Balarabe Musa: 1936-2020

ON Wednesday, one of Nigeria’s most iconic politicians, Alhaji Abdulkadir Balarabe Musa, breathed his last. He was aged 84. There are many Nigerian politicians who have been called elder statesmen, but Musa was most deserving of that title. He was a national treasure. In every practical respect, he lived a simple, ascetic and spartan life devoid of the opulence and corruption that typically characterise the life of the average Nigerian politician. He was a Marxist politician who lived true to his convictions until the very end. Born on August 21, 1936 in Kaya, Kaduna State, Musa studied at Zaria Middle School from 1947 to 1952 and at the Institute of Administration, Zaria, 1952 to 1953. At various times an accounts clerk and a school teacher, Musa held various managerial positions related to accountancy from 1960 to 1976 while studying at different colleges in London to gain additional qualifications.

In 1979, during the Second Republic, Musa was elected governor of Kaduna State. But he held office only until June 23, 1981 when he was impeached by the state House of Assembly. The impeachment, the first in Nigeria’s history, was ostensibly due to his refusal to nominate members of the ultra-conservative Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) into his cabinet, but he would later claim that he was impeached because of his plan to open state-controlled small and medium scale industries which would have denied the NPN members the opportunity of establishing their own enterprises. A member of the Malam Aminu Kano school of talakawa-centred politics, Musa was so leftist in orientation that he reportedly turned down an invitation from the Kaduna Polo Club, saying that he did not want to participate in the game of rich and powerful neocolonialists. In February 2009, he was quoted as saying that “Capitalism is returning us to the era of slavery. The solution to the current crisis is the abolition of greediness and antagonistic competition in our economic systems.”

Musa ran for the presidency under the platform of the People’s Redemption Party (PRP) in the April 2003 general election but did not even have enough money to print posters. A staunch member of the Conference of Nigerian Political Parties (CNPP), Musa never shied away from making recommendations to better the Nigerian polity, even after, plagued by health issues, he  quit his position as chairmanship of the PRP in 2018. As he was often pointing out, quite rightly in our own view, the country’s electoral system is criminally rigged to favour moneybags. At the risk of being repetitive, Musa lived a simple life. He was essentially bohemian. He did not just identify with the poor (talakawa); he was actually one of them. He lived and died in the same three-bedroom apartment that he had acquired before becoming governor in 1979. He was a practical person to the core.

Reacting to his death, President Muhammadu Buhari said Musa reflected the passion and vigour that heralded Nigeria’s independence, which steadily translated into activism for the return to democracy at the height of military interregnum, and had remained steadfast in the call for good and inclusive governance. Buhari affirmed that he left a bold footprint on Nigeria’s democracy, adding his role in promoting good governance and development would always be remembered and appreciated by posterity. On his part, former President Goodluck Jonathan said: “Alhaji Balarabe Musa was a sincere and committed patriot and statesman who held fast to people-oriented progressive ideals throughout his political life. As a democrat, Musa avoided convenient politics and was passionate and courageous about his views. He was a highly principled man who relentlessly pursued his beliefs, even at the risk of suffering personal and career setbacks.”

Similarly, former President Olusegun Obasanjo described Musa as a patriot, who “gave the best of his remarkable talent and ability in pursuit of this goal and brought renewed activism, verve and resourcefulness to bear on the nation’s polity.” Senate President Ahmad Lawan described him as a principled political leader who throughout his life consistently championed the cause of the masses, shunned material benefits, and remained constant on the path of his convictions all through his long and illustrious political career. For his part, the Kaduna State governor, Nasir El-Rufai, said that his government was proud of the public service that Musa rendered to the state and its people, adding that he would be remembered “as a progressive politician who tried in his time as governor to expand the horizons of opportunity for ordinary people.”

In a clime still plagued by money politics, Musa’s odyssey was indeed exemplary. He lived and died within his means and never at any time sought political office in order to advance his personal economic fortunes. He was a man of the people in the strictest sense of the word. Sadly, people like Musa are becoming rare in the polity. We mourn the passing of this great patriot and urge the Federal Government and the Kaduna State government to honour his memory. May his soul rest in sweet repose.


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