16 August 2018

Nigeria: Adamu Ciroma - a Man With the Courage of His Convictions (I)

A little over 16 years ago, on June 10, 2002 to be precise, I wrote a syndicated piece in the New Nigerian and The Country, the now rested weekly newspaper published by DER, in which I pleaded with Malam Adamu Ciroma, then the Galadima of Fika and President Olusegun Obasanjo's Minister of Finance, to retire from public service. The title of the piece was "Time for the Galadima to bow out." I wrote the piece because, like many of his admirers, I was worried that his political intimacy with President Obasanjo might cost him his hard-earned reputation as a man of honour, integrity and the courage of his convictions.

At the time there were widespread public perception, right or wrong, that Malam Adamu was more a cabinet minister in name than in reality because of the way the president executed many important financial decisions behind his back through the junior minister who, like the president, was Yoruba. Second there was also the perception that the president regarded the North, which was Malam Adamu's primary constituency, as hostile territory, if only because of the rising clamour for Shari'a in the region, something the president was opposed to.

Not least of all there was Obasanjo's hostility to late Chief Sunday Awoniyi's bid for the chairmanship of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) after late Chief Solomon Lar's tenure as interim chair ended in late 2000. As everyone knew, Chief Awoniyi, a minority Northern Yoruba, and Christian to boot, was unapologetic about his Northerness which he rightly saw as not being necessarily in conflict with his unquestionable commitment to Nigeria's unity.

Obasanjo's ostensible reason for objecting to Awoniyi as PDP's chair was that it was incongruous for a Yoruba man to lead the ruling party when another Yoruba was already president. But as even any political novice could see, Obasanjo didn't want the man as chair of his party not because Awoniyi was Yoruba, but because as a man of firm convictions, Awoniyi was someone he could not easily use and dump. Besides, as a Northern Christian minority, Awoniyi's chairmanship of the ruling party was bound to blunt the president's use of identity politics as a political weapon to neuter the North which he perceived as hostile to his presidency.

To stop Awoniyi, money was used to buy delegates so brazenly at the party's first post-election convention at Eagle Square, Abuja, that Malam Adamu, leading a number of Awoniyi's friends and political associates, felt obliged to walk up to the Presidential box where Obasanjo was seated to protest the crude monetization of the contest in favour of Obasanjo's preferred candidate, Mr. Barnabas Gemade. Predictably, the president turned deaf ears to their protests. As we all know, the little fancied Gemade won the contest. This easily enabled Obasanjo to kill the party's internal democracy which eventually led to its implosion ahead of the last general election in 2015, an implosion which ironically led to Obasanjo's denunciation of the party and tearing his membership card in public before the election.

My concern that Malam Adamu's political intimacy with Obasanjo could cost him his reputation worsened when he accepted to serve as the Coordinator of Obasanjo's second term bid. Without doubt Obasanjo was the most globally connected of Nigeria's leaders and arguably the hardest working and one of the most intelligent. He also had the good fortune of the highest oil windfall in Nigeria's history. However, as his first term drew to an end it became apparent that he had failed disastrously to combine his good financial fortune with his virtues of global connections, hard work and intelligence to lay a solid economic foundation for Nigeria and point it in the right direction for development and national unity.

To be sure, I never believed Malam Adamu acceptance to serve under Obasanjo was for personal aggrandizement, gauging by his antecedents. By the time he became a close political associate of Obasanjo, he had served his region and the country as a senior civil servant, as editor and managing director of New Nigerian, as Governor of the Central Bank, and as Secretary General of the ruling party and minister during the Second Republic. In each and every one of them, he left a legacy of modest living, competence, courage and integrity.

The foundation of this legacy was, of course, his career at the now rested New Nigerian.

That his experience at the New Nigerian was the defining period of his life became apparent when he served as an elected member of the 1977/78 Constituent Assembly (CA) under Obasanjo as military head of state. To date that CA has been the most qualitative in its composition and the most meticulous in the country's history of constitution making, producing a Constitution that, for better or worse, changed the country from parliamentary democracy to presidential.

As a young reporter who covered the CA for New Nigerian, I can testify to the fact that Malam Adamu played a prominent role in shaping that Constitution. For example, ironic as it may seem for a former editor and managing director of one of the country's most influential newspapers at the time, he led the opposition to inserting any special protection for the press in the Constitution. There was, he said during a plenary session of the CA and in opposition to modern Nigeria's most successful and influential journalist, Alhaji Babatunde Jose who was a nominated member of the CA, enough freedom for the press in the draft. In any case, he said, you fight for your rights not wait for them to be given to you. In the end his argument prevailed in the CA.

To be continued...

Haruna is a former Managing Director of New Nigerian Newspapers. He wrote this piece from Abuja

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