Throw a dart. Shuffle a deck. Flip a coin. Willy-nilly, pick a PDP member, and there’s a high probability that he’s a thief, an unscrupulous dimwit, an election rigger, a wife-beater, an insulter of parents, an airhead, a blasphemer, an abuser of neighbours, a shameless rascal, and a sadist who’s likely to have a couple of overworked, dispirited and garri-eating maids at home. …and there’s a slight chance he’s going to hell!
The name PDP has so many negative connotations that even its members don’t call the party by its name.
Interestingly, from the maw of this bottomless hell emerges a man (the fear of blaspheming prevents me from calling him something grander) that’s incapable of being PDP, yet Mr.Isah Kawu – the newly elected speaker of Niger State House of Assembly – is a member of that party the northerners now call shegiyar uwa. (I’ll not even attempt to translate that sobriquet, but it suffices that you know there’s a bastard in the expression.)
Kawu’s life is so unique; journalists foreign and local should do many features on the guy. However, I see three reasons why this has not happened. One, many people don’t know him. Two, Nigerians are afraid of his story – I’ll tell you why. Three, the guy simply doesn’t care. But Isah Kawu’s tale is a story that must be told; for, I’ve not seen a living politician in Nigeria of today who remotely compares to him – not even Buhari.
I know this is an unfair comparison. General Buhari has had more positions and more opportunities to corruptly enrich himself without succumbing to corruption, while Isah Kawu’s highest position, is the one he was elected to only yesterday – the speaker of a state house of assembly. While General Buhari has chosen a life of self-imposed poverty, the sinecure of our elected politicians has imposed riches on Kawu; however, Kawu spends it all on his people. Thus, the conscious choice of living an ordinary life unites these two. But I think Kawu is more comfort averse.
Our last meeting (in 2010) was in his car – a Mercedes Benz contraption so dated that the trend gulping Nigerians wouldn’t know what to call it. His Nokia phone was held together by a rubber band. Needless to say, that meeting was anything but comfortable. However, I was too engrossed in the viewpoints of Kawu to bother about comfort. By then, he had already turned down an SUV given to the law makers by Governor Babangida Aliyu. He refused on the basis that he had already been paid his transport allowance; collecting another car from the people after that, he reasoned, was redundant, against the principle of social justice and wasteful.
“Everybody is talking about the Jeep I rejected from Talba [the governor]. They don’t know that there are bigger things,” Kawu said. He told me some of those ‘bigger things’ off record, promising that he would grant an interview after the 2011 elections. Unfortunately, when I traveled to Nigeria after the elections, we couldn’t meet.
However, his reputation continues to rise among his people and I’ve little doubt that they can line-up behind him to go to war. These people are sources of great anecdotes about Isah Kawu. Two of them visited me in Bida. As usual, I asked what they knew about Kawu. “We are just coming from his house,” they confessed. They told me they went to him to ask for sponsorship for one of them who wanted to go to school. Was he successful? “No. Isah told us that he doesn’t sponsor students studying for a diploma because this category of students is large. He only assists those going for degrees.”
As they relate the story, they were not disappointed in the least, indeed, they were happy that he agreed to see them. Unlike other politicians, his accessibility to the people stands him out. He doesn’t change his mobile phone numbers; he answers all calls and returns the missed calls.
Further, he’s so passionate about education that if you go to Minna in the morning, you may see him making school runs – stopping at bus stops to take the children of total strangers to school.
Following is a list – sample – of what differentiates Kawu from other politicians:
When his colleagues have dirty deals to transact, they no longer inform him, because they know he’ll kick against it. He told me that since he became a member, he had been on vacation once – to England with his wife and only for four days. His close friend told me that Kawu had not changed his bed since he was an undergraduate – and that was a long time ago; don’t think for a moment that he can’t afford it; he has held important positions before he became a member of the state house of assembly, including the general manager of Niger State Media Corporation. His wife still goes to the commoners’ bus station to take a bus from Minna to Bida; and she is still a secondary school teacher in Minna.
He doesn’t use his money for unnecessary travels – including needless visits for Hajj and Umra. He uses the money instead to (among other things) sponsor universities students – including students that are not from his constituency.
If you go to Bida, ask anybody – ANYBODY – if they know Isah Kawu and they’ll overwhelm you with good stories about him. I’ve never heard anybody saying something bad against him.
The aforementioned attributes always make me want to tell others about him.
In August of 2010, I was on my way out of Nigeria after visiting home for the Ramadan festival when I met an Igbo chief on a plane from Abuja to Lagos. Then, I couldn’t keep my mouth closed because I had just met Isah Kawu for the first time; even though we share common friends, come from the same village and heard his story told several times.
When I told the chief about Kawu, first he expressed disbelief, then admiration, and lastly he strongly suggested – pushed me even – to tell Kawu’s story to the world.
What do you do if you want the world to hear your story? First you create a website. Problem is, Kawu doesn’t want his story to be told. Call it suicidal sacrifice or foolhardy, but like Dalai Lama would say, what is is. And Isah Kawu is just different.
When I created one website for him, the idea – suggested by his longtime friend, Mamman Saba Abdulkadir – was to document what people say about him and also publish his numerous projects on the site. But I’ve never had any of my creations so snubbed. Even the ridiculous poems I churned out in secondary school didn’t suffer such fate.
I don’t think he ever visited the website. And it was there for the whole of one year. He believed he didn’t need a website to serve his people. We told him Nigerians need that site for inspiration. Also, he was required to pay nothing. The only input needed from him was a document detailing the projects he executed for his constituency; he didn’t give it. Consequently, the site was sparsely populated. After bankrolling it for a year, I let it rest. Why should I continue to publish a website against his wish?
Kawu’s integrity is so raw it’s brutal. That’s why many people – including those brandishing squeaky-clean credentials – feel depressed when they hear about him. The reasoning behind that depression is simple: you aspire to be a leader. You criticize the current leaders as corrupt and ineffective. You’re then shown the score card of someone who’s already a leader. You look at it and silently tell yourself that even three life-times you wouldn’t match this guy’s record; because you know that you wouldn’t deny yourself a new car when you can afford it. Certainly, your cell phone wouldn’t be held together by a rubber band. Indeed, you want the convenience of Blackberry, the sophistication of iPhone, the portability of iPad and at the same time, you can’t do without your laptop. Isah Kawu doensn’t need all these to serve his people. This realization doesn’t make you happy, it makes you sad. One editor-in-chief in Abuja told me “please he shouldn’t over do it!”
But I prefer millions of Isah Kawus who will “over do it” (to) the criminals we have today as leaders.
Kawu’s story begs to be compared with our First Republic northern politicians – the Balewas and Sardaunas. We hear how they would park their official vehicles at home and run errands on foot or find other means of transportation, because, they reasoned, the government had allowed them to ride home in their official vehicles, but anything outside that is their personal business and therefore, they refuse to use their official cars to run personal errands.
You no longer have to go to the 20th century and the First Republic to find such example, our contemporary, Isah Kawu lives it. He never uses official cars for unofficial business -and would not allow his family to do so.
Now that he’s become a speaker, many people will go to him with ‘project ideas’. I’ve an advice for such people: if it’ll benefit only the person pitching the project, it will be rejected. If it’ll benefit only Isah Kawu, it’ll be rejected. If it’ll genuinely benefit the people, then maybe you’ve a chance. Some people may consider this write-up favourable to him, but I don’t think he’d be impressed; the last time I wrote something similar, he didn’t even mention it when we met. He’s just like that. Thus, be sure you’ve sincere intentions before you go to him, otherwise don’t waste your time.
Lastly, when I told one of his friends I was going to write this, he (M.S Abdulkadir) said I should quote him, “we know that he’s been an upright person right from his days as a local government official. He should not disappoint us by allowing the new position to spoil him and refuse to stand by the truth.”
Above all, Isah Kawu needs our prayers for protection and steadfastness against the imminent clash between him and the state governor. This clash is inevitable because we know Isah Kawu and we know the so-called chief servant.
Also important is the fact that Kawu has made believable the improbable notion that even among PDP members, there are a few who will make it to Heaven.
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