The place of mai shayi is a newsroom of some sorts. It’s a place where you get to hear some of the most tantalizing stories in town. Mai shayi, or tea-seller, is found in almost every street corner in the north, the Hausas being arguably some of the leading drinkers of tea on Planet Earth. I have been a connoisseur of commercial tea for ages because of my love for the earth-shaking revelations that usually emanate from tea drinkers.
One thing I learnt from that, however, is never swallow hook, line and sink the news you hear there. Believe everything at your peril. As a journalist, publish it at the risk of your professional demise. Some of the most imaginative and fiction creators do sit there. They will tell you stories of events you’d never heard before. Samplers: exactly what is wrong with President Yar’Adua’s health; how Turai could transform from First Lady to First Citizen; how Aliyu Modibbo Umar was shown the door because of his misunderstanding with Governor Danjuma Goje, rooted in his alleged ambition to replace Goje in 2011, and (don’t laugh!) Barack Chukwuemeka Obama’s Igbo origins.
That notwithstanding, there is something uncanny about the stories you hear at the mai shayi’s: the depth of analysis is uncanny. The arguments are punchy. And sometimes the revelations are rewarding. I have seen that in Gusau, the capital of Zamfara State, recently. The city has countless tea-selling joints. Top on the topics usually discussed at such places is the nature of politics in the state. The city is one of the hotbeds of political activism in this country. You could feel politics pulsing in the town, coursing through the veins of the residents like an angry river, translating into energetic analyses. Like every state, the concern of the people is to have a caring government in place.
Three words stand out during debates on the political future of Zamfara State: MAS Two Times (or MAS Twice as some say). It means that the executive governor of the state, Mahmud Aliyu Shinkafi (MAS), having won election and is spending his first term in office, deserves to rule two times. That is assuming that he has already ruled once.
All over the state, especially in the capital, colourful posters bearing the photographs of His Excellency MAS are pasted on walls, roundabouts, government and private offices, cars, buses, et cetera. The first impression a first-time visitor would have is that the governor is a beloved figure among his people. Indeed, one of his aides told me that the posters are a proof of MAS’s mass appeal. He assured me that nobody was forced to paste the posters on their car bonnets or house walls. It was a spontaneous appreciation for the way Shinkafi has turned around the fortunes of the state, he said.
I am an untiring searcher of beloved leaders, especially in Africa where most leaders are regarded as common thieves and gangsters. I know many states where governors can no longer drive by safely among their people without fear of being attacked, verbally or otherwise. If MAS were such a chummy leader as to have his name painted all over the town, it’s okay by me. But why all the hue and cry? To get an answer, I decided to take some tea at a hut outside Gusau Hotel one morning. As fate would have it, a hot conversation was already underway over the MAS Two Times campaign. Obviously a stranger in town had raised the matter with a political stalwart, a diehard supporter of Governor Shinkafi, arguing that it was too early to start campaigning for second term after only a year in the first term. The stalwart argued that MAS Two Times was the best thing that had happened to the Zamfarawa; in it lay the hope and aspirations of the average Zamfara citizen. The governor of the state has demonstrated his love for the people through hard work and native political calculation. According to him, Shinkafi has sworn to work for the welfare of the people in the first two years of his first term. The governor, he explained, has asked that during this period, political stalwarts who helped him acquire power should exercise patience and not expect to be paid immediately as was the practice before. They should allow him to work. That is why Gusau and the rural areas are wearing a new look as graders have been rolled onto the roads, working as if democratic rule in the state had just begun. He said the political jobbers would be paid after 2009, i.e. in the second half of the governor’s first term. Which means that between 2010 and 2011, the government of Zamfara State would be ‘dashing’ money left, right and centre to political stalwarts as compensation for their role in the 2007 election. Developmental projects nko?
Then what happens in 2011? I wondered out aloud. The stalwart, who exuded an air of confidence, looked at me pityingly, perhaps assessing my ignorance about Zamfara politics. His answer was that if MAS spends two years doling out the gravy, he would be rest assured to win the 2011 polls.
This story is couched in native wisdom, horned in the furnace of grassroots politics only a Zamfara man could explain. It could all be fake, though. But let’s assume that the tale is correct after all, then what? It would mean that the MAS Two Times campaign is an ingenious plan in the battle of Zamfara three years from now.
In seeking to know a deeper background to the tale, I discovered from chats with some other political jobbers that the MAS Two Times campaign was sponsored by Shinkafi. It originated from the disagreement between him and Alhaji (now Senator) Ahmed Sani Yerima, who ruled the state for four years from 1999. The former’s attempt to grip the camel’s reins in the state’s politics while the latter sits in the saddle created the revolt at Government House now unfolding as MAS Two Times. The campaign aims at showing Yerima that he cannot continue to rule forever. He has had his chance; therefore, he should allow his successor to enjoy his turn. Shinkafi should have his way, really, as long as that would not lead to violence. Yerima should face his job in the Senate while offering an elderly advice to his political ‘son’. Trying to rule in the Senate and in Gusau is like trying to eat his cake and have it.
This was published in my column in LEADERSHIP