Pilots and airmen always have the best moments of their lives when they are in the skies. That is where they claim worries are buried in the clouds. In the family of Senator Ibn Bala Na’Allah, the Deputy Senate Leader, who is from Kebbi State, all but the mother and wife can fly a plane. The lawmaker, who claims he reluctantly became a politician, takes Stanley Nkwazema on a journey through his years as a member of the House of Representatives, his roles in the Red Chamber, his penchant for planes and why he supported the controversial move to regulate the social media. He also talks about Biafra and a united Nigeria
A Honest Man?
Senator Ibn Bala N’Allah does not claim to know himself more than he does and he readily acknowledges this.
“Honestly, I don’t know myself more than I know myself. I am from the Wasagu Ruling House in Kebbi State and grew up in several places with my brother in the police. He kept moving from one place to another. My primary school was in Sam Gomo Primary School. I had my secondary school education at Government Secondary School in Zuru,” he stated.
To him, growing up was fun. He did not grow up with his parents. He was sent to live with his uncle, Mohammed Musa Sakaba; because in those days, some parents never believed that you could be the best living with them. That was where the man called Ibn was moulded until he gained admission into higher institution.
“When I got admission to study History in school, I rejected it but went to Sokoto State College of Arts and Science before proceeding to Ahmadu Bello University in 1982. I was in the same class with Damian Dodo, Adoke Mohammed and others. We studied under a very intelligent criminal law professor, Amanqua, a Ghanaian. I obtained my Bachelor of Law in 1985 before proceeding to the Law School in Lagos and was called to the bar in 1986. For my NYSC, I was posted to the Nigerian Army cantonment in Obinze, Imo State, where I was the legal adviser. I went back to Sokoto and was thereafter appointed as the state counsel when the present Sokoto, Kebbi and Zamfara states were one. I rose to the position of senior magistrate and acting chief magistrate. I left to join the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency. It will also interest you that I trained at the Nigerian College of Aviation Technology, (NCAT), Zaria, and South Africa. I am a qualified pilot,” the senator stated with measured pride.
Law Practice and Lawmaking
In 1992, Senator Na’Allah left public service to practice law.
“I lived in Lagos and had my office then in 111 Tokunboh Street, Lagos, before moving to Eti-Osa House. Law is very interesting and what I am doing today at the National Assembly is part of law if I am to say. I was first elected into the National Assembly in 2003. I was there till 2011. I was there again in 2015, elected by the good people of Kebbi South to represent them in the Senate,” he recalled.
Senator Na’Allah won’t shy away from discussing the politics of the Senate. He was the one who replaced Ali Ndume as senate leader.
He said about the political dynamic that threw Ndume out and brought him in, “Whatever you see as coming from the Senate must be as a result of politics. For whatever reasons like I said, it is the decision of the Senate if they want to change the leadership. I was not even aware of the plan to change leadership as it happened in my absence. In a democracy, and in parliament, the majority decision must always be respected by whoever is a member of that parliament. I was not in the country (when signatures were collected and Ndume was removed); and I was not privy to the information. We are very close friends. We are like a family. Maybe because senators have realised the fact that I am so close to him, they therefore kept me in the dark. That is why I told you that the politics of the Senate is determined by the minute, not even by the day.”
What happened after the change of fortunes between Na’Allah and Ndume?
The senator said, “We were in the House of Representatives together but he came to the Senate in 2011 before me. Everybody knew us as very close friends. His father sees me as his son. The father will prefer he gives me an assignment rather than giving it to Ali Ndume, just to tell you how close we are. But you see, in life, I have learnt to accept what I have no control over. We are all here by providence. What is important is that the decision is binding on us all.”
Why I Represented Major Hamza Al-Mustapha
Senator Na’Allah believes a lawyer must attend to a client the moment he is approached unless there are other compelling reasons against it. According to him, those reasons must not necessarily be personal but professional; maybe conflict of interest.
He said, “I don’t think there is anything extraordinary about representing Al-Mustapha. I have handled some very exciting and sensitive cases even before that of Mustapha but because those people were not public figures, it did not attract the kind of media exposure that one suffered. From the beginning, I told Mustapha that it was not going to be easy but that justice would prevail at the end of the day only to tell the truth about what happened. As a lawyer, I had a job to do and I was fully briefed and I did my best to fulfill the obligation that I owed my client as far as that Oputa panel was concerned. And there was the subsequent trial of Mustapha by the Lagos State Government when the present Vice-President, Yemi Osinbajo, was the state’s attorney general. But overall, I will tell you that I felt so happy and it was an opportunity for me to know this country very well and to know certain things that I believed were impossible and which became clearly possible with that matter. I was the main conductor of the case. I have been vindicated.”
The ‘Reluctant’ Politician…
For whatever reason, the only thing Senator Na’Allah hates – and which incidentally he is into – is politics. He explained the discomfort his family feels when it comes to politics.
“I remember when my son felt bad and wanted me to resign simply because somebody went on Facebook and said I was a drug baron. To pacify him, I said he needs to know that the Federal Republic of Nigeria has a whole institution that is vested with the responsibility of determining who is a drug baron and who is not. That institution has not said I am one. You cannot prevent somebody from going on social media to raise all kinds of things that he believes are capable of tarnishing my image. I think that should be what should comfort you. I equally didn’t like politics before. But I have found myself in it and I think because it gives me the opportunity to make certain contributions to make my country a better place, I am happy being in politics now,” the senator reflected.
But how did he become a politician and ended up in the National Assembly as a lawmaker?
This is what he said, “It was not my decision. I was on my way to Jeddah for lesser Hajj. I tried getting a seat on the economy class but it was near impossible. So I had to cough out money for a first class ticket. I met Senator Adamu Aliero, the then Governor of Kebbi State, for the first time in my life. And if I remember very well, he was in the company of the (then) Yobe State governor and few others. He now wanted to open the discussion saying that the state is very proud of me and that I should come home so we could develop Kebbi together. I did not give him any firm position. He kept on saying that he believed that it was the time for me to come back home, having heard so much about me. He had seen me at the Oputa Panel and he believed I would be very useful to him in his determination to change Kebbi.
“I was so reluctant and I did not give him a firm response. But when we got to Jeddah, there were some people from my constituency who were on board that same aircraft. I did not know because we were in the first class cabin and they got down before us because of the configuration of the aircraft. When we got down and went to pray, he then told them that as far as he was concerned he had made up his mind: Na’Allah must come and contest and be a member of the House of Representatives. He told the Emir and they started calling me.
“After four years, he insisted that I should go back – I was given a form to fill. Back in 2011, they wanted me to go the Senate but I had a friend who had invested so much to go to the Senate, so I backed out. Aliero is still alive; he will tell this is exactly how it happened. Since then I have been trying to move my leg, one in and one out and it has not been easy. That is why I believe you don’t start it (politics) in the first place. When you start it, you never can tell when you will go out.”
His Family and Flying
His children want to be like him: they wanted to be lawyers but somewhere along the line, his son AbdulHakeem, born in 1990, decided to go to the flying school in Cape Town, South Africa. The son is a biker and again, everybody in the family wanted to buy a bike just to make him feel loved. The second son, qualified as a pilot at the age of 17 but could not do his check-ride until December 2008 because he was underage.
Na’Allah explained further, “My first son, after leaving the University of Manchester, decided to start flying also. His brother has completed series of flying programmes and certifications in the United States of America and will soon return to join the family. The only daughter of the family is at the Aviation College in Ilorin (Kwara State) where she is also learning the rudiments of flying. I don’t know how to describe it. I think that we are just one family that will always want to be the same. My second son complains about my absence from home. You can’t have both. I cook for them so we have fun around.”
Does he love flying?
“What gives me joy the most is to be up in the sky. I am not afraid; it is by far safer up there. The person who wants to kill, kidnap you and use you as an object of gossip is here on the ground. The person who wants to treat you badly is on the ground. Up there, you are at peace with your God. That period that you are up in the sky is so reassuring and I will tell you: if you go around and find out from pilots, you will find out that it is the best moment of their lives (being in the sky),” Na’Allah said with delight.
Worrisome Aviation Sector
The federal lawmaker lamented over the country’s aviation sector. Why?
He answered, “When we came to the Senate in 2015, less than a month after our inauguration, the first motion I moved was to look at the aviation sector; the unstable nature of aviation in Nigeria and to see what can be done about it. The senate inaugurated the Senator Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso committee and we came out with 21 resolutions for implementation. As of today none (of that) has been implemented. We are experiencing what we are experiencing now because actions that ought to have been taken were not taken. This is how we run our affairs in this country and that is very worrisome. If the whole senate could come together and look at things dispassionately, agreed that these resolutions were necessary but nothing was done, things will continue to get bad.”
Why Biafra Can’t be Great
Senator Na’Allah admitted that the Igbo are fantastic human beings. To him, if they keep their acts together, they can recover from whatever injustices they claim to have suffered in the process of building the country.
“I will tell you why there is virtually no corner of this country that you will not find an Igbo man who is doing very well and who has blended with the community where he lives. In the entire part of my village, virtually everywhere, there is an Igbo man and they are happy. Now, if you begin to say you want Biafra of your own because of anger or whatever; that you have suffered injustice in the process of developing this country, how long will it take you to build a virile country in Biafra? Can you do it alone? You need and should know that no country has become great without other people coming to join hands in doing it. There is no way Biafra, the dream of those who are agitating for it, can be a great nation without Yoruba, Hausa, Kanuri and others going there because what God has given the Igbo is that they are very enterprising . Nobody can take that away from them. They are highly educated people and very diplomatic. But the elders must accept the fact that they cannot continue to promote that agitation because people who never knew how this country was built form the majority of those who are in the agitation,” the senator advised.
About His Social Media Bill Furore
Senator Na’Allah believes anyone who is versed in the history, nature and content of the country will understand that the complexity that exists at the moment cannot lead the nation to the Promised Land if people are allowed to continue to divide the country based on falsehood. Is that why he sponsored the ill-fated Social Media Bill?
“If you have reasons to say something and what you are saying is factual, there may be somebody with more valid reasons as to why your own point may not be correct and he will be able to say it. That is not the same thing with falsehood. As of that time, I was aware of three things that happened. One of my friends told me where an attempt was made to recruit some people who were to damage and destroy the character of any person who is perceived to be against government. To me, that was wrong and I felt something must be done. Then along the line, there was another group that were recruiting people to make sure that whatever the government does is turned the opposite way so as to continuously make the government unpopular for a period of four years and that will provide a platform for them to take over government. There were also those who worked as freelancers, who felt that certain people were occupying certain positions they were not happy about.
“Therefore, they felt, the social media must be used to bring them down. All these things put together, I wondered if it was possible for us to have a sane society. How is it going to benefit us? I felt that we would be doing favours to this country if we attempt to define the limit of what we can do with this very important medium of communication so that if we defined it, our unity may not be in danger; our relationship, our progress will not be affected. For example, if all your life you have been a businessman and you are able to make fortunes out of business and by the mere expedience of going to Facebook to say you are a kidnapper, somebody can bring you down. It discourages other like-minded people who want to put hard work as a basis for making progress in life which is not good for us,” he pointed out.
His Love Story
The lawyer-turned-politician narrated how he met his wife.
“We used to go and buy masa and (my) grandmother was always joking that she was my wife. It happened and now we are married. She is a graduate of Usman Dan Fodio University Sokoto but she has chosen to be a housewife to take care of us. She does not fly like us,” he said about his wife.