Forget Balewa, here’s a mother’s formula against corruption

I bragged to my foreign visitors that when we get to Sokoto, I will show them my friend, an ideal leader that Nigerians need.

In Sokoto as the guests of the state government, we were properly accommodated. In the guest house, I asked our guide, the protocol officer, if he knew the friend about whom I bragged. He said he did. He should. Everybody does – from the Sultan of Sokoto to the man on the streets of Sokoto North local council. But still I asked the question so that I could dramatise and he could validate, in the presence of our visitors, what I told them earlier. But I myself was about to learn something about my friend which I didn’t know before – and which gave me a new perspective regarding the role of parents, especially mothers, in obliterating corruption. Corruption, which President Buhari said will kill us, if we don’t kill it.

After government business, we changed into more casual wears and gathered around the park (Happy Island) which my friend owns.

While telling his story to our guests, on his own volition, he answered the question that I’ve never thought to ask him before.  “My mother told me,” Abdullahi Hassan said, “that she would never forgive me if I stole one kobo of government’s money.”

To give you a clear context, Abdullahi Hassan was the chairman of Sokoto North local government for three years. In those three years, with the meagre resources of the council, he accomplished what many people thought was impossible before he came. A feat none could match before or since.  Unbelievable?  Hear my count: Abdullahi either tarred or concretised all the roads in his local government to protect the health of his citizens from dust and to ease transportation. He swept and incinerated all the ghost workers (planted by the administrations before his) from a perch once their own. He built two hospitals (96-bed each), purchased 44 transformers to improve electricity, he built more than 80 homes for the destitute, etc. 

I was told the story of a grateful university lecturer, who, in the past, parked his car a long distance from his house because the road wouldn’t allow his car to pass. Around this area, there was an incident where a pregnant woman couldn’t be moved to the hospital because no car could come there. “Abdullahi built that road,” a friend, Mohammed Sokoto told me, “now the people there don’t face such life-threatening incidents.”

We have all taken leadership advice from our parents. When he realised that my mingling with politicians would linger, my father reminded me: “Don’t lie to anybody.” Because my father didn’t want you to lie, as a child, whenever I wanted to get out of trouble, I simply told the truth. Instead of a reprimand, I received praises.  My mom on the other hand, simply told me to be ‘patient.’

Yet, my parents’ advice was not as poignant as Abdullahi’s mother’s for two reasons. One, hers is measurable. Everybody knows what one kobo is. The second reason why this admonition is trenchant is that it comes with a consequence: ‘I’ll never forgive you.’

I’d love that my parents’ advice had the two attributes. But of course I can’t go back to my father and say, ‘Baba, please add a consequence to your counsel.’

But salient in all this is the fact that the mother knew his son would not disobey her. If her son were a bad person, she wouldn’t have put him in such a position.

“Our mum was stricter than our dad,” Abdullahi Hassan said, “she was more exacting and allowed no deviation. My mother was also religious. She and my father spent the night praying.”

But did his mother say this to all her children? “No. All my brothers are businessmen. I was the one who chose politics and therefore public office.”

I’m drawn to recall that once in Sokoto, when we were having lunch with some professors from Uthman Dan Fodio University, Abdullahi Hassan said he had never illegally taken a kobo from government. In Nigeria, that’s a bold statement to make. But now you know why he had the confidence to say that, or why he could be so accurate. “Even though she’s no longer alive,” Abdullahi said, “still, I can’t betray her. Doing so would have broken me. It would have killed me.”

I take my political leadership inspiration from him. I no longer have to travel to the First Republic to take guidance from Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, the Sardauna, Ribadu and Aminu Kano.  We now have our own contemporaries who have demonstrated the same patriotism and who also balk at corrupt tendencies. The first time I realised that there was no need to travel to the 1960s was when I discovered Isah Kawu, a former speaker of Niger State House of Assembly. I wrote about him twice here. Uncle Mohammed Haruna also wrote about him. He was the one who, even as a PDP member, rejected an SUV provided from the state governor, arguing that he had already been paid his car allowance.  When I interviewed him in 2010, he said: “My rejection of the jeep is a tip of the iceberg. There are worse things that happened here.”

But I’m closer to Abdullahi Hassan. For some reasons, he likes me and I like him. On two occasions I sought his advice on how to run my office. First, how did he cope with politicians making constant cash demands? “I ignored them,” he said, “of course they insulted me for some time, until they started seeing the work we were doing and realised that we had a higher goal for them.”

How did he respond to gifts from grateful contractors? I asked him this after I had rejected an ‘appreciation’ from a contractor.  So I only called him for his validation. “You know I don’t take gifts from contractors,” Abdullahi said.

When he was a local government chairman, he took me to see his projects. He told me that for each day of inspection, he was entitled to N25, 000. “I do inspection every day, so that’s N750, 000 per month. But I don’t take any of it because I feel the allowance was created for leaders to legally steal from the people.”

Abdullahi is an example for his contemporaries to follow. And we owe some of the gratitude to his mother. Hajiya, people pray for your son. They wish him well and chant ‘sai ka yi gomna.’  All this happens because you invested in him by praying for him and giving him good advice. As a result, you also receive prayers by Abdullahi’s grateful beneficiaries and followers. Hajiya, I also want to report to you that I know of only two politicians in Nigeria who people pay from their own pockets to campaign for. The first one is President Buhari and the second one is your son, Abdullahi Mu’azu Hassan. It’s no wonder they call him the ‘Buhari of Sokoto.’ Even though he said he’s no longer interested in politics, he remains among the few that I like; among even the fewer that I respect.

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