Ghali Umar Na’Abba is a prominent Nigerian businessman, a politician with a difference, and distinguished Abusite who served as the speaker, Nigeria House of Representatives from 2000–2003. Political philosophy, passion for true leadership and courage to stand against bad leadership are the basis of his life and the essence of his politics
Alhaji Ghali Umar Na’Abba was born in the Tudun Wada area of Kano, in 1958. He studied Political Science at Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. His political life began during his student days when he was elected as Secretary of Ahmadu Bello University chapter of the People’s Redemption Party (PRP).
But for Ghali Na’Abba, injustice meted out to his people while growing up as a child in Kano played a bigger role and tilted his young mind towards an extreme interest in politics.
“Since childhood, I have been interested in politics, having grown up in the area of Kano that had produced Mallam Aminu Kano. Therefore, all that area was a Northern Elements Progressive Union (NEPU) enclave and I used to see frequently uniformed men (law enforcement agencies) coming to harass people from my area to the extent that my father was jailed.
“And a lot of time we couldn’t come out of our houses to go to school because we were always under siege particularly in 1964 when I was barely six years old.
“NPC, which comprised of the conservative aristocrats were oppressing NEPU, which most of its members were radicals. So there was this contradiction between the aristocrats and the common man of which our parents stood to protect. Even at that age, I became worried and l once asked, ‘Why must we be under siege? Why must we not be allowed to exercise our rights?
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“Why must we not be allowed to belong to any political party of our choice?’ My mind became curious and that was how I started reading about happenings in the newspapers, including politics. And because of my obsession to change the condition of the oppressed I vowed to embrace politics,” he recalled.
Growing up in Kano
Apart from the politics of that era which awakened in Ghali Umar Na’Abba the desire to represent his people, the renowned politician recounts his early years in the cosmopolitan city with nostalgia, saying: “It was fantastic growing up in Kano. Kano used to be a very interesting place.
“You know Kano was popular then with its big market and still is. Kano is on the trail of the trans-Saharan trade. We used to see a variety of people coming from the Arab cities such as Algeria, Mali, Morocco, Mauritanian; and places like Senegal, Ivory Coast and Burkina Faso. It was like a melting point of so many things.
“We have the famous Koromi Market and a lot of people (used to come and) still come from African countries as far as Sudan to purchase many things from Kano. When I was growing up we just had the late Emir of Kano, Alhaji Ado Bayero who was installed in 1963.
“I remember he visited my primary school in 1964. And because I was among the brightest pupil in the class, before the Emir came, we were rehearsing what we should say when he arrived. When the D-day came and he came into my class, he looked so overwhelming that I couldn’t talk.
“He was such a humble man. He walked up to me, knelt down, held my hand, and said I am a human being like you that I should speak and not be afraid of him. Then I started talking and eventually said what I was told to say. It was a very interesting episode.”
The Na’Abba’s family
Na’Abba’s family’s political richness is not in doubt. It is the same as the family’s material prosperity. His family business, Na’Abba Commercial Trading Company which was founded by his father and which he (Ghali Umar Na’Abba) returned to head as director after his University education was very popular in Kano back then.
The company was into the export of reptile skins (used for shoes and bags) and import of goods and services. However, living in affluence did not prevent the family and Ghali Umar from being radical.
He explains: “I grew up in a family that was rich but also radical – that influenced a lot about my life. I used to have a lot of friends and was very liberal with money. When I was growing up in my family, I met a lot of people who were not even members of the family but were bearing the family’s name. Not only were my parents rich but were also community leaders.
“My grandfather was close to the Emir and big politicians used to see most of the ministers from Kano in my grandfather’s house. All the ministers came from time to time. I used to see the late Maitama Sule, the late Ibrahim Musa Kashashi, and so on. Right then, I started entertaining the idea that one that I should be a Minister.
“In fact, that inspired me a lot to study political science. But destiny later played out as I became more than a minister – I became Nigeria’s number four citizen.”
Alhaji Ghali Umar Na’Abba’s Political career
Ghali Umar Na’Abba was elected as representative for the Kano Municipal Federal constituency in April 1999, on the PDP ticket. He was appointed Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee before he was later elected Speaker of the House of Representatives.
In August 2002, the House gave president Olusegun Obasanjo an ultimatum to either resign or face impeachment action. Despite the mounting pressure from all sides, Na’Abba said the House would not withdraw the resolution and went on to lead the failed impeachment movement.
Na’Abba sought reelection in April 2003 but lost and has tried severally afterwards but all not successful. In December 2004, he was honoured with a chieftaincy title in Imo State.
In August 2009, Ghali Umar Na’Abba was among former and current leaders who established the Coalition of Democrats for Electoral Reform initiative in an attempt to push through reforms to the 1999 constitution, a difficult task requiring 2/3 majorities in both houses.
What he missed
“I missed my colleagues. I missed positive policies what would have impact in the citizenry. What happened was that when we were fighting to ensure that democracy took root in the country, there were other people who were busy trying to snatch away politics from people and they succeeded.
“And that is why until now the people of Nigeria have never successfully elected the kind of people they want into political positions because certain people, particularly the governors have appropriated our political parties to themselves and they alone decide who goes anywhere.
“And some of us who seem to be independent-minded for true governance got on the wrong side of politics. They tell us that we are not team players because we have the courage to tell them that certain things are wrong and shouldn’t be done.”
“It is my duty to make the Executive accountable which was what I did. I was called names; described as arrogant and someone who never listens. I never regretted anything that I did or said because I was proved right. My effort then was to ensure that everybody could use his or her God-given endowment to become whatever he or she wants. And that is the beauty of democracy.
The way forward
For a man who exemplified sterling leadership qualities when he held sway as the House of Representatives speaker, Na’Abba believes that all hope should not be lost in the country. Prescribing the way forward, he says: “I believe in Nigeria and its potentiality. Nigeria should belong to the First World and not the Second or even Third World.
“One of the reasons we have not moved forward as a nation is that that we have been having series of unprepared leaders – series of accidental leaders – people who shouldn’t be in the position of authority. I think this has to do with the fact that Nigerians are consistently being denied a right of choice.
“We have excellent materials for leadership – for the presidency but the system that is used to recruit people into power is being continuously manipulated to the benefit of those who exercise power for their selfish reasons.
“Unless we make our democracy work in such a manner that people who merit being in the position of leadership become leaders. My prayer is that our recruitment system is rejuvenated so that people who have abilities and capacities will be elected by the people so Nigeria will enjoy good leadership.”