During the June 12 political crises and debates in the country, I wrote a simple piece, a letter to the editor, that was published in one of the dailies. This became my first published write-up and it encouraged and spurred me to put my little writing skills to practice.
As a role model in the family, Salihijo Ahmad was the first to speak to me about it, and he took much time in encouraging me to put down whatever I felt strongly about, not necessarily for newspaper publication alone.
He went on to say that many successful writers the world over had positively or negatively influenced decisions in their countries or societies and that if I could sustain this gift I could make a lot positive contribution to the betterment of my society and country at large. Thus, I surrender whatever I have acquired from writing to the late professional.
Salihijo's rise to fame started with what ordinarily would have been a condemnable government action. It began in 1995 when the then head of state, General Sani Abacha, jerked up the price of petrol to N11 per litre. Similar increases before and after this, if anything, had the domino effect of increasing the cost of living for already pauperised Nigerians. Thus, this particular hike did not go down well with most Nigerians.
But the late Abacha decided to play it differently by establishing a Petroleum (Special) Trust Fund (PTF) and mandated it to take custody of the N2 difference brought about by the fuel price hike. The PTF was placed under General Muhammadu Buhari.
This was where Salihijo came in with the vital help of his Afri Projects Consortium (APC), comprising four professionals: Murtala Aliyu who was a former minister of state in the Ministry of Power, Hajiya Amina Az-zubair who later became SSA on MDGs, Nuruddeen Rafinadadi who is now the president of NSE, and last but not the least Abdulrahman Dahiru, the managing consultant of APC. The PTF made an unprecedented impact on the citizenry and its efforts are still being felt.
To date, many years after the dare-devil President Olusegun Obasanjo had scrapped the fund, the asphalt is still shining, the classroom blocks and student hostels are still in erect positions, the taps would have still been running had they not been deliberately uprooted, the medical equipment are still being utilised and have outlived other sets brought after the PTF; their logos are still intact, the drugs have refused to disappear not only from the hospitals but also from patent medicine stores. The PTF is still the best intervention policy in the 52 years of our nationhood.
This success story, apparently, would not have been this resounding, were it not for Salihijo who was at the helm of the management consultancy for the fund. At a particular time in the heyday of the fund, the consortium was managing over 500 projects.
Soon, charlatans from the left, right and centre were grumbling. They said PTF was running a parallel government that nepotism was behind its activities, that its projects were lopsided, that this did that and that. But both Buhari and Abacha closed their ears to such impostors and rode undeterred. By the time Obasanjo's axe came rampaging, the PTF had recorded unrivalled success.
How did Salihijo make it despite the attacks? Immediately he was handed the job, the young professional rallied round in the consortium a repertoire of professionals from several fields and put them to task, the first time such large number of indigenous professionals were engaged in projects across the country - from quantity surveyors, civil engineers, architects to town planners and other professionals.
Mediocrity was never condoned, nor was lackadaisical attitude allowed. People were not merely invited to the 'parallel government' to come and eat; they came armed with their professional qualifications and the zeal to put it into practice.
For the next one year, no single stone was laid, giving room for charlatans to sustain the fire. But undaunted, APC went on strategising, planning and recruiting. Soon, the real action began.
The end result was that, for the first time in history, many parts of the country, including the most obscure corners, realised that, indeed, there was something called government. They felt the impact right at their doorsteps, right in their veins -brand new road networks, heavily subsidised medicine in the hitherto 'mere consulting clinics', instructional materials in schools, potable water, name it.
Even when Obasanjo was descending on the PTF, projects were going on all over the country. He instantly halted them and went into a wild goose chase for any sharp practices to nail the perceived 'parallel' administrators.
He could not find nor concoct any. Of course, General Buhari was not in politics at that time, but his only fault was that he participated in a government programme created by the late General Abacha.
Obasanjo later stopped settling all PTF debts. No doubt, the witch-hunt was not paying. Most of such suspended projects have been allowed to decay in a desperate move to prove that PTF did a tawdry job.
But this failed to becloud Nigerians as, 13 years after the demise of Salihijo Ahmad and almost the same time after winding up the PTF, and with over N3 trillion sunk into road projects alone, our high (and low) ways are becoming direct links to the cemetery. Our schools are crying for help that is not forthcoming. Our taps have forgotten when last they dripped a single drop.
Our agriculture is still at its lowest ebb. To this day, the witch-hunt merely went on to affirm the trustworthiness of General Buhari's PTF and its management consultants, Salihijo's APC.
As we mourn Salihijo's death, 13 years after, we are left with no option but to believe that the failure of our nation is simply a failure of leadership. Here we are with fuel prices skyrocketing by the day with attendant rising cost of living: PMS price today is N97 per litre, but nobody seems to know where the funds realised are put.
Government continuously funds fuel subsidy--- servicing the pockets of a few marketers with lots of trillion naira compared to a very little N2 difference which had made tremendous changes in the life of the Nigerian people and the economy. Here we are with a supposedly elected government opting to hand over the mandate of the people to capitalist-oriented fuel marketers.
Here we are saddled with a liability masquerading as a democracy, even when what we felt was dictatorship was satisfying our needs. Insecurity has reached an advanced stage, assassination has become a daily affair in many states.
Sadly, our clueless government has remained unaware of where the problem lies. Instead, they continue to point fingers wrongly at perceived political enemies. This forces us to keep on wondering whether this democracy is worth it! If only another PTF would come and utilise the difference between the N22 price of petrol this democratic government inherited in 1999 and the present N97 price regime!
Born on November 23, 1957, in Ganye, Adamawa State, the late Salihijo Ahmad emerged the overall best student of his set when he obtained a Second Class, Upper degree in Quantity Surveying from the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, in 1981.
He had his primary education at the Mayo-Belwa 1 Primary School before proceeding to the Federal Government College, Odougbolu, Ogun State. He later attended the School of Basic Studies, ABU, Zaria, between 1977 and 1978.
Soon after graduation, Salihijo went into private practice and worked as a senior quantity surveyor for Qu-ess Partnership, Kaduna, from 1982 to 1985. In 1985 he, together with bosom friend Murtala Aliyu, established the Associated Cost Consultants (ACC), and, in 1995, they invited three others to form the Afri Projects Consortium.
During his lifetime, Salihijo received many awards including the 1998 National Productivity Merit award. He was a registered quantity surveyor; fellow, Nigerian Institute of Quantity Surveyors (FNIQS); member of the Institute of Facility Management; and member, National Institute of Management.
He was involved in many projects including preparation of projects and servicing of funds from the African Development Bank (ADB) to the Gombe Federal Medical Centre, among others.
The late Salihijo could easily be described as one of the few gentlemen among Nigerian professionals. A deeply religious, dignified and friendly individual, Salihijo built up an uncountable number of people and left an indelible mark on many minds.
He may not easily be forgotten even if he is remembered privately. He attained success not by accident, but by hard work and dedication. He was quoted to have said, "You can attain success by accident but you cannot sustain it by accident."
The late Salihijo died of cardiac arrest in Abuja on Monday, July 5, 1999. He was survived by two wives and eight children. He died as an inspiration to both the leaders and the led. He was a model worthy of emulation today and forever.
Single-handedly, he was able to personify diligence, professionalism, trustworthiness and selflessness. Millions who were not privileged to meet him personally are still feeling his impact.
Garry writes from Dawaki Quarters, Gombe.