Why I still Drive Myself At 85 – Balang Balami

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At 85, he still drives himself around and mixes with both the young and old. He engages in political debates very often. Mr Balang Balami told nationalTRAIl during his birthday, that Nigeria has lost its democratic essence when one compares the experiences of his time with contemporary democracy. Exerpts:

At your age many people have to be c h a u f f e u r driven, and hardly mix with the younger generation, but we see you driving yourself and mixing with the younger generation. How does that give you pleasure? Driving is a hobby I developed since I was much younger, and I still find it exciting, especially when people who have dismissed you as incapable of doing anything on your own. Let me tell you that, old age itself is fun. It accords one the opportunity to be a witness to the life of generations and even be part of them. I am 85 years old by the grace of god abut I feel much younger, given the fact that I have no health challenges that could further complicate my old age condition. I enjoy listening to people as much as I enjoy letting them into the world of the old, so that we can blend. Honestly I feel young and agile, and mixing with the young further agitates that feeling, which also aids my good health. How would you describe your childhood, compared to the life most young men lead today, because I can hear you speak excellent English? The English young men speak today are mostly learnt on the streets, which often corrupts with other competing dialects. Hardly could they speak the correct one taught in the class. We were taught the Queens English and we do not allow it to be corrupted. Today you speak what you call, pidgin or slangs and pride yourselves as speaking English. You are merely communicating, but one cannot say you are speaking English. As for my childhood, let me say I have an intriguing and fascinating history behind me. I was handed over to White missionaries when I was much younger, shortly after I was born and the loss of my parents, especially my mother. With nobody to take care of me, I was taken to the motherless babies home in Garkida, in the present day Adamawa state, and a missionary lady, Mrs Ruth Utz developed interest in my welfare, so she picked me and brought me up by the hand. Unlike other children, I did not have the
privilege of growing up with my parents, so my life was structured along that of the missionaries who were my foster parents and regular companions. While in school, I learnt of the story of my life, that my parents had to allow me grow up with the missionaries because of the socio economic realities of that time. That does not however severe me from my roots, as I have kept in touch with my other siblings and relatives. Life in the hands of missionaries is such that you are trained to avoid all sorts of vices, and imbibe the culture of honesty, hard work fear of God and above all benevolence. These are the virtues that have shaped my life, which I also try to translate to my children and others. I must confess that I am disappointed with many young men today, who take pleasure in negative behaviors, and relegating the virtues we want to bequeath to them to the background. You were a politician and you were in the parliament in your days. What would you say of the politics of today? Anybody who is privileged to have experienced politics of the late Sardauna’s time will be saddened with what we are seeing today. The only basis for comparison may only be the fact that they were both responding to the realities of their era. Except that, they are totally different tea pots. The most fundamental difference is in the fact that while money and wealth played little or no roles in our lives as politicians, the
current situation is caught in what we call machine politics. This is an era where corruption is not seen as an offence, rather as an order, I recall an incident during my days as an active politician when I was arrested and thrown into Jail for giving somebody four Shillings. I did not consider it an offence given by background as a benevolent person but the manner I gave the money was seen to be improper and I was locked up, until I explained. Today, unless you give in millions, you are a non starter in Nigerian politics. In my days, you could contest and win elections without anybody asking about your religion or your tribal belonging, but today, you have to hypocritically profess a certain faith depending upon the environment for you to belong and you must be a a particular ancestral descent to be accepted. In our days, you seek to invest in the community, but today you have to invest in a particular individual or group before you qualify to even contest an election. Some of the things happening today are at total departure with what happened during our days in politics. It is sad that we have degenerated so low and democracy has lost its essence, but we pray that before we leave the scene, things will be better. How would you say the Boko Haram insurgency has affected life around here and what do you think is the way out of the present suffering by Nigerians? We have been suffering in silence in this part because nobody seems to be aware of the fact that our people were most affected by the bokjo Haram issue than others who have been shouting. You may recall that our people were the initial targets. Our houses have been razed down. Our churches have been demolished. Our people were first given quit notices from their ancestral homes, and those who refused to leave were massacred. We have not been able to farm since the crisis started and we are running out of food. We have never enjoyed the relief materials being donated to victims. We have been left to our fate, but god has been merciful and we are still alive. To me, if the situation is the same everywhere as it is with us, I think Nigeria is at its worst ever. The sufferings could only be compared to the days of famine when we were much younger. People were forced to device means of survival, including g eating what they ought not, just to remain alive. I do not know of other places, but here we are in hell. As for the way out, I will advice Government to seek out the silent majority of victims spread all over southern Borno and come to their aid. All those who are in the habit of diverting items donated to victims should have the fear of God.