Akin Osuntokun's "Ode to the Kaduna Mafia" published in ThisDay of 23/05/12 reminded me of the years we spent in the 1980s and 19990s, trying to understand and analyse the enigma of this secret/open network that was so influential in redefining and remoulding Nigerian politics some years ago.
As Osuntokun's says, the term was coined and popularized by my good friend Mvendaga Jibo. Jibo had told me that when he was the political editor of the New Nigerian, he discovered to his chagrin that many of the powerful editorials that appeared in the paper were written by ghost writers outside the establishment and represented the views, not of journalists, but of a coherent group with a political agenda that nobody told him about. Much as he was a northerner, the impression he got was that to qualify to be an insider of the secret group, one had to be both a northerner and a Muslim.
The New Nigerian and the Kaduna Mafia have always had a close affinity because the first and second editors of the newspaper - Adamu Ciroma and Mamman Daura have always appeared in virtually published listings of the Kaduna Mafia. Just over a week ago, Northern Governors met and for the umpteenth time, resolved once again to revive the newspaper that was for so long part of the definition of the North. They are unlikely to do it because the conditions for the rebirth of the New Nigerian no longer exist.
It is important to understand the place of the New Nigerian in Nigerian politics. The Northern Peoples' Congress had established a newspaper in Kano in 1962 to project the northern view in the politics of the First Republic. They were concerned at the very bad press they were receiving from the dominant Lagos press and the Northern paper - Gaskiya Ta Fi Kwabo published only in Hausa. The new paper for the Northern ruling party, the Daily Mail, was a total journalistic and political failure and no one even knew it existed. Frustrated at the lack of an effective northern voice, the Sarduana invited a provincial editor from the United Kingdom, Charles Sharp, to come and investigate the failure of the Daily Mail. Mr Sharp was blunt in his report, the Daily Mail, he said, is not a newspaper; it's a feudal outfit in which only 20 of the 115 staff had work to do. It cannot be reformed. The way forward is to disband it and start a modern newspaper with state of the art equipment and smart young journalists. Mr Sharp was given the go ahead and he chose one of the brightest young bureaucrats from the Premier's office, Adamu Ciroma, as his first editor to start the adventure. The newspaper started circulation on first January 1966 with the first compugraphic (computerised) machine in the Nigerian newspaper industry. The newspaper leap frogged the tedious manual type-setting of the epoch and provided a print quality that had never been seen in the country. Two weeks later, the coup occurred and the northern political establishment was decimated.
According to my teacher and mentor, Professor A. D. Yahaya, one can only understand the Kaduna Mafia within the context of the historic responsibility thrust into the hands of young technocrats that 15th day of January 1966. These young graduates who were beneficiaries of the NPC northernisation policy and were exercising high responsibility suddenly "inherited the responsibility and power of the proscribed Northern Peoples' Congress." A. D. Yahaya recounts in his narrative of the origins of this group that it was the Enactment of the Unification Decree by Aguiyi Ironsi that precipitated their action as they established the "Ni'ima Club" to strategise outside the public service. They established contacts with their friends and peers in the military who had studied with them in the key schools that were Barewa, Kaduna and Keffi colleges in particular and the outcome, as we all know is history - the "araba" massacres and the counter coup of July 1966.
According to Osuntokun, the famous members and allies of the Kaduna mafia include, Adamu Ciroma, Mamman Daura, Ibrahim Tahir, Shehu Musa Yar'adua, Mahmud Tukur and Mohammadu Buhari'. I agree with him that the myth of the Kaduna mafia is typical of the thriving culture of conspiracy theories in Nigeria. He adds that: "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."
In 1971, Mamman Daura published an interesting chapter in a little known book "Reporting Africa", published in Uppsala, Sweden. He argued that as editor of New Nigerian, his role was defined by a north-south culture divide. He argued that: "The North believed in controlled modernization and emphasized the need for the changing traditional society to adopt modern methods without destroying its own qualities. The South believed in an unthinking gallop towards everything European and Western. It is this cautious, not to say suspicion of Western methods, notably education laid a source of danger to the Northern Region, because the North became educationally backward, and was thus likely to suffer in the distribution of national jobs." Indeed, what the North has lacked over the past three decades is strategic thinking on its corporate interests. This has nothing to do with the personalities in the Kaduna Mafia as God has given most of them long lives, many have exercised power, but the sense of the pursuit of collective rather than individual interest has disappeared over the past two months.
In his article, Osuntokun tells how he established good relations with Dr. Mahmud Tukur, a sound public intellectual considered to be a leading figure of the Kaduna Mafia. He says that: "Dr Tukur dismissed as 'rubbish' speculations of the existence of a Kaduna mafia and his rumoured 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."
It is interesting that the term Kaduna mafia has disappeared from the national discourse over the two decades. When the names associated with the Kaduna Mafia transformed themselves from a think tank for regional interests in the 1966-1979 period, they were very effective strategic players. Then a split appeared to have occurred within them. One group became silent, apparently disgusted with politics and become inward looking. They disappeared from the national scene and went into oblivion. The second group became politically active and negotiated deals about political opportunities with various parties and associations in the post 1992 period. Over the years, they got and lost positions, they exercised power intermittently and in the process became normalized into politicians who were largely irrelevant to the country's problems. The successor northern organisations - the Arewa Consultative Forum and the others became simple launch pads for access to power, influence, and above all money.