24 December 2012

Nigeria: Uniting Peoples, Enriching Lives

Yakowa nakowa! The veracity of that campaign slogan (Yakowa for everybody) did not strike home until the man shed his mortal flesh to keep a date with his maker.

One of the consoling aspects of death must be the opportunity it gives us to learn from the lives of the dead. Even those who would normally close their ears to anything the deceased had to say would now suddenly become interested in cobbling out a lesson or two from his life. Yakowa has left us tons of important lessons by the way he lived his life and the stoic dignity with which his immediate family accepted a situation they could not reverse.

In a nation with a chronic shortage of good examples, it is important to acknowledge those who make serious efforts to give good leadership. That is why Governor Fashola of Lagos State is celebrated by Nigerians across party, ethnic or religious lines. That is why Patrick Ibrahim Yakowa's life of literal and metaphorical bridge-building is being celebrated nationally.

It sounds contradictory to describe someone as a peace warrior, as one who works for peaceful coexistence with the same seriousness with which a general would go to war. At the best of times Kaduna is not the easiest state to govern given its ethno-religious challenges which some people have milked over the years to set brother against brother and put bread on their own table.

Bishop Hassan Kukah did a seminal dissection of the lessons of Yakowa's demise in his sermon at the funeral. First, he said, anyone who believes in God must accept His will. He said the deceased died at his appointed time. Therefore, all conspiracy theorists should look for some other preoccupation.

Kukah said that no one could rejoice over the untimely death of a good man and that the grief that attended the unfortunate helicopter crash in which the governor died had been across religious lines, pointing out that former head of State, Muhammadu Buhari, a devout Muslim, had cancelled his 70th birthday celebrations to honour the memory of Yakowa.

Kukah noted that the late Yakowa attained many firsts in public service, crowned by the governorship which he won as the first person from the Christian-dominated southern part of Kaduna to attain that position. That feat had seemed unattainable in the past because of certain interests who were playing politics of exclusion based on religion. The achievements of Yakowa as governor, particularly in development and in building bridges of unity, he said, were testimonies to the fact that Kaduna indigenes are one people even if they subscribe to different creeds.

Looking back now, it is interesting to see that some of the things for which a section of the polity castigated Yakowa are the very same things for which he was eulogised when he died. For example, when his government subsidised Hajj fares to the tune of N52, 200, in addition to enhanced welfare packages for the pilgrims, a section of the state cried foul. Why would a Christian governor do such a thing? But Yakowa stuck by his guns insisting that he saw himself as a governor for all Kaduna people no matter their religion. He was a Christian governor but not a governor exclusively for Christians. To be sure he wasn't an angel, but he tried to be the best human being he could be.

Also, when the governor ordered local governments to set up Ramadan Feeding Centres for the less privileged to provide daily meals at the break of fast throughout Ramadan, some people felt he was throwing good money away. What further confounded his critics on both sides of the religious divide was that Tafsir messages in selected broadcast media were sponsored by the Yakowa government. In spite of all that, as can be expected, there are those who will never see anything good in anyone outside their small ethno-religious conclave. Such people are to be pitied.

Back to Bishop Kukah's message. Urging the youths from Southern Kaduna to emulate the good traits of Mr. Yakowa he counseled them not to surrender to doubts. He also called on Mr. Yakowa's successor, Ramalan Yero, to ignore the parochial opinion of some people who were still advocating politics of exclusion in the state.

"Do not be tempted by what the wicked people claimed: that the Muslims have taken back what belong to them. The politics of exclusion should be reversed for a creation of a just and even society. We must seek men and women of integrity for positions of authority as opposed to religious sentimentality. We must rise up to build a united Nigeria," Kukah sermonised.

Among the various essays and commentaries on Yakowa's legacies was one by Mahmoon Baba-Ahmed, in which he said, "It was remarkable how Yakowa was able to successfully surmount all the difficulties he had encountered, turning his frustrations and fears into hope and vitality which enabled him muster his people under a common platform that provided a good opportunity for working in unison, under a common destiny for the rapid development of Kaduna State."

Many of us would wish that those kinds of sentiments could be expressed about us when we expire.

Meanwhile political pundits are already calculating how the change of guard at Government House Kaduna would affect their ethno-religious permutations in the state. We watch with keen interest knowing as we do that if it is not nakowa, it will not endure.

Merry Christmas

May you find joy and peace this Christmas and beyond. Enjoy!

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