Radical Activists Have Abandoned Nigerians At the Political Sea, Says ‘Maradona’ (Part 2)
The first part of this interview with Steve Aluko Daniel aka Maradona introduced him as the student union activist whose name sent jitters into the mind of vice-chancellors and the security establishment in those days. He was subsequently convicted for incitement and public disturbance, the trial judge having refused to convict him for alleged criminal infractions. This was in 1994 after he had been expelled from the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria and had been a regular invitee to the SSS. Today, Maradona is not only a top gun in the Civil Liberties Organisation, (CLO), he was a nominee and participant at the 2014 political conference organized by the Jonathan administration. He is also, “happily married by the grace of God”. One of the sensations around him then was the interpretation of his wedding as a pretext to organise a mass protest. But for God, other activists and the media, The Punch in particular, the security would have burst the wedding ceremony. In this concluding segment of the interview with Intervention, Maradona who eventually got a first degree in Public Administration and a Masters in Law and Diplomacy expatiates on a number of key issues such as activists in the space of power; his own conversion into religious activism, the challenges of religion in Nigeria and a fuller story of his marriage.
So, by not taking control by way of collectively entering politics or insisting on a specific model of development, activists have left the Nigerian people at sea. That is what you are saying. Can they still regain it or it is lost forever, considering that 2019 is vastly different from 1999?
Absolutely! Activists can if they draw from the experience in other places. Others were able to re-assess strategies. Yes, we can, if we learn from our errors and the experience of others. You can ascribe the fact that we still have Nigeria going to what activists have done, the issues they have raised and the agitations they have mounted, both successfully and otherwise. It is just for us to re-assess strategies and re-strategise.
Activists did not stage a collectivist entry into politics in 1999 but some of them found their way into government at various levels. My question is whether you decipher a trend in terms of the potential that activists have based on the totality of what these few did across the governance space?
Well, I would say it is a story of the bad, the good and the ugly. Some distinguished themselves by being incorruptible and coming out intact, some played very negative roles while in government and some left office without measuring up to the template. I don’t mean there is any template as such but no matter what, you don’t expect a comrade to get involved in certain things or say or do certain things. It is not morality. It is about being true to what we told the people we believe in.
One criticism of their individual participation is that they were in the wrong place. Are you aware of that?
I am and I agree with that absolutely too because while in government, activists are seen as dangerous specie who are not welcome or who were underutilised or sometimes overwhelmed. If you take statistics of the activists who found themselves in government at the local, state and federal levels as well as the National Assembly, the number is very insignificant. The implication is that they were suffocated or did not occupy positions where their ideological orientation could drive any agenda. We have lost many promising comrades due to their being in power: Olaitan Oyerinde in Edo, Emma Ezeazu and the big role he played in the APC which was not even acknowledged. Dr Sam Amadi tried his best in electricity regulatory agency but he might be cited as a case of the overwhelmed. Attahiru Jega acquitted himself in INEC. You yourself did very well in Jigawa but I don’t think you lasted. The late Hassana Garba remained true to conviction in Niger State, Salihu Lukman is still involved and you can count a few more others but still, it is not our space if you put everything together.
I am not sure any of these people entertained any illusions. I would say your argument is to the point just as many would say that the space has generally been narrowing for academics even in the media, in academia, labour and the civil society, broadly
That too is very true. It cannot be ignored.
You are now a pastor. And it is not only you. Quite a number of activists have moved that way. Would you regard this as part of the same problem we are talking about because that seems to be the last place many people would expect to find the typical activist. Being a pastor is not the same thing as going to Church.
What I fought for as an activist is what Jesus fought for. That is the masses. The call of all Christians is to serve humanity and lead them to the right path of the total package of redemption.
You were originally in which denomination?
My father didn’t care much about that. His only request was that we stood for the truth. You could go to whichever denomination you wanted. I have passed through many churches before I was finally ordained a pastor of the Font of Life Ministry.
Doesn’t that remind us of the warning Bishop Kaigama issued in February last year? It is a long intervention but two words are unforgettable there: flamboyant spirituality and noisy liturgy.
As much as I completely agree with what he said, I think he was one sided. It is not only the vision seeing trend but even the orthodox denominations have the problems too. Both the older denominations and the Pentecostals cannot be excused. Because if they have stood on the righteous path, we wouldn’t have some of the problems we have today. I agree with what he said but he should cover all of us because, to start with, they have all made merchandise of the gospel. People have generally merchandised religion. Instead of building souls, we are building material foundations. Part of the problem of this country is that a good number of the fishers of men are workers of iniquity and promoters of sins at all levels.
Well, religion is a sensitive thing. I am only interested in why a very senior Christian leader would complain openly about noisy liturgy, a concrete dimension of it being the use of loud speakers which I think Lagos State, for example, is trying to legislate against because everyone is complaining. It was assumed this would not come from a religion where The Beatitudes taught by Christ himself is foundational.
That problem is not a problem of the Church. It is the problem of the law and lack of leadership in Nigeria. If the law says you cannot use loudspeakers where it will affect other people and you disobey the law, there should be consequences for that. If it was a mistake the first time, then the second time you do that cannot be a mistake. In Nigeria, we excuse lawlessness on ethnic and religious grounds and it goes to lack of leadership. This is the paradox of Abacha. When some religious entities tested the strength of the state in Zaria and Katsina under him, he made the state to prevail. Now, a tendency is building up whereby a Christian president of Nigeria will avoid doing certain things if Muslims are violating the laws. Similarly, when a Muslim is in power, he tries to avoid certain things against Christians in the interest of peace. How can you run a country like that? The fact that somebody at Bishop Kaigama’s level is raising the issue makes it more interesting. It shows that people at that level are even worried. And they should because the truth is that no man can save anybody except the spirit of God. It has nothing to do with how loud but the substance of your message. The major problem of the Church is that they are lacking in the ability to raise righteous leaders. Christian leaders must stand by what is right and kick against what is not right, both within Christianity and outside of it. Any Christian that wants to make it to Heaven must stand for justice, fairness and equity. No amount of loudspeakers or tricks can substitute for this package.
When you observe the National Association of Nigerian Students, (NANS) today, what do you see there?
I see people who are there for office titles but who have no idea of what the titles demand of them. So, many if not most of them are like the office holders in the larger society. That is all I can say.
It looks an obvious question to ask whether you are, therefore, pained
I wish it were better but I have no doubt in my mind that history has a way of re-inventing itself. Progressive minded people will re-invent the wheel. The history of NANS cannot be jettisoned by the prevailing interests there now.
Let’s round off with this question. You said you found your wife in the heat of the travails. How did that happen?
It was divine intervention, a Romeo and Juliet stuff of some kind. I got born again in Zaria Prison. I knew I was going to get my wife. She entered ABU, Zaria to read Sociology after I had already been expelled but she was among the numerous set of students that used to come to visit. Many of them would run into trouble later on the campus for doing so. Some would be arrested for doing that while some would not be allowed to. Miraculously, nothing like that happened that day. She was allowed to see me in the prison and from that point, there was something special. But it took me eight more months to declare my manifesto, to proclaim that she was to be my wife, after which I began to introduce her to my friends. From there, we began to plan. There were problems. We had to deal with the perception that activists were trouble makers with no better future. There were all sorts of tests of faith but we passed through them.
It is over a decade now, how did it unfold?
She beats my imagination because she was able to withstand the pressures from friends and family and the security agents. Like every other marriage, we have had our own tests. The good thing is that we are moving on. We have good friends with whose solidarity we have built a home that many admire. We particularly have four lawyers to thank. They had been extremely dependable during the hard times, not just in terms of the legal processes but personal helpfulness. And then the CLO came to be there for me. So, it was possible to take off on that foundation. And here we are today.