I am avoiding the use of pejorative name, Kaduna mafia, to describe this extraordinary gentleman because of its obvious negative connotation. Let me call him a one-man ACF (The Arewa Consultative Forum). The truth is if any reporter goes to Kaduna looking for a group of men and women, meeting regularly in the name of Kaduna mafia, to design good or evil for the North and against the interest of Nigerians, he or she will come back disappointed because no such group can really be found.
But there is a large number of people, in the North and Nigeria, who know a versatile and influential Nigerian who together with others pull levers beyond what anyone could imagine. He is a social crusader engaged in doing public good day in day out. So if a Kaduna mafia however exists in one person doing public good and promoting righteousness in public conduct, both by businessmen and those in government, Shehu Kaikai captures my imagination of that mafia.
Shehu has intellectual rigour and deep reasoning. He is a knowledge and ideas hub. But because he is neither Wole Soyinka nor Father Kukah, the rest of the country outside the North is not used to his name as they should.
Again, he is quick to answer that he is non-political. But Shehu acknowledges and appreciates his own capacity for deep thinking, wisdom and enlightenment. They are endowments he places at the disposal of his community and the Vision 2010 of which he was a very, very useful member.
On account of this alone, he has become a powerful force behind the North’s political, traditional and business elites. He cut his teeth in industry in Kano after his education at Barewa College, Zaria, and the U.K. He rose to become an executive director in one of Kano’s most prosperous leather industries in the 80s before he was appointed Commissioner of Industry in his native Katsina State. But it was while he was in Kano that he made the greatest impact on industry.
When he became the Chairman of the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN) in the city, he grew its membership to the point that a new branch for Sharada became imperative. A new one was added to the main branch at Bompai. Together with a handful of others, as national vice chairman, Shehu got MAN to look beyond Lagos to take interest in the plight of northern industries. When he left to become Commissioner, MAN in Kano slumped. And in Katsina, Shehu’s mistake was to swallow, hook line and sinker the military’s rhetoric of openness and accountability. He thought those who picked him from the Industry and made him Commissioner meant their words when they mouthed words like honesty in the public service. They did not, and he paid a price for this wrong assumption.
As a social activist, Shehu deliberately makes it a point to engage with politicians, traditional rulers, opinion leaders, column writers, the business leaders and the media to bring knowledge and enlightenment to them without asking for a fee. He speaks to successive Sultans, Emirs and Chiefs who call him by his first name and do not hesitate to pick his calls. Based on his background in industry, policy makers, businessmen and industrialists alike cherish his regular visits or calls.
This man doesn’t only mouth peaceful co-existence, he lives it. His philosophy of life is live and let live. Shehu is the activist who raises his voice to correct wrong-doing whenever and wherever he sees it. He is that man on his way to the office who does not ignore it when he sees a dead body on the pavement or a broken tree blocking the passage of traffic. No, unlike many others, Shehu will call the police and will be on the neck of the local government until the ugly sight is removed. He is an active member of his neighborhood association, and contributes to the community and the larger society with a focus and clear mission.
He maintains a meticulous and excellent record on inter-ethnic and inter-religious relations. This should not surprise anyone considering the best of the upbringing that he and many of us got from Barewa College, Zaria. I recall the late Chief Sunday Awoniyi saying Barewa College taught you to live and let live and to take a stand and never to sit on the fence.
When Shehu lost his charming daughter, Farida, in the tragic Dana air crash, it was like the whole country had lost a dear one. Farida as said by her friends, was exactly like daddy – public spirited. Fathers passing their baton to their own kin are a heartening process.
I chose to focus on Shehu, a man working to entrench Northern values and standards at a time the Northern States Governors’ Forum has set up a high-profile committee to reconcile and mend the broken North. It is true that the NSGF has witnessed a burst of energy, vision and courage since its take-over by Governor Babangida Aliyu. But while I do not say it is a bad idea what they have done, especially given the state of the Nation – a country which has a population of millions below poverty line and yet with no hope of betterment and opportunities in future, there is really little to expect from any such workmanship by a committee. Adamu Ciroma said more than 20 years ago that if you don’t want to solve a problem, set up a committee to deal with it. Based on these, there is good reason for the NSGF to abandon the broken models and try something new. The crises in the country cannot be cured by these old recipes. To cause peace to return to the North, there is a need to try a different delivery mechanism.
My considered view is that credible individuals such as Shehu with a vast network of contacts; men who are capable of energizing other social activists across ethnic and religious divides as well as the bustling network of civil society groups may be commissioned by the NSGF to lead the charge of reconciling Northerners with Northerners.
This work requires a big effort, to be carried out by men and women who will roll up their sleeves and enter the fray. Emirs and Chiefs are colourful and are respected. They are used to being served rather than they serving others. Let them keep their place. NSGF should call out social workers and activists like Shehu to charge them into the field in view of the ineffectiveness of committee systems.
Influence doesn’t necessarily depend on money and social status. The late Indian sage Mahatma Gandhi cuts the image of malnourished figure but he turned out to be one of the greatest forces of historical change the world has ever known. Through sheer force of his intellect, tenacity, commitment and public-spiritedness, characterized by a life of austerity, he set in motion the process that ultimately led India to independence from the British Colonial domination. His strategy of passive resistance and swadeshism (rejection of foreign made goods) worked like magic.
Despite his modesty and relative obscurity, Shehu KaiKai falls in the category of unassuming men like Gandhi that represent a force for social change. He has the integrity, the intellect and the credibility to be trusted and be taken seriously by the people. People like him can exert more influence than governors that seem detached from the realities of the people. His social activism should be put to use by Northern leaders at this point when a once formidably united region now seems mortally threatened by interminable violence.