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Rimi: Tribute to Limanin Canji (1940 - 2010)
Written by Adamu Adamu   
Friday, 09 April 2010 01:30

It always appeared as if it was his to add colour, class and drama to particular moments on the political scene—and so it was; but Alhaji Mohammed Abubakar Rimi did more than add mood to situations: he completely changed them. And because of him, they would never be the same, despite his death on Sunday, April 4, 2010.

He seized Kano as fashion would a Western city and remodeled the politics of defiance and principle in his image. He consecrated the political coming of age in Kano , already conditioned by decades of the heat of the baptism of the fire of NEPU, into a popular culture of exaggerated irreverence. With his sharp, acerbic and eloquent tongue and feisty wit, he shaped the contours of this new heresy, becoming its avant-garde and symbol; and the political man in Kano became that kid who could thumb his nose at power and spit in its face.

But if a small dose of irreverence was essential for effectiveness in Nigerian politics, too much of it could be absolutely fatal, as it in fact subsequently proved for Rimi. At its receiving end were the great Malam himself, the Emir of Kano; and the new popular culture thought it could ignore the dictates of public morality.  The strictures of public morality often demanded conformity with a moral standard that even the enforcers would tear to pieces behind closed doors; but public appearances had to be kept. In this society, even charlatans by night carried and counted their rosary beads by day. But greatly daring, the new political elite in Kano adopted an ‘open-door’ policy on such sensitive matters. Unfortunately new lords always forgot that there was no virtue in advertising decadence.

In addition, disquiet had been expressed over the participation of PRP governors in the meeting of the PPP alliance. At one time Malam Aminu decreed an end to it and both Alhaji Abdulkadir Balarabe Musa and Rimi accepted to comply but requested their party to be discreet about it; and Malam accepted that. In a bid to embarrass them all, the late Alhaji Sabo Bakin Zuwo immediately called journalists and announced that the party had given orders to its governors to stop attending PPP meetings. This was to develop into a major political disagreement in which Malam and the PRP, and not Balarabe and Rimi, were clearly in the breach.

But Malam had become hostage to scheming, streetwise illiterates in the PRP who were to push him into an even tighter corner. But in this culture, age rules OK; and only a prodigal son will pick an open quarrel with his father or a protégé with his mentor or a Rimi with his Malam. Rimi might have been in the right, but his extreme irreverence came to overshadow everything else, including his victimhood; and to the larger public, he came across as a betraying ingrate, and therefore guilty as charged.

Towards the end of the Second Republic , Rimi was already a politically tragic figure: he had become a beleaguered colossus who had bitten more than he could possibly chew. Though this drama played out in Kano , its effect was to go far and wide, to reach all areas across the country where the Rimi appeal was fast catching on.

Rimi was the total and complete politician with whom there was a dull moment. Self-assured and self-confident and at home wherever he was, he was the veritable bridge-builder across ethnic, creedal, sectional and generational divides. He led and people followed. Even when angry Rimi picked no quarrels; for, though always loud and voluble, he played his politics without bitterness; and even when he jeered and taunted, he was just being himself—a consummate master of in-your-face political theatrics.

 A charismatic and frank talker, Rimi was a patrician with an agenda for plebeian rights; and fate and the radicalism of youth brought him into Malam Aminu’s political embrace in the First Republic . In the 1980’s even the presidency seemed like the destination to which destiny was beckoning him. What stood between him and the presidency then was merely time and the forging of the correct political realignment at the right time. But within two decades a lot had changed such that when in 2003 he did run for it, it was virtually an undertaking without the support of any constituency, very much a one-man affair. His nadir came during the last PDP election when he witnessed the trouncing of his political heritage by Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso, who, in comparison to Rimi in Kano politics, is a mere upstart, but is now set to become the new political supremo.

During his time, his focus was on people and it was for them that he laboured. He set up a government made up of effective officers, appointing an all-graduate cabinet; though, of course, it must be admitted that mere graduation from a university is no guarantee for effectiveness at work. In the university a person only learnt how to learn: the real thing is on the job. He also appointed tried and tested technocrats to man boards and managements of parastatals; and he delegated real power and authority to them, and gave them what freedom they needed to perform well. And perform well they did.

He was arguably the nation’s highest-achieving and most fulfilled governor of all time. His transformation of Kano State stands unrivalled in its comprehensiveness—the scope of his development programmes, the genuineness and quality of his projects, especially in the formal and non-formal education sectors; in opening up the vast rural areas of the state and embarking on their all-round development, and in the planned and coordinated construction of road networks in the state.

Rimi was the self-proclaimed—and by people acclaimed—Imam of Change [Limamin Canji], but, in his haste, he forgot and left the congregation before the prayer ended. If he had managed matters with more maturity and greater tact and had eaten his fill of political humble pie during the PRP crisis, his constituency, which, in the early days of his government had gone beyond his party and the North, would have remained intact, and he would have been untouchable in national politics, let alone in Kano .

He was perhaps the most colourful political figure of the Second Republic and all subsequent republics. With his electrifying presence and abundance of courage that often tended towards foolhardiness, he chose to test the unaccountable power of the traditional institution. And thinking nothing of offending public morality, he went on live television and bared it all, damning the consequences. And he had sometimes been accused of abandoning principle and engaging in what-is-in-it-for-me politics. But people still loved him, despite everything. In the end, no one could have hated this man; because, if nothing else, his many enduring and wide-ranging achievements would always make up for, if not exactly excuse, his few, even if serious, flaws.

Today, Nigeria is one of the most violent-death-friendly nations on earth. The gaze of death stares at you from every dim corner; and wherever you go, it stalks you every inch of the way. At every turn someone is waiting to kill or maim you. It could be that extrajudicial killer with gun and ammunition bought with tax payers’ money; an armed robber—on the road, on the highway, in the streets of the city, in the alleys of towns and villages, or even in the inner sanctum of your bedroom—looking for your money or your life; a ritualist desperate for human body parts to appease a pagan power structure, a religious fanatic at the service of some sanguinary deity; or a genocidal local landed gentry. It was as if the whole nation has decided to embark on a long retreat back to primitive, pre-modern barbarism.

No doubt, Rimi’s painful and pathetic end—the latest in a series of the nation’s shameful and preventable outrages—was brought about by the great distress of this harrowing experience. If this is a nation of freemen and not a collection of office-seekers and corruption-eaters, someone must be made to pay and feel sorry for the sorrow of the horror of it all. And there was no doubt that Rimi would have been a very good president of Nigeria —perhaps better than all those who had preceded him. His work spoke and still speaks for itself; and it is unfortunate that Rimi had to go this way. May his soul rest in peace.


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