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Accord concondiale: The continuous search for Nigeria’s elusive unity (15)

Encore

Reinhold Neibhur once rightly stated that “man’s capacity for justice makes democracy possible. But man’s inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary.” On this note, we shall continue and conclude our discourse on one of Nigeria’s great icons, Mallam Aminu Kano, which we had earlier started. Thereafter, we shall beam our searchlight on the life and times of other great prodigies, like Joseph Tarka and Alvan Ikoku.

Mallam Aminu Kano

SECOND REPUBLIC (continues and concluded)

He eventually became the leader and presidential candidate of the Peoples Redemption Party (PRP) in the Second Republic. In the following months, five new parties emerged: the Nigerian People’s Party, the Unity Party of Nigeria and three others. Among them was the People’s Redemption Party, led by Aminu Kano, Sam Ikoku and Edward Ikem Okeke. The party leaned towards a populist framework and enjoyed the support of prominent labour leaders such as Michael Imoudu. In 1979, the party presented Aminu Kano as its presidential candidate but he could not muster enough votes to win. Nevertheless, the party won two gubernatorial seats.

Mallam Aminu Kano’s imperishable strides and reformist ideas

After leaving his colonial masters to enter politics, Aminu’s first mission in politics was to fight external colonial domination and achieve freedom for Nigeria. The second mission was to fight internal oppression so that forced labour by the emirs and subjugation by local oppressors were stopped. The subsequent local government reforms ensured that traditional rulers were removed from direct administration as they were removed from controlling the local courts, native police and the prisons. These two objectives of going into politics were accomplished in his lifetime.

His third main mission in politics was the emancipation of women. In practicalising what he preached about women emancipation, he chose Mrs. Odinamadu as his running mate for the presidential election in 1983 under his party, the PRP, the first Nigerian politician to give women such high visibility in public life. He taught his wife how to ride bicycles. He taught some of his associates how to read and write in English. When he went to Sudan and saw how they integrated Islamic schools with modern education, he came and set up the first Islamiyya model school in Kano. His main concern throughout his life was how to get everyone educated and productive.

Mallam Aminu Kano was really a visionary who was ahead of his time. Women in northern Nigeria did not even have the right to vote during the First Republic. They were not involved in national development efforts and public affairs generally. The 1979 Constitution guaranteed universal adult suffrage for all, regardless of sex, and Mallam Aminu was one of the architects of that constitution. Decades before the Beijing Declaration on Women, Mallam Aminu was already an advocate for women’s full emancipation to enable them actualise their full potential.

Aminu Kano co-founded the Northern Elements Progressive Union (NEPU), as a political platform to challenge what he felt was autocratic and feudalistic actions of the Native Northern Government. NEPU was founded on the principle that the poorest of the society, the talakawa, the abandoned and disinherited ones needed the protective cloak of political leadership. The big men of traditional politics supplied the tanks and battering rams for the rich to rob the destitute, protect those who did not need it, and enrich the wealthy who suffered from excess. This was a party whose leaders and followers experienced all manner of human humiliation because they refused to succumb to those who had elected themselves masters of society and assumed the powers of gods. The potency of his platform was strengthened partly because of his background. Mallam Aminu’s father was an acting alkali in Kano who came from a background of Islamic clerics, Aminu Kano also brought up Islamic ideas on equity in the campaign trail during the First Republic.

At the time of his death, he left behind only one house, which is now a research centre of Bayero University, Kano; one wife, Hajia Aishatu, who is still alive; one daughter, Hajiya Maryam; one radio, one TV and one farmland. He had no account anywhere in the world; he left only a few naira under his pillow the day he died – a genuine democratic humanist who practiced what he preached. An airport, a college and also a major street are also named after him in Kano. The house where he lived and died and was buried has been converted to the Centre for Democratic Research and Training, Bayero University, Kano. In fact, at his death, Mallam Aminu was described as the Mahatma Gandhi of Nigeria.

One Dr. Patrick Wilmot, in a tribute sent to the 15th Aminu Kano Memorial Lecture that took place some years ago, had this to say:

“Mallam Aminu Kano embodied the essence of leadership; to protect the weak, nurture the poor, and provide peace and stability to the minds of the citizen. If he had been a thief, Mallam Aminu would have had houses in Ikoyi, St. John’s Wood, Knightsbridge, Malibu and the Avenue Foch. Instead, the house where you are celebrating his anniversary is testimony that he remained a man of the people.”

Indeed, Prof. Chinua Achebe rightly stated in his tribute that “Nigeria cannot be the same again because Aminu Kano lived here.”

Joseph Tarka

Senator Joseph Sarwuan Tarka (1932 – 1980), was a Nigerian politician from Benue State and a former minister for transport and then communication under Gen. Yakubu Gowon. He was one of the founding members of the United Middle Belt Congress (UMBC), a political organisation dedicated to protecting and advocating for the country’s Middle Belt.

Early career

Tarka was born on July 10, 1932, in Igbor, Benue State, to the family of Tarka Nanchi and Ikpa Anyam. His father was a village teacher of Tiv origin who later became a headmaster and then chief in Mbakor, Gboko area. He attended Native Authority Primary School, Gboko, and Katsina-Ala Middle School. After completing his education, he became a teacher at Katsina-Ala Middle School before going on to further his studies at Bauchi Rural Science School. He was a member of the Tiv Native Authority Staff Union and the Northern Teachers Association.

Tarka’s arrival on the national scene

First Republic

In 1954, on a ticket that was allied with the Middle Belt People’s Party, Tarka was elected to represent the Jemgba constituency in the Federal House of Representative. In 1957, the Middle Belt People’s Party decided to merge with the David Lot-led Middle Zone League to form the UMBC. Tarka then emerged as president of the UMBC; the party soon formed an alliance with the Action Group, the dominant South-West party. Tarka was a nominated member to the Nigerian Constitutional Conference of 1957 and was also the representative of the Middle Belt zone to the Willinks Commission of 1958. In 1958, he was appointed a shadow minister of commerce. Tarka’s UMBC, a predominantly Christian party, contested the pre-Independence election of 1959, and the subsequent election of 1963 against the mainly Moslem Northern People’s Congress. Both elections led to violence in the Middle Belt, which contributed to the Major Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu-inspired military takeover on January 15, 1966. Tarka was re-elected in 1959. In 1962, along with other Action Group leaders, he was arrested on charges of treasonable felony but was acquitted for lack of evidence. He was also subjected to continual harassment and petty prosecutions for some political offences in the North. He refused to come to any accommodation with the northern leader, the Sardauna of Sokoto, Ahmadu Bello.

In 1964, Tarka fought the elections alongside the other southern progressive parties under the United Progressive Grand Alliance (UPGA). Though the UPGA lost, he continued to campaign for a separate Middle Belt State. His opportunity was not to come until after the military coups of 1966, when he had a chance to express himself at the All-Nigeria Constitutional Conference. Finally, his wishes were granted when Gen. Gowon created 12 states, appointed him to the Federal Executive Council and made him commissioner for transport in June 1967, later redeployed to communication.

After Gen. Gowon took charge in August 1966, Tarka was appointed federal commissioner of transport and then of communications, resigning in 1974, after allegations of corruption from a fellow Tiv, Godwin Daboh, were published. Tarka was a potential national leader. Some people thought he should be eliminated from the race. They found a willing tool in Daboh, who had penetrated Tarka’s political life. Daboh made many allegations. Daboh’s action was allegedly instigated by Paul Unongo and Benue-Plateau State Governor Joseph Gomwalk; a police probe into the allegations was led by Sunday Adewusi.  This was intensely discussed in the media. Gowon was running a very civilised government. If allegations were levelled against you, you had to resign. And so Tarka had to resign but since the allegations were not in court, it was difficult to know which ones were serious or valid or just simply frivolous and unfounded.

What then came to be decisive were neither the allegations nor their proof but the media framing of it as corruption rather than allegations. The Lagos press had its own entry point, which was understandable. Tarka had been defending the North in the controversy after the census of 1973. That had infuriated the Daily Times. On the other hand, it pleased The New Nigerian. So, each of them took different positions on the Tarka case. The Nigerian press generally has an inconsistent response to the notion of corruption. Awo was a victim of the same sorts of allegations. The Coker Commission indicted Awo but there was no reference to it as long as Awo was a presidential aspirant. This contrasts with the repulsive manner that Tarka’s case was pursued in the press. In the end, the allegations did harm to him. There is no doubt about that.

Second Republic 

In the lead-up to restoration of democracy with the Nigerian Second Republic, Tarka aligned with northern politicians to form the National Party of Nigeria, on which platform he unsuccessfully competed in the presidential election. He was elected senator for Benue East in 1979, and was appointed chairman of the Senate Committee on Finance and Appropriation, a position he held until he died on March 30, 1980, aged 48.  His son Simeon Tarka was elected to the House of Representatives in 1979.

Alvan Ikoku

Alvan Ikoku (1900 – 1971), was a Nigerian educator, statesman, activist and politician. He was born in Arochukwu, present-day Abia State.

Early career

From 1911 to 1914, Ikoku was educated at the Arochukwu Government Primary School and, from 1915 to 1920, he attended Hope Waddell College, Calabar, where he was a student under James Emmanuel Aggrey and was mates with Akanu Ibiam and Eyo Eyo Esua. In 1920, he received his first teaching appointment with the Presbyterian Church of Nigeria and Church of Scotland at Itigidi and, two years later, became a senior tutor at St. Paul’s Teachers’ Training College, Awka, Anambra State. While teaching at Awka, Ikoku earned his University of London degree in Philosophy in 1928, through its external programme.

Ikoku’s imperishable strides

Ikoku fostered considerable government interest in the Nigeria Union of Teachers (NUT), becoming instrumental in the Legislative Council’s acceptance of 44 NUT proposals amending various educational ordinances. He encountered resistance through much of the 1950s, when the colonial government repeatedly rejected his NUT recommendations to introduce uniform education in Nigeria. After Independence, Ikoku and his union were vindicated, when the recommendations became the basis for educational policy in the emergent nation.

(To be continued).

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