Monday, 20 June 2011

On the neglect of Imam and Shata

Alhaji Abubakar Imam

Alhaji Mamman Shata (right) with a former Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, Dr Aliyu Modibbo Umar, who was a Shata benefactor

In some sections of this week’s Blueprint, there are stories about Hausa land’s foremost artistes in the areas of music and literature. Alhaji Abubakar Imam, who was born in 1911 and died in a hospital in Zaria, Kaduna State, on June 19, 1981, was the leading creative writer in Hausa land. Alhaji Mamman Shata Katsina, who died in a hospital in Kano on Friday, June 18, 1999 at the age of 76, was the leading Hausa musician of our time.

Both men showed promise in their art forms right from a very young age -- barely 16 to 19 years. By the end of each artiste’s life, he was able to attain a level of dignity, acclaim and command of a huge following, a prowess which has outlived him. Each became a fabled member of the ruling elite. Each was awarded the enviable national honour of Member of the Order of the Niger (MON) by the federal government and an honorary doctorate degree by Ahmadu Bello University.

This was because each had contributed immensely to the development of our country, using his God-given talents. As a journalist, Imam had waged a war against what he called the “three evils” militating against progress in northern Nigeria -- ignorance, indolence and poverty. He also participated in the nascent political awakening in the region. In addition, his books have remained a yardstick for measuring the sophistication of creative writing in the Hausa language.

Shata, on his part, is still entertaining us even though he is no more. His songs are played on radio and television, and they are available on CDs (courtesy of pirates) for use at home and in our cars. In them, he titillates, educates and enlightens us on all those three evils that ailed Imam during his journalism days. Shata was also an active politician in the Second Republic. He chaired the Great Nigeria Peoples Party (GNPP) in Kankia Local Government Area and was the chairman of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) in Funtua LGA during the Third Republic. He must have, therefore, contributed to political awakening through his participation.

An interesting aspect of the life of these two geniuses is that while they had great opportunities to accumulate wealth, they didn’t. Many would be surprised to know that Shata in particular, whom some think was stinkingly rich, died almost a pauper. He lived as a humble man who would give away the monies and goods he received from his benefactors to lesser mortals, the way his father Alhaji Ibrahim Yaro did in his own lifetime.

Last week, Imam clocked 30 years in death and Shata clocked 12. This year also marks the centenary anniversary of the birth of Imam. While it is a matter of joy that we are still around to witness this epoch, a careful look at the family of each of these men shows that the memory of each one of them has not been given its due by those who should do so. In fact, it is sad that their families are left to fend for themselves without having an opportunity to reap from the fruits of their father’s/husband’s labour.

While Imam’s children live a comparatively better life because of the education they acquired, most of Shata’s sons -- and the wives he left behind -- are struggling. Some of Shata’s daughters are better off because they got higher education (at least four have acquired university degrees), but generally the family seems to have been abandoned by our thankless society.

This sob-story is similar to those of many other artistes in this country. My association with a variety of artistes has exposed me to many situations that make me sad any time I recall their fate. Almost all the artistes who were a cynosure of the society’s eyes at one time or the other have been left to their own devices; many are sickly or existing on the verge of penury.

Governments at local, state and federal levels should do something to redeem this ugly situation. There should be a hall of fame funded by various levels of government, and NGOs dedicated to the betterment of the life of artistes who have reached old age and their families when they are no more. It is an insult to the memory of people like Shata that even the name of the street where he lived for decades has not been changed to his name. The Katsina State government should find a way to not only immortalise this music giant but also assist his family; Imam, who was originally from Niger State, also had strong links to Katsina. With the right will, it can be done.

Published in my column in this week's edition edition of our weekly newspaper, BLUEPRINT, out today.

Saturday, 18 June 2011

Boko Haram: Something Has To Give

The polity in the northern part of this country has been inexorably heating up in recent times. Insecurity in this region used to be confined mainly to robbery and political assassination, as well as occasional bursts of sectarian violence defined as religious and ethnic crises, most of which the police have failed to solve. The biggest threat to life and property today, however, is the spiralling increase in bombings and the scare they inspire in our communities. Of particular concern are the activities of the now famous religious sect, Boko Haram.

This sect used to be based only in Maiduguri, Borno State, as well as parts of Yobe and Bauchi states, but it appears that it is now festering in Kaduna. Indeed, security analysts fear that the phenomenon may extend to other states.

Clearly, the problem is refusing to be contained; it is rather worsening, with bombs going off in Maiduguri any time the sect wants. Presently, a bomb scare in Kaduna and environs is threatening the peace and stability of the whole state. Wherever the bombs went off – in Maiduguri, Bauchi, Kaduna, Suleja, and even in Abuja – they left in their wake the death of innocent people, destruction of property and a huge cloud of fear.

A great deal of damage has already been done on both sides: from the massacre of religious militants by the security forces and revenge killings of policemen, soldiers, politicians and civil servants to the destruction of property owned by individuals and government.

The damage done to the national psyche by this scary development is unquantifiable. The society has been divided into bits and pieces – among the Muslims and between Christians and Muslims. There is a worsening crisis of confidence among the populace, a crisis which has since redefined the meaning of the word ‘North.’ If this pervasive cloud of fear and uncertainty continues unchecked, as it seems to be doing right now, only God knows what will become of this region (and by extension the whole country) in the next few years.

What are the nation’s leaders doing about the problem? So much on the surface, but virtually nothing in concrete terms. Nothing exemplifies this disturbing reality more than the high-level security meeting headed last week by Vice-President Mohammed Namadi Sambo in his office in Abuja. The meeting, attended by top security chiefs and the Borno State governor, portrayed the leaders’ dilemma and helplessness over the Boko Haram challenge. Their hair-brained solution to the problem, in summary, is the carrot-and-stick approach. It means, as Governor Kashim Shettima revealed after the meeting, that the federal and the state governments are going to try to cajole the Boko Haram to a peace meeting, the failure of which would lead to a vociferous crackdown on the sect, using all the firepower at government’s disposal. Government cannot afford to appear weak, he said.

A similar threat, it should be remembered, did not succeed with the Niger Delta militants. What succeeded eventually was a political solution, whereby President Umaru Yar’Adua announced an unconditional amnesty for all the anti-oil exploration insurgents. This came after a massive bombardment of the militants’ camps failed to bear fruits. It was the amnesty deal, rather than the military action, which drew the militants out of their riverine hideouts to presidential red carpet in Abuja.

Now, while the Niger Delta militants had identifiable political and military leaders, Boko Haram’s are completely unknown. To draw them out, the government must abandon all threats of a military crackdown and insist on a political solution. The new Borno governor has wisely offered an olive branch, which the insurgents rejected; he should follow that up with a cessation of security onslaught. President Goodluck Jonathan should also announce an unconditional amnesty and begin to implement developmental programmes that will address the perceived injustices done to a great number of interest groups in the North. He should remember that it was police action, followed by a massive military onslaught, which instigated the insurgency. Former governor Ali Modu Sheriff exacerbated it by continuing with the crackdown. Now something has to give. The bloodshed is enough, please.

Published in my column in BLUEPRINT newspaper on Monday, June 13, 2011

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

The best revenge for Kwankwaso

One of the hotly contested gubernatorial elections this year was the one in Kano State, where Rabi’u Musa Kwankwaso made a dramatic return to the seat he lost in 2003. The stakes were high, and the pressure feverish, because of the fact that Engineer Kwankwaso’s 2003 defeat was one of the greatest humiliations ever suffered by a Nigerian politician. In that election, the opposition ANPP successfully wrested the baton from his firm grip in spite of all the fabled power of incumbency. The new government, under a rustic former schoolteacher, Malam Ibrahim Shekarau, decided to worsen Kwankwaso’s woes by instituting a commission of enquiry which, ultimately, indicted him. The purpose of that commission, as many analysts saw, was to portray the ousted governor as a criminal and foreclose his chance of bouncing back as a politician of reckon. Indeed, several attempts were made to have Kwankwaso arrested. But they failed, mainly because the government at the centre was a PDP one. Indeed, as a slap on the face of the ANPP administration, Kwankwaso was made foreign minister. From that vantage point, he retained his relevance in his state. The bitterness and acrimony between him and Shekarau, however, ran through all the eight years that the latter held sway in the state. So overwhelming was the power wielded by Shekarau that many political pundits wrote Kwankwaso off.

As it turned out, however, not only was Kwankwaso able to survive his detractors, he was also able to win back his gubernatorial seat, no thanks to the deadly in-fighting within the ANPP in the state and Shekarau’s unwise decision to leave his primary constituency in search of the presidency.

Now, ever since Kwankwaso’s triumphant re-entry into Government House, many analysts have smelt the blood of revenge even before he started sharpening his knife. It was felt that a Kwankwaso government was bound to take its pound of flesh from its predecessor’s. One of the reasons being adduced was that since Shekarau had mauled his own predecessor so mercilessly, he should not expect any sympathies, too. Indeed, pronouncements coming from the Kwankwaso administration’s would-be officials have since confirmed fears that revenge was really on the drawing board. Even though the returnee governor has tried, in his press interviews, to dispel that notion, his body language and other pronouncements are suggesting the contrary. I feel that many in Kano would be hugely disappointed if Kwankwaso does not probe Shekarau and wash the Malam’s dirty linen in Sabon Gari Market.

But is there a need to run a revenge government in the manner some Kanawa and others want? The answer is no. It is not in the real interest of the people of Kano, including the Kwankwaso crowd, to commit themselves to “exposing” Shekarau with the view of “showing him for what he is”, as the rhetoric goes. My reason is that operating a revenge regime would be time-wasting, costly and obfuscating the real purpose of winning the election. It would create more bad blood and tension amongst the people just as it would divert attention from governance and holding elected officials to account.

The main reason Kwankwaso was re-elected was the Kanawa’s dire need for change. Their heroic decision to bring back a man who was so maligned that you would think he could never win an election in his street was the biggest confirmation that the people wanted him to come and complete the developmental projects he started before he was shown the door in 2003.

The sweetest revenge Kwankwaso should take against Shekarau, if ever there should be one, is to disappoint those goading him into launching a revenge mission and, instead, concentrate all his energies on executing developmental projects. I tend to believe that that’s why he sought re-election, and not an ego-trip of “proving Shekarau wrong” and avenging some wrongs. After all, God, who brought him back, has shown His magnanimity by proving the sceptics wrong. The best appreciation Kwankwaso should give the Almighty is to work selflessly for the electorate who yearn for better education, security, atmosphere for trading, water, health care and other dividends of democracy.


Published in the current edition BLUEPRINT, our weekly newspaper