I don’t doubt the fact that if Chief Obafemi Awolowo known for his spartan discipline and being visionary, Dr Nnamdi Azikwiwe known for being nationalistic and detribalized, sir Abubakar Tafa Balewa and sir Ahmadu Bello known for their austere life style and incorruptibility were to have governed Nigeria democratically for long, the country Wouldn’t have found itself perhaps in this political logjam.
Well one could say these were ancient leaders that lacked the modern touch, but two potentials leaders that Nigeria greatly missed are all gone. They are Yusuf Bala Usman, who was an activist and a lecturer at ABU, Zaria and Gani Fawehimi, a human rights lawyer that fought tyrannical and despotic regime in this country more than any Nigerian.
Despite being from one of the most powerful monarchy in Nigeria, the katsina Emirate, YB Usman was an exceptional radical. A thoroughly detribalized, patriotic citizen, he spared nobody once he belonged to the exploitative and oppressive class, the traditional institution inclusive. Five contributions of Dr Yusuf Bala Usman will remain indelible in my mind.
The first one was his unending positive contributions to public lectures that were regularly organized at the main campus which raised the level of political consciousness of the students and their level of patriotism. Few people like him made ABU, Zaria not only a centre for knowledge acquisition, but a centre for producing future leaders that looked at Nigeria as one family united against tyranny, tribal and religious bigots . This was made possible because of the concerted efforts made by few people like YB Usman to preached the oneness of the country. That the ruling class are using the artificial differences between the people to promote their class interest. That we are united by our basic needs which are food, shelter and clothing. Because of his unending pursue of united Nigerian against religious and ethnic bigots, he wrote a book in 1979 titled “the manipulation of religion in Nigeria.” If you google you can’t find it on the internet, but you can find it in Arewa house in kaduna. The book clearly pointed out the dangers of religious manipulation and its catastrophic consequences to the Nation. The book is still germane to our unending religious and ethnic crisis.
Second point that sets YB Usman apart from other radical was he practiced his thoughts whenever the opportunity arose. In six months of Gen Murtala Mohamed reign, YB Usman and Dr Patrice Wilmot were some of the intellectual power house of the regime. In the six months, they set the agenda for the government which changed the narrative of governance for good. The most remarkable achievement by that regime at continental level was how Gen Mohammed rallied round African leaders to secure independence for Angola. The duo of Patrice Wilmot and YB wrote the most revolutionary speech to have come out of conservative Nigeria. It was the speech of Murtala Mohammed during the extraordinary meeting of OAU now AU. It was tilted “Africa has come of Age.”This was the speech that swayed the passive African countries to recognize MPLA and eventually led to MPLA to form the new independent government of Angola.
Thirdly, I’m yet to come across a Nigerian that was more passionate about the cause of Africa more than YB. A part from going out of his way to enjoin all to support liberation movement all over Africa, he encouraged intellectuals from East and South Africa to take up teaching appointments in ABU, Zaria. He never spared time to eulogize the patriotic zeal of some of the African leaders that stood their grounds not to compromise the interest of Africa. It was from YB I got to know that Patrice Lumumba, the first elected prime minister of Congo who refused to compromise the interest of his people was not only killed by CIA, but that his body was burnt to ashes and the ashes were thrown in the Congo river so that there wouldn’t be his graveyard that Congolese will rally round to active his ideas.
Putting in practice his thoughts didn’t stop there, he was a member of constitution drafting committee that was established by Gen Mohammed to fashion out a constitution that will usher in democratic rule. He and Dr Segun Osoba of university of Ife were dissatisfied with the conservative direction of most members. Consequently, the two of them produced a people’s oriented minority report which though not accepted but nevertheless demonstrated their passion for the Nigeria people.
One of the high points of pragmatic nature of YB was his participation in the establishment of PRP. Unlike socialist who continue to preach the theory of the ideology without taking bold steps to ally with progressive forces, YB believe that the only way to bring about a desirable change is join forces with progressive forces and that was what he did in 1979. He and other ABU dons drafted a people oriented manifesto for the PRP and when they won in Kano and kaduna, he was appointed as the Secretary to the government. In 18 months in power, the man didn’t change, instead he reinforced his urge to change the society for good. A workaholic who spent more than 14 hours in the office. The duo of YB and his boss Balarabe musa were incorruptible. I saw both in action. As the Secretary of students wing of the PRP, we visited both the Kano and kaduna state governments. While in Kaduna,we were made to work on some enlightenment pamphlets and were provided with only accommodation and feeding. And after that we were transported back to ABU, Zaria without a kobo given to us. It was different scenario in Kano as we were not given any assignments, but it was merriment throughout and when departing we were given some allowances. I can not chronicle the fantastic blue print of Balarabe administration which was pivoted by YB in one piece.
As I said earlier one, of YB strengths was his detribalized and patriotic nature. He demonstrated this in key appointments. He picked Amba Assadugu, a Bachama from the defunct Gongola as the press secretary and Richard Audu working with FRCN, Kaduna, a Gwari man from Niger state as permanent secretary ministry of information.
Fourthly YB was man of principles. When Balarabe musa was impeached, YB made it clearly he was not going to work with Abba Rimi, Balarabe musa’s Deputy who took over as Governor. On the day his principal was impeached, he tendered the letter of resignation, handed over the office to the permanent secretary, handed over his official car and left. To date, a lot of people will testify that YB and his boss left the office not a kobo richer. No house, no plot of land, no fat account.
Balarabe musa went back to his three bed room house he built with housing loan he secured from the Northern Nigeria broadcasting corporation as their Accountant. He was one of the earliest chartered Accountant in Northern Nigeria. YB went to the university and continued to lecture.
Fifthly, One of the most indelible Charecter traits of YB that still lingers in my mind is his unbelievable courage to withstand adversity. YB was involved in a ghastly accident which resulted in the complete paralysis of his left hand. When we went to greet him, he was the one trying to motivate us. He said a lot of people offered to take him abroad to see if it could be revived . He said nothing could be done to make the hand functional. After several entreaties, he was pressurized by Gen Babangida his primary school class mate and he reluctantly went abroad, but nothing came out it. But the unique thing about this man was that he was driving with one hand, working day and night more than those with two hands. YB would drive from Zaria to kaduna with one hand in his rickety fiat that was not even automatic. How he was doing that was something that to me looked like a mystery.
He eventually died at the age of 62 years not of stroke,hypertension, but died strangely of hypotension( low blood pressure).
May God raise more Balarabe Musas, Yusuf Bala Usmans so that we shall be free from these ethnic and religious bigots that populate our country and had thrown us into violence, anarchy and chaos. I further pray to God to raise more of them so that we shall witness accelerated political, economic and social transformation and complete integration of this country. We owe this people like YB who died to see a united,prosperous and peaceful Nigeria.
Tomorrow it shall be the turn of Gani Fawehimi.