David Umaru: The Last Man Standing in Niger, By Gimba Kakanda
Surviving as the opposition in the political culture of Niger state is a feat possible only for the tough and the extraordinarily resilient. Over time, as a keen observer, I’ve watched and studied the comings and goings of certain dramatic figures who have emerged to challenge an incumbent government and have all either fizzled out on realising the impossibility of shaking the establishment or sold out, either by defecting and accepting to join forces with the incumbent or serving in the system they could not fight long enough to oust.
The times of these men, and they have all been men, have been interesting: from the emergence of Isah Ladan, a big spender who initiated dazzling political fireworks before he fizzled out, with no words heard from him again, on to Mustapha Bello, a beneficiary of Abuja’s covert intervention in our local politics, who emerged to frustrate the reelection bid of the then incumbent Governor Abdulkadir Kure. The same Abuja interference that once backed Mustapha Bello was the same factor that produced the current Governor, Mu’azu Babangida Aliyu, when the ambition of the Kure-backed candidate was defeated on charges of corruption by the EFCC.
In Niger State, everything revolves around the government: it’s not just about the credible lie that it’s a “Civil Service” state with moribund economic life, but the reality of its people’s disinterest in political resistance. This dilemma is a creation of a system that keeps them economically dependent on government, such that the only industry in existence in Niger state right now is Sycophancy. In his perpetuation of this lie, Governor Mu’azu Babangida Aliyu, who has been screaming himself hoarse in telling the world that the recurrent expenditures of the state are what eat up our budgets, has gone on and created needless agencies and ministries to engage the sycophants and cover up his declarations. I think it’s unfair to cry out that our salaries and emoluments eat up your funds and yet go on to create new channels through which taxpayers’ monies are drained.
One interesting story that captures the misery of opposing the establishment in Niger State is a certain encounter with a relative who used to be belligerently against under-performing governments. “Why,” I asked, “have you been quiet over this mismanagement of the state by the governor and his cliques?” His response was a depressing narrative. He could not, and would not, oppose the system because the government is the biggest patron of his wife’s businesses, which include a chain of restaurants. Dissenting would mean severing his ties with government and consequently sabotaging his wife’s businesses because the patronage would stop. So many families and people are gagged by such beneficial dependence, stirring up a cultural sycophancy.
The coming of Barrister David Umaru ended this tradition of short-lived popular opposition forces and, especially, emergency governorship contenders who come, vie and disappear or sell out. Appearing on the political landscape in the build-up to the 2007 governorship elections, first as a member of the ruling party, the PDP, before joining ANPP to embark on this journey against aberrations, he formed strong networks at the grassroots and unwavering urban campaigns that, for the first time since the return to democracy, signaled the possibility of ousting the ruling party in Niger State.
Like the others, he did not stop being a politician, a formidable opposition figure, when PDP was declared winner of the 2007 polls. He contested the results, which were collations of witnessed irregularities, in the court, and remained undefeated even when the election was upheld. In the meanwhile, he remained a firebrand critic of the state government, exposing its mismanagement of public resources and having these published in several advertorials in the national dailies. He put up another fight in the 2011 governorship elections with a clearly unpopular Governor Aliyu whose last-minute appeal to the vulnerability of the people, embarking on distributing food items and money to the electorate, became the subject of many political comedies.
As an indigene of the state who has, on several occasions, openly registered disappointment in the performance of Niger State, I benefitted from the facts and figures on the administration of deceits and frauds in the state revealed in the advertorials signed by Barr. Umaru. He stands out because he refused to let go, refused to give up in struggling for the redemption of the state, refused to underestimate the place of the opposition, refused to allow the establishment loot in peace. He has remained the symbol of resistance, an assurance that the atmosphere of sycophancy is crushable.
It is, however, expected that his candidacy was deconstructed by agents of polarisation who sought to stoke ethnic and religious sentiments in order to try and disconnect this live-wire of the opposition from the people. That is the low to which politics in Niger State has descended. As a state in search of the progressive elements, it’s disquieting to see the alternatives being stopped on the bar of their religious, ethnic and even zonal affiliations. I must make a case that, away from politics, religion is hardly an issue among the minority groups of the so-called Middle Belt where siblings follow different faiths without love lost in the family. The Nupe, who are largely Muslims, elected their christian brother Professor Jerry Gana as legislator and the old Nigerlites elected a man who was not Nupe, Gbagyi or Hausa, Dr. Musa Inuwa, as governor, years before these agenda-driven religious fanatics, ethnic bigots and regional ambassadors repainted our fading disharmonies. The Gbagyi, of which Barr. Umaru is a member, are thankfully immune to polarisation along the line of religions. Which is why his popularity couldn’t be diminished by propaganda of the powers that be.
Now a new challenge has been set with the passing of Senator Dahiru Awaisu Kuta: the seat of Niger East Senatorial District. And it’s quite commendable that Barr. Umaru has been called, and he has accepted, to fill the void. It’s this news that someone capable of stopping the “retiring” Governor Mu’azu Babangida Aliyu, who is also interested in the seat, is being given another platform to exhibit his oratorical skills, in lieu of promised development, that comforts me. With zoning formula in place to frustrate Barr. Umaru’s governorship ambition in 2015, the Senate is the perfect slot, especially in consideration of his influence as grassroots politician of commendable intellectual integrity in the zone. There he can build a stronger force in this bid to demolish the political conservatism of a state possessed by too many sycophants. May God save us from us!
Interact with Mr. Kakanda on Twitter at the handle: @ gimbakakanda