Alhaji Lawal Kaita, who died in Abuja last night at the age of 85, was many things in his lifetime including a prominent member of the Katsina royal family, seasoned civil servant, a commissioner in the old North Central State, a polo player and a community leader but he was best known as a politician.
The road to his life-long involvement in politics began in 1977 when he was elected a member of the Constituent Assembly that produced the 1979 Constitution. The CA, headed by the late Justice Udo Udoma, worked hard on the draft constitution earlier produced by the Constitution Drafting Committee [CDC] headed by the late Chief F.R.A. Williams in 1975-76. Underground however, CA was where the political parties and alliances of the Second Republic were formed. Lawal Kaita emerged as one of the leaders of the National Party of Nigeria [NPN] in old Kaduna State.
There were five rounds of elections in July-August 1979. In Kaduna State NPN won the first one, capturing three of the five senatorial seats while PRP won two. That election was nevertheless painful for NPN because PRP captured the Kaduna-Zaria-Ikara-Birnin Gwari senatorial seat when its candidate Ibrahim Barau defeated NPN’s candidate Alhaji Umaru Dikko. Barau was never allowed to take up his seat because under the NPN federal regime, Customs vigorously pursued him with an allegation of smuggling. Anyway, NPN won the next election for members of the House of Representatives. In the third election, for members of the Kaduna State House of Assembly, NPN won a two-thirds majority. This happened because FEDECO disqualified a dozen PRP candidates in Zaria, the party’s stronghold.
Pundits therefore expected NPN to easily win the governorship election of July 28, 1979. It was a very big shocker when things turned around and PRP’s candidate Alhaji Abdulkadir Balarabe Musa defeated Alhaji Lawal Kaita with, if I remember right, 460,000 votes to 440,000. The big turnaround happened at Funtua, which had been voting for NPN all along but suddenly turned against Lawal Kaita. The result was so shocking that NPN’s presidential candidate Alhaji Shehu Shagari flatly declared that his party “will never accept” the result. The ensuing case at the election tribunal was very hot, with both parties turning out thousands of their supporters at the tribunal venue but in the end, both the tribunal and the Court of Appeal upheld Balarabe Musa’s victory.
The day Balarabe Musa won the governorship, PRP leaders filled several trucks with maize [NPN’s symbol], unloaded them on the streets of Kaduna and drove over them with cars and motorcycles. Two weeks later however, Kaduna State voters again returned to NPN and Shagari won the state handsomely over PRP’s presidential candidate, Malam Aminu Kano. That day, NPN leaders fabricated a very large key, which was PRP’s symbol, and dragged it behind a tipper truck through Kaduna streets.
At the beginning of his tenure, President Shehu Shagari created the office of Presidential Liaison Officer [PLO] for states. Many defeated NPN governorship candidates were appointed PLOs; Lawal Kaita was appointed the PLO for Kano State. He (Kaita) took on the job with great zeal, went to Kano, took over all the federal agencies there and said he was coordinating them on behalf of the president. He was regularly on collision course with the state’s PRP government and in particular with the equally zealous Governor Mohamed Abubakar Rimi. On one occasion, students on federal scholarships went to Lawal Kaita and complained that they had not been paid their allowances for that year. He promptly took a plane to Lagos, came back with the cash and paid them. The students exploded in cheers and began to call Lawal Kaita “Kafi Gwamna” [you are better than the governor]. This infuriated Rimi, who called for scrapping of the PLOs’ post.
As the 1983 election approached, PRP in Kaduna State had many problems. Its governor Balarabe Musa had been impeached. PRP also split into the Santsi and Tabo factions. Balarabe’s successor, Alhaji Abba Musa Rimi belonged to Santsi faction but he declined to contest the 1983 election. Tabo fielded Alhaji Musa Musawa while Santsi fielded the Agriculture Commissioner. I think his name was Dr. Yunusa Yusuf. That was the year of the NPN “landslide victory.” Lawal Kaita won by more than a landslide but his rule lasted only three months before soldiers overthrew the Second Republic on December 31, 1983.
In later years he became a chieftain of the NRC in Katsina State before he later teamed up with General Shehu Yar’adua’s men and became national chairman of the Peoples Democratic Movement, PDM. He was also a founding member of PDP in 1998. One day in the 1990s I suddenly saw the reason for Alhaji Lawal Kaita’s continued political strength when offered a friend of mine a lift from Kaduna to Katsina. My friend was happy when he got the lift but as he later told me, it soon turned into a nightmare because Alhaji Lawal Kaita stopped at nearly 30 towns and villages along the way. He knew somebody in every village. My friend said as soon as they approached a small village, Alhaji Lawal will tell his driver, “Stop here! Alhaji so-and-so lost his mother-in-law. I must condole with him.” The Kaduna-Katsina trip that used to take three hours took nine hours that day, my friend said.
In 1992 when I interviewed the late General Hassan Usman Katsina for a biography, I realised that his cousin Alhaji Lawal Kaita was the butt of most of his jokes. The General will laugh heartily whenever he found something to stick on Kaita. One day I heard him saying again and again on the phone, “You know Laway. He will never accept a cheque. No, no, no. He always wants his money in cash only! He will never accept a cheque!”
This indefatigable politician did not rest during his political life. May Allah grant Alhaji Lawal Kaita eternal rest in Aljannat.