Charismatic Leadership and Struggle for a New Nigeria: Tribute to Mallam Balarabe Musa

Alhaji Balarabe Musa:



Salihu Moh. Lukman

 Sometime in December 1984, Mallam Rufai Ibrahim, of blessed memory, a veteran journalist, a committed Marxist, one of the intellectual backbone of the Peoples Redemption Party (PRP), wrote an open letter to Mallam Balarabe Musa, after close to a yearlong detention following the military coup of December 31, 1983, together with a whole generation of Second Republic politicians. The open letter earned Mallam Rufai a detention ticket to join Mallam Balarabe and other political detainees across the country, largely because of the clarity of message in the letter in terms of communicating many of our failures as a nation, but also significantly as acclaimed revolutionaries. Part of the message sent to Mallam Balarabe by Mallam Rufai was, “as a long standing and prominent member of the left yourself, you are already very familiar with the problems the Nigerian left was facing up to the demise of the Second Republic. Unorganised, lacking own medium through which it could make itself heard, crippled by the opportunism of some of its members, under-funded and too obsessed with bourgeoisie morality to take some necessary steps to improve its financial position, the left didn’t make as much impact as it ought to have made even in the Second Republic.”


Sadly, like Mallam Balarabe, Mallam Rufai has died since April 16, 2016. And, at the time the death of Mallam Balarabe was being announced in the morning of Wednesday, November 11, 2020, a tribute session was taking place in honour of Prof. Yima Sen, another Marxist scholar and activists. Less than two weeks ago, there was another loss of Dr. Salihu Bappa of English Department, Ahmadu Bello University. It is as if the traffic moving left activists and radical politicians out of this world is assuming supersonic speed. I have had the privilege of being closely associated with both Prof. Sen and Mallam Bappa. In fact, it is a rare privilege of being a mentee to both of them. I served as the pioneer Deputy General Secretary of Campaign for Democracy (CD) in 1991 when Prof. Sen was General Secretary and later in 1992, he was succeeded by late Chima Ubani. Dr. Bappa was an ideological leader in ABU who touched the life of almost every radical student in very fundamental ways. As President of National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) between June 1988 and January 1990, several times he had to organise to smuggle me out of ABU to prevent security operatives from arresting me. These are very harsh challenging periods, which can hardly be described with reference our present realities.


Part of the tragedy of our current reality is that debates about creating a new order have disappeared and in its place we talk of change with hardly much substance. Notion of sacrifices are more like tales by moonlight. Ideological struggles for justice in society, economy and politics are at best academic exercises, if at all. Even then, with our educational institutions in permanent crisis, academic exercises have been exported out of Nigeria. Compounded by the lack of knowledge-driven organisations, activism has been reduced to the level of show business with the title ‘Comrade’ being perhaps about the only marker. Opportunism is all over the place. The consequence is that if the left didn’t make as much impact in the Second Republic when they at least controlled two state governments, now it is impossible to qualify the status of whatever remained of the left.


It is really worrisome how so much has changed during our short life span. Reading the letter of Mallam Rufai to Mallam Balarabe, there was constant reference to literature and books in recognition to Mallam Balarabe’s disposition for reading. It was a strong reminder that everyone who makes any claim to belonging to the left ideologically should have some minimum values, which must include hunger for knowledge, the courage to speak out selflessly without fear of repercussion and being able to live within ones’ income. These are issues that distinguishes in varying ways a whole generation of left leaders in this country.


These are qualities of charismatic leadership that was associated with most leaders of the left, especially people like Mallam Balarabe, Dr. Bala Usman, Dr. Mahmud Moddibo Tukur, Prof. Eskor Toyo, Dr. Festus Iyayi, Prof. Toyo Olorode, Dr. Dipo Fashina, Prof. Claude Ake, Comrade Dapo Fatagun, Comrade Wahab Goodluck and many others. As aspiring left scholars and intellectuals in the Nigerian student movement of the 1980s, we were privileged to experience first-hand the inspiring credentials of these illustrious Nigerians. At the time, it wasn’t difficult to understand the exact explanation of the definition of charisma “the gift of grace” as provided by the German sociologist, jurist and political economist, Max Weber, being ‘certain quality of an individual personality by virtue of which he is considered extra-ordinary and treated as endowed with supernatural, superhuman, or at least specifically exceptional powers or quality.’ All we had to do was to look in the direction of our leaders.


Although, many leaders who are opposed to the left ideology also have those charismatic, what was very distinguishing for leaders of the left is the capacity to be versatile with respect to application of knowledge to contemporary challenges of society, economy and politics. Such versatility created a big challenge for many of us at the time such that we have to be able to think on our feet to be able to approach many of these leaders. Even then, almost every encounter end with a new reference to a literature. This was the experience with all our left teachers. If by any stretch of luck, one become acquainted with lecturers who are left scholars, the dynamic is basically that of a cell leader with a member, which will be about discussion or debating applications of ideological issues to society, economy and government.


I will not in any way claim to be close to Mallam Balarabe but I was very close to many of his associates, including Mallam Rufai Ibrahim before his death. I first met Mallam Balarabe way back in 1983 in the buildup to the 1983 general elections. I was together with friends, Mohammed Bello Shehu and Falalu Umaru Madaki. I may not be able to remember the details of our discussions in his small library room in his modest house in Kaduna where he stayed throughout his 18-months tenure as Governor of old Kaduna State, combining current Kaduna and Katsina States. What I can recall was that he was very relaxed talking to us and taking his time to tells us the challenges of politics bordering on how some leaders easily renege from providing selfless services on accounts of vested interests.


To younger generation of Nigerians, Mallam Balarabe may be the best example what leader should not be. But, if anybody is interested in identifying a good example of a charismatic leader, Mallam Balarabe is that person. For 18-months, he managed the old Kaduna state government with a very hostile state assembly, who refused to approve his list of Commissioners. He was able to run the government with a team of committed intellectuals led by Dr. Yusufu Bala Usman, supported by young, intelligent scholars and professionals of the time such as late Dr. Saad Usman, Mr. Richard Umaru, Mallam Lawal Batagarawa, Mallam Lamis Ibrahim Katsina, Mr. Tom Mataimaki Maiyashi, Mallam Balarabe Abbas Lawal, among many others. Being a very knowledgeable and creative leader, he was able to steer the affairs of the state such that his industrial blueprint for Kaduna state remained about the most ambitious industrial plan embarked by any government since the Second Republic.


Part of what need to be acknowledged is that some of the industrial initiatives actually took off and had every indications of every success until the government of Alhaji Ahmed Mohammed Makarfi decided to privatise some of them. Zarinject, syringe manufacturing company based in Zaria, which was growing with the prospect of serving the West Africa market but got privatised and eventually shut down around 2003. Somehow, based on industrial initiatives of governments, arguably, until the coming of Mallam Nasir El-Rufai in 2015, the last Governor of Kaduna State was Mallam Balarabe Musa. At least, we can now identify initiatives such as Ollam, among some of the few industrial initiatives of the Mallam Nasir El-Rufai administration.


Mallam Balarabe’s knowledge, scholarship, politics and leadership is very rich. He was a successful chartered accountant, farmer, politician and one time publisher of the Analyst– an ideological monthly magazine. He worked with a team of sharp and successful left intellectuals as a block of socialist collectives. A member of the team, Dr. Iyorchia Ayu, later emerged as the Senate President of the defunct Third Republic. With all these credentials, unfortunately, he is being wrongly described as a poor man. If my memory is correct, Mallam Balarabe never, throughout his life, accept the label of being poor. He was once reported during the Second Republic to have described himself as a rich farmer. That he lived a frugal and humble life doesn’t mean he is poor. He was a productive leader in every sense of it as he was able to create value on account of which he was able to earn a living. Being a productive person with the conservative orientation of challenging everyone around him to be equally productive, he wasn’t able to accommodate the flamboyant characteristics of Fourth Republic politics, which was why his electoral impact was far from what it was during the Second Republic. His virtue in politics was everything associated with the Weberian charismatic qualification based on ‘devotion to the exceptional sanctity, heroism or exemplary character of an individual person, and of the normative patterns or order revealed or ordained by him’


Above all, he earned for himself a ‘personal trust’ based on which he repeatedly demonstrated charismatic powers and his followers maintain their belief in him. It is easy at this moment for everyone to glorify him. But the very important question, which all of us with claims to some values that are associated with, or close to Mallam Balarabe must ask is, why are we unable to emulate him? Even those who are in PRP today, how close are they to the values of Mallam Balarabe? Without being personal, it is important that as political actors, who respect Mallam Balarabe, we ask ourselves the question, are we in politics to serve, or are we in politics to be served? Given that part of the political impact of Mallam Balarabe and his party, PRP, is that they have representatives in the National Assembly, how different are these members from those of us that are in other political parties? How knowledgeable are these PRP representatives?


The reality of today’s politics is quite disturbing. Like Mallam Balarabe once remarked during his many battles in the Second Republic, ‘we live in times of great danger’. This was a remark made as far back as 1980 but even more valid today. This is because our politics today is contemptuous of any knowledge. The first orientation, any politician contesting election get is that knowledge and its application will never win election. If you want to win election, you must blindfold yourself and submit to total control by mainstream politicians who are very skillful in the art of manipulation, especially when it comes to election financing. As it is, any criticism that seek to untie this control is considered subversive. As politicians desirous of producing a new order, which should be knowledge-base, why should we play politics very submissively. Why did we have to go to school, to acquire all the so-called knowledge we have only to end up as proxies? What values do we really want to pass on to the coming generation?


This is where those of us who are in anyway associated with the ideological left, need to do some soul searching. The kind of courage we used to have in terms of capacity to engage our leaders by being honest and selfless has waned. This is largely because in different ways, we have compromised ourselves. The same leaders we referred to as thieves and all manner of negative descriptions are the source of our livelihood. If anything, these very leaders are far more honest given that they don’t make the kind claims of being selfless as many of us do. Many of us are liable to charges of diversion of public resources but audaciously accuse our political leaders in a manner that suggest we are innocent. From our political leaders to ordinary people on the street, any discerning mind can see through us and logically recognise the fraud in our claims. This is the basis of our moral deficit, which is why when we accuse our leaders of lack of accountability, transparency and fraud, it bounce back at us because as much as our leaders may be have questions to answer, it also reflect our reality.


We end up instead frustrating ourselves with all the anger it produces. Instead of debate, we descent lower and become abusive. As opposed to engaging our leaders, we become sycophantic when it suits us, but when it does not, we fight them. In all cases, creating a new order or change may hardly be a reference point. Yet, we talk of being revolutionaries. However one reflect on this challenge, the unavoidable conclusion is that we have lost our bearing. How many of us have had the privilege of serving as elected representatives or political appointees at different levels? What impact have we made and how different have we projected ourselves from other politicians? How courageous are we to raise questions that challenges ourselves and our leaders?


Some of my personal experiences, especially following the crisis of leadership in APC, which led to the dissolution of the Comrade Adams Oshiomhole-led NWC, suggest that on account of being so-called Comrades one should not contest issues with leaders who once claim. This is not the value that produce us. At this point, one can confidently make the point that Mallam Balarabe’s politics is my source of inspiration. As a politician that was loyal to Mallam Aminu Kano, he never shied away from expressing his disagreement. Together with late Alhaji Abubakar Rimi, he broke away from Mallam Aminu Kano based on principles. And later in 1983, on account of disagreement with Alhaji Abubakar Rimi, again on account of principles, he broke away. The details of Mallam Balarabe’s struggle in PRP are well documented. Part of our unfortunate calamity is that our journalist are no longer as thorough as people like Mr. Richard Umaru, late Rufai Ibrahim, late Ujudud Sheriff, Edwin Madunagu and many others. There are many of the old schooled journalists who part of the left such as Mr. Lanre Arogundade, Mr. Kayode Komolafe, Mr. Owei Lakemfa and many others but perhaps nuances of our contemporary politics mellow them in a way that made them to less incisive in terms of critical journalism.


The borderline is, what is our perspective in terms of the new society we want to build? How deep is our knowledge and how are we able to apply our knowledge in politics? This is where Mallam Balarabe Musa lived ahead of his time. We can, for whatever reasons fail to immolate him. But the reality is that he is the best of embodiment of charismatic leadership whose followers maintained a belief in him till his death. Is a blessing, which no amount of money can buy. Mallam Balarabe must have died a contented person even as he must have been grossly disappointed at the turn events in the country and the world. May Allah (SWT) reward his services to Nigeria and humanity and forgive all his shortcomings.

-Salihu Moh. Lukman</em>

<em>Progressive Governors Forum</em>



This position does not represent the view of any APC Governor or the Progressive Governors Forum