Skip to main content

Aminu Kano: Once Upon A Radical

March 28, 2011

‘Nigeria cannot be the same again because Aminu Kano lived here.’  Chinua Achebe, The Trouble With Nigeria.

‘Nigeria cannot be the same again because Aminu Kano lived here.’  Chinua Achebe, The Trouble With Nigeria.

There was a time when our leaders didn’t do deals that will hurt their people.  They fought everything and everybody that threaten the wellbeing of the masses.  They fought the ruling party, the traditional rulers, the colonialists, the clergy and even the people themselves.  Aminu Kano was one of those leaders.  In this election season, I intend to write about many of them including Mbadiwe, Awolowo, Azikiwe, Sarduana, etc. But first of all, here’s the radical extraordinaire.

Aminu Kano did not introduce or even advocate a radical burn-the-bridges brand of politics.  But he did not have much use for follow-the-recipe style of politics either.  Aminu Kano’s singularity was driven by one thing and one thing only: his love for justice.  As he travelled from Bauchi to Maru and from Lagos to UN offices in New York, his quest was to find justice, fight injustice and confront those on whose back discrimination and wickedness rode.

 Aminu wasn’t a man with extraordinary physical features or outstanding academic credentials.  And this reality is what many great men and women in recorded history share.  Mahatma Gandhi was so slight that you could blow him away with a sneeze.  Mother Theresa was so old that you wondered how she found the strength to talk let alone making stirring speeches and forcefully telling the truth to the most powerful rulers in the world.  Abubakar (AS) the leader of the Muslims after Prophet Muhammad was so skinny that his cloth freely slid down his waist. Prophet Moses stuttered without equal.  Agatha Christie was dyslexic.  Sa’ad Zungur was sickly throughout his life.  It’s as if the members of the greatness club have agreed that imperfection should be a prerequisite.

Allan Freinstein described his first impression of Aminu in his book, The African Revolutionary, ‘He was short in stature and short in neck, almost turtle-like.’  But then, ‘....everything about him smiled. His sparkling eyes, his mouth, his entire visage exuded warmth.’  This like likeable personality and friendliness endeared him to many - even those who constantly disagreed with him.

The radical

Aminu Kano believed that the faculty of reasoning that God bestowed man was to be used to reflect on truth and find meaning in life.  Therefore, any stupid custom or tradition, no matter how long it was practised or who it was descended from should not only be rejected but also disobeyed, flicked away and clobbered to death.  His radicalism grew out of his desire to get a good deal for his people, set the talakawa free and better their lives. 

He questioned every authority, policy or power that had a semblance of oppression; be it from the colonialists or from the native authority (the emirs).  His uncompromising nature started showing in Middle School (today’s equivalent of senior primary school!) when he masterminded students unrest.  The tactics he used in scheming the strike were so advanced that when others were singled out for punishment Aminu Kano was not among them.  He was also the first to take his wife on a tour around the city (of Bauchi) something unheard of in those days.  Perhaps the only person who equalled or even surpassed Aminu in fearlessness was his teacher, his mentor and the master strategist, Sa’adu Zungur. Sa’adu was a genius who absorbed knowledge like a sponge, a challenger of the status quo per excellence who wouldn’t genuflect to anybody – he believed only God deserved that – and a non-conformist extraordinaire who would tell the truth even at the risk of losing his life.  When Sa’adu’s ideas coupled with Aminu’s tactics and implementation, the two were unbeatable.  Because of his ill health, Sa’adu’s bedside was where they conceived, hatched, cooked and brewed their schemes.

Perhaps what gave these gentlemen their tremendous confidence was their education.  Both men were highly educated in both Islamic and Western sense.  Malam Aminu Kano was of the Genawa; a clan renowned for having highly educated members. His father Yusufu was a mufti in the court.  His mother Rukaiya and grandmother Ummah who were his teachers were both learned and could read and write in Arabic.  Aminu lost his mother when he was six and the responsibility of his tuition was transferred to his uncle who was a renowned scholar and chief imam of the Emir.   Sa’adu Zungur also started his education at an early age.  His father who was a notable scholar in the community was his teacher. According to Sa’adu Zungur, a biography by Professor Yaqub, Sa’adu will memorise his own lessons and the combined lessons of the other pupils that his father was teaching.  He was so ahead of his peers that by the time he was sent to Yabatech for further studies, he withdrew after a short time; claiming that the lessons were too elementary.

According to Psychologist Don Baucum in his book, Psychology, children who got this type of early start will do better in adult life than children who did not.  This fact, twinned with their voracious reading habit, put Aminu and Sa’adu above their equals intellectually.  Thus, in any engagement where facts and logic prevailed, they always carried the day.  An instance was when the question. ‘what determines an emir’s salary?’ was put to Senior Political Officer Knott.  Mr Knott said it was the emir’s responsibilities that determine his salary.  Aminu delivered his sucker punch, ‘why then, is the Emir of Bauchi’s salary less than that of the Emir of Adamawa, whose constituency and subsequent  responsibilities, as well as traditional status, are so much the lesser?’  This was in the presence of the Emir of Bauchi!   Instead of getting an answer for his question, Malam Aminu got a final nail in the coffin of their Bauchi Discussion Circle for Mr knott later announced the dissolution of the Circle on the basis that it was ‘getting off the rail.’

 Motion and movement
Ideas were always burning inside Malam Aminu.  So it was difficult to for him to sit still and just follow conventions.  His constant search for answers to his questions and outlets to bring his ideas to realisation, gave him the image of a mudslinger.

Whenever a door closed, Malam Aminu opened another.  Whenever he knocked and the door wasn’t opened, he pulled it down.  And where there was no door, he erected one.

Graduating from instigating students’ unrest in the middle school, he moved to writing, organising, directing and acting plays that subtly (sometimes not so subtly) ridiculed the native authority and the colonial masters.  And when he met Sa’adu Zungur for the first time in Zaria, during Aminu’s teaching practice, he witnessed the activities of Sa’adu’s brainchild, the Zaria Friendly Society.  This was where contemporary issues were intellectually discussed and debated.

When Aminu was posted to Bauchi as a junior teacher, he opened a forum of his own in 1943 and called it Bauchi General Improvement Union. By this time Sa’adu Zungur had returned to Bauchi from Zaria due to his failing health. Abubakar Tafawa Balewa agreed with the general idea of the Union but disagreed with their methods; thus steered clear. 

 Sa’adu and Aminu wanted a rapid ‘now now’ reform a la Mustapha Kemal Attaturk of Turkey.  But Mal Abubakar advocated a gradual process.  Although the duo respected the intelligence and patriotism of Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, they ignored him and went about writing caustic letters and articles to any newspaper that would publish them. 

It was one of these letters that the colonialists saw and decided to bring the two under their umbrella in order to control them.  This reasoning gave birth to the first officially sanctioned discussion circle, the Bauchi Discussion Circle.  But that was a huge and bad mistake on the part of the colonialists because rather than allowing their wings to be clipped, the two soar higher because now they had larger audience which included the Emir of Bauchi and the Senior Political Officer, Mr Knott who attended their meetings. 

As the Secretary, Mal Aminu was the engine room of the Circle and was left to choose the topics to debate.  However, his topics were almost always not what the Emir and the white masters wanted to hear.  So in less than a year, the discussion circle died and was quickly interred.

Except that in just a few weeks Sa’adu and Aminu exhumed it and change the name to Bauchi Community Centre.  At their first meeting, Mal Abubakar Tafawa Balewa suddenly appeared with a message from the Emir, ‘As a member of the emir’s council, I am hereby requested by the emir to inform you that you are to disband, as all unions are forbidden.’  When others were still in shock, Sa’adu asked, ‘Tell me, sir, are you a messenger carrying information, or are you the executor of the order as well?’  Mal Abubakar said he was only a messenger.  ‘In that case,’ continued Sa’adu ‘we ask you to deliver our reply to the Emir that we will not disband.’

 Now the government weary of Aminu’s sharp tongue and pen sent him to England for a year’s study.  The government back home got a year’s respite which they sought but Mal Aminu started another association in London, which he packaged and imported to Nigeria after graduation.

 Northern Teachers Association (NTA) was started in London when Mal. Aminu reasoned that there was need for a northern association in London.  Therefore he dragged his friends, colleagues and even his teachers – the willing and the unwilling – all along.  

When Mal Aminu came back to Nigeria, Abubakar Imam, a journalist and Dr. Dikko, a medical practitioner appealed to him to expand the organisation to include other professionals other than teachers.  Thereafter, NTA became NPC (Northern People’s Congress).  With the expansion of the umbrella came many problems.  So when some radicals in Kano started a new political party (NEPU), Aminu Kano jumped in front of the parade and later became the live wire of the party although he wasn’t one of the founders.   Professor Alkasum Abba the current Vice Chancellor of the Adamawa State University listed the original founders of NEPU in his book, The Politics of Principles in Nigeria, The Example of the NEPU, as: Abba Maikwaru, Bello Ijumu, Babaliya Manaja, Musa Kaula, Abdulkadir Danjaji, Musa Bida, Magaji Danbatta and Mudi Sipikin. NEPU was derived from NEPA (Northern Elements Progressive Association).  Abdu Rahman Bida the President and Abubakar Zukogi both Nupe radicals were sacked from the Native Authority because of their membership.

Nonetheless, because of his busy beaver mien, his inescapable presence and his constant fight for justice, Aminu Kano is the most remembered member of the party.  Isn’t it time we produced another bloke like him?