Mahmud Jega

From the very first time I saw his campaign poster as a clean-shaven PRP governorship candidate in 1979, to the 1990s when I frequently saw him at Unguwar Kanawa, to 2006 when I had a major interview with him in Kaduna, Abdulkadir Balarabe Musa looked and dressed like a conservative Hausa man. He unfailingly wore a flowing gown with a long kubbe cap. But looks can be deceptive. This was the most radical man, civilian or military, that ever became a state governor in Nigeria, of old Kaduna State from October 1979 to June 1981, when he became the first governor to be impeached.

With his death last Wednesday, only three of the 19 men who took the oath of office as state governors on October 1, 1979 are still alive. They are Lateef Jakande of Lagos, Muhammadu Auwal Ibrahim of Niger and Jim Nwobodo of old Anambra states.

I did not expect Abdulkadir Balarabe Musa to win the July 28, 1979 governorship election in old Kaduna State. He was little known at the time compared to his NPN opponent, Lawal Kaita. NPN was evidently stronger in the state than PRP was. Unlike in Kano where PRP won 75% of the vote in all five elections, PRP finished a distant second in the first three elections in Kaduna State. NPN won three of the five Senate seats, most of the House of Representatives seats and two thirds of state assembly seats. This however was because of the mass disqualification of PRP candidates in Zaria area on technical grounds.

On governorship election day however, Funtua-Bakori area flipped a la Michigan and Pennsylvania. Balarabe scored a narrow victory, 461,000 to Kaita’s 443,000 votes, if I remember right. PRP zealots celebrated the victory by dumping truckloads of maize cobs [NPN’s symbol] in Kaduna streets, which vehicles drove over. Two weeks later when Shagari won the presidential election, NPN zealots fabricated a huge key [PRP’s symbol], tied it to a tipper truck and dragged it through Kaduna streets.

Hot drama ensued at the election tribunal but Balarabe’s victory was upheld. At his swearing in, Balarabe made very radical statements about his government not beholden to any vested interest. In the same speech, he abolished poll tax. This led to his first clash with the NPN-dominated Kaduna State Assembly led by the fiery Speaker Mamman Abubakar Danmusa. The speaker was very eloquent, especially in Hausa, which he deployed maximally on FRCN Kaduna radio.

Unlike Abubakar Rimi in Kano, Balarabe was not a good orator. What he lacked in fiery oratory, he more than made up for in unbending ideological obstinacy. His written speeches during occasions at Kaduna Government House were laced with ideological rhetoric. For example, he began one press conference by saying, “As you know, this government did not come into office due to any vested interest.” As governor, Balarabe Musa lived in a small house in Kaduna. NPN propagandists however made much about his owning a large maize farm on Zaria road, saying he was not a radical but an old pre-Soviet kulak.

The governor made absolutely no effort to reconcile with NPN even though the specter of impeachment hung on his head from the beginning. At an orientation for NPN MPs before their inauguration, Lawal Kaita was reported to have said, “You have a two thirds majority. Why don’t you use it?”

Balarabe appointed Abidu Yazidu as Acting Secretary to the State Government [SSG] and Head of Service. This was the practice throughout the military era, but the 1979 constitution separated the two posts. A newspaper reported at the time that Zaria elders went to the governor and asked him to separate the two posts so that feuding Zaria and Katsina Provinces could have one each. Balarabe drove them away and allegedly made uncomplimentary remarks about Zaria elders.

When he finally acted, Balarabe called Yazidu, told him he was separating the two posts, won’t give him either one, but would appoint him as Permanent Secretary with Special Advisory Powers. Yazidu refused and resigned. Then there was the protracted battle over commissioners. On three occasions KDHA rejected Balarabe’s entire list of commissioners. He therefore came to rely heavily on perm secs and special advisers, notably Mataimaki Tom Maiyashi, Richard Yakubu Umaru and Lawal Batagarawa. He then made Dr. Yusuf Bala Usman, Northern Nigeria’s most prominent Marxist intellectual, as SSG and real power behind the throne.

Balarabe Musa fought battles on many fronts, beginning with the World Bank over Funtua Agricultural Project. He publicly said that out of the N45m loan, 40 experts deployed by the bank to run the project will consume most of the money through generous salary and perks.

When Emir of Katsina Usman Nagogo died in 1981, Balarabe refused to appoint a successor. After his impeachment, Governor Abba Musa Rimi used it to make a deal with KDHA, which then approved his deputy, Mu’azu Aliyu Ahmed and commissioners, while he appointed a new emir.

Bala Usman too fought KDHA’s members to a standstill. He once sent a petition to the Auditor General saying an NPN member claimed allowances for visiting his constituency while the Hansard showed that he spoke on the House floor that day. Bala even got a Professor of Physics at ABU to say that matter occupies a definite space at a definite time, so a person cannot be in two places at the same time.

In April 1980, when I was President of the University of Sokoto Students’ Union, we invited Malam Aminu Kano to our students week and Governor Balarabe escorted him to Sokoto. A drama ensued at the airport. Governor Shehu Kangiwa sent his deputy, Dr. Garba Nadama, to receive Balarabe. Within our earshot, we heard Balarabe saying he must first escort Malam Aminu to his lodge. Nadama said protocol wise, he wouldn’t follow Malam Aminu. He however gave Balarabe Musa the car and full security escort and said he should go to VVIP lodge afterwards.

At the lecture that afternoon, I went and whispered to our Vice Chancellor, Prof Shehu Galadanci, that students wanted Balarabe to speak even though he was not scheduled to. The VC whispered to Malam Aminu, who said, “Yes, yes, he must speak!” Balarabe spoke briefly, saying, “I am a student and loyal disciple of Malam.”

Shortly afterwards, PRP was enveloped in crisis. At a meeting in Kano, PRP’s National Directorate ordered its two governors to stop attending meetings of ‘Nine Progressive Governors’ with their 5 UPN and 2 GNPP counterparts. Two days later Rimi and Balarabe attended the meeting, which soon led to the Santsi and Tabo split.

After the bitter PRP split, a driver of a Tabo vehicle was killed in front of PRP Santsi chieftain Bala Keffi’s house in Kaduna. During the trial of Bala Keffi, state Solicitor General J.B. Maigida unsuccessfully tried to enter a nolle prosequi. There were daily legal fireworks in Kaduna that time, with PRP lawyer G.O.K. Ajayi and NPN lawyers Kehinde Sofola, Hameed Kusamotu and Mudiaga Odje in constant court battles.

In June 1981, Balarabe went to court to stop the impeachment notice served on him and the investigation panel set up by the Assembly led by Rev. Cannon Mohammed but the court ruled that it could not stop an assembly from exercising its constitutional power. Balarabe was at Kaduna Lodge in Lagos when he was impeached. He tried to return to Kaduna but the NSO prevented his return, so he left for UK and was away for more than a year, during which he grew a thick black beard.

In the early 1990s when I worked at Citizen magazine, I saw Balarabe Musa quite often. He frequently visited our landlord, Mamman Jallo. Balarabe was once Company Secretary and Chief Accountant of BCNN while Jallo was the Commercial Manager. He always drove himself in an old Peugeot 504 car. One day it refused to start and Mamman Jallo mobilized youths to push it. Balarabe sat at the wheel; after much huffing and puffing, the car started with difficulty. As he zoomed off, he waved in thanks to the men who pushed it. All of them were laughing heartily and saying, “He was a former governor and he cannot even afford battery!”

Monday Column November 16, 2020.

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