Abubakar Gimba: Tribute to a Pacifist Ideologue

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A week ago, at a gathering of literary minds, we discussed him, his books, and even his health, which had, I informed my friends gathered, stalled his literary productivity in recent years. It was a friend from below the Niger who made him the subject of our conversation in his declaration that the man was under-sung.

“I don’t think so”, I offered. Describing a writer from this side of the Niger, one who broke boundaries and was author of widely read novels that still stir up nostalgia in many of us, books that also got recommended for tertiary institutions and listed in various syllabi of our national examinations as “under-sung”, was a tad uncharitable. Before Gimba, so many writers emerged in northern Nigeria, also exhibiting rare literary genius, some writing in indigenous languages, but all flickered out before they could even establish themselves. This set, to me, were the truly under-sung writers. My friends and I had no idea that we were only reviewing his essence, as he’s played his part out in full in this movie called Life, and was set to bow out finally around the midnight of Wednesday, February 25.

The north of Nigeria, where Gimba brought his talent to bear, was a dark house mainly known for its many military and political overlords, the very larger-than-life aristocrats and kakistocrats, who, with their counterparts in the south, turned Nigeria into a purgatorial space.

At the time Nigerian writers were shooting themselves to fame, with their participation in street protests, producing haunting oeuvres of protest literature, Gimba was a mandarin; a banker in the day, and writer at night. His brand of literary activism, which was an expose of societal decline captured in his novels and non-fiction, were seemingly “pacifistic” for the era. Though his social interactions gave him away as a member of the right-wing, as seen in his non-approval of the late Gani Fawehinmi’s style of unpacifiably radical civic engagements in a piece archived in a collection of his essays, Why am I Doing This? (Kraft Books, 2007), he was an unflinching critic of our socio-political and economic aberrations to which he was a witness, and thus, he’s known for emphasising, as encountered in one of his early novels, Witnesses to Tears (Delta Books, 1986), that “the general practice of a vice does not make it a virtue”.

Gimba did not condone injustice, he was just too much of a gentleman to become a placard-carrying advocate of change. Karl Marx was obviously referring to writers and thinkers of Gimba’s school where, in his book, Eleven Theses on Feuerbach, he noted: “The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways. The point, however, is to change it.” Gimba’s thoughts for our generation are to inspire a mental revolution, and a change through non-violence. This is his perception, for ours is a place where agitations are easily negatively exploited. This dilemma of the change agents he presented in his novel, Footprints (Malthouse Press, 1998).

I became a specimen for the behavioral study of this deep-thinking writer during the memorable January 2012 fuel subsidy removal protests, which I initiated in Minna, and thus, for being boycotted by a branch of the state’s writers’ league, Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA), of which I was a member, I renounced my membership. This decision was seen as rash by the novelist and in one of his interactions with members of the association, he expressed his disappointment in what was taken as misplaced radicalism. For a civil servant who became a Permanent Secretary in the state Civil Service at about the age I made that decision, dismissing mine as juvenile would’ve been a contradiction. I’m glad he never did that. I would later understand his philosophy, which I was too angry to see then, that to change a system one must be a part of it. This may be why Gimba was a critic and friend of the political establishment at the same time.

As social critics, those of us who once disagreed with Gimba, for sincerely highlighting that the main trouble with Nigeria is its people in his 2008 epistolary work “A Letter to the Unborn Child”, dissenting from Chinua Achebe’s now flawed assertion, a view he actually changed in latter years of his public intellection, that “the trouble with Nigeria is simply and squarely a failure of leadership” in his celebrated seminal work, “The Trouble with Nigeria,” I guess it’s not yet late to apologise to the Minna-based thinker. At least to honour his wisdom. He reminded us that it’s lazy to blame the leaders as architects of our miseries; for the whole is simply a reflection of its diseased units!

Abubakar Gimba was vindicated, over the years since the publication of that important book, by the political irresponsibility of not exactly the leaders of Nigeria, but the followers who subscribe to the leader’s polarising and divisive politics, forming a society of bigoted, uncritical and sycophantic followers, when they know better.

I was in transit, but writing this short and quick tribute, on my phone, to one of the greatest inspirations of my life, despite our occasional private dissents, can’t be an inconvenience. He was a quintessential Zaguru – a good man. Not just for being family, not just for sponsoring the publication of my poetry book, not just for being the man who taught me the virtues of pacificism – as I maneuvered between being an ideological “rascal” and a “radical” ideologue… On so many occasions, many, curious about my literary presence, took me for Gimba’s son. He might not be my biological father, but he was one culturally. Our thickest link, perhaps, is the marriage of his eldest son to the eldest daughter of my parents – a union that has produced three beautiful children, and the first, a daughter, was named after my mother, Hauwakulu, also an incomparable Zaguru – good woman.

Indeed, history has lost one of its most resourceful custodians. Among Gimba’s books are Trail of Sacrifice (1985), Sunset for a Mandarin (1991) Sacred Apples (1994), Once Upon a Reed (1998), Inner Rumbling (2000), A Toast in the Cemetery (2002), Letter to the Muslim Fundamentalist (2004), This Land of Ours (2006), Letters to my Children (2007). What Gimba had shown in his career and association with every group of which he was a member are those qualities that made a true leader, which made him, without impositions, the natural head of all the groups he identified with. In the literary community, he became a National President; to the alumni of his alma mater, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, he was also the National President. Even in banking, he rose to the position of Executive Director at UBA.

These backgrounds prepared him for the leadership of his home state, Niger’s state-owned university, IBB University, Lapai; first as its Chairman Evaluation and Implementation Committee and then as its pioneer pro-Chancellor. So, it was not surprising that, when, in the uncertain 1998 and 1999, the People’s Democratic Party was scouting for an accomplished and popular Nigerlite as its Gubernatorial candidate, Gimba was first on their list. He reportedly turned down that invitation into the house of garbage that is Nigeria’s politics. For an activist too gentle to carry placards or endorse a popular revolt, that was a wisdom not misapplied. But if he had accepted, I’ve no doubt he would’ve gone down in history qualified for categorization as “patriarchal leader” in an Ali Mazrui book of Africa’s political biographies for, among many traits, his pacifism. Which is what the latter-year Nelson Mandela also exuded, and which is not cowardice. You’d be missed, Ya-Gulu. For your books, for your gentle words, for your effortlessly expressed humour, and of course for your similarly didactic poetry. May Allah forgive your shortcomings, and grant you eternal bliss!

By Gimba Kakanda

@gimbakakanda on Twitter

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This Thing is Not a Change, Nigeria!

Olusegun Obasanjo

It’s obvious now that, in Nigeria, only imperceptive politicians and public servants, particularly those lacking the will or wisdom to play on the sentiments or emotions of the people, get judged and written about harshly. Or, is it just that memory is a trick that deserts Nigerians whenever sentiments are stoked and emotions stirred up?

I’m amused and angry now over the ease with which past leaders of the country, whose atrocities are open knowledge to all, whose indecisions form the very reasons we’re in our current national mess, become overnight patriots and statesmen for merely standing in solidarity with the very people they betrayed when they had the opportunity to make a difference.

It’s in this hell of displeasing amusement that a politician found guilty of misappropriating public funds would refer to his religion, ethnicity or region as the reason for his nemesis, presenting it to his constituents as witch-hunt over a certain disagreement with his prosecutors, thus exploiting their gullibility.

The case of former President Olusegun Obasanjo whose hypocrisy I took up in my recent open letter to him, easily comes to mind. That the very Obasanjo who started the fire we’ve been struggling so hard to extinguish is now being hailed as a hero – for merely understanding one of his zillion mistakes, having been disowned as a godfather by the man he once considered his puppet – highlights the comedy that is Nigeria’s quest for change.

What Nigerians need from Obasanjo is an apology for this maddening political chaos he initiated, not this dramatized illusion of patriotism that only assaults our sensibilities. No, dear countrymen, Obasanjo has already misused his opportunity to present himself as a truly visionary leader. This party membership card-tearing clown in Ota can only go down in history as the first villain of 21st century Nigeria.

Unless Obasanjo, who embarked on his presidential bid with his bank account in red, calls for another press conference to tear up all the millions he acquired during his eight years as head of state and government, including those that came under his “Presidential Library” at a period in which he couldn’t fix even our Power problem, this present showmanship of his is everything but an atonement.

Some Nigerians, however, have placed Obasanjo above other past Presidents and Heads of State who haven’t been contributing to the discourse of the country, believing that his outspokenness qualifies him for patriot. In this, they seem to genuinely mistake that word for”parrot”, the verb and even noun. I hold the other, quiet past and equally failed leaders, in some esteem for not stepping forward to insult the intelligence of Nigerians as Obasanjo does now.

That a people really think that Nigeria needs an Obasanjo to justify their conviction that Jonathan is a tragedy or that the country is a mess, is befuddling. What precedents are we setting with the way we “pardon” past “misrulers” of this country for dissenting with an incumbent only following their footsteps?

Another question I’m always quick to ask is, can anyone tell us Obasanjo’s legacy that Jonathan didn’t improve on? But asking that seems even silly because President Jonathan himself is one of the many disastrous legacies of Obasanjo! Well, did Obasanjo restructure the Ministry of Petroleum Resources in which millions continue to “disappear” till date? Did Nigeria’s power problems became better under Obasanjo? Wasn’t Obasanjo indicted in the Halliburton scandal? Who remembers Siemens bribery scandal? Was there transparency in the recovering and re-disbursement of Abacha’s loot? Isn’t this the same Obasanjo who also used Nigeria’s funds as bribes for lawmakers for approval of his infamous Third Term agenda? What has changed, Nigerians? What?

We live in a big hell in which, instead of being scorched, we find amusement; only that these dramas that amuse us are actually manifest pain. We live in a country that can truly clap hands for even Boko Haram’s leader, Abubakar Shekau, if the evil man comes out today and condemns President Jonathan as what we know he is – a failure; or if he described General Buhari as what we also know he is – a face of change. I don’t know what you think about this, but this culture of self-imposed amnesia to delete the bits of memory that document those who have failed this country is a precedent nobody in his or her right senses should celebrate or justify. May God save us from us!

By Gimba Kakanda

@gimbakakanda on Twitter

The Insidious Art of Election Postponements

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For an election that seems like the funeral rite of the incumbent central government, if you’re true to yourself and have gauged the agitation for its replacements and its own desperate ploys to regain its squandered goodwill, it doesn’t take much to understand there’s indeed a storm ahead. This is for the fact that no political desperado would ever let go of power and go down without a rough fight, without attempts to set the whole house on fire – for all contending parties to lose. So, we must brace up for more intrigues from this falling Presidency.

While we chew the defence of the election postponement by Jega-led INEC, with the Presidency exonerating itself, basic psychology shows that postponement of the February 14 elections was to achieve a certain aim – to diffuse the momentum of these awakened change agents blurring the fault-lines of regional, religious and ethnic animosities across the country.

The possibility of diffusing the momentum of this initially undermined force of the opposition party, the APC, is a mission the PDP-led government hasn’t exactly studied in their nonstop propagandas and character-assassinating stunts designed to make their political bogeyman, retired Major-General Muhammmadu Buhari, first unlikable and then unelectable. The impossibility, however, of dismissing the merger of a seeming northern party, the CPC, and the ACN which dominated the south-west, to form this now formidable APC, as a bed for the Christian, the Muslim, the northern, the south-western, the Hausa-Fulani or the Yoruba, is no longer in doubt. The rebranded Buhari isn’t that locally marketed, perishable brand of yesterday, for, with this alliance Nigeria’s most educated region, the Yoruba race, he’s now a foreign commodity on whom are the eyes of the international community no longer sympathetic to a President described as “utter failure” by the Economist. And, in fear, the ruling party had employed all in its arsenals to embarrass him, saga after saga, and scandal by scandal: missing certificates, to portray him as certificate-forging fraud; fabricated hate speeches, to portray him as unapologetic bigot; continuously referenced old age, to portray him as senile; sensationalising of his policies as a military Head of State, also to portray him as a potential dictator!

But, while election postponement – which indeed affected voters like a friend overseas who had proposed to return to Nigeria this February and who may not be able to secure another leave anytime soon, because his leave ends before the next Election Day – is the last resort of Jonathan’s big-spending campaign organisation, a reality that hasn’t been factored out is: can the rage of citizens taken for a long ride and for granted in these five years of misrule and mismanagement be diffused in six weeks? Can a postponement diffuse the agony of the people of northeast Nigeria, and of especially those whose children and wards are still in the “invisible” camps of the Boko Haram? Can a postponement make a people lose their memory of a Commander-in-Chief boldly saying “I don’t give a damn!” in response to a question of national concern and interest?

The insecurity being referenced now as a reason for postponing the election is a puzzle that aspiring President Buhari attempted to solve in his interview with Al Jazeera. He asked, “If the same military cannot secure 14 local governorates out of 774 in six years, how can they be sure they can secure those 14 in six weeks?” And Buhari has every reason to withhold trust in his former institution, the Nigeria Army, which, even in the heat of his certificate saga, did not come to his defence, as his political molesters seemed to have colluded with the them in ridiculing the old man’s claim that copy of his certificates, for which he had sworn an affidavit, is in custody of the Nigeria Army. The military, through some parties, acted in ways that gave away what is an obvious partisanship.

The Army, having also ruled the country, is an old ally of the civilians. In the song “Army Arrangement”, Nigeria’s Afro-beat maestro, Fela Kuti, pans the “padi-padi” syndrome that possesses our power-brokering elite, political and military, for their desperate and insatiable quest for power and money.

The backdrop of that song is the transition to Nigeria’s second republic in 1979, which presented Alhaji Shehu Shagari as the head of a government for which History has no sympathy. It’s almost an accurate lampoon of our ongoing quest for change: there’s a missing oil money, and an election being manipulated by “padi-padi” – cronyism, crony capitalism!

Some of us may think that the tension being experienced now is a decision of just an individual, our President, but he’s just a representative of an avaricious clique who must fight dirty to protect their interests. Fela refers to them as “arrangee masitas” My fear now is, the Nigeria Army, with some of its members now partisan and deferring to the arrangee masitas, can’t afford the backlash of any conspiracy against the people.

2015, to me, is a time-bomb that must be defused with absolute caution, and it’s a period for the Army and all security agencies to convince Nigerians that they exist to uphold the social contract that keeps this country together, by rejecting offers to protect this crony capitalism that forestalls our counterterrorism, reducing them and the country to pitiable wrecks.

Army Arrangement will be suicidal because our soldiers, as it is now, are very tired of fighting and mourning. And any untoward pandering to the ways of their cronies in plainclothes is more trouble for them, from the outraged rioters in the north to the militants now spoiling for a fight in the south. I just hope we get this thing right, and may all understand that Nigeria isn’t their family’s enterprise!

Let them postpone the elections for as many times as possible, what isn’t in doubt is: there are many things that time can’t heal, many things that a postponement can’t change, many things that a billion dollar PR contract can’t redeem, and one of them is the decision of a people standing at a political crossroads. For their only aim is a gateway to a saner nation. May God save us from us!

By Gimba Kakanda

@gimbakakanda on Twitter

Disarming Nuhu Ribadu’s Partisan Critics

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The biggest fraud we may witness in the forthcoming elections may be the foreseen exploitation of General Muhammadu Buhari’s coattail effect, already being espoused to hoodwink overexcited electorate by disadvantaged members of his party. We’ve built a dangerous political culture, with a thing as cheap as political education scarce, where partisan sentiments blur objective analyses of, especially, political aspirants. Ours is a nation of bandwagons. Bandwagons that fail to understand that the beauty of a model democracy is the availability of a diversity of options. In their desperation they also fail to remember that Nigeria falls into this pit as a result of exactly what they’re agitating for: a seeming one-party political system. Having PDP entirely replaced by the APC, with the latter becoming dominant, is a predictable disaster. I do not advocate this climate of change. What I advocate is a system in which these two major parties are almost of the same strength and structure, such that an underperforming member of any party can be easily defeated by a promising candidate of the opposition. Even with my agitation for a new central government, I’m not hoodwinked into accepting everything offered by APC at other levels, knowing that the only virtue some of them can boast of as a reason to be voted for is appearing on the same campaign posters with Buhari.

My first confrontation with a member of this one-party bandwagon, known in my part of the world, in these past days of anti-Jonathan advocacies of which I’m a part, for their frequent chanting of “APC Sak!” – a vow to vote for just APC – was on the day Malam Nuhu Ribadu was declared winner of Adamawa State’s PDP Gubernatorial primaries, in which I wrote to congratulate him on my social medial platforms, observing that the former EFCC Chairman was indeed a strong and desired personality, and a blessing for whichever institution or people he’s tasked or elected to lead. The anti-Ribadu critic contacted me, sharing a commonplace sentiment that a support for Ribadu is a validation of the PDP, to which I responded, with a hint of mischief, that in a State messed up by an APC-led government, isn’t it hypocritical to still advocate an APC Governor? He caught my mischief, and of course, despite his expressed partisan sentiments, he couldn’t defend the testifiably corrupt administration of the impeached Governor Murtala Nyako.

While, in our interaction, I highlighted that ideology isn’t yet in practice in our democracy – or whatever we refer to as that form of government – and that strong personalities ought to be of our collective interest, his unwillingness to accept that was an emphasis on the strength of partisan sentiments. And, thus, I understood that partisan sentiment, like religious, is an indoctrination hard to overcome, and for some it’s an obvious loss of the ability to be rational and even less obnoxious in political analyses, debates and interactions.

Their portrayal of Ribadu, once their idol, as flawed, was a typical syndrome of the bandwagons. His offence was defecting to another party, and they even predicted that he was only exhibiting political naïveté and that he won’t even win the primaries to represent his new party in the general elections – a prophecy that has already failed. But there’s no way any partisan critic would dismiss Ribadu as a hypocrite without rubbishing all the members of the APC. Ribadu isn’t a personality one would describe as incautious opportunist, because, unlike many prominent figures of the APC, he didn’t win an election under the platform of one party before defecting to another, betraying trust and personal integrity. Any partisan critic whose parameter of judging Ribadu as opportunistic or hypocritical for merely leaving a party without any trust or mandate must retain the decency to be harsher on Governors Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso (Kano), Rotimi Amaechi (Rivers), Aliyu Wamakko (Sokoto), Abdulfatai Ahmed (Kwara) and Murtala Nyako (Adamawa), for walking out of the party that brought them to power, with the mandates and trust of that party. That, of course, is asking a double-speaking, partisan critic too much!

Similarly, while the partisan critics praise the defecting G-5 Governors as heroes, Ribadu, also a hero of theirs while in APC, has been caricatured in their bid to portray him as the shadow of that man, as sentiments aggregated in adopting an amnesia that deletes the bits of memories that hold Ribadu as that highflying firebrand of a dysfunctional country in a PDP-led government. We forgot that he’s the same man who brought down his boss, IGP Tafa Balogun and some of the most powerful political overlords of that administration, even rejecting a $15 million bribe, a record no Nigerian has beaten, from one of them, thus becoming a bogeyman to kleptomaniac public servants.

Perhaps the most amusing trend of the bandwagon is their attributions of anti-Jonathan or anti-PDP remarks, long expressed or fabricated, to Ribadu just to justify their portrayal of him as dishonest, while at the same time promoting a presidential candidate that had, about four years ago, vowed not to run for the Office of the President, which he does now without an apology, and even being promoted by fellow politicians who had dismissed him then as “unelectable”! If, as I told this fellow, we don’t blackmail Buhari with his contradictions and dishonesty, applying that parameter to ridicule Ribadu is a manifest hypocrisy.

Sadly, not many are willing to “forgive” Ribadu for what they call a betrayal of the movement to emancipate Nigeria, which amplified last week with the President’s “stopover” in the capital of Ribadu’s home State, Yola. Again I read what the bandwagon wrote about his membership of the PDP, and how, pandering to an absurd illogic, that diminishes his personality. Strangely, nobody has bothered to compare Ribadu with his APC opponent in the Adamawa Guber race to truly determine their competence and capability. As anti-Ribadu sentiment intensifies for hobnobbing with his President, one has to observe that as a presidential candidate of his party, it’s only mandatory for him to host Jonathan, and this doesn’t matter whether or not they share the same ideals.

We may be doing ourselves irreparable injustice if we insist on having PDP entirely replaced by APC, ushering in a rebranded misrule of another dominant party. In Lagos last week, for instance, I met some good friends who, despite being supporters of Fashola and volunteering as publicists of Buhari/Osinbajo presidential ticket, are furiously campaigning for PDP’s Guber candidate, Mr. Jimi Agbaje, citing the man’s antecedents and dazzling political foresights and placing him above his APC opponent, Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode. Ours isn’t an ideology-driven political system. Every ideal here revolves around the personality of our leaders, and thus a Buhari candidacy would’ve still been endorsed even if presented on PDP platform.

We need to calm down with our uncritical quest for change, and desperation to “kick out” every legacy of the ruling party. As a northerner, in this time of escalating security challenges, it’ll be my pride to see our political system peopled by the Nuhu Ribadus, who despite their shortcomings, are still one-eyed kings in this nation of the blind. As a former police officer remembered for vast accomplishments and model public servant with limitless connections in the international community, it’s not hard to see that a Governor Nuhu Ribadu is an asset in our quest for a new Nigeria. I advocate a new Nigeria with competitive political culture; a Nigeria in which it’s easy to have APC’s Muhammadu Buhari replaced if, but may the good lord intervene, he finally gets to lead and couldn’t fix Nigeria as promised. I want there to be a credible Nuhu Ribadu in the PDP willing to do better, keeping the opposition on their toes. We need a civic education to demand for a better country, not just anger to demand change!

By Gimba Kakanda
@gimbakakanda on Twitter