Interviews & Profiles

Denudation: Remembering Dr. Bala Mohammed Bauchi – 1944-1981

So pray for a deluge, that this blighted expanse
Would burst forth into a lusty bloom;
Pray that far from being a wasted effusion
Rapids of tears may turn the turbine of cause.

Pray for A Deluge: David Odinaka Nwamadi

Twenty eight years ago, a government residential building stood blazing in the hot Kano sun. The smoke-filled air was one of three black billows seen from the sky. Within the house, the 35 year old owner lay burning amidst a ton of papers and scant furniture; in another room another man, equally macheted, burned. Who was this first man; and why? His name was Dr. Bala Mohammed Bauchi and he was Political Adviser to Alhaji Abubakar Rimi, the state governor, erstwhile political science don at the Bayero University and before that an ace broadcaster on the Voice of Nigeria. He was also an ideologue of the People’s Redemption Party {PRP} and a socialist. Exhuming the past is a sort of undressing and understanding the why of Dr. Mohammed’s death and the subsequent years is a denudation of the Nigerian story, that we may see it more clearly.

The current political apathy and fractionizing tendency of the Nigerian people, so well understood and celebrated misinterpreted by journalists like Karl Maier is a part of an ongoing dynamic; an organic. It is not an unalterable social trait, like the color of eyes or the ridging of fingerprints are physical ones. If apathy is an evil, and if it must be cured then the root strain of it, found in Dr. Mohammed’s assassination need be isolated and cauterized. For every political event is an expression, is significant and like beads can be told.

Dr. Bala Mohammed was an archetype of that sociopolitical genus known in this country as the Radical Leftists; and he was the first of them to be assassinated at the height of Nigeria’s Second republic, on the 10th of July 1981. The man who emerges from the memorial service held a fortnight after his death at the BUK Preliminary Studies School was a Bauchi born scion of the neo-Malikist Uthman dan Fodio jihad which established a caliphate over the northern central Sudan; he was, by birth, conservative. Yet, in the sixteen years before his murder he had established himself first on the radio waves and then in academe as the most lucid of the Nigerian leftist theorists. And, indeed, he died precisely because he was an ideologue of the socialist PRP party. Yet, his murderers sought to justify themselves as acting in honor of Alhaji Ado Bayero, the Emir of Kano, in defense of “traditional institutions”. Against one of its own? Rather ironic.

His intellectual credentials were attested to by his colleague and fellow postgraduate peer at Howard University, Dr. Asikpo Essien Ibok, who said – “I am really sad today to talk about Bala because he is dead. If I speak about Comrade Bala as a political militant, I am speaking about him as a revolutionary intellectual. That is to say Bala was not only a teacher, but a theoretician-cum-practitioner. He postulated many theories and put them to practice. His concern was with theories of liberation. Who did he want to liberate? His people; from ignorance, illiteracy, nepotism, corruption, bad government, everything.“ Dr. Mohammed’s then student, Alhassan na’Ayuba Zakaria said, “Dr. Bala Mohammed is all the teachers you can remember put in one person. He is a Socrates, a Plato, an Aristotle, put together. Dr. Bala Mohammed represents in no uncertain terms some of the qualities of Moses of the Israelites, when they were under the tyranny of the Pharaohs; the qualities of Jesus leading the disciples under Jewish persecution and qualities of the Holy Prophet Mohammed, before Islam conquered Mecca in 632 AD.” From the words of his students and contemporaries, Bala Mohammed was one of the last of the true intellectuals; “Bala argues with capitalist social theories to justify socialist theories.” The men who mourned him ranged from Drs. Y.B. Usman and Mahmud Tukur to Alhaji Abubakar Rimi, Adenike Adejobi, Tunde Obadina, Mudi Sipikin to Wole Soyinka who wrote – “The master plan, long decried, long forewarned, is implacably unfolding. We do not know whose turn it will be tomorrow – yours or mine. But we must be prepared. Our deaths must bring no regrets as long as our cause remains to sanctify our brief existence. We will not mourn our brother, Bala Mohammed; let our acts simply perpetuate his memory and honor him for eternity.”

How did such a man find himself macheted in a burning house on July 10th 1981? And how does any country allow such a man, who made the 1978 “Who’s Who in American Universities” list, to be killed during a democratic government? Further, two coup d’état’s succeeded in the 1980’s, the Buhari and Babangida coups; what was the dynamic of these coups? For every political action is a consequence of a peoples underlying, unspoken, zeitgeist. And nations are the expression of accretive human forces, and each cause is defined by the accentuation of interests held in common.

The destruction of the Sokoto Caliphate by the British was followed, for their own interests, by its reformation into a civil service and it, like its counterparts in southern Nigeria performed tax collection services. The Emirs, who never fully controlled their territories anyway, lost even more credibility amongst the socially conscious elements for the people of Northern Nigeria saw them clearly as British agents and obeyed in matters of tax for the reason sole that the British and their courts were feared. The internal decadence of the Fulani feudalists, expressed in their inability to completely suppress the baHaushe elites as well as the expedient abandonment of the canons of the Fodio philosophers, Uthman, Bello and Abdullahi, explains the fin-de-siècle fear they had of Rabeh’s counter-reformist reforms in the Sudan, a fear that of course disappeared with the arrival of the British and the French. The Emirs would rather be British clerks than lose privilege to Rabeh; moral authority over the Hausawa could be sacrificed for the backing of a powerful European patron. The loss of effective power, which danFodio and his direct descendants guaranteed, was redressed by two wars; the Second and Nigeria’s Civil War.

The forces that killed Bala Mohammed knew themselves to be despised by the talakawa and indeed the non-Fulani elements that were already regrouping at the start of World War II in various northern towns; the fear of the feudalists was the same one feared from Rabeh earlier, that of an anti-caliphate uprising that would obliterate their privilege. After the war, the Jamiyar Mutanen Arewa {which became the Northern People’s Congress} was formed by returnee soldiers and the few educated northerners. With the ascension of the blue-blooded Ahmadu Bello, the caliphate elements saw that they could continue their parasitism in the coming democracy and they lost no time in doing this upon his assumption of the Premiership. By systematic infiltration of public office. Sardauna Bello was a skilled administrator and an altruistic dictator who unstintingly held the progress and unity of the piebald Northern Region dear; but he could not, nor had he any desire to, police the fellow scions of unearned patronage who were formed by the same system as he. Yet, his power was political and democratic and he showed this severally, most notably in the public humiliation, deposition and banishment of the corrupt Emir Sanusi of Kano to Azare in Bauchi. He kept the north together the s

ame way the Prime Minister Abubakar Tafawa Balewa kept the country together, as anyone who must run a multiethnic state does, by political compromise and appeasement. But then came the second war.

The impact of the Civil war and the trauma that followed it, with Bala Mohammed’s death, are instructive if the current stupidity equation of Nigeria is to be understood. Here we have popularly elected politicians assassinated for reasons no more cogent than tribal dominist ones; dominist, clear from the barbaric manner of the killing of the Bauchi born Prime Minister, Tafawa Balewa; tribal, clear from the selective pattern of the killings. In one swoop, the mechanism of balance, Ahmadu Bello , was removed, leaving the opposed forces of both patronage and progress in Northern Nigeria in disarray. And the Army, not political organizations like Jamiyar Mutanen Arewa, became the arena for a struggle of interests. Had Jack Gowon not showed up on January 14th 1966, it might have been a different story; in those crucial days and months later, he was to assume the role of Ahmadu Bello, a human mechanism of balance. Had Ironsi done what he should, the trauma that followed would have been less, even unnecessary. Our writers, from Okri to Okpewho to Soyinka have expressed the trauma so well that there is no need to rehash the pervasive despair of the ‘70’s here. In the aftermath of that war the forces that killed Bala Mohammed realized they could guarantee continued patronage by dominating the Army on the one hand and undermining the talakawa on the other by keeping them out of schools. They had achieved the dubiously sophisticated genius of ruining the educational infrastructure of their class enemies. Yet, at this time, other men like Bala Mohammed, Y.B. Usman and Mahmud Tukur felt that a common oppression was the lot of many Nigerians and this same oppression could unite them all; that thus, socialism, would be a news basis to realize all other aborted pan-Nigerianisms. Bala, who was a lucid thinker gifted at simplifying the most complex relationships so the petty trader could grasp it, decided on a post-graduate study in Political Science at Howard University so he could attack oppression by education, this time in Academe, as he had earlier as a broadcaster on Voice of Nigeria, Lagos.

The trouble with parasitism is that it cannot, by definition, be creative. And though the parasites of patronage across Nigeria especially the traditional consevatia found a successful platform for the1979 general elections in the National Party of Nigeria {NPN}, they could not create a Sardauna Bello or Tafawa Balewa or Saadu Zungur, the first two who animated the NPC and who, with the third, animated the Jamiyar Mutanen Arewa before it. So the country again became starkly polarized between the representatives of patronage {NPN}, and the representatives of progress {opposition parties} in which Bala Mohammed found himself on being appointed political adviser to the Kano State PRP governor, Abubakar Rimi in November 1980. And nine months was enough engagement to get him killed. Apart from the corruption flowing from a lack of ideals and hence fiscal restraint, Dr. Bala Mohammed communicated clearly to the common people in simple language what he saw; that the NPN and its puppeteers had no ideas and thus no policies except a vague, pitiable and eventually dangerous nostalgia for a dead Sardauna’s days. And so he had to die.

The milieu of Dr. Bala Mohammed’s death was one intrinsically related to Cold War politics and being a socialist from post colonial Africa who studied Political Science in the United State’s gave him a unique awareness of economic oppression and its dynamics. The national space of his politics was that of a rising fascism; bereft of ideas, the NPN could only but maintain by force its intellectual vacuity, a stick and stick approach to those already beaten. Evidence of this fascism were; the deportation of Shugaba Darman, a Nigerian citizen; massacre of peasants at Bakolori, Sokoto; harassment of PRP supporters at Ningi, Bauchi; the killings of citizens in Keghara Dere, Rivers; the impeachment of Governor Balarabe Musa of Kaduna. Wole Soyinka, expressing popular progressive views wrote an open letter “You Are Not The State” to the Police IG Sunday Adewusi in which he declaimed a “a virulent outbreak of the rash called folie de grandeur. . . .familiar historic delusions”; Professor Soyinka decried attempts to turn Nigeria into a police state, of a sort quite different from Spain and Italy, one where police bullets sometimes “fly off” in the direction of civilians! And so, Bala Mohammed, who could explain the why of all this simply and lucidly, died.

Fatedly, for there are no mistakes in any nations political expression, two stern faced Majors-General showed up in answer to the prayers of Wole Soyinka, Y.B. Usman, Umar Santuraki, Tunde Obadina, Darman, Rimi and other Radical Leftist. The Buhari regime was a progressive one; it paid its respects to Bala Mohammed’s death by avoiding the political mistake of misjudging the desperation of threatened privilege. They did this by imposing their wills on and locking up the venal politicians and their feudalist supporters, including this writer’s uncle; thus seeking to cauterize them. This imposed sanity, unlike Rawlings in Ghana, was eclipsed in 1985 by the finest agents the killers of Dr. Bala Mohammed had; General Ibrahim Babangida and Dr. Jibril Aminu. The intellectual spirit looming behind that regime was Dr. Jibril Aminu and he it was who ensured eight years of venality; eight years that bequeathed Sani Abacha, then Obasanjo and Yar’Adua – all agents of patronage with the exception of Abacha who was a misunderstood dictator quite in a class of his own. If there is a God, he was not listening to the cries of the oppressed, nor to Dr. Asikpo Essien Ibok who prayed Bala Mohammed’s soul not rest in peace; to the first we see a logic defying resilience, to the second the reality of amnesia.

But I remember Dr. Bala Mohammed Bauchi, now. I remember him in this denudation, I who am aware of the subsequent careers of Rimi and the other Radical Leftists turned tepid, turned collaborators in a double murder. And why do I remember him? Because I mourn the dying of the Nigerian quality now in catalepsies, since a needless Civil war, a commonality that has received no expression since the morning of July 10th 1981. I remember because though sophistry of thought pervades all strata of the country, though arrogance mark the leadership and dissembling keeps my countrymen’s thrall – there was the self sacrificial choice of one man, Bala Mohammed Bauchi, and a “once upon a time”. In that last, “once upon a time”, lies hope that the three decade dormant expression of my country will stir again and raise another, less forcedly tragic, Bala Mohammed; and hope that the steel and concrete sealed despair of my nations trauma will burst into a life-flower of patriotism and progress.

And since I am denuding time and remembering the past, I shall recall lastly a couplet from a poem the Hausa poet and PRP activist Mudi Sipikin read at the memorial service of my mentor Dr. Bala Mohammed, who was killed for a noble cause, the ideal of a just, democratic Nigeria he cherished – for Dr. Bala Mohammed was a patriot;

“Patriotism is a badge of honor/
Derived from solid truth without any falsehood.”

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