Alhaji Adamu Attah: Decency from a different era

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I RETURNED to Nigeria on Sunday, May 3rd, to discover from my pack of newspapers of the previous week, that Alhaji Adamu Attah, the first civilian governor of the old Kwara state, had died on May 1st, 2014. So many thoughts have raced through my mind about the politics of the Second Republic, 1979-1983.

Radio Kwara had prepared an elaborate series of programmes as part of the transition programme to Civil Rule, under the broad title of ELECTIONS 79. I was the voice of those programmes and the very exciting electioneering process brought me into close proximity to the politicians of the period: J.S Olawoyin; Abubakar Olusola Saraki; AGF Abdulrazaq; Akanbi Oniyangi and Adamu Attah, to mention just a few.

Adamu Attah’s very strong Ghanaian accent, ease of manner and a general decency stood him out; a prince and scion of the legendary Attah family of Ebirraland, which was arguably, the most educated in Northern Nigeria, Adamu Attah was not as well-known as his gubernatorial opponents like JS Olawoyin of the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) and AGF Abdulrazaq of the Great Nigeria Peoples Party (GNPP).

He nevertheless had the formidable machinery of the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) to ride to power; and like the proverbial rider of a tiger’s back, it was the schisms within that behemoth of the Second Republic, that ended his political career. But that was to be in the elections of 1983.

As governor, Adamu Attah ruled with all the decency of his origins and education. He was an incredible stickler for time; and unlike the generation of clowns and crooks in power in many of our states today, you could literally set your wristwatch with Adamu Attah’s arrival at public events. He always arrived on time! Looking back now, he left some noteworthy legacies in Kwara state that we must continue to appreciate. Attah had a cabinet of very formidable individuals who helped to define his era.

The late Babatunde Kassum was commissioner for education and under him, Attah’s administration opened up very well equipped schools all over Kwara state and that was a major turning point in education that was not equaled by subsequent administrations. Poignantly, under Bukola Saraki in eight years, he managed to rehabilitate four secondary schools!

Attah built the Danish Overseas assisted Specialist Hospitals in Sobi, Ilorin; Offa; Jebba and Obangede. He also constructed the second phase of Kwara Hotels, in Ilorin, which Bukola Saraki transferred to an obscure group in a controversial half-house to privatization and has become a machinery of bleeding funds out of Kwara. Attah also introduced the Sunday edition of the NIGERIAN HERALD newspaper; built the Governor’s Office in the GRA; and his administration was the last to organize the Patigi International Boats Regatta. He built the Kabba-Okene road.

In the years of his administration, salaries were never owed even for a month; I worked at Radio Kwara at the time and do remember. Many years later, I wrote a Master’s degree thesis on the reportage of labour issues by the Herald newspaper titles during the Second Republic and it was remarkable to discover that many states owed up to six months in those years and one even owed nine months salaries arrears!

Lost chance

As I indicated earlier, Adamu Attah was to lose a chance to be re-elected in the 1983 election because of the serious crisis that had opened up between him and Abubakar Olusola Saraki, the Senate Leader, who doubled as party chieftain in Kwara state. Early in the administration, Attah deferred completely to Saraki, including even the abandonment of state activities to await Olusola Saraki at the Ilorin airport. The prince in Attah began to reject the apparent humiliation of such waits and other acts in the hands of the powerful party leader that was nevertheless a commoner.

Efforts by the national leadership to broker peace repeatedly failed. The national NPN leadership supported the governor, but Olusola Saraki was at his wily best, and had mobilised the Ilorin people to oppose a demonised Attah (the same tactic was exploited by Olusola Saraki against the late Governor MuhammedLawal in 2003), this was inspite of the support that Adamu Attah enjoyed from the late Emir of Ilorin, Alhaji Zulkarnaini Gambari (father of the present emir).

Saraki went into an alliance with the opposition UPN, and convinced the community to back its candidate, C.O.Adebayo. Adamu Attah lost the election and disappeared from the political scene. He spent the next thirty years in relative obscurity, hardship and ill health.

But with his death, we must acknowledge his contributions to the making of our state and the building of our country. He was a very decent man, who clearly belonged to a more decent era. He did not work out a dubious pension package for himself, the type that Bukola Saraki did, at the end of his controversial governorship of Kwara.

Bukola Saraki allegedly receives N100Million monthly pension from Kwara today and he also got the state to build him a house that occupies half of a street in the GRA. Kwara pays for his convoy of cars and security men; we pick the bill of his hired private jets and we foot his and family’s medical and holiday expenses, annually. All that for the misfortune we had that he governed us for eight years.

That was not what Adamu Attah did. The Second Republic politicians, the generation that Adamu Attah belonged to, suffered a lot of opprobrium, especially after their overthrow in December 1983. But they were much more committed to our communities than the present generation of barefaced looters of our states. Adamu Attah left power quietly and died on May 1st, 2014. May Allah forgive his sins. Allah yajikansa.

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