The initial headline for this story has to be amended because of a deluge of protests from observant cartographers of contemporary nationhood in Nigeria who point out that Intervention has changed Cde Salihu Bappa’s state of origin from Plateau to Bauchi State. The headline “Bauchi Humanism Plays Out Again @ the Memorial of Cde Salihu Bappa” is, therefore, withdrawn and the link between his humanism and that of the four or so fellow travellers united by their Bauchi origin will have to be re-researched. Otherwise, the story is basically untouched.
It was the ultimate Salihu Bappa moment, the man who, in his life time, was called the Wind because “No one, not even cars, moved fast enough for him. He embodied the wind and the wave in his carriage, his permanent haste. Bappa was so much in a haste that he never walked. Professor Okello Oculi put it equally well when he said walking or slow motion was too leisurely for Bappa. Even in discussion, he animated the wave in his haste to push his position. He was a one – man dramatic cast in himself.
A gathering in his memory could thus not but be wave of emotions, encomium, moods and a play of words. It would not have been a memorialisation of Bappa if it didn’t turn out that way although no one can tell if a Tanimu Abubakar were there. The play of waves could have been thicker because the two were, indeed, close, from what Intervention knows. Somehow, Tanimu was not there.
The event itself remains a puzzle in humanism. The first puzzle is the incredible humanism or the sense of it in the Nigerians who could still think of and actually set aside a day to pay homage to a humanist personified in spite of the most challenging time in the history of the country. And yet, these Nigerian came from the North, South, East and the West, far and near to be part of the day.
The second enigma is the man of the moment- Salihu Muhammadu Bappa who died 7 years ago but who still echoes in the minds of his friends, associates and colleagues to the point of their finding it an imperative to stage the memorial.
The fact that there was no dissenter from the overarching narrative of Salihu Bappa as a humanist in perpetuity further stretches the enigmatic imagining down to the question of whether Bappa’s is part of the uniquely Bauchi phenomenon of humanism or a completely different subjectivity. Don’t forget Sa’ad Zungur, the youngster from Bauchi Province who went to Yaba College of Technology in those days and became an intellectual and ideological pillar of the Northern Elements Progressive Union (NEPU), the pioneers of the radical tradition in Northern Nigeria which is even a stronger current than any other in what is still left of the North.
Ibrahim Tahir who had a privileged upbringing in London, went to Cambridge, came back to oppose radicalism but lived a practically superior life of collecting money from the high and redistributing to those in need. He is also from Bauchi. It is doubtful if Ibrahim Tahir, aka Talban Bauchi, had a house of his own when he died. Yet, he could be a billionaire if he wanted.
Bala Mohammed studied Political Science at Howard University in the US before coming back to Nigeria to be the most astute designer and articulator of the ‘changi dole’ radicalism which grounded the Rimi administration in the old Kano State during the second Republic. He is from Bauchi. Salihu Bappa is either one more manifestation of this Bauchi tradition of humanism or something like that.
It may not be far from that if the evidence of Prof Oga Steve Abah who delivered the Keynote address is anything to go by. The portion relating to that is worth an unusually long quotation:
“All of us who were employed at this time were joining Ahmadu Bello University in the hot period of Marxist/Socialist debates that were unpacking Nigeria. That ferment and passion for ‘revolution’ and ‘change’ defined academic studies, informed political and administrative practice in Government quarters in the 1980s. The Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASS), in ABU was the hot crucible challenging society, revisioning class relations and the politico-economic direction of Nigeria. This period needed passionate, creative storytellers. It needed people willing to be interpreters and interrogators of events and policies in the country. Salihu Bappa was one of the passionate interpreters of the time. Together with staff and students, we all digested Walter Rodney’s How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, Frantz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth, Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s Decolonizing the Mind. The postulations of Patrick Wilmot and Bala Usman stirred the mud! And, for those of us in Drama, Augusto Boal synthesized the arguments of oppression, the mechanics of dictatorship and the means of decolonizing the mind, in his seminal book, Theatre of the Oppressed. Theatre was our tool to reengineer society. Samaru, Bomo, Kudingi, Panhauya, etc. became both community partners and academic laboratories for schooling students into the realities of class, governance and the struggle for emancipation”
What is interesting is that nobody suggested anything otherwise, over or underground. In fact, Bappa, as one of the testimony givers in the 15 minutes clip, gave all his time, resources and energy to others. Intervention was told by someone who should know beyond question that it would be difficult to count the number of students whom the late Bappa stood in for their parents and provided everything for their marriage.
At the wider academic level, Bappa’s academia was not marked by prolific essays and book chapters. But it wasn’t the outcome of laziness or lack of capacity to write since two of his scholarly works are said to remain referential for scholars and writers in Theatre for Development and Cultural Studies. Rather, it was that, in the words of Prof Abah, again “His scholarly activities were, however, of a different kind to the one of writing articles and books. His scholarly activities were in his engagements with community and people. He wrote his articles in words, he published them in the relationships he established for himself as a person, and for his alma mater, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria”. In other words, his scholarship was a function of his community engagement among peasants and the masses in the villages surrounding Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria where the town and the gown were meeting and mixing in guerrilla theatre or an instrumentalist agenda for drama in popular culture.
One of the paradoxical outcomes is that he left himself out of his humanism. He was not a beneficiary of his goodness to human beings on account of their humanity. Filling that gap is part of the reason for the memorial. The good news though is that all his children are educated, thanks a lot to the widow who, as a “home maker with a strength that is perhaps unfathomable” held out and overcame the departure of Bappa, with the assistance of other considerate souls. But the family needs a roof over their heads, the material responsibility that Bappa failed to pay attention to. And, again, we fall back on Prof Oga Steve Abah, for the perspective on that “failure”: Bappa forgot momentarily the Nigeria he lived in as he spent his time, resources, emotions for the benefit of other people and his country. He forgot that in Nigeria one provides all his/her needs such as housing, electricity, health, education, etc”.
With the help of the memorial, that “failure” will now be corrected. And Adamu Muazu’s call on all to replicate Bappa’s humanism would fall in place neatly. Like Bappa, Adamu Muazu was and might possibly still understand both the Bible and the Koran and are among few Nigerians who can fly in any of the dominant religious environments in the country. Unlike Bappa, however, Adamu Muazu could not go to the University of Ibadan into which he was admitted. The reason the former governor of Bauchi State gave while speaking at the memorial is that he had to mind his father’s sensibility of the first born of the family going as far away as Ibadan for his degree. So, he opted for Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. But, Muazu, like Bappa, all studied and passed Christian Religious Knowledge at Gindiri Boys High School, Jos. That was “when Nigeria was Nigeria” when nobody read meaning to such things or when real and imagined Christianisation and Islamisation were not part of the political manipulation agenda.
Salihu Bappa was among those who accompanied Wole Soyinka to receive his Nobel Prize in Literature in 1986. As a UI Drama graduate, he must have flowed swiftly along with a Soyinka.
In a sense, Bappa, to quote Debrah Ogazuma, was too much. The memorial in question was a multiple of messages rolled into one.