Remembering Dr. Yusuf Bala Usman
By Abdu Abdullahi
Before the sorrowful demise of the bulwark and conscience of the oppressed late Dr. Yusuf Bala Usman on the 24th September, 2005, his life had been overwhelmed by prolonged and enduring struggles for academic fulfillment and dismantling oppressive structures erected by the notorious reactionaries.
The two symbiotic performances constituted tremendous forces in his sustained devotion for academic magnificence and exalted obsession for eradicating injustice. In other words, his deepened enthusiasm for wiping out pillars of oppression emanated from his intellectual vigour.
Biologically, he belonged to the royal dynasty and had the privileges of all comforts at his disposal. Nevertheless, he opted to deploy his deep feelings of compassion for the downtrodden that he held in the highest esteem and uplifted their human essence and value to greater heights. This infinite love was showcased through his organized thoughts and persuasive expressions to redeem their deplorable status for a better living in the midst of affluence.
We saw how he was psychologically depressed by their persecution in the hands of reactionary elements. His insatiable desire for the enthronement of a masses- oriented government was eventually abortive and this could have been his life greatest disenchantment.
Unmindful of the risks that were gathering momentum to scare him away from his sustained war, Dr. Bala stubbornly and incessantly developed ideological skills and attacks to dislodge the monster of class society and its harmful repercussions. Indeed, it was a brilliant, intellectual and psychological battle in which he firmly fixed ideas for our minds to easily comprehend.
During his productive life, he nurtured a formidable front that was reckoned with. He was a radically-indivisible, indefatigable and inspiring soldier fighting for the masses. Absolutely guided by the accumulation of sound ideology, prudent and huge knowledge, he transformed the pen into a revolutionary tool, unleashing devastating harms on the custodians of the status quo ante.
Dwelling in the turbulent nation bedevilled by lingering crisis of class antagonism, he soberly reflected on its ailing system and clearly spotted a two-class dichotomy consuming our social being which he ventured to alter in favour of the downgraded and persecuted voiceless. It was the oppressed versus the oppressors. It was a show of human tragedy bordering on how the former were crying but ignored and how the latter were laughing and applauded.
In romancing with the oppressed, he mastered the art of generating passion for them through clear descriptions of their wretchedness. This was fundamentally meant to restore their usurped dignity by the powers that be. In dealing with the oppressors, he was skillful in exposing their inadequacies as well as excesses. His primary motive here was soliciting necessary improvements and adjustments as well as reconstructions of a new socioeconomic order. We knew that he was endowed with the privileges of aligning with the oppressors for self- aggrandizement, but he felt that he could not betray and abandon the defenceless and deprived masses who continued wallowing in misery and distress.
When his unbreakable faith in the unceasing and rigorous struggle reached its climax, he incurred the fury of the established order, castigating him of teaching what he was not paid to teach in the university as if the university was a mushroom centre of learning not designed for unmasking the faces of injustices.
Incredibly, Dr. Usman converted and elevated knowledge to a living organism that genuinely promoted human mind and progress. He significantly occupied that intellectual vacuum created by the conservative elements that were afraid to facilitate positive change on our campuses and the larger society. The productive and possessive knowledge of Dr. Bala was basically functional for overhauling the society. It was never the type that was myopic to recognise only its meal ticket face value and dispel its character essence, vibrancy and potency.
When the Bala Usman phenomenon was holding sway at the Ahmadu Bello University Zaria, a radical movement of the Socialist ideology hijacked and assumed the new campus order. Spearheaded by his powerful political and intellectual will, he massively attracted like minds and disciples both within and outside the campus. They converged at an ideological point that seemed to the capitalism elements as a volcanic eruption that would destroy their pride and damage their supremacy.
To avert the escalation of this political carnage and catastrophe, the American Intelligence Unit conducted an extensive research on our campuses in the mid eighties with the theme: “Political Risk Analysis.” The main objective was to ascertain the campus radicals’ potentialities with the ABU as the focal point. To their greatest dismay, the result clearly exposed the possibility of a peasants’ revolution on the platform of the socialist ideals. They were particularly jittery of the joint media activities of the Analyst and Fitila magazines, effectively deployed by the Bala Usmans, Balarabe Musas, Sunusi Abubakars, Iyorchia Ayus, Richard Umarus, Hausa Mahdis, Ayesha Imams and a host of others and utilized by the general public to unravel the hostilities and horrors of capitalism.
What could have foiled that political upheaval was vividly the abrupt emergence of unnecessary bickering and frivolities that suddenly descended on the campus radicals’ camp and eventually culminated in the disintegration of the struggle. It is an undisputable fact that radicals and their struggles are naturally spoiled and consumed by insignificant matters ignited by them.
Distortions and misrepresentations of facts by some historians are driven by stubborn mischievousness. However, Dr. Usman was never a party to this moral recklessness. Rejecting it in absolute terms, he contextualised issues of national interest to foster unity of purpose and stability, simultaneously safeguarding the sanctity of History discipline to discover our past, its glories and otherwise for the survival of today and tomorrow.
Unfortunately, History is now a dreaded subject that has been phased-out of the curriculum of most of our secondary schools. Thus, the young ones are denied the basic knowledge of where they come from, where they are now and where they would be tomorrow. The rudiments of the curriculum are cumulatively tilted toward material gains and satisfaction thereby relegating the human value to the background of our collective development.
Undoubtedly, Dr. Usman had rendered his outstandingly historical service to sharpen our psychological insight and boost our reflective capacity for sound evaluation and judgements of events. For the sake of prosperity, it is imperative here to refer to one of his famous presentations on the theme: “Violent Ethnic Conflicts in Nigeria: “Beyond the Myths and Mystifications.” This informative material was published in the Analyst Magazine of February 2003. Going through that intellectual piece would convince you he was an uncommon, erudite history scholar whose intellectual vacuum would be too cumbersome for a fitting substitution.
At a trying period when the nation was held captive by the Draconian Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) of General Ibrahim Babangida regime, Dr. Usman gallantly explored all possibly required intellectual efforts to fight the economic bulldozer because of its chronic devastations on the masses. The persistent confrontations lasted till the end of the IBB’s controversial empire.
Through his brilliant management of the crisis, Dr. Usman instigated a kind of national consciousness as well as a revolt against SAP recording an amazing development and positive impacts on the polity. His convincing speeches and writings at different fora were always inspiring for the progressive world.
For instance, in the Analyst of January-February 1989, he presented an essay entitled: “Going Beyond SAP.” Part of it reads: ” The Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) pursued by the government has clearly failed to bring about even the beginning of an economic recovery in this country. This failure of SAP is not due to failures in its implementation. It has to be traced to its basic foundation, from its formal inception when the World Bank started imposing it through its Structural Adjustment Lending to a number of Third World Countries.”
Remembering Dr. Bala Usman remains incomplete without a reference to his popular book: “The Manipulation of Religion in Nigeria.” For those who are conversant with its rich content of hard facts, it offers a lasting solution to our prevalent crisis of contemporary politics.
Interestingly, the fears he expressed more than 30 years back are now rearing their ugly heads to destabilize us! It would be a great national embarrassment and natural calamity if Dr. Usman would be the last enlightened Nigerian to fearlessly rise against human injustice in the country. Those who think that their vast knowledge is equal to that of Dr. Usman or superior should demonstrate it in the same practical and contextual style as Yusuf did and earned a befitting place in the history of campus lecturers and Nigerian intellectuals!
The Dr. Usman you may want to know and remember today and beyond had not lived for himself but lived for others to actualise their social significance and relevance. If you want to remember Dr. Usman, don’t forget that he was never afraid of calling a spade a spade when other funny characters would call a spade an axe. If you want to remember Dr. Usman, remember him for his best times. Who recalls Dr. Usman’s best times? I recapitulate one of them in which he was combative with ideas.
He wrote an article titled: “Mr. President, are you serious about NEEDS?” published in the dailies. It was one of his best times because he was constructively criticising Chief Obasanjo’s economic policy tagged: NEEDS.
Fourteen years after the exit of the indomitable scholar of our time late Dr. Yusuf Bala Usman, he would be remembered for his “unfinished battle” of ideas that was designed to counter “social sins” and “economic crimes.” Since his eventful departure, it is understood that his vacuum has remained unoccupied. This, indeed, is a colossal loss to particularly the underprivileged many of who were and are ignorant of his dogged strives for their survival. May his soul rest in peace!
Abdu Abdullahi is from Galadanci Quarters