He towered above every member of the Gongola State House of Assembly. In height, he was closer to seven feet than six. You could not miss him when house members were together.
In academic qualifications too, he stood head above all. With a National Certificate of Education, NCE, awarded to him by the Advanced Teachers College Zaria, as they used to call it in those days, he paraded the highest academic qualification among the members. The only other member who had a qualification close to him was Hon. Simon Awua who had a Diploma in Library Science from the Ahmadu Bello University Zaria.
In terms of western education, this was a miserable House. Debates and proceedings were often conducted in the Hausa language. As the popular saying goes, in a country of the blind, a one eyed man becomes king. Paul Wampana was elected the first Speaker of the Gongola House of Assembly when it convened early in October 1979.
But what the House lacked in academic accomplishment was adequately compensated in political wisdom and sophistication. In 1979, Gongola was the only state in Nigeria where all the registered parties were represented in its House of Assembly. The NPN, the UPN, the NPP, GNPP and PRP all had elected members there. House Speaker Paul Wampana was GNPP while Deputy House Speaker, Godwin Puldu was UPN. The greatest demonstration of this political maturity and sophistication took place in 1982 when Paul Wampana resigned as House Speaker.
At the time of his resignation, there was already a build up for the coming 1983 general elections. The two traditional rivals on the national political scene in the second republic, the NPN and the UPN were already exchanging fireworks at the national level in anticipation of the election. In the search for a new speaker to replace Paul Wampana, something unusual happened. The UPN and the NPN in Gongola teamed up to decide who was to lead the House. In a free and fair election conducted on the floor of the House, Godwin Puldu of the UPN emerged House Speaker while Ahmadu Maigari of the NPN emerged Deputy Speaker. Throughout the second republic, there was no greater cooperation between UPN and NPN than the one demonstrated on the floor of the Gongola House of Assembly after Paul Wampana’s resignation.
I came to Yola in 1980 as a pupil reporter of Nigeria’s lone news wire service – the News Agency of Nigeria, NAN. My first exposure to Nigerian politics was in Adekunle Ajasin’s Governor’s office in Akure, Ondo state where I did my NYSC from 1979 to 1980. In Yola, the regular beat I was assigned by NAN was the State House of Assembly. For a young man who studied political science under Professor B J Dudley, all these gave me good exposure to the practical side of Nigerian politics. All that Dudley taught us at the University of Ibadan was endless theory and nothing else. After graduation, I was now deep into the waters of practical politics.
I really cannot say how I became friends with Speaker Paul Wampana. The social distance between us was very wide. I was a cub reporter and he was the number three man in the political hierarchy of Gongola state. I could only have befriended a man of such status on his own terms. I was young, brash, inquisitive, fearless and daring. Maybe these were my attributes that caught his attention; just maybe. But friends we became, together with Abu Tapidi of the New Nigerian and Ibrahim Argungu of the FRCN Kaduna. He even used to take us on weekends to Vintim, his home village.
After resigning from the House, he resigned from the GNPP and joined the NPN. Our friendship became closer because now he needed the media the more to chart a new political course. In the NPN, he was highly regarded as a big fish. We met again in Kaduna where he came to be inaugurated with other members of Shehu Sagari’s 1983 presidential campaign team. I was happy that my man was moving up. I had also left NAN and was signed on by the New Nigerian newspapers.
At the end of the 1983 presidential election which Shehu Shagari won, Paul Wampana was appointed a Minister of Public Health in the federal cabinet. I also left the New Nigerian to work with Alhaji Bamanga Tukur, the newly elected NPN governor of Gongola State. My friendship with Paul Wampana became closer since we were now in the same NPN cage. Sadly, it did not last long. Soldiers led by General Muhammadu Buhari kicked us out of power. Paul Wampana was visibly shattered with the turn of events. But a man of great courage that he was, he carried on regardless. He relocated to his rural home in Vintim and became a farmer. But unlike other politicians who faded out, Wampana was often on the move. I was back to my media turf also and was always happy to see him moving around in relevant political circles in Lagos, Kaduna and Kano. My man was on.
During the Babangida transition, he again took a plunge in politics. He contested a Senate seat and won. He was there in the Senate when Abacha and his soldiers terminated what was meant to be Nigeria’s third republic. A man who cherished the company of his people, he went back to Vintim.
When Abacha expired and the country moved swiftly to democracy, he joined the train as a founding member of the People’s Democratic Party in Adamawa. Soon he found his way into the national headquarters of the party where he held many positions, at a point even daring to be national chairman of the party. We kept the contact and friendship.
After some years of loss of contact, he sent a message that he wanted to see me. The message came through Mr Eli Gamaliel who used to be a labour leader of note in Gongola. I was scared.
I had just returned from a tour of Adamawa which took me up to Michika, passing through the precincts of Vintim. My journey took me through the beautiful countryside that was by now ravaged by the Boko Haram insurgency. I saw for the first time the savagery that was visited by Boko Haram on the harmless rural folk. In anger on my return, I wrote a nasty article in the media castigating General Alex Badeh who was Chief of Defense Staff under President Goodluck when Boko Haram committed the havoc. Gen Badeh, also from Vintim, was then alive (he was later killed by gunmen). I thought Paul Wampana was not happy with the harsh words I used on his “brother” and wanted to tongue lash me.
I finally met my friend in a very big house in Maitama Abuja. I was relieved to discover that he had not read my angry tirade on Badeh and he himself was not happy with the Gen over the Boko Haram scourge. He needed me for a different reason – to help him run the campaign organization for Attahiru Bafarawa, former Sokoto state governor who had his eyes on the presidential election of 2019. The big house was his office as Director General of the campaign organization. I visited the office several times but I did not share his optimism that Bafarawa was going to win the presidential election. But we had come a long way and sometimes politicians don’t take kindly to such honest opinions. There was no need rocking our old boat so I just eased my way out of it. That was when we saw last.
His death made me sad. He was a good Nigerian, honest and completely detribalized. With him alive, I entertained the hope of visiting the serene village of Vintim one day. With his death and Boko Haram still lurking menacingly around that corner, my hope of ever going to Vintim again is dim.