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MC Alli, fare thee well, by Clem Olowole 

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MC Alli, fare thee well, by Clem Olowole

The announcement of the death of Major-Gen. Mohammed Chris Alli was not a pleasant way for me to start the outgoing week. The sad news broke on Monday and it hit me a few hours to bedtime. When he was appointed as the Military Governor of old Plateau state by the regime of Military President Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida in 1985, his names got me rather flummoxed. How can a man combine two contrasting names? Mohammed and Christopher or Christian, in this part of the world, are like water and oil; they are immiscible.

His name combination also reminded me of my futile attempt to unify Christianity and Islam as a kid. And the unification attempt took place in Jos, the capital of Plateau state. The drama that followed the infantile mission took place at the First Baptist Church, located at Adebayo Street, Jos.

Curiously, the church still shares same boundary with a mosque. I think it is the only location in the country where such two opposing worship centres stand side by side. They share the same fence till date and have survived all manner of religious upheavals that became the trademark of Jos in recent years.

I had gone to Jos to spend one of my long vacations with my elder sister and her husband, who wedded newly. My brother-in-law did me a huge favour, or so he thought, by robing me in an oversized kaftan and a cap to match for a Sunday service.

As soon as we arrived at the church premises, I excused myself to use the loo. I had taken a bowl of gruel and some balls of beans cakes, shaped like puff-puff, before leaving home that morning, and became pressed to use the toilet.

Done with the looing, I emerged in the auditorium and bounced along the isles with my head appearing and disappearing inside the cap as I stretched my neck like a giraffe sideways in search of where to fix my tiny bumbum. Then, all of a sudden, my head became empty. I swung round only to sight my brother-dash-me cap retreating on the tip of the janitor’s stick. I was consumed by embarrassment because all eyes were on me. Even the officiating reverend could not help giggling on the altar. So were my brother-in-law and his spouse who joined the congregation to laugh at me. I gave the janitor the length of my tongue, lecturing him that he ought to have tapped me by the clavicle and said to me: “Hey you boy, take off your cap. This is not a mosque where you worship with a cap on your head!”

Pissed off by that shabby treatment, I doubled up, rescued my cap and stormed out of the auditorium. Unknown to my mockers and even my poor self, I was on a mission to unite Christianity and Islam in the manner of Chrislam. By wearing a cap and shoes to the church, I, like Nostradamus, saw tomorrow and the need for the adherents of the two major religions to worship God/Allah under the same roof: Christians worship with empty heads, while Muslims do so shoeless!

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Decades later when ethno-religious catastrophes gripped Jos, I just shrugged my shoulders in sheer disinterestedness. And I asked no one in particular this question: “What did I get as a reward for my unification effort at the church, after all?” Disgrace, dishonour and mockery! Incidentally, I was a resident of Jos during the major bloodbath of the early 2000s that led to the declaration of the State of Emergency (SOE) with MC Alli appointed by the Obasanjo administration to stabilise the state for six months. Had I succeeded in my mission, the debacles would have been avoided! Obasanjo was wise to have chosen MC Alli for the mission. The belligerent Christians would see him as one of their own as a Chris and the combative Muslims would also be comfortable seeing him as a Mohammed.

I was the Editor of The Nigeria Standard when MC Alli came to the saddle as the Military Governor and our paths had to cross. Owing to my pedigree in sports, the governor considered me for appointment as a member of the Taskforce he set up to lead the Plateau state’s contingent to Kwara ’85 Sports Festival under the leadership of Major Olagunsoye Oyinlola.

Somehow, MC Alli’s tenure did not last long when he was reassigned from the state. He spent a little less than two years in the saddle… 1985 to 86. The Langtang Mafia in the military did not like his style. Although he was an Ebira Koto in Kogi state, he had an affinity with the Ebira in the lower Plateau that now constitute the present-day Nasarawa state and he saw the need for equity, justice and fairness.

MC Alli and I lost touch with each other until 2004 when the SOE was imposed on the state and the government of Chief Joshua Dariye was rested for the period. In its place was an Emergency Administration superintended by MC Alli, who had progressed to the rank of Major-General and rose to the apogee of his career as Chief of Army Staff during the Gen. Sani Abacha regime. He also headed the Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI) along the way, among other command appointments in the course of his military peregrinations.

I found myself serving in the emergency administration as a speech writer in the Directorate of Press Affairs, headed by my good, longtime friend, Mr. Ezekiel Dalyop. In the team was Mr. Nuhu Gagara, my colleague at The Nigeria Standard, and a junior colleague, Mr. Ken Dareng. Mr. Dalyop is now a monarch in Barkin Ladi Local Government Area of the state after serving as Head of Service in the administration of Da Jonah Jang that ended in 2015.

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The late army general did a yeoman’s job; he worked assiduously to bring peace and stability to a people that fought themselves ruthlessly like the Kilkenny cats, as though they had sworn to an oath of self-annihilation! Although the proverbial Kilkenny cats tore at each other until only their tails remained, MC Alli succeeded in bringing all the warring parties to the peace table and peace offerings were made by all the feuding parties.

As part of my own contribution to the peace efforts, I wrote a piece entitled: “Need for Plateaunic relationship in a state in turmoil”. When the administrator saw the piece, he marveled at my creativity. He instantly approved the sponsorship of the write-up in the SUN newspaper.

The stability restored to the state tempted some warlords to canvas for an extension of the emergency administration, but the political class kicked against it, thinking the peace-builder was the brain behind it. They argued that if the administrator was interested in governance, he should go and contest for the guber election in his state.

The gentleman officer with a mien reminiscent of that of the late Gen. Tunde Idiagbon (as if you do not remember him) was unperturbed by the reward he got from the political class for his efforts. He was proud of the fact that he came, saw and conquered the catastrophe. The origin of the madness was the appointment of a settler as chairman of the Poverty Alleviation Committee of the Jos North Local Government Area by the Dariye administration.

The indigenes would not have any of that. And so, rather than jaw-jawing over the matter, the aggrieved decided to war-war and it almost brought the entire state to a standstill, resulting in loss of thousands of lives, while properties worth millions of naira were left in ruins. Not only that. The epithet of the state, Home of Peace and Tourism, also took a flight. No tourists will consider visiting a state that has lost its peace.

The late Gen. Alli was a courageous officer and democrat. He aligned with the struggle for restoration of democracy during the ill-fated June 12, 1993 presidential election widely believed to have been won by the late M. K. O. Abiola but truncated by the military junta. Gen. Alli retired from the army in 1994.

Though he has passed on, he left an intellectual legacy, because he bequeathed to us a memoir entitled: “The Federal Republic of Nigerian Army: The State of a Nation”.

May Almighty Allah/God grant his soul eternal rest and his family the fortitude to bear the irreparable loss.

Clem Oluwole is the Managing Editor of Blueprint Newspapers in Abuja.

 

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