Alhaji Muhammadu Abubakar Rimi has received well-earned tributes since his tragic passing. I remember his progressive fervor when he hosted arguably the most important convention of the Nigeria Labour Congress, in February 1981. The progressive camp of labour headed by Hassan Sunmonu, had faced the state-sponsored challenge of the right wing, led by David Ojeli. Rimi provided the ambience for the progressive unionists to triumph. It was one of his finest moments just as he and his colleagues: Abdulkadir Balarabe Musa in Kaduna and Lateef Jakande in Lagos were the first governors to declare May 1st a workers’ holiday in Nigeria in 1980.
Abubakar Rimi’s mass literacy program was very unique as it was very popular and he won the Nadezhda Krupskaya Literacy Award from UNESCO. During the 1990s, I visited one of the mass literacy centers that Rimi established close to the Emir’s palace in Kano to record a features material for Radio France International and had reflected upon the fact that the project remained a tribute to Muhammadu Abubakar Rimi. In subsequent years Rimi’s politics became more controversial as he moved further to the right of the original (petty-bourgeois) radical platform (of NEPU/PRP) which offered him the opportunity genuinely to serve the people.
Ruling class politics, whether in the NPP, SDP or PDP, sucked Rimi into the wilderness of cloak-and-dagger opportunism that is the hallmark of political life in contemporary Nigeria. We must be honest to also add that Rimi’s political value diminished incrementally, the farther he moved away from the politics of service to the poor, which had originally defined him. Amongst the bandits of ruling class politics in the PDP, Abubakar Rimi was an ill-fitting presence because his radical origins meant that he never could be wholly trusted. He had unfortunately abandoned his own political and ideological origins to a point where he possibly could not even know his way back if he ever wanted to re-trace his steps; not that he ever wanted to anyway! His death nevertheless, has robbed Nigeria of a colourful patriot, never afraid to express his mind.