By Wole Olaoye
Three deaths last week triggered three long funeral trains in different directions.
It sounds outlandish to say that the interventions of Abdulkadir Balarabe Musa were partially responsible for Nigeria remaining one country. But it is true. At critical moments in the recent history of Nigeria, one man has always made conscious efforts to straddle both sides of the divide, or at least demonstrate that he had the mental capacity for objectivity. That man was Balarabe Musa, the single-minded disciple of late Mallam Aminu Kano who, more than any other follower of the NEPU founder, epitomised the poor man’s champion.
My fondest memory of Balarabe Musa was, incidentally, not of his stoic calmness during his impeachment by reactionary forces of the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) in 1981. The then Kaduna State governor had etched himself in my consciousness before then. I recall that, following the Ali-Must-Go students uprising, several students were rusticated from Nigerian universities by the departing military administration. Instructions were sent to the universities never to readmit any of those on the list of the damned. While some of the new civilian governors were wringing their hands in helplessness, Balarabe Musa, to his eternal credit, awarded scholarships for overseas studies to Kaduna State indigenes affected by the rustication order. They are all eminent citizens today and must number among his most inconsolable admirers.
One notable student leader who could not benefit from Governor Musa’s kind gesture was Abdulrahman Black, former President of the Ahmadu Bello University Students’Union. Black hailed from a part of the old Kwara State (now Kogi). His state did not have the kind of programme that the Kaduna governor created for his own students. I had the pleasure of ruminating over those days with Mallam Balarabe Musa at the memorial held in honour of Abdulrahman Black in Kaduna several years ago.
It is difficult to imagine any other contemporary Nigerian politician with the ascetic disposition of Balarabe Musa — a man totally without guile, unaffected by high office, unfazed by wealth and fanatically committed to the welfare of those Mother Theresa described as the poorest of the poor. Although a leftist political stalwart, Balarabe was not a blind ideologue. He was often realistic, even when he disagreed with the direction the country was going. Some months ago, he declared that Nigeria needed to restructure its political system. He couldn’t be bothered with ethnic or regional considerations. All that mattered to him was the good of all and the enduring legacy of a commitment to truth. And the testimonials have been long:
President Buhari: Alhaji Balarabe Musa left a bold footprint on Nigeria’s democracy, and his role in promoting good governance and development will always be remembered and appreciated by posterity.
Former President Goodluck Jonathan: Alhaji Balarabe Musa was a sincere and committed patriot and statesman who held fast to people-oriented progressive ideals throughout his political life. As a democrat, Musa avoided convenient politics and was passionate and courageous about his views. He was a highly principled man who relentlessly pursued his beliefs, even at the risk of suffering personal and career setbacks.
Former President Obasanjo: He brought renewed activism, verve and resourcefulness to bear on the nation’s polity,
Governor Nasir el-Rufai: Alhaji Balarabe Musa will be remembered as a progressive politician who tried in his time as governor to expand the horizons of opportunity for ordinary people. He made notable contributions to industrialising the state. As a leader, he demonstrated at the ballot box, the capacity of a political party devoted to the protection of the interest of ordinary people to acquire power democratically. As private citizen, he projected the qualities of principled politics, decency, integrity, consistency and commitment to improving the lives of our ‘talakawa’ in Kaduna State and Nigeria.
Richard Umaru (Balarabe Musa’s ideological soulmate): Professional mourners! They are at it again. Even those who either bitterly opposed or cynically dismissed his positions while he was alive are now mourning the loudest!
I say that is the way of the world. All sorts of carving knives show up on the day of the elephant’s death.
The second political elephant that fell last week, John Jerry (JJ) Rawlings, is the only other individual that has profoundly affected the destiny of Ghana after Kwame Nkrumah. As a young Flight Lieutenant, Rawlings took the risk of staging a coup against the established potentates in order to stop his country’s drift into anomie. The fact that Ghana has since rediscovered its sense of purpose, makes one say with conviction that Rawlings did fulfil the purpose for which Providence sent him to the land of the Black Star.
His death at 73 made some of his admirers wax poetic. Dr. Bisi Anyadike dug into Oral Poetry from Africa to post a tribute to the man they called JJ on social media.
Elephant, opulent creature, elephant, huge as a hill even when kneeling:
Elephant, robed in honour, a demon, flapping fans of war:
Demon who splinters the tree branches, invading the forest farm:
Elephant, who disregards, ‘I have fled to my father for refuge’,
Let alone ‘To my mother’:
Mountainous Animal, Huge Beast, who tears a man like a garment and hangs him up on a tree:
At the sight of him people stampede to a hill of safety:
My chant is a salute to the elephant.
Ajanaku, who treads heavily:
Demon who swallows bunches of palm-fruits whole, including the spikes:
Elephant, praise-named Laaye, massive blackish-grey creature:
Elephant, who single-handed makes the dense forest tremble:
Elephant, who stands sturdy and upright, who strolls as if reluctantly:
…The hunter’s boast at home is not repeated before the elephant:
Ajanaku, who looks backwards with difficulty like a man with a stiff neck:
… Elephant, praise-named Laaye, ‘O death, please stop following me’,
This is part and parcel of the elephant’s appellation.
Learn of the elephant, the waterman elephant…
… Elephant, who carries mortars, yet walks with a swaggering gait,
Primeval leper, animal treading ponderously.
Yes indeed, Rawlings was an elephant. For a man who had the privilege of governing Ghana for a total of almost 20 years and whose intervention saved his country from ruination, Julius Caesar’s famous quote is also appropriate: Veni Vidi Vici.
And the elegiac drums must also roll out their doleful tunes for Uncle Biz Law (Bisi Lawrence), the peerless sportswriter, elder statesman, and Sports Administrator who took the final bow a couple of weeks after his 87th birthday.
Five years ago, he wrote his last column for the Vanguard newspaper where he said: “Many of us are wondering what lies ahead now. The citizens are mostly confused. Declarations of progress are pronounced and promoted glibly on the strength of statistics. And we are offered no test of certainty, or even reliability. And as you know, there are lies, damnable lies, and statistics.’’
Here’s Victoria Bruce’s “In Memoriam” to escort Uncle Biz Law, a man dedicated to the written word, as he glides from mortality to immortality:
For a second you were flying
Like you always wanted to
Now you’ll fly forever
In skies of azure blue
We’ll see your smile in every ray
Of sunshine after rain
And hear the echo of your laughter
Over all the pain
The world’s a little quieter now
The colours have lost their hue
The birds are singing softly
And our hearts are missing you
Each time we see a little cloud
Or a rainbow soaring high
We’ll think of you and gently
Wipe a tear from our eye.