Dauda Birma, a former education minister, passed away on Tuesday, January 5, 2021 at his home in Yola, Adamawa State, aged 80.
He was a presidential aspirant under the defunct All Nigeria Peoples Party, ANPP. He was the Sarkin Gabas Adamawa, and Waziri of Garkida. He was born July 26, 1940 in Garkida, Gombi Local Government Area of Adamawa State and served the northern region government in various capacities.
In his last interview with TELL in November 2020, he recalled Nigeria’s independence on October 1, 1960, with great nostalgia. Then aged 20, he was at the Tafa Balewa Square, Lagos, when the Union Jack was lowered and the Nigerian flag hoisted to signify Nigeria’s independence from Britain. He saw all of Nigeria’s 60 years of independence, the conflicts, the bloodshed, the corruption, and power play.
To mark Nigeria’s 60th independence anniversary, he admonished that the government must put an end to corruption, enthrone justice and fair play. Above all, he urged that Nigerians must embrace one another.
In a message to mark his 80th birthday last July, President Muhammadu Buhari said Nigeria “gained significantly from his insights into policy matters in his many years of public service and through his participation in the evolution of our democratic experience.” Buhari noted Birma’s passion towards the poor in his community and beyond.
A Nigerian optimist, he insisted that Nigeria was on course despite the turbulence. “I personally feel that development is incremental and we are moving in a direction where there is no stopping. So, Nigeria which is being looked as not developed, has developed over a long time. We have passed through a lot of traumatic experiences. So we are moving forward. We should exercise a lot of patience and we should embrace one another a lot more that we are doing.”
He regretted that corruption has become ingrained in the DNA of Nigeria and involves all aspects of the society.
“When we talk about corruption in government, there is so much at the disposal of people who are not prepared for governance. When you talk about corruption in government, you also look at corruption in the larger society. There is corruption in the medical profession, there is corruption in the media profession; there is corruption in the religious profession; even in the market place. It is now part of our DNA. So when you are talking about fighting corruption in government, you are not looking at fighting corruption in the larger society. Take a look at the Nigeria Police; take a look at the military, corruption has pervaded the society. You see people outside shouting corruption but when they are recruited into the system, you wonder if they are the same people shouting about corruption who are now champions of corruption!”
He canvassed a change of attitude by Nigerians to move the country forward. “We Nigerians have to change our attitude. Everyone who has the opportunity to get into public office becomes corrupt. Men, women, youths; when they go to the place of authority, the moment they encounter money they become corrupt. We Nigerians have to make up our mind that our embrace of corruption is wrong. We pretend to be religious people; but look at every sphere of our religious life, corruption is starring at us. We must make up our mind that if we don’t kill corruption; corruption will kill us.”
He felt that a major incentive for crime in Nigeria is lack of punishment for crime. “In the last 20 years, I have not heard of anyone convicted of these crimes executed. You hear of people on the death rows in various prisons living like kings because they know they are not going to pay any penalty. So our attitude towards crime and punishment must change. If we are lenient towards criminals, we must remember that at the time they committed their crimes, they were not lenient with their victims.”
That was vintage Dauda Birma. He did not see it fulfilled in his lifetime but he left the hope that men of conscience still abound in the country, urging the nation to think, talk and act right in the midst of overwhelming corruption, insecurity and bad governance.
When the new politics is ethnicity, he canvassed inclusiveness; when the fad is unbridled looting, he preached accountability and transparency; when statesmen played politics with truth, Brima called corruption its proper name – crime.
Nigeria will miss him more as disparate forces in the country steadily push the country to the brink of disintegration.