Talba’s Nupe Day lecture

Three years ago the Etsu Nupe, Alhayi Yahaya Abubakar, CFR, one of the country’s leading traditional rulers as the ninth in the order of precedence of Northern first class emirs, instituted Nupe Day for the first time in the history of the nationality.  His council set aside June 26 of every year for the celebration of Nupe culture. The choice of the date was in commemoration of the defeat of the British army by the Nupe on June 26, 1896 at the battle of Ogidi in present day Kogi State, then on the outer fringes of the then vast Nupe Kingdom. Historically the colonizing British met their stiffest resistance from the Nupe as they moved northwards in their eventually successful military conquest of the Sokoto Caliphate of Shehu Usman bin Fodio.

The Nupe, to which this writer belongs, is among the top ten or so most populous nationalities in the country. They are predominantly in Niger State but form important minorities in Kwara and Kogi states. Known for their valour in pre-colonial Nigeria, they were principally instrumental in expanding the frontier of Islam all the way to Lagos to their south-west and to the border with Benin Kingdom to their south-east, hence their affinity with the Yoruba and Auchi.

In contemporary Nigeria they have played a leading role in the politics of the North and of Nigeria by producing great politicians like the late Alhaji Aliyu Makaman Bida, the deputy premier of Northern Nigeria, Alhaji Ahman Pategi, the region’s minister of Agriculture, Alhaji Usman Sarki, the Interior minister and Alhaji Tako Galadima, the Army minister.

In celebrating this year’s Nupe Day, the organisers decided to start a lecture series to add an intellectual dimension to the celebration. The first was given last Saturday by the Governor of Niger State, chairman, Northern Governors’ Forum and the Talban Minna, Dr Muazu Babangida Aliyu. He spoke through his deputy, Ahmed Musa Ibeto, on the topic of Democracy and the Development of Nupeland. Fittingly the venue was the new generation Ibrahim Badamasi  Babangida University, Lapai, Niger State.

As far as lectures go the governor’s speech could not have been better researched. It gave the rich history of the Nupe, dwelt extensively on the potential of their people and rich land for producing enough grains, rice in particular, to feed the whole country and even mentioned the prospects of discovering oil in the valley of Bida, their capital. The richness of the lecture was matched by the eloquence of its delivery by the governor’s deputy.

Easily the most important part of the speech was its conclusion.Distinguished ladies and gentlemen,” he said at the end of the lecture, “if you were to ask me, the ultimate destination for the Nupe nation, taking into account all that we have looked at in this presentation about the Nupes, is EDU STATE... The fairest thing to do for the development of Nupe land under this democratic environment is for all Nupes (at home and in the Diaspora) to continue to strategize, to agitate, to pressurize, and where necessary to lobby for the actualization of EDU STATE. This is the best legacy that all of us in this generation can bequeath to the upcoming generations of Nupes.”

To which the packed hall gave a rather lukewarm applause, apparently to the disappointment of the deputy governor. It seems he had expected a standing ovation for his boss’s endorsement of the long running quest of the Nupe for a state of their own, being almost alone among the top four nationalities of the old North – the others being the Kanuri, the Tiv and the Igala – to have been denied a state in which they can call virtually all the shots.

“It seems you did not hear me well considering the ovation that greeted what I’ve just said,” he said, or words to that effect. He then repeated himself word for word, this time in measured tones obviously for effect. This time he got a much louder applause. My suspicion, however, was that it was more out of courtesy than out of a belief in the sincerity of the governor.

Personally, I do not believe the non-Nupe elite, especially in Niger State - an elite to which the governor belongs as an indigenous Hausa - has ever wanted the Nupes to have a state of their own. After all one of the worst kept secrets in the state is that several of the leading non-Nupe elite worked hard to frustrate the creation of Ndaduma State which would have brought all the Nupe speaking people in the country into one state. This was under General Sani Abacha’s regime between 1993 and 1998. I doubt if the minds of the non-Nupe elite has changed since then.

In any case, even if the Chief Servant meant what he said, I disagree that it is the solution to the well known feeling of marginalization among the Nupes, especially those in his state where they are numerically the single largest ethnic group.

Obviously the only true solution to the feeling of marginalization by any ethnic group in the politics of any country is good, transparent and accountable governance.

The Chief Servant said as much in his speech. “With the extensive fadama plains for rice cultivation,” he said in the course of his speech, “Nupe land alone can meet the rice requirements of this nation and even grow enough to meet export demands. We can achieve this if we elect people of integrity, honesty, and accountability, who know the right things to do for the people and how to go about doing the right things, not people who will see public service as an avenue for personal enrichment and aggrandizement. (Emphasis mine).

Elsewhere in the speech he also spoke of the need for people to choose men and women of high calibre and compassion as their leaders. “It is,” he said, “also pertinent for us to pay attention to the quality of representatives that we elect to represent us in the political environment so that we can realize the full benefits of democracy for the development of Nupe land. We should always elect and endorse representatives who can relate with us, who understand our problems, our challenges and our aspirations, and not people who will become our lords and masters no sooner than they are elected or appointed to public office to serve us.”

Neither the Nupes nor any other ethnicity need a state of their own before they can elect honest and compassionate leaders to govern them. If that were the case the ethnically homogenous states in the country would have been the models of good, transparent and accountable governance.

The truth is that for much of the history of this country we have had mostly only leaders who do not say what they mean or mean what they say. Leaders who have managed to impose themselves on us through the barrel of the gun or by rigging the ballot.  This explains the wide gap between the lofty ideals they preach day in day out and the grinding, worse still, increasing, poverty that stares the vast majority of Nigerians, including Nigerlites, in the face in spite of so much wealth God has endowed this country with.

Hopefully the Nupe Day Lectures would provide at least one avenue where we can begin to tell each other the bitter truth about the general poverty of leadership in this country.    

A catalogue of errors

In the last three weeks I have made a number of indefensible errors for which I owe my readers and the affected persons, organisations and institutions profound apologies. To begin with the biggest howler of them all, last week I referred to Afenifere, the umbrella Yoruba cultural organisation, as an ethnic militia to be compared with MEND and Boko Haram. Nothing could be more egregious than this misstatement.

The first person to draw my attention to the error was Waziri Adio, former editor and former ace columnist with Thisday, lately a media consultant and back on the newspaper’s editorial board. “Oga, greetings.” he said in the text he sent to my personal line.   “Long time. I read yr (your) piece today. Great as always. But I noticed you referred to Afenifere as an ethnic militia. Am sure you meant OPC. Regards. Waziri.”

I quickly went back to read the piece. You can imagine my horror at discovering that I made such an obvious mistake. As Waziri and many other readers observed, obviously I meant the Odua People’s Congress which for years had had running violent clashes with the police.

The less egregious errors I made during the period in question include referring to former chairman of the ruling PDP as Bernard Gemade instead of Barnabas, referring to the new Speaker of the House of Representatives, Aminu Waziri Tambuwal as former Chief Whip of the House when he was deputy, and getting his name wrong in the next article in which I called him Ahmed.

I wish to apologize for all these and other errors I may have failed to mention.