Balarabe Musa (1936 – 2020)

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Balarabe Musa was undiminished by his controversial impeachment and removal from the office of governor of old Kaduna State in 1981. Elected as the first civilian governor of the state in Nigeria’s Second Republic in 1979, under the banner of the People’s Redemption Party (PRP), he was poised to govern based on progressive ideals.

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His four-year term was, however, cut short by hostile members of the opposition in the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) who dominated the state’s House of Assembly. His political antagonists in the legislature blocked his attempts to form a cabinet by refusing to ratify his nominees reportedly because he refused to accommodate NPN members. The dramatic deadlock resulted in his impeachment and removal, making him the first Nigerian state governor to be impeached and removed.

It was a defining juncture that showed the strength of his political convictions. This experience did not change him and did not change his image as a progressive politician. Ideologically, he was an unapologetic leftist, and refused to be discouraged even after leftism had declined globally.

Musa stuck to his politics of principles till he died on November 11, aged 84.  He projected a revolutionary orientation that focused on the liberation of the poor. His ultimate political goal was the redemption of the Talakawa, Hausa for the common people.

He attended Zaria Middle School from 1947 to 1952 and trained as an accountant at the Institute of Administration, Zaria. He worked as a clerk, school teacher and accountant.

He demonstrated his pro-poor ideology early in his political life. In the 1950s, he joined the socialism-driven Northern Elements Progressive Union (NEPU) under the legendary Mallam Aminu Kano.  He continued on the path of progressivism with the PRP in the 1970s, also under Mallam Kano, and was elected governor.

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After conservative forces removed him from the governorship, he remained active as a social critic and pro-democracy actor.  He visibly supported the campaign against the annulment of the 1993 Nigerian presidential election by military oppressors. He opposed the dictatorial regime of Gen Sani Abacha and his self-succession moves.

It was testimony to his ideological consistency that he revived the PRP when the country returned to democracy in 1999, and became the party’s chairman and national leader. His position as chairman of the Conference of Nigerian Political Parties (CNPP), a coalition of opposition parties, in the Fourth Republic, reflected his political stature.

When he unsuccessfully ran for president in 2003 under the PRP, he was reported saying he had no money to even print posters. This episode further highlighted the fact that he was not the regular acquisitive politician familiar to Nigerians.  Musa lived simply with modest possessions, which was uncommon for a Nigerian politician of his standing.

“We need a revolution in Nigeria to have a positive change in the political system,” he was quoted as saying in 2009. On Nigeria’s 60th independence anniversary in October, he said in an interview: “Honestly, the country has not fared well at 60. It is very disappointing that this is where we are… The economic and political models we are currently operating only empower a few. Governments must be structured to impact positively on the masses.”

When he quit politics and resigned as PRP chairman in 2018, prompted by his deteriorating health, it marked the end of a political life characterised by integrity.  He was a voice of conscience who spoke to people in power about the responsibilities of power.

Musa did not have the opportunity to practicalise his governance ideas. His impeachment and removal from office in less than two years terminated the promise of his governorship. But the power of his ideas, particularly the necessary empowerment of the poor, remains.