By Adagbo ONOJA
By what stretch of imagination would anyone call someone who was before the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, (EFCC) a great man? Or, how could a governor who could not win back his second term be called so? How might a governor to whom was attributed certain absolutely inexcusable statements while in power be dressed as an exceptional politician? These few examples would suggest that the late Akwe Doma was just another governor. But he wasn’t just another governor. Rather, he was of a very exceptional pedigree, the type that we do not see today in government. While one is ready to accept that he might not have been such a wonderful performer as a governor, he came to governorship from a pedigree which a country desirous of handling the management of its problem of merit and cultural diversity ought to be interested in playing up his life.
Alhaji Aliyu Akwe Doma was the first Cultural Officer of the North, a position which enabled him to study different Northern cultures. It was Akwe Doma who can be credited with not only establishing arts councils all over the North but also the Centre for the Study of Nigerian Languages at Ahmadu Bello University, (ABU), Zaria. Of course, council for arts and cultures also became centres for Northern dance dramas, northern music and the subsequent emergence of drama on television, this being the fore runner of what is today Nollywood.
In this context, a Muslim Middle Belter who had studied Theatre Arts at the University of Ibadan was already making a statement because, in the North then, the whole notion of somebody performing on stage was looked upon as demeaning from the point of view of the aristocracy. As far as this class was concerned, it was meant for beggars and praise singers. Akwe Doma taking to culture by studying and practicing Theatre Arts was, therefore, a message to Northern Nigeria. That is in terms of the Nigerian person becoming a beacon for the recovery from colonial and neo-colonial cultural trouncing through especially the propaganda that our own culture is barbaric.
Specifically, he is certainly the first person to identify the Kwaghir in Tivland with cultural significance. Kwaghir had emerged as an undercurrent of guerrilla theatre singing songs of derision against the Northern regional government and its leadership. Apart from becoming singularly interested in Tiv culture whose troop he took to Senegal for the First FESTAC, he encouraged Tivs like Prof Iyorwase Hagher to research Kwaghir Theatre at a time the theatre had virtually died as a result of the repression of it in the wake of the Tiv riots. That is why Akwe Doma became a song in Tivland.
That is also why his loss of power in 2011 was felt more in Benue than anywhere else because, as someone also said, “If you gave Aliyu Akwe Doma a choice, he would add I to his surname and become Akwe Idoma”. His office was the theatre of an attempt to reconcile Senator David Mark and Young Alhaji because Doma saw it as an anomaly that one Idoma man would be a challenger to another Idoma man who rose to become a Senate president, making the settlement of the rift a priority. The question I would have certainly asked him formally if we got to interviewing him is why he did “one wonderful thing under IBB by single handedly aborting the merger of Doma with Benue State as engineered by the late Col John Inienger”. He could not have made such a move without good reasons worth knowing about!
Doma was a man of courage. Only a man of courage could tour the entire North, broadcasting what the Sardauna was saying, up to trouble spots such as Tivland and Wukari where the people at a point refused to pay tax. With loud speakers mounted on land rovers, he took the message of the regional government to all such corners. This wasn’t easy then because Benue province was hotbed of UMBC opposition. By venturing into Benue then with a message from the Sardauna, he was risking too much. He was equally in the thick of those whose job was to mollify the entire country because of the killing that took place in January 1966. He worked to restore confidence in Gowon.
When Akwe Doma became governor of Nasarawa State in 2007, he drew up a register of all his classmates in Katsina Ala and he called consultative meetings with them regularly on how best to be a governor. The religious and cultural mix of Katsina Ala in those days makes his move a wonderful, pan-Northern one.
Akwe Doma did not only retain every bit of his cultural identity, he is still the first Middle Belter to get many ethnic nationalities in the belt to realize that being a Muslim did not automatically mean doing away with one’s culture. He did this by actively promoting the cultures of the different ethnic nationalities in what are today known as Benue, Plateau, Nasarawa and Taraba states when he was cultural officer in the Northern Regional Civil Service. He encouraged people to revive and immortalise their culture instead of allowing them to die. One of the outcomes of these is what one finds among Muslims in central Nigeria today – Muslims participating actively in cultural activities such as New Yam festivals, celebrating bumper harvests, having standing cultural troupes without harming their Islamic faith.
In 1978 when General Obasanjo paid a visit to Plateau State as military Head of State, Akwe Doma was the one who organised the civic reception. The Military Governor then reported how fascinated Obasanjo was with the reception and its organiser that he wanted to take him along with him to Lagos until the Military Governor, Air Commodore Dan Suleiman told him, “Sir, but if you take him with you, there will be nobody to organise a good reception for you the next time you are here”. It was then Obasanjo relented. Not only was he so competent in protocol, there was no drum he could not beat and no cultural dance he could not do. He always spoke about “We have a history and an accomplishment that we have to celebrate”
He was an institution builder, the moral and even financial force behind Kwararafa University. Before then, even as a Muslim, he worked with Bishop Murray in the then Makurdi Diocese to open John Bosco Secondary School, Doma. That happened after St Augustine College, Lafia which now houses the Nasarawa State Polytechnic in Lafia became filled up. This is the account given by Father Bradley who said that, at that time, they were working with a Permanent Secretary called Doma to establish a new secondary school. Father Bradley is now in UK. Anybody who knows what influencing the citing of a new secondary school anywhere in the then Benue Plateau at that time meant would appreciate Akwe Doma better. Beyond that is the Kwararafa University in Wukari. That university might be fledgling now. A time would, however, come when it could become a world class university. Anybody who contributed to the establishment of a university in an axis of extreme poverty and misery as Wukari can be forgiven for many other sins because it means so much.
It is on these bases that one can claim that he was not a mediocre, the real threat to Nigeria’s survival today as mediocrity is everywhere in the country. On that score, he stands very tall today, enjoying a moral standing unequalled by anybody else. There is a debate as to the record of his performance as a governor. It is doubtful if it was sterling but even then one can isolate something about that regime – its ideological tone or its emancipation framework. A categorical assessment of the emancipation regime under Akwe Doma as governor of Nasarawa State might require a more critical engagement with the dataset but it is something worth keeping in view because given the way he came to power, (his rise to power was organised by one of the emirs in Nasarawa State, from start to finish) it is unlikely that he would have set out to target any cultural group.
I took interest in that because I wanted to see if there was any link between it and the Lar regime’s emancipation in the Second Republic. One of the puzzling things about Lar regime’s emancipation is its representation as an attack on Hausa-Fulani cultural groups in the state. Of course, it could have assumed the historical and geopolitical specificity of Plateau State then but, in substance, it was something no democratic minded elements would go against. This is because it was also what People’s Redemption Party (PRP) governors in Kaduna and Kano during the same time were implementing under the party’s general and specific programmes. It dealt with freeing the space for religious, cultural and locational elements swamped by local ruling structures especially as it relates to identity and control over land. Interestingly, it was superintended by the same Aliyu Akwe Doma who worked with people of diverse identities such as Prof A. D Yahya, Prof. Jerry Gana, Dr. Bala Usman, Prof Mai Angwan, Ayuba Kaza, among others.
Why was he defeated in 2011 and could not do his second term? That is certainly a very pertinent question to raise because it comes along with many other questions. How could a very experienced bureaucrat, well advanced in age and a politically exposed incumbent PDP governor in central Nigeria in the age of minority presidency lose a re-election bid? How did that happen with just a margin of about 2000 votes and yet, the loser did not insist on vote recount or even sustain a vigorous action at the tribunal for the upturning of the election? Was he being decent by playing by the rules in the first case or was the opposition party too popular as to simply overwhelm him? Or, how could the opposition out rig an incumbent, if rigging was what the opposition did? Alhaji Usman Gambo, a traditional title holder in Lafia emirate, a school mate and long time friend of Akwe Doma put it this way: I saw it coming but Aliyu had many advisers”. There are about six other theories apart from Usman Gambo’s quip. More than six years after the election in question, it is no longer worth discussing anymore beyond mere mention. It, therefore, stands closed, with due apologies to enthusiasts of flogging dead horses.
Instead of that, why not we pursue why the traditional authority in Nasarawa State was so fond of him as to work it out for him to become the governor of the state in 2007? One opinion is that of schoolmate politics. Another guesses that it might have been payback politics. As Deputy-Governor of Plateau State under Solomon Lar, Akwe Doma reportedly facilitated the elevation of all the emirates in Upper Plateau, something which the emirs in present day Nasarawa State remained grateful. The third possibility is what the Emir of Lafia has been reported as saying that he and Doma were both members of General Sani Abacha’s leaders of thought. Fifth and last plausible reason is the reckoning that it was in his office in Jos the planning for the movement for the creation of Nasarawa State was started and so, the emirs saw him as a complete gentleman, “a man who had no fear whatsoever in doing what is right”, to quote one of the emirs, actually.
There is so much to write about Akwe Doma. He did not tell anyone that he aspired to be an angel. We pronounce him as standing very tall in terms of pedigree and in the context of other governors we have seen since 1999. Other than that, no one is holding briefs for whatever might have been his most clear failures. If he allowed the book to have been written, some critical assessment might have been possible and, at his death, it would have been possible too for someone to make a more categorical statement about him. As it is, that is not going to happen again. Definitely, if he did not become governor, he would have been the one everyone would be consulting as the leader throughout the Middle Belt because he had seen it all. He had fought many fights and in him, many would have found themselves. Once again, may Almighty God grant him eternal rest!