Twenty-nine years ago, precisely on April17 1983, Nigeria lost one of her most illustrious sons, Mallam Aminu Kano. His demise marked the end of populist, principled and ideology-based politics. He was a consummate politician, a great scholar and teacher, an accomplished administrator, a champion for the emancipation of women, a nationalist, a patriot and above all, an activist who lived and died for social justice and the struggle for upliftment and enhancement of the fundamental rights of the common people (Talakawa). Indeed, Prof Chinua Achebe wrote in his tribute that “Nigeria cannot be the same again because Aminu Kano lived here”.
When he was writing his letter of resignation from the services of the colonial government to go into full time politics, Mallam Aminu wrote: ‘’I have seen light in the far horizon. I intend to match into its full circle, either alone or with anyone who cares to come with me”. From then, he never looked back; he plunged into politics till he died in 1983. Unlike many typical politicians, Mallam Aminu did not join politics to acquire power by all means. He entered politics with a clear vision and well articulated mission.
Mallam Aminu’s first mission in politics was to fight external colonial domination and achieve freedom for Nigeria. Malllam Aminu’s second mission was to fight internal oppression so that forced labour by the Emirs and subjugation by local oppressors are stopped. The subsequent local government reforms ensured that traditional rulers are removed from direct administration as they were removed from controlling the local courts, native police and the prisons. Those two objectives of joining politics were accomplished in his lifetime.
His third main mission in politics was the emancipation of women. 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 actualize their full potentials.
One emir in the north said that the main problem Mallam Aminu created for the traditional institution was that “he taught the common people how to say no”. He mobilized the people to know their rights and to stand up for these rights. Even in1978, during the talks for the formation of the National Party of Nigeria (NPN), which subsequently became the ruling party, many people in the party were against the idea that was being mooted for the selection of Mallam Aminu as its presidential candidate because they were of the view that Mallam Aminu may end up taking placard to protest against the government forgetting that he was the president! He eventually became the leader and presidential candidate of the Peoples Redemption Party (PRP) in the second republic.
Mallam Aminu Kano’s role models were Mahatma Gandhi of India, the architect of Satyagraha (non – violent resistance) and Shehu Usman Dan Fodio, the founder of the Sokoto Caliphate in early 19th century. In fact, at his death, Mallam Aminu was described as the Mahatma Gandhi of Nigeria. In his method of mobilizing the people, he followed the typical Dan Fodio model: talk to the people in simple, clear language; refer to their history and culture; compose songs to convey precise messages; live, eat and cloth yourself in the same way as the ordinary people; be accessible to all, high and low, educated and illiterate; and above all be morally upright, honest, sincere and truthful to the cause of the people.
Together with Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Mallam Yahaya Gusau and Chief JS Tarka (all of blessed memories now) Mallam Aminu was in Gowon’s cabinet during the civil war, (1967-70). He was, in fact, in charge of war procuments, in addition to being federal commissioner (minister) of health and communications at different times in that government. Mallam Aminu did not collect any bribe from those lucrative contracts. A foreign company gave him a commission and some money in one of his trips as gratification for a contract they got. He promptly paid it into the federation account when he came back. Since then, only Mallam Nuhu Ribadu publicly did the same when he was given $15million by convicted former Delta governor James Ibori, paying it into the federal treasury.
In practicalizing what he preached about women emancipation, he chose Mrs. Odinamadu as his running mate for the presidential election in 1983 under his party the Peoples Redemption Party (PRP), the first Nigerian politician to give women such high visibility in public life. He taught his wife how to ride bicycle. 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 school model in Kano. His main concern throughout his life was how to get everyone educated and productive. Mallam Aminu was really a visionary who was ahead of his time.
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 farm land. 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. Where are those pseudo – socialists who are the greatest looters of treasury now, who have chains of houses, fleet of cars, and ownership of virtually everything in Nigeria and beyond?
Many people who have not done anything near what Mallam Aminu did were given national honors. Many people, whose entire life on earth is less than the years Mallam Aminu spent in public service are now commanders and grand commanders of the Federal Republic! And some of them even ended up in disgrace such as Tafa Balogun, Patricia Etteh, Yusuf Hamisu Abubakar etc. Here is a founding father of Nigeria who has not yet been given even the lowest national honour, either alive or post- humously by any government since independence! But even if no government recognizes him except on streets and airports, Mallam Aminu Kano will continue to reside in the minds and hearts of true Nigerian nationalists and African patriots.
May God continue to keep him in the Garden of Eden. Amen.