Kano lost one of its most illustrious personalities, Alhaji Bashir Othman Tofa, on Monday, January 3, 2022. He was the state’s gift to Nigeria. He was an extraordinary man who had many qualities of a good, exemplary leader, a polymath, an activist and an advocate.
He was raised in one of Kano’s most noble families that traced its ancestry to Shehu Muhammad Al-Amin El-Kanemi of Borno and Malam Jibril, the famous saint and patriarch of the Kano Yolawa clan. His great grandfather, a Borno prince, had saved Sarkin Kano Aliyu Babba (1894-1903) during one his battles with the Damagarawa, so he decided to bestow on him the chieftaincy of Tofa.
Bashir Tofa was born on June 20, 1947 into this family that maintained its trustworthy relationship with the Kano aristocracy. Abba Othman, Tofa’s father, became one of the close confidents of Sarkin Kano Sir Muhammadu Sanusi (1953-1963), who conferred the title of Zanna on him for the first time in Kano’s history.
Bashir Tofa’s residence is sandwiched between the residences of the Ciroman Kano, Ambassador Aminu Sanusi, and the Dan’iyan Kano, Ambassador Ado Sanusi, both of whom were sons of Khalifa Sir Muhammadu Sanusi. Bashir Tofa inherited Zanna’s forthrightness and fearless commitment to just cause.
Bashir Tofa attended the famous Shahuchi Primary School (City Primary) and was then admitted into the Provincial Secondary School (now Rumfa College), Kano. He proceeded to Sudan under the guidance of the Dan’iya, Alhaji Ado Sanusi, who was then the Consul General but had to leave for the United Kingdom to study Medicine. In the United Kingdom, he could not cope with cadavers, so he opted to study Business at the City College, London.
He was fully committed to the unity of his people and was very concerned with the fragmentation and sectarianism that almost overwhelmed his immediate constituency. He established the Islamic Propagation Bureau that accommodated persons of different sects
It was in London that he began his political career as an active member of the Kano State Students Union. The group had notable members, including the late Alhaji Muhammadu Abubakar Rimi, Alhaji Shehu Mohammed (Sarkin Shanun Kano), Dr. Shamsudeen Usman (former Minister of Finance) and Alhaji Ahmed Aminu (retired Permanent Secretary). The organisation was the first student union to donate money to the Federal Government during the civil war.
On his return to Nigeria, Tofa joined the family business and his father made sure he received the requisite training from some of Kano’s most reputable businessmen, including Alhaji Dankani, father of the famous Kano lawyer, Hajiya Aisha Dankani. Later, he launched many pioneering businesses, including one of the first dry cleaning services in Kano. He was also one of the first persons to establish a merchant bank. A few years ago, he was involved in another initiative for a regional bank.
He was very politically inclined, hence when the first Local Government Councils were created following the 1976 reforms, he was elected the Councillor for Dawakin Tofa Local Government. He contested against Alhaji Abdullahi Tattarawa, a veteran community leader.
In 1977 he was elected a delegate to the Constituent Assembly that debated the 1979 Constitution and he participated actively. He wrote a Memorandum for the Northern Caucus that eventually led to the formation of the National Movement. He mobilised support for this movement within and outside the Constituent Assembly.
In Kano, he became an advocate for a broad-based party that incorporated veterans of the Northern Peoples Congress (NPC) and the Northern Elements Progressive Union (NEPU). This movement subsequently became the National Party of Nigeria (NPN). He mobilised young citizens for the party across the country, especially in the North.
He was elected its National Financial Secretary. This gave him the opportunity to be acquainted with national leaders and for political networking.
After the termination of the Second Republic, Tofa returned to his private business that blossomed into oil, estate development and later banking. He was fully committed to the unity of his people and was very concerned with the fragmentation and sectarianism that almost overwhelmed his immediate constituency. He established the Islamic Propagation Bureau that accommodated persons of different sects. He even brought together Shaykh Abubakar Gumi and Shaykh Nasir Kabara, leaders of two antagonistic sects, for cooperation to avert destructive sectarianism as Kano was then recovering from the devastating Maitatsine uprising. The Bureau was very robust and it published The Pen, a very popular newspaper, in addition to the production of audio cassettes, books and booklets for public enlightenment, especially against extremism.
Some people believe that he was just a political beneficiary of his military connections, but that is not entirely correct. Before he emerged as the presidential candidate of the National Republic Convention (NRC), one of the parties created by the military for the politicians, he was the leader of the Liberals. It did not surface from nowhere. This was his most important political moment when he demonstrated his political organisational skill. It was his mobilisation and networking that gave him the opportunity to emerge as a presidential candidate in 1993. He had decided that what was needed was a new political movement or party, and not the NPN veterans.
When he informed them of his plans to form a parallel political movement, the late Malam Adamu Ciroma said it was not possible as parallel lines never met and he replied with enthusiasm and in the light mode that parallel rail lines meet at the stations.
Bashir Tofa started his mobilisation for the Liberals in his home base of Kano where he was able to secure the support of educated young politicians. He persuaded politicians from the defunct Second Republic parties – NPN, Great Nigeria Peoples Party (GNPP), Nigeria Peoples Party (NPP) and Peoples Redemption Party (PRP). He left the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) waiting until he visited Kwara State. His team of like minds toured all the northern states mobilising and persuading politicians to join the new movement. Their first tour lasted one month outside Kano State. They used three brand new Peugeot 504 station wagon vehicles.
Their first port of call was Plateau State where they met like minds from the defunct political parties. In each state capital he addressed invited politicians from these parties, emphasising the need for unity and downplaying ethnicity and religious differences. His vision was for a better Nigeria under the leadership of their generation. At that time they were in their forties and most of them in their late thirties. The logistics management was very effective and efficient. This was because Bashir Tofa was experienced in managing campaigns from his NPN days when he served as a coordinator in the campaign team led by Vice President Dr. Alex Ekwueme. Alhaji Umaru Dikko was the Director General and he coordinated the team led by President Alhaji Shehu Shagari.
It was after his death that many people came to know of his compassion. He provided clothing to thousands of people annually. He gave cash support to some individuals and groups engaged in community service
After the northern states wide tour the group, led by Tofa, met at Durbar Hotel in Kaduna. There was no name for the group, because he discouraged it until after the tour gaining more people under the same umbrella.
At the dinner in Durbar Hotel many prominent old guard attended even though invitation was not extended to them but to the “new breed” of politicians. There were northern politicians from diverse ethnic and religious backgrounds as he had persistently canvassed for unity of vision throughout the tour. Speaker after speaker at the conference also emphasised unity of purpose and commitment to national development.
The most important item on the agenda was the naming of the movement, which was preserved for that night. Several names were proposed, including Clean Slate Party, The United and Blessed Nigeria Party, etc. Eventually, his friend, the late Alhaji Isiyaku Mohammed, rose and proposed The Liberals as the name, and it was unanimously adopted without any addition.
The debut of The Liberals in Kaduna was a major milestone and the heavyweights in the northern capital were shocked with the reception. The Federal Military Government was also adequately informed by its intelligence sources.
Meanwhile, there were agitations to move to the South, since branches with operational guidelines had been opened in all the northern states. After a little hesitation, moves were made to reach out to other like-minded individuals, although by that time General Shehu Musa Yar’ Adua had mobilised his team and was firmly established in the South. But most of his people in the South were veterans of the Second Republic whereas Bashir Tofa, on the other hand, wanted “new breed” or the youth.
Some southern personalities, led by the famous Chief Michael Ibru, under the umbrella organisation, the “New Movement” approached The Liberals. A meeting was held in Abuja under the leadership of both Tofa and Ibru.
Ibru had a written speech, which he first read, whereas Tofa read his unwritten speech. This impressed the Chief and the meeting became very lively. They realised that they had more in common than differences. They eventually decided to adopt the two names as The New Liberals Movement, thus it became a fully national association. It was decided that all positions, constitution and operational guidelines should harmonise with branches all over the country as most of the organisational details had been done earlier by The Liberals.
The next important stage was the registration of the group as a political party. Tofa and his associates had toured all the states of the federation, making contacts and opening branches, and when they merged with others it became clear that theirs had the largest network of members in the country. The association filed for registration as the Liberal Convention (LC). It had many people from the South, including the Esama of Benin, Chief Gabriel Igbinedion, Chief Ojo Madueke, Chief Tom Ikimi, Chief Etim James and Dr. Walter Ofonagoro. Tofa nominated Malam Abba Dabo as the Chairman and Chief Ojo Madueke became the Secretary. Igbinedion and Ikimi were members of the Board of Trustees.
The proposed party had the best network of branches across the country. One member of the Armed Forces Ruling Council congratulated Tofa, saying their party had been registered, only for them to learn later that there was a stalemate at the Council.
The military rulers decided to create two parties for the politicians. Tofa’s LC had to join one of the two parties: National Republican Convention (NRC), which was a little to the right. They had to merge with All Nigeria Congress (ANC) of mostly NPN veterans. The other party was the Social Democratic Party (SDP), populated by left-inclined politicians of the Second Republic.
The two parties conducted their primaries. Malam Adamu Ciroma and General Shehu Yar’Adua were about to emerge as the flag bearers, then the military decided to annul the exercise because of the complaints of politicians who lost. Those who participated in the two parties’ primaries were banned.
New aspirants started afresh. Tofa was one of them in the NRC. His emergence as the party’s candidate after rigorous exercise known as Option A4 from ward, to Local Government then state and finally national levels was not unexpected because of his network of associates as a result of the LC’s mobilisation.
The presidential election was held on June 12, 1993. The military annulled it before the official declaration of the winner. But the media and most of the public believed that MKO Abiola won. Tofa did not accept Abiola as the winner, even though they had worked together as members of the National Executive Committee of the defunct NPN in the Second Republic. They had always been friends. Tofa warned Abiola against an open confrontation with the military.
The symbol of Tofa was his lack of bitterness and he maintained friendship with people of different political orientation. This led Alhaji Tanko Yakasai to extol him as truly the person who embodied the philosophy of politics without bitterness as preached by Alhaji Waziri Ibrahim.
Tofa was a man with strong opinion but very tolerant of others. In my last encounter with him on November 24, 2021, he queried why I suggested people should join the PRP. I asked why he was querying my call despite his close relationship with Malam Aminu Kano. He said yes, they had a close personal relationship but different political orientation. In fact, he was one of the people who introduced Alhaji Abubakar Rimi to Malam Aminu Kano. Rimi was his friend since their days in London.
Alhaji Bashir Tofa was a fearless democrat but never a bitter person. Despite his close family relationship with General Abacha he refused the general’s personal request to join the tailored transition programme. He was later detained for whatever reason. Thereafter, he left the country for some years. From one of his video clips being widely circulated in which he spoke on people’s right to speak but not to be violent and government’s obligation to listen before it was too late, one could discern his democratic disposition. He was a man with a strong determination. He gave so much time when he had little time left in his life.
He had realised that Kano society was derailing with endemic drug abuse, unemployment and lack of statesmanship whereby the state authorities were deliberately destroying institutions. At the local level he was very much involved in his immediate neighbourhood community affairs along with Alhaji Bala Borodo (a former Minister of the Federal Republic).
In Yolawa quarters he became the torchlight and leader of the Yolawa Union where he always led by example along with his cousins, Sarkin Shanu Shehu Mohammed and Alhaji Ahmed Aminu. At the regional level he was very concerned because of the degeneration of Northern Nigeria. He documented his thoughts in a booklet, ‘Arewa Daga Ina Zuwa Ina?’ At the national level he also worked with like minds and was involved in several discussions and advocacy groups.
As a true democrat, even though he was the leader of the Kano Concerned Citizens Initiative (KCCI) he never imposed his opposition to the balkanisation of the Kano Emirate by the Kano State government. Therefore, another group was formed known as Advocates for United Kano that pursued the case.
He was always personally present in court during the hearings in the suit against the state government’s action. The governor’s un-statesmanlike outburst against Tofa and other elders whom he tagged derogatively as “dattijan Wukari” (unworthy elders) was widely condemned by peace-loving Kano citizens. This was because the advocates were civil enough to take the case to court without any public incitement while the governor was insinuating that the group could not oppose his balkanisation and move freely in his newly created emirates. The governor made the veiled hate insinuation at the hallowed Council Chamber, which was an unfortunate desecration of the state’s democratic institution.
Tofa’s last Daily Trust interview of March 2021 was the culmination of his tolerant political disposition. In it, he said: “I am not an enemy of Governor Ganduje. He needs no enemy. I am trying hard to use the little time I have to do some good. I, therefore, have no time for enmity or of some evil hatchet jobs against anyone or the state. We continue to pray for Ganduje that Allah shall guide him before the end of his term, neither him nor anyone knows what is to come”. But from a recent essay by the veteran BBC correspondent Bala Ibrahim, one can deduce that Ganduje did not seem to have let go his animosity towards the deceased statesman because “it was after getting the wind about the planned coming of the presidential delegation that the Ganduje government drafted a dry condolence message and rushed to announce it. But not a single member of the government was officially in attendance at the funeral”.
Alhaji Bashir Tofa used “the little time” he had to do many good things. His grouse with the Kano state government was his opposition to the Chinese loan for building a light rail system in Kano at the cost of over $1.2 billion, which would be more than ten years’ worth of the total internally generated revenue of the state. There is no economic sense in such white elephant project. Tofa did not remain quiet in the face of such callous and frivolous project. He mobilised the enlightened civil society organisations, although the state government infiltrated the Kano Unity Forum, which he founded with others. But Tofa’s determination made the government and its minions to back down.
He was the voice of conscience of Kano and was widely acknowledged as the leader of the Kano elders. Hence the outpouring of encomiums after his death and many felt no one could replace him.
He used the “little time” he had for philanthropy and the dissemination of ideas. His benevolence was selfless, therefore it was unannounced.
It was after his death that many people came to know of his compassion. He provided clothing to thousands of people annually. He gave cash support to some individuals and groups engaged in community service. His philanthropy and activism was not restricted to Kano. He supported organisations engaged in various national and regional people orientated activities.
His last Ramadan of 2021 was his busiest. He visited many hospitals along with members of the KCCI and distributed cash to needy people just to encourage other people. His public activism was people-centred and was primarily concerned with social justice and democracy.
One of his friends, His Excellency Alhaji Sule Lamido, a former Governor of Jigawa State, confirmed this in a widely circulated tribute.
Alhaji Bashir Tofa was extraordinary, although Kano has been blessed with politicians who were scholars, for example Malam Abba Maikwaru, Malam Aminu Kano and Malam Lawal Dambazau. They all had Islamic orientation like Tofa, who was practical in his quest for Muslim unity, when he established the Islamic Propagation Bureau.
Just before his death, one of his video clips went viral. In it, he was advocating unity of Muslims. He has consistently spoken against extremism and intolerance, hence some people even wrongly regarded him as Shiite because he tolerated the Shiites.
In my last encounter with him on November 24, 2021 he said: “I do not belong to any sect and if I am to choose, I will choose Tijjaniyya because they do overtime by engaging in dhikr (remembrance of Allah)”.
He was different from other scholar-politicians. This was because he was a prolific writer, multi-disciplinary and creative. He had a passion for writing and he encouraged writers. He believed in the promotion of the Hausa language and deserves honour and recognition by our academic institutions for this scholarly contribution. He wrote in this language to promote literacy and not for material gain or honour.
He was a strong believer in cultural independence, hence he wanted every important communication to be in Hausa. Instead of p.m. in English, he usually used n.y. (na yamma) in Hausa.
When Kano celebrated its Golden Jubilee, he insisted that the awards should be in Hausa and he introduced them: BGKN (Babban Gwarzon Kano), BHKN (Babban Hadimin Kano), GKN (Gwarzon Kano), HKN (Hadimin Kano), and they were subsequently adopted by the state government and bestowed on deserving individuals.
He wrote on history, theology and astronomy. He was also a creative writer. His two-volume ‘Takaitaccen Tarihin Islam’ is the most comprehensive book on the history of Islam in Hausa language. Professor Shehu Galadanci, one of the most distinguished professors of Arabic in Nigeria, wrote the foreword and commended the book. But Tofa was humble to acknowledge his limitations as he did in his other important book, ‘Rayuwa Bayan Mutuwa’, also in Hausa. There is no volume like it on this subject in this language.
Similarly, there is no Hausa language text book on astronomy is like his ‘Hotunan Halittun Samaniya da Bayanan Su’.
Wale Okediran, the Secretary General of Pan African Writers Association (PAWA), observed that although Tofa’s commitment to writing in Hausa is “patriotic, the problem was getting the critical mass of readers to make the exercise worth while”. Tofa experienced this setback as the sale of the books was meagre, but he continued since his purpose was not material gain or fame.
He was writing his sixteenth volume, ‘Mutane Da Warare a Duniyar Islama’ (People and Places in the World of Islam) before his death. He was praying to complete it, as he had written 740 typed-pages as quoted in Aminiya newspaper of January 5, 2021. May Allah bless soul and grant him paradise.
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