As cub interpreters of the Nigerian political scene, we were endlessly fascinated with the notion of a group cited as the Kaduna mafia.
The journalist- political commentator, Nvendaga Jibo, was credited with popularising the appellation. In the two decades spanning 1970 to 1990 our imagination was comprehensively captured by the riveting novel, The Godfather (by Mario Puzo), and its movie adaptation. It was the most effective crash course on the Italian mafia counter culture.
When he was campaigning for office in 2008, President Barack Obama was requested to think back and recall a favourite movie, it took him only a moment to zero in on The Godfather-such a roiling and beguiling combination of affectation of genteel nobility and primitive savagery, he said.
Shadowy, secretive and elusive are the adjectives you would use to illustrate the mafia culture. Thus, nothing specific or categorical can be said about a mafia group on its origins, composition and modus operandi. The only thing that can be specified about a mafia is its objective and mission. It operates like a secret society or cult.
And so when the presidential candidate of the All Peoples Party (APP) in the 1999 Presidential Elections in Nigeria, Olu Falae, sought the judicial disqualification of his opponent, Olusegun Obasanjo of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), on the allegation of being a member of a secret society; President Ibrahim babangida chuckled and remarked that short of a DNA test, it is all but impossible to prove membership of a secret society-which by definition is secret!
Research shows that Jibo and fellow speculators on the Kaduna mafia conjectured as follows:
“The Kaduna mafia is a name given to a loose group of young northern Nigerian intellectuals, civil servants, business tycoons and military officers residing or conducting business in the former northern capital city of Kaduna during the end of the first republic. The loss of many northern leaders in the January 1966 coup prodded them to rally round and oppose the new government of General Aguiyi Ironsi.
Many of its members were educated at the famous Barewa College and had demonstrated a certain level of managerial competence in comparison to some of their older contemporaries. They were known for their intelligence, commitment to the traditional values and socio political interests of northern Nigeria, and their internal camaraderie.
The group thrived on an elaborate network of power alliances among northern aristocrats and government sympathisers who favoured the groups pro northern and Islamic bent.
The group achieved most success during the first era of Obasanjo’s government, where many of its members were appointed to key positions of power and used its alliances to obtain patronage and disburse favour to friends and associates. Famous members and allies include, Adamu Ciroma, Mamman Daura, Ibrahim Tahir, Shehu Musa Yaradua, Mahmud Tukur and Mohammadu Buhari”.
The name of Shehu Yaradua and the Kaduna mafia subsequently resonated in the choice of Makama Misau, Mohammadu Kura, as the running mate to the late Obafemi Awolowo in the 1983 presidential elections in Nigeria.
Seeking to transcend the mental block and culture barrier of the north against his presidential aspiration, Awolowo had been persuaded that the key to unlock this door lay in alliance with the Kaduna mafia. In the circumstance, Awolowo met a fertile and receptive disposition in the subtly advertised disappointment of the mafia with the Shehu Shagari government. The choice of Mohammadu Kura was a product of the tentative romance between the two parties.
If it ever took off, the romance was abrogated by the termination of the second republic in the coup d’état of December 1983. In its most unambiguous manifestation yet, the Mohammadu Buhari military regime best typifies the Kaduna mafia. It is certainly the most unapologetically northern biased (in composition) administration Nigeria ever had.
It was also the most Fulani dominated and by some accounts it is adjudged as a relatively credible government.
Beyond these speculations, the myth of the Kaduna mafia is typical of the thriving culture of conspiracy theories in Nigeria. Of all the rival power elite groups, the northern political establishment has been the most effective player of power politics in Nigeria.
The reasons for this are not farfetched. The dominant conservative wing of the establishment are the inheritors of the legacy of one of the most sophisticated and best organized pre colonial state systems in Africa. I, of course, speak of the Sokoto Caliphate-a theocracy founded by Shehu Usman Dan fodio in the early nineteenth century.
Under the indirect rule or the dual mandate model of British colonialism, the caliphate was incorporated and preserved as an administrative and governance instrument of the colonial government of Nigeria.
It was administratively and economically expedient for the British overlords to adopt and adapt the pre existing caliphate framework-especially as its underlying feudalism mimics the monarchy rule and worldview of the British. With varying degrees of success, the indirect rule was similarly applied to the Southern protectorate comprising, as it were, the Western and Eastern regions.
The application was successful in the Western region, albeit of a lesser degree than the North, while the absence of an organised state system, as was the case with the caliphate and Oyo Empire in the north and the west, rendered it a failure in the eastern region.
The cohesiveness of the caliphate system and a larger territorial spread and population vis a vis the Southern protectorate, marked out the North for political advantage and effectiveness in the nascent Nigerian federation. Whether these factors compelled a British affinity and predilection towards the North is a moot point. What however became apparent was a special British tutelage and instigation of a Northern political hegemony in the transition of Nigeria’s status from colony to independent state.
The most distinctive attribute of state power is the monopoly of the power of coercion and its legitimate use. There is also the allied but less extravagant cliché that ‘power flows from the barrel of the gun’ and the Stalinist derision of the Vicar of Christ in the quip ‘how many battalions does the pope command? To this rule, Nigeria is no exception and so it follows that ability to contend in the field of power politics bears direct correlation to influence within the Nigeria military.
Wittingly or otherwise, the Nigerian officers of Eastern Igbo origin were the first to test this notion. They were the first to explicitly signify and attribute a military veto power over the destiny of Nigeria. Given, however, the reality of the locus of power within the Nigeria military, they lost the initiative to another group of Nigerian rank and officers of Northern extraction in the counter coup of July 1966.
For many years thereafter, the government of Nigeria existed, more or less, as a proxy of this reality.
To talk about the Kaduna mafia and the Northern political establishment is not to say that the other regions do not have their unique ways of responding to the disruptive developments that gathered momentum from 1966. The peculiarity of the North lies, first, in the fact that it was the region that suffered political decapitation in the loss of Premier Ahmadu Bello and Prime Minister Tafawa Balewa and a cadre of it’s most senior military officers.
The West was relatively spared of a similar fate- with the survival and release of Awolowo from prison, while the Eastern regional power elite was left intact. Second was the fact that the North had to, in effect, respond to two overlapping leadership vacuum -regional and national leadership vacuum.
It was inevitable that the vacuum had to be filled one way or another and in the circumstance it just so happened that a group of the description of the Kaduna mafia rose to meet the occasion.
In the wake of the coup and counter coup of 1966, the first option, that was pushed and quickly discarded, was to exact revenge for its loss and declare secession with the battle cry “araba’! The road eventually taken was to remain in Nigeria and seek to dominate the northern region and the federation itself. This was an aspiration that the control of the military made entirely realistic.
The counter coup resulted not only in the decimation of Igbo military officers including the supreme commander and military head of state, Aguiyi Ironsi, but also in the replacement of the latter with an officer of northern origin namely Yakubu Gowon.
In the cascade of events from the counter coup of July 1966 through the pogrom against the Igbo in the North; the Aburi Accord and Discord; the civil war; the military rule of Yakubu Gowon, Murtala Mohammed, and Olusegun Obasanjo; the Shehu Shagari government and its termination by Ibrahim Babangida and Mohammadu Buhari, it is hard to imagine that the relatively steady and upper hand of the north was not being orchestrated by a subterranean mastermind.
At the personal level, I, providentially, made the acquaintance of Mahmud Tukur (who soon became a father figure). I cannot imagine any aspiring Nigerian public intellectual who would not be drawn to the personality of Tukur. He is and enjoys being an intellectual and revels in polemics.
We met at the height of the 1993 presidential election annulment crisis. I was resolutely opposed to the annulment and saw it as an agenda of Babangida to perpetuate himself in power and that with some modifications, such as “the stepping aside” of Babangida, it was adopted as the Northern agenda. My view was also that the resolution of the crisis lies exclusively in a government of national unity headed by the winner of the election, Moshood Abiola.
I did not expect Tukur to accept my position and he did not. He argued that the annulment was not a Northern agenda and he made much of his personal distaste for President Babangida and Moshood Abiola both of whom he regarded as two sides of the same coin. The resolution of the crisis, for him, should be sought without regard for the two actors.
We argued endlessly, back and forth, on this issue and we agree to disagree. He dismissed as ‘rubbish’ speculations of the existence of a Kaduna mafia and his rumored membership. And, silently, I equally dismissed his dismissal as rubbish. I saw him constantly in the company of Mamman Daura, Adamu Ciroma and Suleiman Kumo.
In time, we came to the common conclusion that there was nothing intrinsically bad or negative in subscription to ethnic identity. Good ethics and morality are standard and universal values- heedless of ethnic boundaries, and that being a good Yoruba or Fulani is in itself inclusive not exclusive of being a good Nigerian.
I have heard and read a number of my friends and associates bewailing the loss of direction and leadership in the north. The circumstances of contemporary Nigeria are different but it was a similar crisis of leadership that got such a matured and sober response from those young Kaduna mafia guys.
I’m ideologically opposed to the mafia but I acknowledge the discipline and enlightened self interest with which it sought the realisation of its real politick objectives. And I was about to commend the group as a worthy adversary when Buhari gave me a rude awakening with his latest outburst- mounting as usual, a sectional pedestal, to threaten violence and bloodshed (seems as if he only receives CPC delegations from the North). Notwithstanding that the country is already soaked in so much blood resulting from the Boko Haram terror.
If the inciting pronouncements of some of our leaders are gratified, there indeed may no longer be a country for them to govern.