“As I fear for APC, I fear for Nigeria…”
Very many years ago, I was still a young reporter in Ibadan when the story broke of the sack of all the civil servants in Kaduna State. They had refused an ultimatum to call off a strike. It was during the military era and being myself, I immediately took a dislike for the man who was thought to be the backbone of the Military Administrator. It was one Dr. Hakeem Baba-Ahmed who was the Secretary to the State Government.
Years later in 1999, I was transferred to Abuja as the Finance Correspondent of Nigerian Tribune. Part of my brief was to report the Federal Ministry of Commerce. Lo and behold, the Permanent Secretary of the ministry was the same Hakeem Baba-Ahmed that I had come to loathe. Opportunity to vent my anger came on a Friday morning when reporters were invited to cover a function in the ministry. On getting there, we met the staff in a protest against the Permanent Secretary. He was accused of high handedness. Since I had concluded many years before that he was a wicked and inconsiderate man, I like every of my colleague, did not even bother to cross check from him. We went to town with the story. We were defending the oppressed.
A few weeks later, I got invitation from Dr. Hakeem. After a long consideration of whether to honour the invitation or not, staff of the information unit of the ministry persuaded me to see their oga so that at least, he would be convinced that his message was delivered. One afternoon, I went to his office and after I was ushered in, he told his secretary and personal assistant that he should no longer be disturbed for the day. He asked why we did not bother to find out his own side of the story before we went to town with allegations against him by the staff union. I was young and very bold, a product of the fiery Nigerian Tribune on Saturday. I gave him a piece of my mind concerning my opinion of his person. Dr. Hakeen listened with rapt attention and allowed me to fully express myself. He then answered point for point. As it turned out, the staff were angry because he refused to approve a continuation of a culture of waste. It had become a tradition that staff be paid money every year to paint house, repair plumbing and generally renovate, but when he visited the staff quarters, he noted that there was no sign that such money was deployed for those purposes as the staff quarters were not befitting of the ministry staff. He also explained the matter of Kaduna civil servants of eight years earlier.
After he had explained everything, I then asked why he refused to let the world know the real man behind his stern outlook. Was he that arrogant that he did not care what people think about him? He said no and narrated his closeness with many journalists including the fact that one of his brothers owned a big media outfit. By the time I left his office later in the evening, I had started seeing the man differently. Later, he would either send for me or I would go to his office to discuss Nigeria generally. It was wonderful tapping from his wealth of experience. At a time when the Odua People’s Congress (OPC) was disturbing the peace in Lagos and clashing with Hausa community, Dr. Hakeem looked at me one day and expressed deep sadness at the way the hoodlums were attacking other Nigerians in Lagos and Ogun states including the implications this might have later on. It was before the madness spread to other parts of the country. This again led to a lengthy discussion about the complexity of Nigeria including the phenomenon of inter-tribal marriage.
On an occasion, he challenged me on the recklessness of some journalists and I explained to him that many of our colleagues behaved the way they did because of lack of regulation and especially because many work without remuneration. After a while, he told me “Sanya, do you know that a hungry journalist is more dangerous than an armed robber? To him, an armed robber can only harm a few but a bad journalist can destroy a whole country. He promised to work with others in government to do something about the dangerous trend.
Nigeria was preparing to participate in the global expo tagged Hannover 2000 and a number of journalists were to be sponsored to cover our participation. Nigerian Tribune was nominated as one of them. I was surprised when one day, Dr. Hakeem physically handed it over to the director in charge of the preparations. He said: “Sanya is one of the reporters who will follow us to Germany. I did not say Nigerian Tribune. I said Sanya.” I did not fully grab the import of the statement until a few years later. Again, the colleague who covered the ministry from The Guardian had a problem with his editors. Although the ministry wanted him to be on the trip for the Guardian, his editors insisted that he could not go because he was not a full staff. He was only a stringer. I took my friend to the permanent secretary who listened and told us that he understood what was happening. He approved another slot for the Guardian. Incidentally, the guy only took the money and did not travel. By this time, many journalists had become close to the man and were beginning to realise that his major problem with people was his passion for discipline and insistence on due process. This pitted him also against his Minister. While vetting the list of those being sponsored to Hannover by the Ministry, the Minister crossed out my name because of my association with Dr. Ahmed. He had also misinterpreted a piece in our newspaper promoting the perm sec against him. Dr. Hakeen stood his ground to the chagrin of the Minister who nurses the grudge against me till today.
Dr. Hakeem was then posted to the Presidency and later to INEC as Secretary. I have always taken my job seriously and was no longer able to see him as I would have loved to especially because he was then very busy with loads of folks always waiting to see him. Honestly, I did not think that the man missed my company until mid 2003 on the last day of the retreat organised for permanent secretaries. I was sitting in one corner of the hall at the Hilton when Dr. Hakeem walked in and was greeted warmly by all the important government functionaries present. As I added my voice to the greeting, he surprisingly picked it up and looked back. Seeing me he retorted: “now gentlemen, let me warn you never to make friends with a journalist because they will eventually abandon you.” He pointed at me and said “look at that man. That is what he has done to me!” I felt both embarrassed and happy. So this man cherished my friendship and respects me? Despite that, I was still no longer able to be as close to him as I cherished because of the demands of my job. He left INEC and returned to the Presidency. But even though I no longer see him, he remained a great mentor and I followed his progress. There were times when as a journalist, God gave me some opportunities to reciprocate his good gestures in my own little way even though he was not aware of them.
So, when I realised that it was this same Dr. Hakeem Baba-Ahmed that emerged the interim Chairman of the APC in Kaduna State, I had my doubts. The doubts were not in his managerial or intellectual ability, capacity or capability to nurture or stir the affairs of a bourgeoning or established small or large organisation, but that he might be lacking in power of deceit and hypocrisy needed in politics. An open-hearted, straightforward, and disciplined individual may not be particularly successful in politics even in more matured democracies and more so in Nigeria. Despite this my position, I had still hoped that the APC may be different. Because of the widespread disappointment and disillusionment that we have faced with PDP’s handling of our country’s affairs since 1999, many of us thought APC would be a refreshingly different experience from the decay of PDP. As I fear for APC, I fear for Nigeria because the attraction it has for Nigerians is the hope that if elected into the presidency, the party will help to minimise impunity, indiscipline and stamp out corruption. But if a clean individual like Dr. Hakeem is pushed aside from the leadership of the party, how would it ever transform Nigeria if voted into power?