Certainly, Nigeria will never be the same again. It has lost an illustrious son who was detribalised, patriotic, honest and realistic. You always taught me to be assertive in my principle, patriotic when it comes to the Nigerian project and be helpful to the needy within the confines of the rules.
The Almighty Allah has decreed that “every soul shall taste death.” Indeed that has come to pass for Ya’Abba and it will for us his loved ones and admirers world over. This is more pronounced in the encomiums showered on him and eulogies delivered at every opportunity of condolence. Indeed, the demise of Ya’Abba has brought to fore his hidden qualities and attributes hitherto largely unknown, misunderstood and grossly underestimated.
In the last five years, our daily retreat used to commence with paying compliments to each other and inquiring about each other’s family. We would then share latest happenings in our dear nation. However, Ya’Abba’s main areas of interests in all the reportage were citizens’ comments on infrastructural developments and the costs of living. He would equally inquire about reported or recorded security reports and breakthroughs in the agricultural sector. After that it was coffee time, since we had reduced taking breakfast tea. This latter period was sober as we would discuss how the government was faring and the need to expand the frontiers of success.
We would then carry the discussions to lunch, and he usually insisted that every member of the “family” was notified that lunch was ready. The congregation included, until recently, a large group comprising Ambassador Ahmed Rufai, Mallam Musa Shafi’i, Late Tijjani Yusuf, Ambassador Yahaya Lawal, Faruk Gumel, Abdulmutallab Muktar, Fola Oyeyinka, Bode Oyetunde, Amina Ado, Francis Anatogu and Mohammed Salisu Adaya. On many occasions we were joined by Mallam Ya’u Darazo and Garba Shehu. He would insist that some of the dignitaries visiting him during the period eat with us. Usually, lunch time provided him the opportunity to tap our brains, share his experience on sustainable development and the way forward for our country. We always looked forward to the timing and the engagements. Whoever was not available was looked for and he would usually apologise if for any reason he delayed coming to table on time. That was vintage Ya’Abba.
Today, I write to pay tribute to a boss, mentor, elder brother and a teacher of innumerable qualities who stood for loyalty, principle, commitment, dedication, patriotism and courage of personal conviction – qualities he lived for till he breathed his last.
I was fortunate to meet Ya’Abba in June 2015 after they came into the Villa as an administration. We were then remnants of administrative staff left behind by previous administrations and so we had the rare opportunity of welcoming them in. Unassuming as he was till the end, we would meet in the Villa Mosque and on the walkway and exchange pleasantries. Never given to sycophancy nor mediocrity, he would always mind his business and move on. You would always notice his presence on occasions ONLY if invited , he would do his beat and retire to the presence of his mentor, Mallam Mamman Daura.
It was not until August 2015 that destiny brought us closer, and since then it was never the same again. He was appointed chief of staff to the president on August 29, 2015 and as was the standard practice, he had an overview of his areas of responsibility and undertook a tour of units within his purview, one of which was the State House Counsel, which I was privileged to be occupying then. Subsequently, I started giving him daily briefings of where we were policy-wise and the level of implementation. True to his proactive nature and results-orientation, he would direct immediate follow ups and, where necessary, drafts for quick updates to Mr. President for appropriate action. I continued on that trajectory even after God elevated me to the position of permanent secretary. That never ceased and remained his trademark: “prompt action, prompt result”. He detested procrastination under whatever guise.
Luck came my way when I was able to win the confidence of Ya’Abba by appealing to his appetite for executing instructions on time and with logic. How else could one describe that rare opportunity? As earlier mentioned, Ya’Abba became my teacher and never for a day denied me the opportunity of asking him probing questions. He would always answer questions from a position of pure knowledge, which I believe was acquired over time, more so with compelling references readily available. He had loads of books and journals in and around his office that could easily qualify the office as a library of intellectualism. The other side of this, however, was that you could never at will borrow or ask him to lend you any of those treasures, except he was sure you would truly read, utilise what you gained therefrom and add value to the discourse. I came to appreciate that, otherwise the “shelves” would have been emptied. Ya’Abba was on the list of first takers of any released publication on politics, economics, philosophy and social development, before they were publicly unveiled. You can now understand why his contributions at all forums were not only rich but comprehensive and factual without contradiction. Truly a rare gift of nature, but alas all that has gone, even as the records have survived.
Ya’ Abba’s love for this nation was never in doubt. He was never shy to take on any contrary stance with in-depth analyses and explanations. He would engage the naysayers in making them understand the purpose for which we were entrusted with the people’s mandate. The nation and its less privileged first, before the affluent. Little wonder that he became unpopular with the elites. It was not that he had any disdain for the elites having been a part of that class for most part of his private sector career but he detested exploitation, unfairness and injustice. With a quick and sharp grasp of the reality of the Nigerian situation, he went all out to ensure that the Buhari administration leaves an enduring legacy. He therefore made sure that where necessary, he got aside the bureaucratic processes and procedures to achieve quick results, like someone trying to beat his time. He believed that government policies should be geared towards bettering the lives of the majority, so that way he subtly challenged any slow pace of implementing an infrastructural development and socio-economic policy. Dear to his heart as legacy projects of our administration include the National Council on Food Strategy; Presidential Fertiliser Initiative; Presidential Infrastructure Fund; Presidential Artisanal Gold Mining Initiative; Completion of Second Niger Bridge; Initiation for the Funding of 18 Key Road projects across the country; Rehabilitation of Abuja-Kaduna-Kano Road Network; Presidential Power Initiative – Siemens; 10MW Grid Solar Power Project In Kano; Planting of 26 Million Trees to address Desertification; Establishment of 16 Federal Science and Technical Schools in the States; Creation of Special Public Works Programme to provide part-time employment to 40,000 Nigerian youths across eight states on a pilot basis; and Federal Government’s COVID-19 palliatives project, etc. Once those heavy structures and projects are completed or attained to satisfactory levels, he believed Nigeria and Nigerians will be the better for it. I need not remind that it was in the quest of achieving his wish to see to the rescue of the power sector that he took ill and subsequently died. Ya’Abba, we were consoled that you died a Hero.
I cannot stop thinking about how you believed in your cause. How you envisioned the Nigeria of your dream. How you felt for the less privileged. How you planned and ensured the execution of policies that touched on the lives of Nigerians, especially the less privileged in the areas of agriculture and rural development, power and the general economy. I need not say more as the voice of the majority so far have echoed these. I will therefore lean on the maxim, “Res Ipsa Loquitur”.
However, like every mortal, Ya’Abba was not perfect. He was rather reticent and restrained. He was also rather wary or at times suspicious of the civil servants. These two traits seemed to have tainted his orientation and outlook; and might have, in some ways, contributed to his rather unknown and unsung record of achievement.
Certainly, Nigeria will never be the same again. It has lost an illustrious son who was detribalised, patriotic, honest and realistic. You always taught me to be assertive in my principle, patriotic when it comes to the Nigerian project and be helpful to the needy within the confines of the rules. In you I learnt family virtues and communal relationship and fraternity. Our families have become closer that we feel for each other and are always there for one another. You have helped me in deepening my knowledge of the world and my country. You taught me the virtues of true friendship and deep appreciation of diversity. You let me into your world of friends and associates, most of whom are your likes and in whom I found traces of your commonality of ideas and truthfulness. I only pray that God gives me the tenacity to maintain such a privilege.
Ya’Abba is gone and so shall all of us go at the appointed time but until such a time I urge us all to imbibe the culture of patriotism and loyalty, which were the hallmark he held on to until his demise. This I can attest to and stand for till my last breathe, as we shall all depart this world at our appointed time, without exception and shall account for our deeds in the hereafter. I pray that we depart this world of vanity in similar circumstances that will qualify our deaths as martyrs, which simply means dying for a good cause in circumstances that are ordained and exalted. For all intents and purposes, we are hopeful that Ya’Abba died a martyr.
I condole with Mr. President, Baba Mamman and most especially, his wonderful family over the irreparable loss, believing that Allah will have mercy on his soul and on ours as well. I now truly believe that “every job is easy when you are not the one doing it”. Allah ya maka Rahama Ya’ Abba, Sai Munzo.
Jalal A. Arabi is the outgoing permanent secretary of the State House, Abuja.