Nigeria: Where Are the Noble Northerners? - a Rejoinder (II)

6 December 2019

It would be recalled that I wrote an article - a rejoinder on Simon Shango's article: "Where are the noble Northerners?" which was published in Daily Trust issue of 14th November, 2019, pages 42 & 43. The rejoinder, was published by the same media on 28th November, 2019, pages 44 & 45. The import of Mr. Shango's article was to hark back the many virtues which characterize northern elites. These virtues include tolerance, accommodation, hard work, probity, altruism and charity, amongst others. I aligned with him and also highlighted similar virtues cultured and exemplified by other northern leaders, who, based on my knowledge and personal experience of some of them, are venerable.

Conversely, the list is by no means exhaustive, as it is impossible to mention all of those who deserve to be mentioned. As a matter of fact, since the publication of that rejoinder, many people have reacted positively and some even called my attention to those they believe have been left out. I appreciate their feedback and suggestions. Nonetheless, it is for the reader to judge for his or herself. In continuation of the earlier rejoinder, I feel the need to mention those whom I had inadvertently left out, for record purposes and to further spice and shape northern history.

How could I have left out General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida (IBB), otherwise known as "Maradona", Nigeria's former Military President from 1985 - 1993? Although from time to time he receives stringent criticism for the annulment of the"June 12" elections, his government's Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) and few other things, nevertheless, he remains an icon. No history book has recorded any leader as being one hundred percent(100%) perfect. Babangida, like any other human being, is not an angel, therefore, it would be a wonder if he did not make any mistake or error.

There is no doubt that Babangida contributed immensely to the development of infrastructure in Nigeria. The story of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) cannot be complete without mentioning his name. It was during his leadership that the present Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) Towers was constructed in the Central Business District. Senator (Professor) Jibril Aminu was the Minister of Petroleum Resources and Chief Gilbert Chikelu (Owelle of Ichida, Anambra State) was Permanent Secretary, under whom I also served as Director, and covered his duties when exigency demanded. At a time, the Ministry metamorphosed into the Ministry of Petroleum and Mineral Resources, where I also acted as Permanent Secretary for a brief stint before my appointment as Permanent Secretary (Aviation).

It was during Babangida's time that the Nigerian Liquefied Natural Gas (NLNG) project was revived and its implementation given an impetus, after being on the drawing board for a long time. The NLNG Ltd, was incorporated during his time and has since transited from the first train to the sixth. The seventh train is in the pipeline.

It should be noted that Babangida established the Energy Commission of Nigeria, but before then, he had domiciled all matters concerning the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in the Ministry of Petroleum Resources under my department. Professor Shehu of Bayero University represented Nigeria at IAEA and was succeeded by Professor Shamsudeen Elegba of the Centre for Energy Studies, ABU, who later became the Director-General of Energy Commission of Nigeria. Prior to that Mr Adebari of the Electrical Inspectorate of the Ministry of Mines and Power was Nigeria's representative.

I have never met Babangida at close quarters, but he strikes me as a charming and intelligent person. He is a bridge builder with many friends across the country. It is no wonder that people still go on "pilgrimage" to his Hilltop Mansion in Minna, up to this day and the legend of the "Babangida Boys" cannot be easily forgotten. I recall, it was during his time that the country witnessed massive infrastructural development undertaken across the country, such as the Third Mainland Bridge in Lagos, Toja Bridge in Kebbi, Jibia Water Treatment Plant and Challawa Cenga Dam in Kano, etc. He increased the share of oil royalties and rents to State of origin from 1.5 - 3 percent, including the construction of the present Aso Rock Presidential Villa (which I can say, is amongst the finest in the continent).He created the Federal Environmental Protection Agency, eleven (11) additional States across the six geopolitical zones of the country (as presently constituted). How can we then forget such a person? I wish him blissful retirement!

My hippocampus and cortex have not failed my vivid recall of the former Chief of Army Staff (COAS) and National Security Adviser (NSA) who was also presidential aspirant in the democratic dispensation, retired General Aliyu Gusau. He is another classical example of a bridge builder whose friendship and magnanimity cuts across boundaries. For instance, when my son returned from the United States of America, on completion of his Masters degree programme, the amiable General was instrumental in placing him in a suitable position in the public service. Undoubtedly, he has been good to many other people in this way, regardless of their religion, ethnicity or place of origin. I remain grateful to him. It is worthy of note to state that whenever I send him Sallah greetings, via SMS, he promptly without fail, acknowledges by calling me personally - a very rare thing to do by "Nigeria's big men". He is genuinely simple and humble as well as disarming and I cherish his friendship.

Mention must be made of a military man who believes in democracy; General Abdulsalami Abubakar, who promised, on assumption of office as Military Head of State, to conduct general elections in the country, and successfully did so in December 1998 and February 1999 paving the way to the present civilian dispensation. It should be on record that he established the electoral umpire, Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in 1998 by appointing a former Justice of the Supreme Court, Justice Ephraim Akpata, as Chairman.

I first met Abdulsalami Abubakar, in 1992, then Major General. He came to my office at the Ministry of Petroleum Resources to discuss the issue of fuel shortage across the country, as he was then assigned the responsibility by the Military Government to address this challenge. I remember in doing so, he convened a meeting with Northern States Governors, at the State House in Kawo, Kaduna. I attended the meeting representing the Ministry. Little did I know the General, will one day become Head of State. His role in fostering peace, harmony and understanding amongst the diverse interests in the country is commendable. Significantly, his role and commitment in this regard since the 2015 general elections cannot be underrated. From his mien and actions, he strikes me as a lover of peace and another bridge builder. He joins the top list of northern nobles.

There is no way I will skip or even forget Dr, Junaid Mohammed, a medical doctor and former Member of the House of Representatives from Kano State. A longtime mutual friend of late Baba Adi-Byewi, late Abdul Kyari and myself, he often used to visit us in Jos. He continued to visit Baba Adi in Abuja until the latter's demise. He is, no doubt, a radical critic, howbeit, a constructive one and indeed a patriot. Our society which is so full of sycophants who grovel at the feet of those in power needs people like him to do the needful as required by morality and conscience. Those in authority should take him seriously whenever he comments on national issues. He is an alumnus of the "Malam Aminu Kano School of Politics."Dr. Junaid, is not one of those prone to ingratiating themselves with people of means or authority. He calls a spade what it is. Undoubtedly, he gives it its true name and colour! So far, I am yet to hear those he has criticised refuting point by point whatever he says other than simply dismissing him as a this or that. It bothers me that our leaders like to be to praised to high heavens every now and then but react negatively at the slightest hint of criticism. It is amusing or is it worrying (?) to see in the electronic and print media hordes of people almost on a daily basis receiving one award or the other with virtually little or nothing to show for it in the improvement in the daily living of the ordinary people whom they purport to serve. It is in this context that we should appreciate the role of social critics such as Dr Junaid and many others who keep leaders constantly on their toes.

In the first rejoinder I forgot to mention that Alhaji Ahmed Adamu Mua'zu, a practicing Quantity Surveyor, is a former two-term Governor of Bauchi State and past Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).When he was Governor, Bauchi State witnessed unprecedented infrastructural development, especially in road construction, just as Kaduna State did under Senator Ahmed Makarfi. His hometown, Boto, is a stone throw from mine, Gindiri, where he attended secondary school, as yours sincerely.

A write up like this will not be complete without talking about General Hassan Usman Katsina, former Chief of Staff, Supreme Headquarters in the Gowon regime. A Katsina prince, he was a man of impeccable integrity and honesty.

He was forthright without any pretenses and devoted his life after retirement to helping his fellow northerners irrespective of ethnicity or religion. The story is told of him that if anyone went to him for assistance on the presumed umbrella of "Katsinaship", he would without hesitation tell him that he (Hassan Katsina) is not for Katsina people alone but for everybody. It was common knowledge that he daily held court in his residence in Kaduna attending to all who needed his assistance by way of opening doors. His aide, Alhaji Mamman Lagos, was reputed to be his letter writer (he would write the letter of introduction whereupon the General would sign).His primary preoccupation in retirement until he passed away was assisting those in need. Following that, was his hobby, playing polo, at which he was adept. This mercurial son of the North will be greatly missed by all who knew him. May God grant him peaceful repose. Amen.

General Theophilus Yakubu Danjuma, is another great northern noble, whose antecedents need no elaboration from me. His is a philanthropist of great repute. I think that somewhat, many consider him as the de-facto leader of the North. He has done a lot in employing many northerners. No matter from which periscope one views him, TY, as he is popularly called, remains an icon in the country. His desire and actions in providing durable advantages for the less privileged through the implementation of development programmes have endeared him to many. Through the T Y Foundation, he has been assuaging poverty in communities by providing basic amenities, education for children and young adults while also providing free medical care for indigent people. May God reward him and replenish the source abundantly.

In the queue of northern nobles is Dr. Mahmud Tukur from Gombe State. He was Minister of Trade, at the time I was appointed Executive Director at the Nigerian National Supply Company. As one-time Director of the Institute of Administration, Ahmadu Bello University, he played significant role in moulding future administrators from the North. Together with contemporaries such as Mamman Daura, Adamu Ciroma, and Hamza Zayyad they formed a small circle of policy advocates in Northern Nigeria. The history of nobles from the North will not be complete without mentioning him.

Will I be fair to history if I fail to mention retired Colonel Lawal Gwadabe, who has been my longtime friend? Certainly not! A brilliant and outstanding retired military officer, he was raised in Gindin Akwati in present-day Barkin Ladi and Jos, Plateau State, although his parents originated from Jigawa State. It was he, upon hearing the announcement of my appointment to the NNSC that rushed from the Ikeja Military Cantonment to the Ministry of Trade to confirm for me, that it was actually me. His friendship across divides endures to this day, including people such as Niyi Adebayo (Minister for Trade and Investment), Rich Aggrey from Lagos of Sierra Leonean or Liberian decent(?) etc. I cherish his friendship also.

It was with Gwadabe that we founded the Make Jos Great Again Forum (MJGF); him being the Chairman of the Planning and Strategy Committee, with yours sincerely, as chairman of the forum. Others were Senator Jacob Tilley Gyado (Chairman, Finance and General Purposes Committee); Engr. Hassan Hussaini, Chief Sam Bassey, Mrs Lilian Rwang - Ishaku (Chairperson, Peace and Security Standing Committee), retired Major General A.T. Jibrin, Professor Viki Nguember Sylvester, etc.

"Make Jos Great Again Forum" is composed of friends and associates, men and women from different walks of life, with divergent political, ethnic and religious backgrounds. It is a group of individuals who in times past lived in the city of Jos, beginning from, but not limited to, the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, 1990s to date; who witnessed, enjoyed and still appreciate the serene, hospitable, social and beautiful characteristics of Jos, especially as it was during our youthful days.

It is worthy of mention that these northern personalities, in no particular order: Dr. Bala Usman (a distinguished and cerebral historian), Malam Aliko Misau, Dr. Ali Al-Hakim, Abubakar Mohammed Rimi, Hadiza Bala Usman (Managing Director, Nigerian Ports Authority, daughter of the said Dr. Bala Usman), Dr Suleman Kumo, Dr. Ibrahim Tahir, Dr Ibrahim Gambari (a diplomat of repute), Alhaji Isyaku Ibrahim (a successful businessman), Senator Venmark Kurnap Dangin (A Development Warrior from Plateau State), Professor Shamsudeen Elegba, amongst others. They too deserve seats in the hall and assemblage of northern nobles.

Professor Mary Lar (wife of late Chief Solomon Lar) who pioneered nomadic education, deserves accolades as one of northern Nigeria's Amazons. How can I forget to mention Ngo Hannatu Chollom and Ngo Sarah Dokotri, two veritable women mobilizers on the Plateau, the former now in the great beyond?

I must not fail to mention Professor Attahiru Jega, former Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). He conducted the 2011 general elections and also superintended over the 2015 elections, thereby proving that certain things can be done right in Nigeria, even if difficult. No wonder, he continues to be applauded across the globe, especially for conducting widely accepted general elections in 2015.So far, Professor Jega is the only INEC chairman to oversee two general elections in Nigeria. Hence, he is amongst the constellation of great northern nobles.

I remember the first governor and president of Nigeria to publicly declare his assets, Alhaji Umaru Musa Yar'adua, Matawallen Katsina, a title he inherited from his father, former Minister of Lagos Affairs during the First Republic. Yar'adua was Nigeria's former president who needs no introduction. It was humbling serving under him, during his presidency. Humbling because he never carried any airs, despite his pedigree and high office. It was he who conferred on me, the honour of Commander of the Order of the Niger (CON). Whenever I went to see him, in my capacity as chairman of the National Population Commission, he put me completely at ease and it was quite amusing to hear him call me "Dr. Makama". I often wonder how he came about it, as I have no doctorate degree either by study or honour. Perhaps, it was his own imagination!

Yar'adua was an honest leader with vision, who could have transformed Nigeria significantly, were it not that he passed away to the great beyond before the end of his first term in office. May he rest in perfect peace.

Finally, the greatest amongst the northern nobles, GAMJI himself, Sir Ahmadu Bello, Sardauna of Sokoto. He was the architect and builder of northern Nigeria. It is my firm belief that most, if not all the nobles (described in Simon Shango's article and my first rejoinder and this being the second), drew their inspiration from the life and times of this great man. Various institutions were created under Ahmadu Bello, including the Northern Nigeria Development Corporation (NNDC), Bank of the North (present Unity Bank) and the Northern Nigeria Investments Ltd (NNIL), Kaduna Textiles, Northern Nigeria Fiber Company, to mention just a few.One of Sir Bello's greatest achievements was the modernization and unification of the diverse people of Northern Nigeria. May he continue to rest in perfect peace, Amen.

It is on the basis of the foregoing that I state, with the calibre of northerners, dead and living, and the roles they have played and continue to play in the North and the country at large, "the future is as bright as the promises of God." It becomes necessary for me, to as a matter of serious concern, appeal to fellow northerners, especially the upcoming generation and people of conscience to emulate the virtues of these northern nobles. We must as a people embrace one another and carry each other along, irrespective of our ethnic or religious differences. As a great African leader said "you first have to be a human before becoming anything else." We should strive to, at all times, do what is right, just, true and fair. As I save ink and space for some fresh air, I hereby conclude by quoting John Fitzgerald Kennedy, 35th United States President, who said, "If we cannot end our differences, at least, we can help make the world safe for diversity."

Samu'ila Danko Makama CON, is a retired Federal Permanent Secretary & former Chairman, National Population Commission.

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