Let me confess mixed feelings to the public performances of the governor of Niger State, Dr. Babangida Aliyu. I admire his passion for causes, especially his appreciation of the need to turn around the sordid state of Northern Nigeria. The Talban Minna chose to place leadership on a different pedestal, preferring the leader as a servant of the people. Consequently, he chose to be addressed as Chief Servant. In a country where immodesty bordering on madness, seemed to have been wired into the leadership process, a conscious appreciation of a leader’s place in historical terms, as the people’s servant, as Babangida Aliyu has done, must therefore be applauded. He is also an educated man, and it is in the nature of good learning to be reflective, giving oneself the pause about issues, because the interconnectedness in phenomena can often be deceptive.
But there is also a troubling side to the Servant Leader. Doctor Babangida Aliyu has a tendency to trip upon avoidable potholes on the badly-paved political highways of Nigeria. There is a personal failing in this process, because the Servant Leader obviously enjoys listening to the sound of his own voice. A practiced tribune, who cut his teeth in the rabble-rousing world of teacher trade unionism, Babangida Aliyu’s multi-sided restlessness can be beneficial and troubling, both. Garbadeen Muhammed once described him as the most microphone-addicted governor in Nigeria. It is not altogether an empty flight of fancy. It is the reason that he has made many on-the-spur-of-the-moments faux pas in his political career.
Last week, he took his predilection for grandiose schemes to a new height. BLUEPRINT of Wednesday, September 21, 2011, carried a report that the Chief Servant has directed four of his commissioners “to discuss with religious organizations modalities for establishing Islamic and Christian universities within the next two years”. The commissioners tasked with this harebrained scheme are those of Religious Affairs, Information, Tertiary Education and Justice, and they would discuss with the chairman of the Traditional Council of Chiefs, to ensure that they bring all religious bodies in Niger State together. Babangida Aliyu added that “I am sure that if we do it right we should be able to get Islamic and Christian universities in Niger State so that in the next one or two years we should be able to have these two universities”. To carry the delusion further, he wanted “stakeholders” (that amorphous beast which entered Nigerian lexicon in the wake of the 1999 transition, but historically was the character that held the stake in a casino!) to structure his absurd ‘universities’ as “business enterprises that would attract investments from share capital and other sources”. Amazing stuff!
Dr. Babangida Aliyu made this proposal at a very useful ceremony of issuance of appointment letters to 1,909 graduates who completed a six-month Graduate Engagement Scheme. Was the man overtaken by the occasion he felt the need to play politics of the most dangerous kind; the politics of religion? How many eligible students have been accommodated at the IBB University in Lapai? Are the possibilities of that university exhausted? What roles can these religion-based ‘universities’ play in the building of society, if not the furtherance of the strategic division of Nigerian society? Has the Chief Servant been unaware of the absurd multiplication of religion-based and often divisive bodies, in Nigeria today? We now have a surfeit of these bodies: Christian and Muslim Medical Associations; Christian and Muslim Media Workers’ Associations; Muslim and Christian Corpers’ Associations, and so on!
The Niger State Governor then decided to plod into that shark-infested water with the most absurd scheme of them all: a university of religious apartheid, one for Muslims, the other for Christians! It might win votes; it could whip up emotions, but it is not good for the nurturing of citizenship. Our leaders should understand the basic fact that building an inclusive, multi-sided citizenship, should be the goal of education. Citizens must learn under identical settings and early in life, be taught to appreciate the values of tolerance and respect for other confessions and belief systems. Stoking the base instincts of intolerance will be the end product of this harebrained idea and it should not be pursued by the Niger State government. It is part of the failings of character that I have spoken about that a very educated leader will be the person conceptualizing this idea. The Servant Leader tries a lot, but sometimes, he over-tries!