As a more detached but critical and consistent observer of Nigerian affairs, his view on Bala Usman could help in clarifying the shifting battlegrounds in the struggle for power and the associated division and acrimony enveloping Nigeria. Who knows, he might be on to a larger story of his debate and encounters with the late Bala Usman but, for now, has only this short but very insightful viewpoint as his reaction to Intervention’s feature on the 14th Anniversary of the passage of the well known Yusuf Bala Usman, titled It is Another Anniversary of the Passing Away of Yusuf Bala Usman
Dr Yusuf Bangura was in the thick of the tendency war that went on at the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences of the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria in the late 1970s and up to the late eighties before the crisis of success hit ABU. The quality debates in the faculty and the notion of anti-imperialism as the cornerstone of knowledge production in Africa that structured those debates all combined to give ABU, Zaria as well as the University of Dar es Salam, (in Tanzania where the Dar Debate took place) their pedigree among centres of knowledge production on the continent.
That was before the paradox of success hit ABU, Zaria when the jackboots descended on the campus in a misguided attempt at routing radical scholarship. In the end, they succeeded in destroying its cosmopolitanism in a manner that has left the university totally communitarian in theory and in practice, including in appointment of the Vice-Chancellor and top university officials even as the entire North is its catchment area. A product of the London School of Economics and Political Science, Dr. Bangura left ABU, Zaria to work for the UN system from where his short reaction is coming as follows:
Bala Usman had a powerful intellect and charisma, and seemed well organised in his academic and political activities. However, his politics was very dubious.
His characterization of the northern ruling class as a “northern oligarchy” had a lot of merit when seen from the perspective of the long struggles of the Northern peasantry/commoners or the Talakawa through the platform of NEPU and the PRP for liberation from northern feudal oppression. That characterization of the northern ruling class is superior to the crass notion of a Hausa-Fulani hegemony propounded by Southern politicians and activists, or the current nonsensical discourse about the Fulanisation of Nigeria.
Bala’s main fault was his politics, which was the flip side of the politics of the Northern Oligarchy that he decried. Because of the way politics was structured during the first three to four decades of Nigeria’s post-independence history, power was heavily skewed in favour of the North. Whoever dominated northern politics was likely to dominate national politics.
Bala’s politics followed a similar logic – he imagined that oppositional progressive forces in the north would defeat the Northern Oligarchy and ultimately govern the rest of the country. That’s why he was very sceptical of pan-Nigerian forces -ASUU, the national Left movement, etc that his political group did not dominate. He did not want to subject his group to broad national movements that did not grant his group a hegemonic role.
There’s a lot to say on Bala, whom I admired a lot even when I disagreed with his analytical insights. But I found his politics disgusting.