…Says it’s honourable than being the biggest thief
He just finished paying the loan he took about 40 years ago, to buy a house of his own. But for the loan facility, former Governor of old Kaduna state, Alhaji Abdulkadir Balarabe Musa, would probably have been without a house today, because with his extremely frugal life style, there was no way he could have been able to afford one.
However, each time he goes down memory lane, he is forced to relive the maltreatment meted to him by the then military Head of State, General Muhammadu Buhari who had him incarcerated for two years without interrogation or trial. But former Governor of old Kaduna state, Alhaji Abdulkadir Balarabe Musa said he harbours no grudges and as matter of fact, has forgiven President Buhari for the ill-treatment.
Alhaji Musa who is the National Chairman of Peoples Redemption Party (PRP) told a team of Sunday Sun, comprising Ismail Omipidan, Noah, Ebije and Sola Ojo in Kaduna that, having given deep thought to his ordeals in the hands of the then no-nonsense military leader, “I realised that if it I was the Head of state at that time, I would have done the same thing, but probably with greater care and caution.”
He also spoke on other national issues including his support for former President Olusegun Obasanjo during the 1999 presidential election, his views about radical social reconstruction of Nigeria, his displeasure at Muslims and Christians who hide under religion to marry more than one wife, and his life as the poorest ex-governor in Nigeria. Excerpts:
Nigerians have read a lot about your radicalism, but only very few people know your background. You are an ex-governor who used to drive one old Mercedes Benz. Do you see yourself as the poorest ex-governor in Nigeria?
That is for you to say. All I know is, I live a modest life, and this is not surprising given my origin and orientation, which has always been radical for progressive and socialist ends. If you understand this about me, you will not be surprised at any aspect of my life.
How do you feel when some Nigerians refer to you as the poorest ex-governor?
It doesn’t matter. What does that mean? What is wrong in calling me the poorest ex-governor in Nigeria? It is more honourable to call you the poorest governor than to call you the biggest thief.
What informed the type of lifestyle you have chosen to live?
As somebody committed to socialist reconstruction of Nigeria, the greatest influence is my religion, Islam. From the way I understand it, it is a proletarian religion. That I understood from the beginning, and it is still what I understand now in spite of the misuse of the religion.
How are your wife and children been able to cope with your unique lifestyle?
It is not easy for them. It is not easy for me either. It is a matter of commitment. I am committed to what I believe in; they are committed to tolerating me and my conditions.
Nigeria is a country where individuals take advantage of their parents’ social standing for socio-economic and political gains. Your name, can open doors of favour for your children, but it is not likely you would like that kind of thing and that would mean depriving your children of some opportunities. Have they ever complained to you over issues like these?
They raised the issue in a small way. In the case of my children, none of them has the guts to approach me directly on that. One of them is as old as 60 years, and he retired as a Permanent Secretary, yet he doesn’t have the courage to come and confront me on the issue. The only person who has the courage to confront me is my wife (laughter). And I am happy that it was very easy for me to explain to her because her father too is of noble origin, and there was nothing extravagant or corrupt about his life. He retired as Grand Khadi in Katsina state. He rose just like me. While I rose as a descendant of a village head, he rose as a descendant of a Mallam (an Islamic teacher). You can see a similarity in our origin. And we approached life in the same way.
In the past, we know government takes care of former public office holders. In Kaduna, we know there was a time they tried to uplift the standard of living of ex-governors. They bought them vehicles, but we have never seen you with such vehicles. What is the problem?
Ex-governors are being catered for in Nigeria. I doubt if there is any state government in Nigeria that doesn’t care for its former governors, but it is just that the level of care varies. In some states, the care is more than others. Because of the history of Kaduna State, particularly the radical orientation, they don’t spend much like other states do. For instance, our pension is equivalent to that of a retired permanent secretary, maybe a little less. In other states, it is unimaginable. In Kaduna state, an ex-governor gets, I think, N741, 000 pension per month, all consolidated, including everything. But I understand that in some states, ex-governors get at least N12 million per month, and palaces are built for them.
In Kaduna State, there is no palace built for anybody. This is my house. I acquired it in 1972 through the Northern Nigeria Development Company (NNDC) loan scheme. But in neighbouring states, palaces were built for ex-governors.
There was a time the news made rounds that they shared vehicles for ex-governors in Kaduna?
No. Certainly not in Kaduna state, as I said, it is N741, 000 per month, consolidated, it covers everything.
Talking about the house, how did you acquire it?
I acquired it through NNDC through what we called owner owned scheme in 1972.
How much did it cost?
You can’t believe it. It was built for less than N20, 000. It is a three-bedroom bungalow. I furnished it wall to wall with about N2, 000. Nowadays, a window blind alone cost more than N2000. I paid the loan over a number of years. I think I finished paying about a few years ago.
You finished paying the loan recently?
Yes, I finished paying the loan about six years ago.
There were too many problems. My earning – earnings from my farm, from occasional benefits as a chartered accountant, and so on, could not carry it. It wasn’t easy.
How much was the total loan?
I can’t remember, but it was less than N20, 000.
And you just finished paying that sum five years ago?
Yes, because the condition then was not like those of today when people now steal. I couldn’t have bought the house but for my friends, who assisted through the loan then.
How many are you in your father’s family?
I can’t remember, but we must be very many.
You are what number in the family?
I can’t say either because I belong to a big family. Imagine a family of a village head that is where I come from. My grandfather was also a village head. According to our ancestral history, we established the village where my grandfather and those before him became the village head. Till this moment, the tradition has been kept. One of my younger brothers of the same father and mother is a district head of an area called Kaya town in Kaya District, Giwa Local Government Area of Kaduna state which used to be Zaria Province.
Let’s look at your marital life, how many wives have you?
I never wanted more than one wife at a time in my life. This is because of my belief on what Islam prescribed, and also because my nature as a social being is such that I should limit conflict as much as possible. With more than one wife, there is bound to be conflict, and I tried to avoid it. So I have two reasons for not marrying more than one wife; one is my belief in what Islam prescribed, and secondly for my own convenient. Islam prescribes four wives with conditions.
First, marriage to four wives is not obligatory for a man. Secondly, you marry more than one wife under strict conditions and the conditions are such that it is impossible for men to fulfill and Islam says so, but it is only abuses that make Muslims marry more than one wife mindlessly. Like it is even in Christianity, only one wife is prescribed, but most Christians marry up to 100 wives. But in Nigeria the number is large; I think the proportion of Nigerian Christians who marry more than one wife is higher, compared to anywhere in the world. I don’t know anywhere in the world where Christians marry more than one wife than in Nigeria. If they find problem with one wife as Christians, they invoke traditional beliefs so that they can marry more than one wife, particularly when they are chiefs.
So you married more than one?
I married three times in my life, and I have children with each and every one of them, but I have never married on the basis of modern practice of girlfriend and boyfriend. No. I always marry on the basis of tradition-introduction, the two are introduced and within a short time they make up their minds in one way or the other and then marriage takes place. For instance, my first wife was introduced to me by my friend. My second wife, I married her because my son and her father were students of the Imam of the institute of administration, Zaria and when she was prepared for marriage, someone in the family felt that I was a suitable person and I was contacted and I agreed. My present wife, the third wife I married her in 1975. It was the senior brother of her mother who was my professional friend, we were also students of a developed Islamiya school in Kaduna, so it was through my contact with him that led to introduction of her as student at a Teachers’ college, here in Kaduna and we got married. So you see, in the case of Hausa/Fulani Muslim, they marry through introduction by parents.
It is only in the case of Igbos who are republican that you can have something different from introduction by parents. Igbos are more republican than the Yorubas and Hausa. In the case of other ethnics in Nigeria, am not quite sure of their practice.
What happened to your first two wives?
Well, you know the normal thing that happened with marriage, marriage breaks for one reason or the other, and it is not only in Nigeria, it is worldwide. I can only say in the case of my first wife that we were both too young, I married when I was 20, and she was 15, and we lived independent of our parents, far away from parents. For instance, we lived in Kaduna and Zaria, a long distance from our parents. In those days it was a long distance, even though it was 40 miles, it is not like today. And we had no guide, so it was like we were suffering from youthful exuberant.
What of the second wife?
The second wife virtually it was the same story with the first wife, but I think it was the pressure of my commitment, not so much political commitment, but I have always been in search of education since I left school in 1952, and that attracted my attention, I combined so many things, I was studying, I was working, to some extent I was already a political activist, I was farming. For example, in the case of study, I was studying to have my GCE which was then the minimum qualification to enter into university. And I was managing with very little resources, so the pressure could lead to frictions and things like that, and care and caution that I exercise now, I couldn’t exercise then. I was still under 40.
So your first two wives divorced you?
You know the traditional thing, it is just like what happened in Yoruba land, either you go to court and seek for divorce, I think that was the general thing.
How many children do you have now?
I have nine children from the three wives. The first two wives are still alive, but they are married to other men now. All my children are alive.
How would you describe your present wife?
She is the lucky one and the most tolerant wife. She is lucky that I have stabilized, the fear and pressure I had then have been reduced, except political pressure which of course is part of our lives. When I had health crisis which led me to travel overseas for medical treatment, and when I rushed to the doctor, and after examining me, the doctor said, the reason I had for my health was pressure, I just laughed, and then he asked why was laughing in spite of the seriousness of my condition. I said pressure is part of our lives, pressure is part of my life as a politician, but pressure is now part of life of every Nigerian because of the negative state of the nation. The doctor agreed with me. My present wife was my wife when I was the governor of Kaduna state. We met in 1975 and I became governor in 1979, but the practice of first lady was not there.
Is any one of children into politics?
And you are not encouraging them to go into politics?
No, it is up to them. My father didn’t encourage me. But I followed the footsteps of my father. My father was a Muslim leader, not a cleric. Reasonably versed in Islam, he considered Islam to be proletarian, and that has worked on me. My teachers, both western and Islamic teachers were largely of that orientation. That was during the colonial days, the 1940s. None of them sat me down and told me what to do. They allowed me to learn from their examples. I am allowing my children to learn from my examples.
You look very handsome. If at this age you are still looking good, it means you must have chased women when you were young. Did you do such thing when you were growing up?
No, I couldn’t, because in my own case, I had problems. So many people in the north during my time had this problem. At the time I finished school in 1951, there wasn’t a single secondary school in the north. Therefore, a northerner could not go straight to the university. He had to go to the south, where in 1943 there were about 100 secondary schools. And a northerner could go to schools in the south if his parents could afford it. At the time, there was no tribalism. You could go to the south, finish your secondary school, and go overseas for a university studies before University of Ibadan was established. We couldn’t have secondary school education in the north. Even the Kaduna College and Katsina College were not up to the standards of secondary schools. In the case of Kaduna College, we called it middle six, and Katsina College was Teachers Grade 3. Some of us who were militants thought the best way to achieve in life was to have a better education and secondary education was a stepping stone to the university at the time. To go to the university, you have to have three Ordinary Level and two Advanced Level, therefore, some of us embarked on private studies, especially when University of Ibadan established extramural studies which enabled one to study for GCE. Whether you have been to secondary school or not, you could go there straight to study over a number of years to get your GCE Ordinary and Advanced levels and then go to the university.
Some of us did so. I did so. That was how I was able to qualify as a chartered accountant. In fact, it was by private studies I got my GCE Ordinary Level and embarked on secretaryship. At the time, there was an Institute of Secretaryship in London. It was very important to get immediate admission into the institute of secretaryship. Getting chartered as an accountant was far more difficult. I also enrolled for the chartered accountancy institute, and subsequently got the scholarship.
Did your studies prevent you from chasing after women?
(Laughter) I didn’t have the time and the money to even think about it..
Now, let’s talk politics, what motivated you into politics?
As I said earlier, I have been a politician all my life, from my origin.
I told you I grew from a village head family. I can remember this about my father, who sees kingship as anti Islam, even emirship. Kingship developed after the jihad of Shehu Danfodio, and because of its class nature, it was anti Islam. I knew this even before I started serving. I knew it since I went to elementary school for my first education. I knew this about my father. He was opposed to his own father being a village head for this reason. He protested and established his own compound in protest against his father. He was against class division and feudalism.
You were Obasanjo’s polling agent for the 1999 presidential election in your area, how did it happen?
Yes. Some of us in the north were afraid northern bourgeoisies would rig the election against Obasanjo. So we decided to use our status in the society to restrain those who would rig the election. One of the things I did was to go to the polling station where I voted, even before voting started. I stayed there to make sure that the election was conducted and ensure Obasanjo could not be rigged out.
Invariably, you supported Obasanjo in 1999?
Of course, I did.
Considering what later transpired, do you regret supporting him?
I regretted that those who campaigned for him and convinced us to vote for him did not do what we advised them to do.
For example, I can remember, myself, Dr. Bala Usman and one Lawal Dambazzau (they are all late now), we sat down with an army general, a northerner, who was campaigning for Obasanjo, and we considered the possibility of voting for him. We decided that even though Obasanjo did not do as much as we expected, we thought he was better than others – one of them from the north, one from the east and one from the west – who were campaigning for the presidency. We all decided Obasanjo was on the whole better than others. We decided to campaign for and vote for Obasanjo. There was one general who visited me, Dr. Bala Usman, Lawal Dambazzau and others at least twice a week during the campaign for Obasanjo. We told him, it is very difficult to recommend any Nigerian for this office (presidency). It is risky because of the decisive role of money in politics and elections which make it difficult for suitable persons to emerge. We explained why Obasanjo was preferable. As we all agreed, we campaigned for Obasanjo. We are very proud about that.
I also want to say that even now, in terms of the relationship between the bourgeoisies, Obasanjo behaved very well. For example, my relationship with Obasanjo was much better than with anybody who became the president of Nigeria, even better than my relationship with Shehu Shagari under whose administration I was a governor. When Obasanjo was president of Nigeria, I could just take my telephone, and ring one of his aides, I think his name is Bodunde, then a young man in his twenties. All I needed was just to ring Bodunde, tell him that I want to speak to Obasanjo, and indeed I would speak to him, and whenever I was in Abuja, Obasanjo treated me with greatest respect.
The problem with Obasanjo is that he was conservative, and he was all the time afraid of what the PRP stands for, and particularly myself and Dr. Bala Usman.
He appreciated that we supported him, he appreciated that there was need for us to be involved, but he was afraid to get us involved (laughter).
Shortly before the 2015 election, you spoke at the launch of a book on Buhari by Tam David-West at the Kaduna Trade Fair Complex. In your speech you said you have forgiven Buhari for whatever he did to you, what informed that decision?
Yes, because I realised that if it I was the Head of state at that time, I would have done the same thing, but probably with greater care and caution. So I forgave him for everything he had done to me; even the fact that he kept me in prison for two years without even interrogation. Maybe in his mind, it was for security reason or fear.
Maybe if you are outside you could organise to overthrow him?
Maybe, but I did not have money to organise such a thing. Look at the situation today. Every Nigerian, including those running this government admitted that Nigerians are suffering from hunger and poverty. The cost of living is beyond the ordinary man.
Everybody knows. Yet a group wants to protest against government’s policies that resulted to hunger and poverty, and Nigeria Police are stopping them from protesting. Can you imagine this, by this administration which called itself an administration of change?
The police said it was because it cannot guarantee security normally, that is what the police will say. And it is because they will shoot the protesters.
What does that speak about our democracy?
I have always said you have been deceiving yourself, those of you who talk about democracy in Nigeria. What is happening in Nigeria has nothing to do with democracy. It has to do with the difference between military administration and civilian administration. That is all. There is more to democracy than what we see in Nigeria now.
Some are saying we should stop electing former military officers. What is your advice to Nigerians on that?
The problem is not about the former military officers because even if you bring a civilian who has never been in the military, he will do the same thing, or even worse.
What is the way out?
The way out is a socialist reconstruction of Nigeria, starting with the leading role of the state in the economy to ensure peace, equality, justice, dignity of the human person, and an even development of the whole country. That is the solution. It is very difficult, very revolutionary, but nevertheless, the solution. We can’t continue the way we are now.
Tell us briefly how you were nominated as the then candidate of PRP?
In the first place, I became a registered member of a political party, NEPU, in 1953, at the age of 17. NEPU was announced in 1950, and I immediately identified with NEPU and became active. When I became incompatible with the civil service, I decided to join politics, not for the purpose of aggrandisement, but for the purpose of changing the system controlling all developments in the country which was based on self interest ahead of public interest. I decided this at a very early stage, so when PRP came and took over from NEPU which I belonged to, I did not find it difficult to identify with PRP. At that time, I had become more intellectual, more economically independent. So I easily identify with and campaigned for the PRP. In 1979 when there was difficulty in choosing a governorship candidate for the PRP in Kaduna State, Mallam Aminu Kano stepped in, stopped all arguments, and said that I should be the candidate.
Was that not an imposition?
No. It wasn’t an imposition. It was based on reality. For instance, at the time, some members of the party, because of lack of information and articulation, were trying to make those that were not committed to the ideology of the PRP, and those who were more sympathetic to the opposition NPN than the PRP, the candidate. Mallam knew this, and he said, ‘I think it should be Balarabe, but go to the convention.’
Mallam’s nomination was not final; it was just a suggestion to the convention. We went to the convention in Katsina in 1979, and the convention unanimously endorsed me as the governorship candidate for the PRP in Kaduna State in 1979. That was how I became the candidate.
The Sun has singled you out for The Lifetime Achievement Award, how do you feel about it?
I am happy about The Sun Lifetime Achievement Award. I am happy that there are Nigerians who can assess the relevance of leaders in this country. As symbolic as this award is, it is impossible in some other countries, not only in Africa, even in Europe to exercise their conscience and identify those you think are relevant.
Finally, what is your message to upcoming Nigerian leaders?
I think our future leaders have to embrace what I call social reconstruction of Nigeria. There is no way we can continue like this. If you find it difficult to reconstruct Nigeria on the basis of socialism, then start with the leading role of the state in the economy because that is very important. This level of poverty and hunger and marginalisation of the people in many respects is simply because we are being harassed with the leading role of the private sector in the economy in Nigeria. Before the military came, and even after they came into power, before 1990, the leading role of the state in the economy was relevant, so relevant that we didn’t have the present level of corruption, stealing and criminal waste of resources.