Still on Niger Guber Race

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My expression of cynicism last week, in my take on the generational chaos that is the contest to succeed Governor Aliyu in 2015, has sparked a torrent of reactions, fierce from the devastated camps and patronising from like-minded Nigerlites. The defenders of the former group have savaged me with accusation of mine being an unfair and “incomplete” criticism of the process. I want to clarify the meat of that criticism here.

My observation that the frontrunners in the marathon to Government House, Minna, is dominated by the children of the Old Powers, the power-brokering military overlords, whose children have now come of age and are ready to re-establish and amplify their family name, pride and fortunes in a society that seems to have forgotten about them, was not a mischievous portrayal as countered. It is my honest identification of the aspirants, especially the poster-child of PDP, Umar Nasko, son of General Gado Nasko, and even of the retreating Mohammed Babangida, whose father, former Head of State General Babangida, is reportedly unenthusiastic about his bid. In APC, the frontsman is Abubakar Sani Bello, son-in-law of former Head of State, General Abdulsalam Abubakar and member of a Forbes-recognised family—his father, a former military Governor of Kano, Colonel Sani Bello, has been ranked among the 50 richest Africans.

The happiest dissenters may be the handlers of Mustapha Bello, who have insisted that their principal, who is not from a modest background either, who is the younger brother of the Forbes-recognised entrepreneur and uncle to the APC frontsman Abubakar Sani Bello – shouldn’t have been categorised amongst the younger aspirants.

They argue that Mustapha Bello does not fit into my declaration that we have no marked progressives in the race, ignoring my definition of the progressive in the context as “one previously involved, even if individually, in the struggles for liberation of the state”. That definition is in distinction from an emergency politician who only appears in the political space and in people’s consciousness at the point of seeking elective office, the sort who then self-brands himself as a “progressive”.

I also compared our present poor crop of aspirants to Governor Aliyu, highlighting the incumbent’s advantages, which unsettled them more.
The reference to “credentials” in my occasional praises of Governor Aliyu was not merely a recognition of our Governor’s pre-governorship achievements—as a legislator, highflying bureaucrat and of course his Ph.D in Public Policy and Strategic Studies, which complemented his cultural responsibility as a title-holding, fanfare-sponsoring “man of the people”, an unofficial populist, as testified to by witnesses of his aristocratic tendencies and largesse in the old Minna!

Yes, it’s not praise for the man’s academic feats, and even though he’s favoured by the establishment, Mustapha Bello’s political resilience isn’t even as remarkable as that of David Umaru who, unlike fellow serial aspirants, haven’t fizzled out or joined the winning PDP since defection, and has thus remained the soul of opposition politics, becoming a political activist in his longstanding tracking and analyses of Governor’s administration. Though the zoning formula, which I don’t even endorse anyway, favours Mustapha Bello’s senatorial district this term, his handlers may not even promote his candidacy on that pedestal, for he had challenged the re-election bid of the then incumbent Governor Abdulkadir Kure, in the 2003 elections.The next two terms of the next eight years are, by the designs of our power-brokering elite, for the people of Niger North of which all foremost aspirants are constituents.

In the case of Umar Nasko, Abubakar Bello and Mohammed Babangida, and other younger aspirants, the last column wasn’t an attempt to criminalise their descents or fault their academic achievements, for they are representatives of a sidelined generation, a generation plugged into modern ideas waiting for opportunities to establish the place of the youth in a country where the redemption of the people is assumed to rest on the shoulders of frail old men. So, my column wasn’t an attack of Umar Nasko. I only set out to advise his handlers to engage competent hands in managing his personality and ideas, for in spite of any shortcomings, he’s just as qualified to vie as the rest of them.

We live in a country of deep-rooted political patriarchy where the ambitions of youthful aspirants are trivialised and mocked by fellow youths, having, over the years, been crushed to the lower rungs of our socio-political existence by a destructive gerontocracy. The youth may not be the answer for salvation of this dysfunctional system, but their audacity to vie in a system that doesn’t praise their active participations in the power game, without being dismissed as too youthful, is a triumph for our generation.

So far, the line up for the guber marathon is an amusing commentary on the biology of our politicians. While a people are discussing the audacious emergence of a 39-year-old Umar Nasko, being the youngest in the race, there is, in the race, a 73-year-old Senator Nuhu Aliyu, older than the fathers of the aspirants, older than General Babangida, older than Colonel Sani Bello, and, wait for it, born in the same year as Umar Nasko’s father. May God save us from us!

By Gimba Kakanda

@gimbakakanda

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Niger 2015: Who Let the Boys Out?

photo credit: umarnasko.com

photo credit: umarnasko.com

Niger State, without a doubt, is passing through the darkest phase in its political evolution. This is not about the failed development plans of the incumbent Governor or his foundationally flawed visions of having the economy of the state ranked among the three most developed in the country. This foreboding darkness is the chaos stirred up by the race to succeed him, in which famous families are, more than ever, actively involved, as though they’ve finally realised the need to re-establish themselves in the new world that seems to have forgotten about them.

Sadly, just a few months to the governorship election, there’s no aspirant who clearly fits into the word “progressive”, one previously involved, even if individually, in the struggles for liberation of the state; just a clique of political opportunists and politically insular children of the silent kingmakers buying off the people, in exploiting the poverty and naiveté of government-dependent civil servants, artisans and street toughs, highlighting politics of money, instead of ideas. Yet, none of these contenders is capable of matching even the current Governor’s pre-governorship credentials.

I was having a discussion with a friend the other day, and, while resisting his ploy to lure me to a candidate’s camp, I asked: “Beyond the heavy pocket, who is X?” And so also would be asked of those piggyback politicians who may end up as pawns of moneyed fathers and godfathers, all desperate to gain or consolidate political powers and relevance.

I’ve actually stopped being overly idealistic, only cautious despite my inclination to realpolitik. What, however, displeases me is how we’ve fallen even in the quality of aspirants whose cluelessness may be overlooked. This is the reason I think we’re doomed. If the Governor Aliyus fail to redeem Niger, I fear for these successors, especially the ones under their shadows.

One of them, Umar Nasko, the son of a former Minister of Federal Capital Territory, General Gado Nasko, is a marked character in the shadow of the present Governor. While some attribute this privilege to the Governor’s show of gratitude as public servant under the senior Nasko in the FCT ministry, a section has found as suspicious the renewed relationship between the governor and Nasko, for the latter, as a Commissioner, has once been reportedly dismissed by the government for misappropriating funds meant, according to several accounts, for the “proposed” 5-star hotel in Minna.

Umar Nasko’s “biography”, shared on his campaign website – http://www.umarnasko.com – is the sorriest tosh I’ve ever tortured my senses to read; a failed attempt to romanticize several embarrassing non-events in his bid to promote himself as an achiever, the opposite of what he really is.

That biographical sketch is enough to crush the man’s political ambition even before this frustrated takeoff, and it has nothing to do with his academic hassles. Even though the constitution makes Secondary School Leaving Certificate a qualification for becoming a governor, it beats me that our politicians, especially those with no impressive records always bother to cover up their deficiency with, as is the case with Nasko, atrocious, incoherent and clearly “suspicious” rants of the semi-literate.

Nasko ought to be celebrated as a product of a generation yearning for the involvement of the youth in politics. But it’s unfortunate that, as a self-promoted representative of that same generation, he could not task a “literate” team with defining and selling his personality and ideas.Anyone close to Nasko should advise him to have that embarrassment on his website taken down or rewritten.

Obviously, we cannot afford judging the contenders based on ultra-progressive principles. If we apply that, we may end up with nobody qualified to lead the state. I will also not join the critics who have dismissed them as too youthful and inexperienced. What matters is the sincerity of their mission. What matters is our understanding of the youth who ride on destructive opportunism, and those conscious and competent, despite being beneficiaries of our systemic political opportunism. For, in Nigeria today, with every youthful Saminu Turaki, there’s a youthful Donald Duke.Youth doesn’t mean incompetence, just as old age isn’t wisdom. Which is why honest criticism of all candidates ought to be done at the launch of their aspiration.

The last fifteen years of democracy in Niger State have been a great leap backwards, and this can be understood in comparing Minna under the civilians to the aesthetically grander Minna of 1990s, under the military, with functional streetlights and flowered central reservations and vibrant economic activities and social life. This is a simple indication of our misfortune since the coming of this democracy. That a people are celebrating streetlights as achievements today, which were in existence in the same place in the 90s, is a reason to lose sleep.

As the people of Niger state roll out the drums to bid Governor Aliyu goodbye for eight years of eloquent speeches, and delightful showmanship, we all have to agree that he was a promising leader, visionary, progressive, cerebral and, very importantly, independent(!), but how he ended up even more confused than his predecessor whose administration he dismissed as fraudulent on assuming power, is a story for patient historians. That we’ve fallen from the “standard” of the Governor Aliyus of 2007 to that of the General’s children in the 2015 race is a frightening situation. May God save us from us!

By Gimba Kakanda

@gimbakakanda On Twitter

Nigerian Youth: Overstaying in the Boys’ Quarters of Power

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Very few history textbooks are as depressing as the records of Nigeria’s transition from a young independent nation to this pseudo-democratic chaos that is the product of half a century of conflicts of interests among the ruling elite. In their construction of this entity with the bricks of the very drawbacks that highlight our differences – ethnicity, religion and region – the only firm architecture is the wall that keeps the generation after them confined, frustrated, wasted, away from the corridors of power as long as age and health allow.

This is why a thinker once said the African politician is monarchical, ever desperate to remain in the corridors of power once out of the Boys’ Quarters. This biological confinement of the young is a cultural trend that dictates deference to elders and forbids any form of rebellion against their excesses. In the north, this syndrome is captured by the “ran ka ya dade” – long may you live – salutations and mentality that glorify even the place of known thieving politicians, while dissenting young occupants of political Boys’ Quarters are considered “yan iska” – rascals!

The irredeemable rascal, in their dictionary of misinformation, is that person who is young, has no resources to hire political thugs and buy loyalty, can’t afford a convoy or even a decent car, wears jeans and tees often, criticises their excesses, and thus is expected to kowtow to the Big Man for possessing what he “lacks”, but does not. The occupants of Boys’ Quarters in this space have generally been ridiculed as disrespectful for merely demanding good governance from their “parents” in power, even an honest analysis of their misappropriations is seen as proof of such Boys’ Quarters-dwelling critics’ lack of “home training”. The young ones are meant to be uncritical cheerleaders of incompetence, dishonesty and failures.

Interestingly, they were heads of states, presidents, ministers, commissioners, permanent secretaries, ambassadors and whatnots in their 20s and early 30s. Today, for the love of power, they dismiss citizens of that age-grade as kids, politically naïve, socially irresponsible and, for these biological crimes, incapable of running any institution. The very institutions they mismanage. This way, they reduce the youth to inconsequential PAs and SAs or to being the SAs to the SSAs to powerless nonentities Created for the purpose. Power-drunk, they couldn’t even leave the state and federal ministries of youth nor even offices of the youth in their parties for the truly youthful.

But sometimes, these “eternal gods” raise pertinent concerns, highlighting the poor education of the young people expected to take over from them. That, sadly, is of course a further indictment of their ilk, whose indecisions and policies destroyed the very educational system in which they were trained. Their rote boasts of elementary school leavers of their days being better educated than today’s University graduates, meant to emphasise generational pride, should never be expressed, anywhere, no matter how, if indeed they have conscience. They romanticise their misdeeds because we’re in a morally hypocritical society that grants them unjustified immunity, just for being old.

This is not an agitation for the place of the youth in the national equation. Not with the many sycophantic youth groups honouring under-performing leaders as achievers. Not with the leaders of NANS honouring the very President that kept them at home for half a year. Just that, there are immensely resourceful young Nigerians who don’t deserve to be wasted as PAs and SAs to uninspiring leaders.

Though statistically incorrect, for every five improperly educated young Nigerian, there’s one absolutely sound one, cosmopolitan and in tune with new ideas, and plugged into thinking out new systems for redeeming our ancestral woes. The portrayal of this generation as wholly intellectually incompetent and inferior is an uncharitable misrepresentation, a ploy to justify the eternal gods overstaying in power even when no longer mentally fit to make sound decisions. The Eternal Gods must be correctly called to order. Also, we do not need more intellectual capital as mischievously proffered by them. What we need is a sanitised system that upholds and regulates the functionalities of our institutions. We all know the nepotism and corruption, and of course political opportunism, that have kept these qualified youth from being in the system. We know everything.

We’ll keep on breeding memorably clueless emergency leaders because, in our youth, when we’re intellectually sharper with revolutionary ideas and less responsibilities, we’re just “kids” and rascals running their errands: delivering letters for Otunba X, obtaining viagra for Chief Y and changing dollars for Alhaji Z. Only the loyal errand boys ride out of the Boys’ Quarters, on the back of godfatherism, as rubber-stamp heads of government and organisations, sworn to abide by the rules of the octogenarian puppeteers. May God save us from us.

By Gimba Kakanda.

@gimbakakanda (On Twitter)

Re-understanding Political Opportunism

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One mystery that amused as much as it confused me was the audacity of the political aspirants who join the race for elective positions aware of the impossibility of victory. Not because they’re unqualified nor is this about political or social discrimination. Rather, this is in consideration of the absence of structures to sell them to the electorate and also because they lack resources to appeal to our prebendal politics; they can’t match notoriously generous and more popular opponents. Some call this breed of emergency politicians “jokers”, even while excusing such bids for power as exercises of their franchise. But I had never paused in my sympathy for their misadventures.

I had an opportunity to hear from one of these politicians weeks ago. Having listened to his reasons for vying for an elective position, and why he needs the support of media-savvy indigenes to legitimize the project, I had to express a concern. For he is a man I respect, and consider somewhat politically awake, and also immensely intelligent. But these are not the credentials of a politician in this space.

“You know, the odds don’t favour you in this election,” I began. “First, you’re not really popular there, and you’re also not close to the kingmakers. They may not even like your name. They go for the bigger pockets, not for the progressive.”

I couldn’t be patronising even though he was an older man. He deserved honesty. His political bid, without analyses, is a waste of money, time and energy. I was surprised that he didn’t, or pretended not to, see through the prism. And for a man whose wealth, probably chickenfeed for his legendarily extravagant opponents, is hard-earned, lacking political sociability, and also not a son of a big man or famous family, my fear for his disastrous ambition was legitimate.

“Gimba,” he said, wearing a smile, a mocking smile, the smile of an all-knowing prophet. “If somebody comes and tells me that you’re this naive, I will dismiss that.”

That preamble is his style, his way of diminishing a challenger’s ego. But, well, I was ready for the education. He continued:

“Why do people contest in an elections they know aren’t in their favour? You need the honesty? Many do it for the social relevance that comes with it. You step out of the blues, and suddenly you’re dining with the high and the mighty. As a contractor, this aspiration will boost my business.”

At that moment I was conditionally dumb to comprehend his justification of how “wasting” the chunk of his savings could redeem his business enterprise, so I muttered a faint “how”, sure that would inspire a summary of the impending lecture.

“How? Look at it this way. Do you know the opportunities that come with being addressed as a onetime legislative, governorship or presidential candidate in our society?”

That was when I got the point. But, still, I didn’t admit to doing so. So he continued:

“It opens several doors for you. Your networks expand, and the quality of your friends also improve. Let me tell you a story. I once attended a wedding Fatiha with (name withheld) and even in the mosque, he was recognised by the Imam. At the Reception, he was invited to sit with the VIPs, and this is a man whose campaigns I almost single-handedly funded. Even though he lost the election, it has opened so many doors for him. He has become friends with (the winner of that election), and you know what that means. Connections, contracts, favours, name it.”

I didn’t praise his genius until he answered my question, a reservation about his theory, on the fallout of political rivalries: what happens when the winner of the election rejects your friendship. First, in his response, some “jokers” join the race to intimidate by instigating frightening fireworks and then fizzle out, on being noticed or invited by the Establishment.

Second, he explained: for politicians who would not back out or accept the olive branch offered by the handlers and sponsors of the big-spending opponent, eschewing smear campaigns while investing in the media in your campaigns is another smart way to remain friends after the election. And, true, I know so many contenders who fit these categories.

I pondered his theory of political contests, and for once I began to connect the dots, realising why the Chris Okoties of this world waste their Church’s money in an aspiration that is unachievable. Even Obama would consider as delusional, this odd audacity of Hope. This is because Obama doesn’t know the trappings of Nigeria’s Big Man syndrome, doesn’t know that membership of the establishment is an invitation to join the scavengers in feasting on the treasury either as contractors or undeserving appointees.

Aside from self-serving politicians like this lecturer of political opportunism, there are party-designed scams. In this, the party members are not known for commendable struggles to win elections. Our multi-party system is simply a diversification of shared interests, for there’s no reasonable way to explain the existence of about 56 political parties formed by citizens only interested in being addressed as, say, Chairman or National Secretary of this-and-that parties, citizens only interested in the connections that comes with such formations. For, yes, the chairman of a party that has an indecent shop in an unknown slum as its headquarters considers himself a political mate of the chairmen of big-spending parties, hence the connections!

But political opportunism is already an enterprise in which every ambitious citizen is a potential beneficiary. At least that’s the indictment I got in another interaction with a friend from a famous family. In our heart-to-heart conversation on the state of Nigeria, he observed how he owed all he had accomplished to his being the son of a Big Man, and that, whether we both agree or not, 10 to 20 years from now, we could both be variables of the nation’s power equation: “I’ll be there being the son of my father, and you will be there either for our friendship or for your social relevance and a little favour here and there. You know what I’m talking about.”

He laughed. I laughed. But that’s a joke that should actually be a cause to cry. May God save us from us!

By Gimba Kakanda

@gimbakakanda on Twitter