Historical Significance of Zulum’s Endorsement of Akume, By Sufuyan Ojeifo

There is nothing, so far, in the race for the national chair of the governing All Progressives Congress (APC), that is as significant in form, content and context as the open endorsement of Senator George Akume for the plum party position by the governor of Borno State, Professor Babagana Umara Zulum. It was so reassuring of the inherent capacities and possibilities in Nigerians to build bridges of brotherhood across the Niger and Benue. And, indeed, the reportage of the endorsement by the Daily Trust was also refreshingly stylish and reflective of the persona of the governor. Read the headline: “APC chairmanship: Akume’s victory will give Christians a sense of belonging-Zulum”. He delivered it point blank and unpretentiously.

Zulum was quoted in that report to have appealed to President Muhammadu Buhari, APC governors, their deputies and other party stakeholders to consider the candidature of Akume “for the sake of fairness, equity, and justice.” The report further quoted Zulum to have added: “One thing about me is that I don’t pretend. Even Mr President is aware of this fact about my character traits….”

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The governor had continued: “To give our very own Christian brothers and sisters in our great party, the APC, the sense of belonging, Senator George Akume deserves the total support of all party chieftains who believe in the unity of our great party, APC. APC is never a political party for the Muslims alone. APC is a party for both Christians and Muslims. Therefore, all well-meaning members of the APC should rally round distinguished Senator George Akume as the party’s next national chairman.”

Without a doubt, this is a remarkable endorsement by Zulum, a respected leader of the APC and the significance of this gesture is writ-large. Those who can relate with the historical camaraderie, brotherhood and political association that existed between the late Alhaji Ibrahim Imam of Borno (Zulum’s home state) and the late Joseph Tarka of Benue (Akume’s home state) will simply come to terms with the fact that it is a re-enactment of that philosophical affinity and political bond that Tarka and Imam forged through their political association. I will return to the Tarka and Imam story shortly. Allow me to briefly characterize Zulum.

To be sure, Zulum is one of the party’s best performing governors, if not the best of the clan. Having defined the character and content of his administration in Borno State with the magnitude of his patriotism and fidelity, especially to communal values and uncommon liberality, he has come to assume the status of a burgeoning pathfinder in the transcendental politics of Borno and north east with an expanding focus on the northern region in the context of the Nigerian nation.

Back to the Tarka-Imam story. I will quickly summarise a narrative by Senator Jack Tilley Gyado at a press conference held on May 13, 2015 at the Transcorp Hilton in Abuja on the occasion of Senator Akume’s declaration of interest in the Senate presidency. According to Tilley-Gyado, J.S Tarka had worked assiduously to bring all the progressive elements together in the politics of the first republic through the platform of his United Middle Belt Congress. He built a formidable political alliance and swept the Middle Belt at the polls winning all the electoral seats in Benue, Plateau, parts of Bauchi, Taraba, Adamawa, Borno, as well as part of Niger and Kwara. But the seats won were not enough to form the Federal Government. He however cooperated fully with the Tafawa Balewa Government.

Tarka had continued his search for Nigeria’s unity, but one feature, according to Tilley Gyado, of Tarka’s desire and which has remained a shining example of true demonstration of Nigerian unity is the story of Alhaji Ibrahim Imam, who was the leader of Borno Youth Movement, a political party. The movement had reportedly provided a stiff opposition to the ruling party in the then Borno province and if the Movement was allowed to contest, prominent politicians would have lost their constituencies. The Movement was therefore proscribed.

Ibrahim who had already been a member of the Northern House of Assembly on the platform of the proscribed Movement needed a constituency to return to the House. Tarka reportedly travelled to Maiduguri and smuggled out Alhaji Imam under the cover of darkness to provide a safe seat for him in Jemgbagh in the present Gboko, Tarka and Buruku Local Governments in Benue State. He (Imam) won the seat by a landslide and went back to the Northern House of Assembly. The story also had it that when the time came to appoint principal officers of the House, Tarka chose Ibrahim Imam in preference to his old-time allies, including Hon. Isaac Shaahu and Hon Ugba Uye. Tarka’s love of North and Country was demonstrated by his active participation and involvement in the formation of the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) that captured power at the federal level during the Second Republic in 1979.

That was how profoundly passionate Tarka was in his commitment to building bridges of unity and understanding across the country. Today, one of his progenies, Senator George Akume (of course, a nephew of Tarka, is reaping from his (Tarka’s) political large-heartedness. Interestingly, Imam’s descendants, especially his direct son, Kashim Ibrahim-Imam (current Chairman of the Board of TETFund) are extending hands of gratitude to Akume and well-meaning political leaders in Tiv land because of Tarka’s good gesture to their political patriarch.

Governor Zulum’s approbation of Akume’s candidature for the APC national chair is a product of the historical and political gesture that the late Joseph S. Tarka bequeathed the late Alhaji Ibrahim Imam. Throwing his significant weight behind Akume irrespective of the issues of religion and ethnicity is, indeed, a fundamental reciprocal gesture that has the potentialities of helping to build a new Nigeria and cement the bond of brotherhood and political association. The Akume APC national chairmanship enterprise may just be the right opportunity to re-enact the Tarka-Imam spirit and replicate the kind of victory that Imam had in Benue that returned him to the Northern House of Assembly. Yes, Akume needs the Middle Belt’s good will to become national chairman and Zulum’s open endorsement of his candidature is a good starting point to further escalate it vertically and spread it horizontally.

▪︎ Mr Ojeifo contributed this piece from Abuja via ojwonderngr@yahoo.com

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