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Now, he too is gone. Tribute to Usman Faruk

In my column of December 9, 2018, The story of my book, I told the story of my book,

In my column of December 9, 2018, The story of my book, I told the story of my book, The Six Military Governors: Voices of History, in which I recounted the auspicious beginning of my odyssey in journalism.

It began with what would still qualify as a reporter’s dream job. My editor, the incomparable mentor, the late Mallam Adamu Ciroma, assigned me to interview the six military governors of the six northern states created along with the six other states in the southern parts of the country by the head of state, General Yakubu Gowon, on May 27, 1967.

On May 30, he appointed military governors to the 12 states. For the six northern states, we had Major Abba Kyari (North-Central State), Major David Bamigboye (Kwara State), Major Musa Usman (North-Eastern State), Deputy Commissioner of Police, Audu Bako (Kano), Assistant Commissioner of Police, Joseph Gomwalk (Benue-Plateau) and Chief Superintendent of Police, Usman Faruk (North-Western State).

The general demonstrated uncommon courage in balkanising the country into 12 states. He had actually remade Nigeria. In one fell swoop, he corrected the lop-sided nature of our federation, something the British colonial authorities refused to do; and he, arguably, freed the minorities in the north and the east from ethnic domination.

By the time Ciroma gave me that assignment, the military governors were still trying to find their feet in the various states. All the six states drew the nucleus of their civil service from the defunct Northern Region. Civil servants were posted to their states of origin. Some of the states were luckier than other states. They had a good number of senior civil servants who gave their new state administration a quick leg up. This was the situation in which I found them in those early years of their state administration when I interviewed them for the New Nigerian newspaper.

All of them were young; none had any experience in governance. As I noted, “They were all professional military and police officers who had no ambition to be players in any shape or form in our national politics. They took office on May 30 as the drums of the dismemberment of our country sounded louder and harsher in the ears.”

On July 6, the first shots in the war were fired at Gakem in what was then South-Eastern State. They too played their part and did so admirably and helped to crush the rebellion and re-unite Nigeria as one nation.

In my column, I wrote: “But they are now forgotten behind the fog of history. The present generation knows little, if anything, about them because our nation has no sense of history. It chooses to condemn its past leaders to the have-been dump of faceless men and women… The more I thought of them as forgotten actors on our political stage for more than eight years, the more I was moved to help revive their names if only to let this generation know something about them and their contributions to our national development.

“It has been some 50 years since the interviews they granted me were published in the New Nigerian over a six-consecutive Mondays from January 29 to March 1, 1968. But I still hear the clipped British accented voice of Musa Usman; I hear the quiet laughter of Usman Faruk; I hear the cool, diplomatic voice of Audu Bako; I hear the playful teasing of Abba Kyari; I see the contemplative facial expression of Joseph Gomwalk and I see the bright smile of David Bamigboye on his ebony face. I hear the voices of history. I am moved by them.”

I decided to go back and hear those voices again. The result, of course, was my book: The Six Military Governors: Voices of History. By the time it was published in 2018, only three of the six military governors were still alive. They were Brigadier Abba Kyari, Brigadier David Bamigboye and Deputy Commissioner of Police Usman Faruk. But to my immense disappointment, none of the three read my book. Just as I made efforts to reach Kyari and Bamigboye, death struck. Faruk was the only one left. In my column I requested those who knew him to whisper into his ears that I would like to meet him to give him a copy of my book. I was pleasantly surprised by the number of people who kindly offered to put me in touch the former military governor. His daughter finally put me in touch with her father.

I phoned him. Faruk was living a quiet but productive life in Kaduna. I was surprised that he remembered me. He was warm and very friendly. In my book, I had written this about him: “I met the military governor at the newly-spruced government house. Faruk was tall, dark and looked very much like an officer who took his physical exercises seriously. In his school days, he was called Dogo Pindiga. That should give you some idea of how much he towered over me. He seemed such a pleasant man. I could see that he had what is usually to as the common touch – a certain kind simplicity that puts people at ease.”

By the way, he was the only one who had two letters of appointment as military governor. In the announcement of military governors, he was referred to as M. Faruk. But the Inspector-General of Police confirmed he was the one. At his swearing in, he was still called M. Faruk and had an appointment letter to that effect. When the error was detected, a new letter bearing his correct name as Usman Faruk. He told me at my interview with him, “I was the only one who had two letters of appointment.”

Faruk told me he had a very rich library and that whatever information anyone wanted about the 1966 Nigerian crisis that led to the civil war, and the civil war could be found in his library. He said, “I preserved everything. You must find time to come here and see what I have done to preserve the memories of the main actors in the Nigerian crisis. I can tell you it is rich. You cannot find the information here elsewhere.”

I congratulated him. I told him about my book. He congratulated me and said he was happy that I had done something noble. “You know since we were booted out of power, no one wants to know anything about us anymore. All the difficulties we faced in setting up the various state administrations with bare hands have been forgotten. It is a pity. But I am glad you chose to tell our stories because you saw us right from the beginning. You must come with copies for me and my library.”

I promised I would visit him. “I will spend a whole afternoon in your library soaking up the scent of our national history,” I said. We had several phone calls after that and each time, he renewed his invitation and I renewed my acceptance. I regret to say that for reasons I need not go into here, I never made it to his library. And now he too, is dead. He died on December 18 last year.

His death closes an important chapter in our national politics. None of the six military governors is regarded remotely as a hero. Kano State rehabilitated the late Alhaji Audu Bako, military governor of the original Kano State. He did wonderful things for the state. They were tangible things no one can obliterate. But I know each of these men did titanic things in his own way. The manner of their leaving office in the shabby circumstances of a military coup and the allegations of corruption against them, most of them tendentious, denied them the honour they deserved in the country. I miss them all.

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