His exit is constitutionally fixed but that has not stopped the outpouring of emotions from one particular community which recognised his sterling contributions to the peace, progress and unity of this country. Malam Ibrahim Shekarau will bow out as Governor of Kano state in a hail of glory come May 29, 2011 but already the Christian community in Nigeria is mourning his departure.
Malam, who was re-elected in 2007 would have completed his historic two-term mandate, leaving a large show which his successors will struggle to fill. History will record that the most frugal and people-oriented government since Kano state was created also laid a solid foundation for the rapid transformation of the state’s socio-economic, rich human resource capitals.
The story of how a strategic partnership flourished between Governor Ibrahim Shekarau and the Christian community, especially in Kano, will be told someday but there are interesting developments that cannot wait. Toward the end of last year, the National Secretariat of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) wrote a LETTER OF COMMENDATION to the Kano state Governor “for the good governance you are giving to the citizens of Kano state.”
On the heels of a Muslim Governor of a largely Muslim state attending a Deeper Life Gospel Crusade in the state, CAN, in a letter signed by its General-Secretary, Engineer S.L.S. Salifu, noted that the Governor “sat with the Christians throughout the memorable occasion,” and that its Kano chapter “have informed us of how you have included some non-indigenes, specially Christians, among your advisers.”
In the measured words of CAN, “we must also, not fail to commend you for the comparative religious peace that has become the experience of Kano state NOW (emphasis CAN’s) under your administration. All these actions and much more have drawn the attention of all peace loving Christians across the country.” The Kano Chapter of CAN followed up on this framework by presenting Malam with the Distinguished Governors’ Award during a courtesy visit this May. Presenting the award, Chairman of CAN in Kano state, Bishop Ramsome Sunday Bello, said it is a simple symbol of the Christian community’s collective appreciation of the governor’s enviable accomplishments, sincerity and good relationship with the people residing in the state, pointing out that with all he has achieved for the state, “it takes blindness for one not to recognise the legacies he has bequeathing. “You are leaving behind a legacy of peace which is a challenge to any in-coming government.” This gesture is historic. It has never happened before and it is a challenge to those who will take over from Malam.
Christians will not be the only community ‘mourning’ Malam’s exit but the significance and force of interpretative history brought about by the courage of leaders of this key community in stepping forward at this juncture to honour the outgoing Governor with a Distinguished Governor’s Award reveal three related positives, besides confirming the truism in one of Malam’s favourite quotes: “A very good Christian will always want to interact with a very good Muslim.”
One is that, the Nigerian nation has come to stay as a one indivisible entity, contrary to doomsday prophets envisioning Nigeria’s imminent disintegration.
Two peaceful coexistence of communities, whatever their differences, is achievable if the political leadership is predisposed toward the idea. Governor Ibrahim Shekarau will forever be remembered as more than just the great leader who envisioned and initiated Kano’s modernisation programme. He is the man who demystified governance and broke the barriers of hate and mutual suspicion among the various communities that make up Kano state. It doesn’t take a genius to build roads, hospitals and schools, but it takes a great statesman, a patriot and a man of peace with God and humanity, to accept others as co-equals in the Nigerian project, to break the ice of suspicion, to make the first move to those who are locked outside the gate of opportunity, to reconcile with aggrieved persons, to break down the wall of fear and hatred and to replace resentment with inter-dependence. Small steps led to open hearts.
Before 2003 when Malam came into office, CAN leaders and indeed leaders of numerous minority groups in Kano exhausted every avenue begging for an audience with the state governor, but were routinely rebuffed or mildly directed to consult with lesser officials. But under Shekarau, not only with every group welcome to Government House as a special guest but government deliberately initiated and promoted a policy of dialogue, consultation and strategic cooperation with all minority groups, especially CAN leaders.
This open door policy invariably led to the third positive; Malam Shekarau did not consider peace as an object of political posturing or intrigue manoeuvre, but a policy route to higher ends. Reaching out to minority groups was key to the peace and tranquillity enjoyed by Kano residents up till the sad 2011 post-election events, which actually defied logic. Peace in Kano under Malam yielded development and cooperation. A few weeks after it came into office, the Shekarau administration embarked on accelerated roads and infrastructure developments in the area inhabited mainly by non-Muslim groups, especially the Sabon Gari quarters. Important roads like Festing, Burma, Igbo, Court and Sarkin Yaki roads were reconstructed with drainages by quality contractors and were built to last. France Road, the most strategic road in Sabon Gari was re-designed into a six-lane carriageway to ease transportation. With that construction, Sabon Gari has been incorporated into the Central Business district Masterplan of the state government, along with Ibrahim Taiwo Road, Bello Road and Bank Road.
The last time any government bothered to develop any part of Sabon Gari was 30 years ago. How Malam employed peace as a weapon of development is now a milestone in the annals of Nigeria’s history and should be a case study for students of Peace and Conflict Studies. With peace, Kano’s economy is prospering and being diversified and non-indigenes are among the major beneficiaries. Evidence of Kano’s growing prosperity can be found in the regional show peace, the private-sector driven Kanawa Trade Centre, warehouses and space for over 7000 cars, buses and lorries. Who will deny the steady rise in Kano’s property market, a sector driven mainly by the enterprising Igbo population of Kano? Panisau quarters, near Airport Road, besides the Airforce Base and in other parts of Sabon Gari and No Man’s Land are witnessing the rapid development of how new residential properties at a rate never seen before in Kano. Peace breeds confidence and in turn people will invest their money on economic development.
Indeed, Christians and minority groups in Kano will surely miss Malam whose stewardship is a tale of compassion and accommodation. It is already a national legend that he went out of his way to appoint non-indigenes into his cabinet. Chief Chris Azuka represented the Igbos; Mr. Tala Ilo, a Bayelsan represented the Niger Delta; Alhaji Mikail Adebayo is a Yoruba Muslim and Dr. Salaudeen Ada
ms from Kogi, represented Northern minority groups. All were Special Advisers to the Governor. It is well documented that when several Igbo traders based in Kano were involved in a ghastly road accident along Abuja-Lokoja road, Malam went personally to commiserate with the families of the victims and approved monetary donations so that survivors, who had lost everything in that accident, could start a new life. Despite being a Muslim Governor, Malam identified with, and felicitated with Christians during festivities and received reciprocal gestures from their leaders and prominent personalities during Muslim festivals. More critically, he guaranteed freedom and worship and speech. Under this atmosphere of tolerance and accommodation Christians and other minority groups prospered in Kano, perhaps more than in any other part of the Muslim North.
It is one things to reach out and quite another to have someone grab the olive branch on offer. The leadership of CAN, especially in Kano, deserves the commendation of all patriots who look forward to a future of tolerance and inter-faith cooperation. Honouring an outgoing Governor at this point in time when it would have been more self-serving pointing accusing fingers and fanning the embers of sectarian hate indicates an elevated inclination. This is not the stuff of sycophancy. It is statesmanship undisguised. There is hope for Nigerian unity and I am a stronger believer.
Sule contributed this piece from Sharada Quarters, Kano.email@example.com