On Monday – barely three days into the year 2022 – elder statesman and icon, Bashir Tofa, bid the world farewell. He died after a brief illness. Without mincing words, Tofa died a hero. He came, lived, conquered his generation and left towering legacies behind. Death, they say, is inevitable. Tofa has walked that path where all mortals are bound to. He has paid his dues and moved on, leaving those of us on this side of the divide with memories.
In his lifetime, the deceased was a journalist’s delight as he spoke his mind, damning the consequences. Tofa was not the type who shied away from questions; he gave his responses as frankly as possible.
When Clement Oloyede, Daily Trust’s Bureau Chief in Kano, sat with him last year, the deceased spoke on a wide range of issues. Asked to comment about zoning, Tofa had said, “Let us first make sure our country survives; not just intact, but with the relative peace we need to enable the elections to take place successfully in 2023. The country is too polarized now with a lot of stupid ideas and unnecessary bigotry.
“Secondly, I have never supported zoning of anything. Not only is it utterly undemocratic, but it will never allow us to be Nigerians and to elect “a Nigerian president”. For how long shall we continue to see ourselves as Northerners and Southerners? I do not know. It is even doubtful if Southerners, for example, will meet and agree to leave it to one of the three zones. They should try that to demonstrate that the South is one. Their candidate will then have a run with how many candidates the North presents in one or more political parties.
“I truly think zoning is detrimental to the unity of this country. It is a sign of backwardness to continue propagating a divisive presidency, rather than the one that will serve all Nigerians equally and justly. The PDP started this foolish idea. They have damaged the political climate of this country while thinking it was for the best.”
That was the man Tofa for you.
His name will remain evergreen in history, the knowledge bank of all ages, when it comes to politics in Nigeria. He kickstarted his foray into politics in 1976 when he emerged as councilor of Dawakin Tofa Local Government Council. As a man with leadership abilities and managerial acumen, it didn’t take long before Tofa started pulling the strings. By 1977, a year after he delved into politics, he was elected a member of the Constituent Assembly.
Tofa also contributed significantly to the success of the National Party of Nigeria (NPN), the country’s dominant political party in the second republic. It was there that his path first crossed with MKO Abiola, whom he ran against in 1993. He was the National Financial Secretary of NPN while Abiola was the Ogun State Chairman of the party.
When the Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida (IBB) regime introduced the Option A4 system, Tofa was elected the presidential candidate. During the party primaries, he defeated Pere Ajunwa, Joe Nwodo and Dalhatu Tafida to clinch the NRC ticket.
He had picked Sylvester Ugoh, governor of the defunct Central Bank of Biafra, as his running mate.
Abiola was the self-acclaimed winner of the election, which was annulled by the IBB junta. According to reports, Abiola won Tofa even in Kano but the deceased saw that election as a closed chapter of his life.
‘JUNE 12 IS DEAD’
20 years after the election, journalists cornered him in Kano to get his view on it and the vintage Tofa said, “Events of June 12 are fiction. Those still celebrating the dead issue have nothing to do with their time. It is for those who don’t have anything to offer this country to move forward that can still be talking about June 12 presidential election.
“If you have learnt any lesson out of it good, if you have not, keep quiet, let this country make progress, but for one to still be talking about something that occurred 20 years ago is a colossal waste of time.”
IBB: JUNE 12 ELECTION ANNULED TO AVOID A COUP
Asked to comment on the cancellation of the election in an interview he granted last year, IBB said, “If it (the election) materialised, there would’ve been a coup d’etat — which could have been violent. That’s all I can confirm.
“It didn’t happen thanks to the engineering and the ‘maradonic’ way we handled you guys in the society. But that could’ve given room for more instability in the country.
He alleged massive pressure from within and outside the military to cause trouble on account of the outcome of the election.
In yet another interview on same topic, IBB said, “It’s a decision we took. I had to take that decision, I did that to the best of my knowledge, in the interest of the country. I did the right thing. I can sit back and say some of the things I said manifested after I had left. We had the coup and that coup lasted for five years.”
ABACHA VS SHONEKAN
An Interim National Government headed by Ernest Shonekan had been set up after the election was annulled but General Sani Abacha led a coup that toppled Shonekan who had spent only three months in office.
Although he joined the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), Tofa still played his role as the conscience of the nation, holding leaders to account.
TOFA DIDN’T SPARE BUHARI AND JONATHAN
In the buildup to the 2015 election, Tofa came down hard on ex-President Goodluck Jonathan over the manner in which he handled the country.
Asked if he was satisfied with Jonathan’s style of leadership, he had responded, “Nobody is satisfied with President Goodluck Jonathan’s style of leadership because it’s not even a style. I cannot define his style of leadership in terms of the appropriate definition of leadership. On more occasions than not in my opinion, he is absent from leadership. He has knowingly or unknowingly abandoned that part of his elected role to some elements, who will never help him. He has people around him, who misadvise him and are doing the wrong thing and he doesn’t seem to have control over them. For example, look at all these Ministers that have done wrong, it has taken him so long to be able to decide what to do with them. In some other countries, who know what they are doing, even the President does not need to act because the Minister knows what to do, it’s just to resign, so long as you have done something which has been exposed which is against the public interest, that Minister on his own knows that he does not need to be told but just resign but in Nigeria that never happens. They stay put and the President allows them to continue.”
It is easy to conclude that Tofa criticised Jonathan because he was in the opposition party with President Muhammadu Buhari at the time but the deceased did not keep quiet over what he perceived as the wrongdoing of Buhari.
In the interview with Oloyede, the conversation drifted towards Buhari’s performance in office and this is what he had to say, “I will repeat what I have been saying for a long time. The president lacks the team he needs to do those things he promised he would. And, without good helpers, he has to continued to bear the blame.
“My impression is if he signs on something he believes is good for the country, he just trusts that it will be implemented in accordance with his instructions. There, probably, is no effective system of checking or follow up; or he is always told things are going according to plan and he accepts that as the truth.
“Personally, I now pray for him, seeking the Almighty Allah to help him with good health and a clear mind to see and act on the truth. His time is running out. By this time next year, he is a lame duck.”
TOFA ROSE IN DEFENCE OF SANUSI
In his tribute to the deceased, Alhaji Muhammadu Sanusi, former Emir of Kano, said Tofa “was the last man standing for sanity and the protection of Kano and its heritage.”
That perhaps was Sanusi’s own way of showing reverence to the man who stood by him during a dark era. When Governor Abdullahi Ganduje dethroned Sanusi two years ago, Tofa was among those who stood on the side of the former emir. In a statement, which Advocates for A United Kano, a group under his leadership, issued, Tofa had described the act as illegal.
Tofa-led group not only criticised Ganduje but filed a suit to challenged his action. Sadly, the wish of the elder statesman did not come to pass.
Apart from his heroics in politics, Tofa was also a businessman, an oil trader and an industrialist. He was chairman of International Petro-Energy Company and Abba Othman and Sons Limited.
BIRTH AND EDUCATION
Tofa was born to a Kanuri family in Kano State on June 20, 1947. He had his primary education at Shahuci Junior Primary, Kano and then continued studies at City Senior Primary School also in the same state.
A precocious child with immense potentials at the time, Tofa dazzled his contemporaries at home and in schools while growing up. After his stint in primary school, he proceeded to Provincial College, Kano between 1962 and 1966 where he had his secondary education.
By the time he left Provincial school, Kano, he work briefly for Royal Exchange Insurance company from 1967 to 1968 before he left to continue his education at City of London College.
The late elder statesman was also an author. Although he was yet to finish a book detailing his account of the June 12 Elections, he wrote and published about a dozen books, several of them in Hausa, including the well-received Tunaninka, Kamanninka (Your Thoughts are You), Kimiyyar Sararin Samaniya (Space science), Kimiyya da Al’ajaban Al-Kur’ani (The science and Wonders of the Qur’an). He was also a publisher having set up a bilingual newspaper, AlKalami/The Pen.
Tofa was also a philanthropist, although he frowned at people publicising it. It was revealed that he had permanent tailors in house whose job was to sew bundles of materials daily for distribution to the needy. This was aside other charity work he silently undertook. He had a passion for astronomy and architecture, among others.
What a life of purpose! What a great man he was. In the closing lines of a speech he delivered years back, Tofa had said, “Finally, like all, I am also travelling on the path prepared for me by God Almighty. He controls my destiny and I pray He will continue to favour and to guide me.”
May Allah grant your wish! Rest in peace, the great one.