment - as he was wont to do. On Wednesday, he told the media that he was going to organise transparent presidential primaries, which, according to him, would usher in the best candidate for the party. Which means that President Jonathan himself could lose to any other person the party deems better suited to carry its ticket.

Nwodo should keep talking the way he had been talking before Thursday's needless corrigendum. That way, we could all go to sleep with the assurance that a new PDP is emerging. The best assurance, however, is the new helmsman at the electoral commission. Prof. Attahiru Jega has been more forthright than Nwodo. He has a cleaner political record. So far we have not heard of or seen a taint on him. Everybody has applauded his appointment. And he has assured the nation that nobody is going to buy him, not even Jonathan. No wonder the old guard in the PDP were jittery when they heard that Jonathan was toying with the idea of appointing such a radical to head INEC. They must have warned the president: this man isn't the type to play ball, our kind of ball. Unknown to them, that's the kind of man the president himself was looking for.

As I argued recently in this space, the fear that the next general election could or would be stolen is old school. It resulted from the excess baggage of our recent past when any incumbent leader stuck to his post as if it were hereditary. Our fear was rightly couched in the notion that whoever was occupying an elective post would never be dislodged. The PDP, especially during the 2003 election, was so impregnable that toying with its supremacy was at one's peril.

Prof. Jega has said that the best way to overcome the fear of marginalisation and, if I may add, the chance of crooks taking over the mantle of leadership, is for the best candidates to run for election. For too long, our political scene has been dominated by mostly the wrong people. Jega's thesis is that instead of endlessly wailing about the quality of the leadership we have, we should encourage the most suitable persons to stand for election. Leaving the scene unattended gives charlatans and hoodlums the chance to parade themselves as candidates and ultimately become our leaders, even if they acquired the office through rigging.

The emergence of the best candidates will solve the fear of domination or marginalisation and dispel the notion that brought zoning in the first place. Seventeen years ago, Chief MKO Abiola was elected by the generality of Nigerians because he was considered to be the better candidate. He didn't emerge through zoning and, as Mallam Adamu Ciroma said famously, Abiola won fair and square.

Come to think of it, stopping zoning within the PDP and any other political party can even favour the North more if the elections are free and fair. How? The North, being the most populous section of Nigeria, is bound to have an upper hand any day in an election where real votes are freely cast and counted. So the North can win the presidency out of anybody's hand by simply voting for a Northerner or endorsing a candidate it deems the best. The important thing is for the election not be rigged. Instead of complaining, we should try this and see.

Friday, 9 July 2010

Shekarau’s Hausa Movie Script

A rather curious drama is playing itself out in Kano. That the government of
Mallam Ibrahim Shekarau has been waging a war on stakeholders in the fledgling Hausa movie industry is no longer news; what is news is that his government has, in the past few weeks, pushed the war beyond the borders of decency and constitutionality. It's ferocious, devil-may-care and cruel. Curiously, this is happening at a time Governor Shekarau is running from pillar to post in his quest to become Nigeria's next president.

Before I continue, let me sound a caveat: I have been an ardent admirer of Malam Shekarau mostly because of his A Daidaita Sahu (i.e. Fall in line) programme. The programme, which is coordinated by the Kano State Directorate of Societal Reorientation, is aimed at instilling sanity in the society. It confronts social ills such as prostitution, begging, uncouth behaviour, road traffic, child labour, you name it. The success or otherwise of the programme is a subject of debate, but I am one of those that believe it was better the residents of Kano (including myself, a part-time resident) have had it in place. At least, it has made us think about who we are, what we do and the repercussion of our individual and collective action. The man who heads A Daidata Sahu, Bala A. Muhammad, knows his onions, and he has proved his mettle in this difficult task. Given a choice, I wouldn’t mind recommending him as the next governor of Kano.

Shekarau has also committed himself to rebuilding the collapsed infrastructure in Kano, especially in his second term in office. This has endeared him to a large segment of the society, although whether it is large enough to secure his party a victory in next year's general elections in the state remains to be seen. Curiously, while Shekarau is working to revamp the infrastructure and solve social problems, his government is committing the most brutal human rights abuse ever seen in the history of Kano State. His war against moviemakers, which spilled beyond Kano borders with a resounding failure, is full of doublespeak and religious pretence. With the lifespan of the government already in a countdown, the war worsened in recent times, resulting in a rash of legal cases in Kano and Kaduna. The current fire was ignited, expectedly, by the controversial director-general of the Kano State Censorship Board, Malam Abubakar Rabo Abdulkareem. He it was that claimed in a live television interview that Hausa moviemakers had begun to produce pornographic movies. He also called on the good people of Kaduna to rise against the moviemakers in their midst and flush them out. It is unlikely that Rabo, who parades himself as Mr Know-All in movie matters, does not know the exact meaning of porn products or the implication of his seditious call for a public uprising. In any case, six moviemakers that felt aggrieved by his statements took the matter to a magistrate court in Kaduna.

Apparently, Rabo also considers himself to be above the law. He refused to honour the court's summons on two occasions, compelling the court to issue a bench warrant against him. He acted the same way last year. Enjoying his above-the-law status, he must have laughed when he was sued for criminal defamation by the Motion Pictures Practitioners Association of Nigeria (MOPPAN), Kano State chapter, over his claim that members of the association were gays and lesbians. He did not honour the court summons, and the case petered out when state officials reportedly intervened and scuttled it.

That was a man who used to boast that anyone who disagreed with his methods should go to court - exactly what the moviemakers did. While the Kaduna moviemakers waited for the police to arrest him, Rabo dashed to the High Court in Kano and secured an injunction against the police. He also sued the commissioners of police in Kano and Kaduna, the deputy inspectors-general of police in the two zones, as well as the magistrate that issued the warrant of arrest. And while the substantive case in the Kaduna court was not vacated, the chief censor also lodged a complaint with the Kano State police command against nine moviemakers, including those that sued him and have a running legal case against him. In his complaint, he said that he received text messages from two telephone numbers in which it was said that he would be killed. He fingered the nine persons and called upon the Kano State police commissioner to arrest them.

Complying, the commissioner dispatched two cops to Kaduna last Wednesday to effect the arrest. They went straight to the offices of Fim, the Hausa movie industry’s leading newsmagazine, and arrested Aliyu Abdullahi Gora, its editor. He was one of the six that had sued Rabo and was among the nine Rabo accused of sending the offensive text messages. For over a decade, the monthly glossy magazine has been unflagging in its coverage of events in the Hausa film industry, and I have it on good authority that Rabo is looking for ways to kill it. It is significant to state that there is a pending High Court order against the arrest of the nine persons accused by Rabo as those responsible for the so-called text messages.

The policemen locked up Gora at a police station in Kaduna. On Thursday, they did not bother to search for the other eight suspects but drove him in a commercial cab almost 200 kilometres away to the police headquarters in Kano. From there, after interrogation, policemen took him to a magistrate court. But the judge who was supposed to hear the case, Hajiya Halima Nasiru, did not go to work that day; she was said to have been ill. She told the lawyers that met her at home with an application for bail that she could not attend to the matter in her house and advised them to meet her in court the following day. The editor was, therefore, taken to prison. Yesterday, the judge did not go to work again. Attempts to reach her failed as she was said to have gone to the hospital. Her phones were switched off up until the time the courts closed. By this morning, Gora will have spent his third day in detention without trial. Since the courts do not open during weekends, it means he will remain there till Monday (his fifth day in detention) when another attempt would be made to secure bail for him.

I will not comment on the merit of the various court cases in this matter or the integrity of the judges involved in it. But I posit that the whole scene is permeated with the acrid smell of vendetta. Rabo's comments in the TV interview were couched in his well-known campaign of calumny against an industry that will surely outlive his tenure as a power-drunk government official.

Does Mallam Shekarau really hope to become Nigeria's president while fighting an unjust battle against fellow citizens? The unemployment rate in Kano is the highest in Nigeria, and the crackdown on moviemakers has sent thousands more into the labour market. The taste of the pudding is in the eating.


Published in LEADERSHIP, on Saturday, July 3, 2010