BY FRANCIS ULAL DAMINA
Penultimate week, Deputy Governor of Kaduna state, Barnabas Bala Bantex, made a sparking revelation that he would not pair with his principal, Malam Nasir Ahmad el-Rufai, to seek for second term in office come 2019. While this epiphany might have undoubtedly come as a shocker to many observers of the political scene, for some of us, it is not. To start with, prior to 2015, the Deputy Governor who was no less celebrated by his Southern Kaduna kinsmen as the Mandela of their time, had hung his playing boot, saying he was bidding goodbye to the game of politics; that he will rather retire back to his ‘Bantex Center located in his hometown – Manchok, to start manufacturing ideas for the salvation of the Southern Kaduna people. Unfortunately, after a lot of persuasion from el-Rufai and a number of statesmen of no questionable character, Bantex swallowed his saliva and consented to becoming el-Rufai’s running mate; an election they clearly won largely because of the incompetence of the then incumbent Governor Ramalan Mukhtar Yero and no less, his handling of the insecurity situation in southern Kaduna that he inherited.
But the Deputy Governor, by this recent decision, will not, like previously, completely retire from the field of play because, as the statement apparently shows, he will only be defecting from Premier League to Laligga. He said: “…I have decided to offer myself as the APC candidate for the Kaduna South Senatorial District “. And this, according to him, is borne out of the desire to “deliver the desirable quality of representation for our people and attract the maximum dividend of democracy.”
With this declaration, two things are involved. One: why will he retreat from a more attractive league to a near obscure one? And two, his credentials to give a comparatively more qualitative representation.
On the latter, owing to his antecedent as a two term chairman of Kaura Local Government, Member House of Representatives among many positions of responsibility he held, there is probably a consensus even among his greatest critics that he is a fine politician. For instance, long before knowing him closely, the late elder statesman, Dr. Chris Abashiya- may the Lord bless his soul; had told me about how he, Bala Bantex and one Professor James in the 1994 constitutional conference made a number of cases for the emancipation of Southern Kaduna with no less, the issue of the creation of Gurara state which he said some Southern Kaduna elders sacrificed on the altar of greed. I was also to hear about Bantex when his name was mentioned as a former Secretary-General of the Southern Kaduna People’s Union (SOKAPU), whose logo he designed.
Again – unless it escapes my memory, I also had the honour of talking about him in a pass over when I did a tribute for late Bishop Joseph Bagobiri of the Catholic Diocese of Kafanchan. In the said tribute, I queried: “With the injustice meted on us in Southern Kaduna that I grew up to see, I started researching to see if there has been any effort at anytime by our own elite to, like the Nanas and Jajas, resist injustice? ” Yes”, I continued, “I came across names of selfless individuals such as Rev. Frs. Joseph Bagobiri, Matthew Kukah, Philip Gaiya, Mr Francis Mutuah, Dr. Chris Abashiya, Barnabas Bala Bantex, etc, who made their marks. And while others fought by either using their pen or pulpit, Bantex deployed the privileges he then had as a Federal Lawmaker to correct some abnormalities. The most glaring of these abnormalities he corrected was that, Kaura, which used to be Kaura/Kauru Federal Constituency, became a Federal constituency of its own, thereby ending the initial merger.” This is undoubtedly an achievement many ungrateful politicians have continued to reap the fruits, with no acknowledgement whatsoever.
But in spite of this sterling political trajectory, the decision by Bantex to move from a seemingly more to a less rewarding league has continued to generate varied reactions among ordinary people and as well, the commentariate. People have continued to wonder if any sane politician would concede the position of a deputy governor for a senate seat; one that he is even not sure of winning? And this is true owing to the angst the Deputy Governor has in recent time attracted from his southern Kaduna kinsmen.
Simon Reef Musa, a journalist of Southern Kaduna stock who has been very critical of both Bantex and his principal since they came into power, believes that the Deputy Governor is not telling us the truth as to why he wants to run for the 2019 senatorial election. Reef equally went ahead to insinuate that the development is not unrelated with the Deputy Governor’s underperformance. He said: “… those close to the corridors of power had always predicted a gloom for the Deputy Governor whose popularity has incredibly waned over the years, following his lackluster performance as deputy to Governor Nasir Ahmad el-Rufai”.
Whatever may be the case, while the likes of Reef might just be concerned that the once celebrated Bantex has now become a political stooge, as a student of Philosophy, I was trained not to be contented with ‘what’, hence the need to also ask ‘why’? And this ‘why’ is not synonymous with the journalistic ‘why’ especially owing to the fact that journalism is simply history written in a hurry.
Without doubt, there is much anger about Bantex in the area he wishes to represent at the Senate, my conviction is that the embattled Deputy Governor is simply a victim of circumstances which I shall soon show. And this is not unconnected with elite conspiracy, the accidental politics of el-Rufai, as well as experiences in history.
At the age of 15, I was already abreast with the bitter experiences of our people in their relationship with the Hausa-Fulani epitomized in the parochial activities of the Zaria emirate. While in other climes, children of my age were only acquainted to policies on scholarship, among many other welfare packages, in our own case, we were only familiar with the taxes our parents had to pay with the untold consequences of not complying. And as I narrated elsewhere, apart from the moonlight stories I had heard told by my grandparents, of how they suffered as hewers of wood and drawers of water for the Hausa-Fulani in Zaria, which left a thought of “we” versus “them” mentality in many of us, which in the circumstance, has not abandoned us, In the year 2000, I listened to a lecture, delivered off -the -cuff, by the then Rev. Fr. Matthew Hassan Kukah, now Bishop of Sokoto Catholic Diocese, to the Caritas of Kaduna Catholic Archdiocese.
According to him, “Apart from the United States of America, no empire had the concentration of slaves that Sokoto Caliphate had. Every emir was expected to pay homage with no fewer than a thousand slaves to the caliphate annually. “And these slaves”, he categorically said, “were not Muslims since in Islamic Law, one cannot enslave a fellow Muslim.” These, plus other dehumanizing stories we heard and in some cases saw in our relationships with the feudal lords, was to later produce the sparks that lit up future fires of revolt.
Amidst this anger that created an atmosphere of suspicion and great animosity between Christians and Muslims in Southern Kaduna, nay Northern Nigeria, with the coming of the PDP to power in 1999, Southern Kaduna was, in the words of Hakeem Baba-Ahmed, “given an exaggerated significance.” It was this time, and throughout its 16 years in power, that for the first time since the creation of state in 1967, that many Southern Kaduna sons and daughters were appointed into positions that ab initio, were metaphorically meant ‘for the whites’. The late Sir Patrick Yakowa, in some twists of fate, in 1999, became the first Southern Kaduna son to be appointed as a federal permanent secretary, and later as minister, deputy Governor and Governor. Others unprecedentedly became service chiefs, GMDs, etc, – which they never translated into the common advantages of the people their appointment was probably meant to serve as compensation for their many years of victimhood even though the appointees merited their offices. I think this is where Bantex is misunderstood for making a case that we must stop reading from the book of Lamentation mostly lectured by our own elite, to allowing ourselves get baptised into the new testament of grace where we are no longer slaves, but self sufficient and independent people who can boast of their capacity to exist with or without government.
Unfortunately, when the APC defeated the PDP in 2015 and took over power at both the federal and state levels – in the case of Kaduna state, the executive Governor, Malam Nasir Ahmad el-Rufai, in his characteristic elements as an accidental politician, did not appreciate the status quo. For instance, he was alleged to have said – when southern Kaduna complained of his lopsidedness in appointing officers into various positions to steer the ship of state, that Southern Kaduna did not vote for him, hence, lacks the locus standi to complain. It is also in public domain that His Excellency rated Christians as constituting only 30 percent of the population of the state, among many other things he is said to have misfired. And this is within the context of a society steeped in mutual religious and ethnic distrust anchored around history and experience; and also within the context of a political party – the APC, rumored as having plans for the Islamization of Nigeria.
This provided a fertile ground for certain members, if not most, of the elite class – especially politicians, who in a way, became internally displaced within the political architecture, to begin to sow seeds of discord with the erroneous narratives they took home, especially knowing how gullible Nigerians are. Since then, the atmosphere was charged with hatred and anger on anything el-Rufai, Buhari, APC, and in fact, anything and anyone associated with. This was to be clearly demonstrated in the local government election that, though the credibility of many contestants under the APC was testified, they were openly told that they had unfortunately emerged from the wrong party therefore will not be voted for!
It was in the middle of this storm that Bantex finds himself. And to aggravate the situation, when Malam started implementing his policies of reforming education and the entire civil service, many Southern Kaduna sons and daughters who constitute a large chunk of the civil service in the state, found themselves disengaged. And this was interpreted as a confirmation of the theory that the el-Rufai government, with a Southern Kaduna son – Bantex, as his deputy, has a plan against Christians, hence the understandable antipathy against the duo. This may also account for why Bantex severally wanted to resign if not for the reverence he has for Mr President who el-Rufai usually implores as his mediatrix.
To conclude this discourse, one, el-Rufai must find a way of managing the situation, not necessarily for reasons of political expediency, but for the sake of generations unborn. We must agree that never in our history have we become so divided as we are today – a blame the political class must in all penitence take, he must also, Like General Yakubu Gowon, begin the process of reconstruction, rehabilitation and reconciliation.
Two, if there is any lesson Southern Kaduna needs to bequeath home in this season of defections, it is that political parties are not religious organizations, hence the need to meditate on our choices for 2019, knowing that in politics, as the defectors have now shown us, there are no permanent enemies but permanent interests. It is my belief that it will amount to a disaster if we don’t get it right this time around.
Three, the beauty of democracy as I had severally mentioned to Malam is that, people have a right to decide how they want to be governed with what their priorities constitute. Unfortunately, many of Malam’s acolytes do not seem to appreciate this. In most circumstances, they seem to be guided, not by the desire to serve but by the unbridled appetite for wealth. Apart from telling him lies as feedbacks, they are equally poised at generating enemies for him. This is why observers who applauded el-Rufai when he added two sincere and highly experienced politicians, Lawal Yakawada and Saidu Adamu, believing that things will change for the better owing to, not only their electoral value; but also for the acceptability they enjoy across different divides in the state, and on whose shoulders, no doubt, his comeback bid hangs, find it difficult to understand why the duo have been made to look like un-activated Sim cards.
Finally, as it has been seen, Bantex is merely a victim of circumstances. By the way, when we talk about achievements, what can we say were the specific achievements of his predecessors as deputy Governors? And unless we forget; even the late sir Patrick Yakowa that we often refer to with much reverence, was severally stoned by us. The question is: when shall we learn to appreciate our sons and daughters as well as travel with them in their moments of difficulty?
And lest I forget, I have a feeling that by expressing his decision to vie for the Senate seat to represent the very people he has been criminalized before their faces, Bantex is simply looking for an escape door to retirement from active politics, otherwise his decision is clearly a tilt too far. The best thing is for his principal and Mr President, who is said to fancy him so well for his loyalty, to pencil down his name for a ministerial appointment or its equivalent- assuming they win in 2019.
Damina, a student of religion and society, is of the Holy Family Catholic Church Gidan Bako, Kaduna state, and can be reached via email@example.com