Matthieu Hassan Kukah
TThe death of Ahmed Joda marks the fall of the last leaves of Nordic autumn. Usually in the spring the first drops of rain and moisture breathe life into the foliage and in turn a long process begins to ensure that the fresh leaves return to the trees. However, with bandits and kidnappers having taken control of the region, northern Nigeria faces the prospect of self-immolation almost impossible to envision.
Tensions internal to the region began long ago with the death of Gamji himself on January 15, 1966. His rarefied character had eclipsed all around him and there were hardly any bogus MPs in sight. Everyone around Sardauna was just an altar server; no co-celebrants as such. Credit must be given to the incredible resilience that enabled the northern acolytes to rally and, without a clear leader, to assert the northern dominance over the political regime. These fixers were those who presented themselves under the pseudonym of the so-called Kaduna mafia.
True or false, with Ahmed Joda gone, the north is now a huge graveyard at best. Her children are now largely orphans, with more than ten million street children in Almajiri, the highest levels of poverty, the highest levels of puny, emaciated and sick children and today a land for bandits, kidnappers, thieves and death.
I have “met” him over the years from a distance in the pantheon of heroes and founders of northern Nigeria. While I had met some of his contemporaries like Isa Kaita, Yahaya Gusau, Liman and Adamu Ciroma, Ahmed Talib, to name a few, It was only at the end of the 90s that our paths finally crossed and that we had a physical encounter that would lead to a long friendship. I was then Secretary General of the Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria.
I remember in 1994 I attended a conference at the National Institute of International Affairs. This event was the closest I had to meeting him formally for the first time and I seized the moment. I was emboldened by his physique and came to the conclusion that at least he was, we would level up easily. As I walked towards him I was shocked when he smiled and reached out to me. Bro Kukah, nice to see you, he said as I struggled to regain my composure. He then introduced me to his colleague, the late Alison Ayida (one of the permanent super secretaries) who was by his side. They both greeted me with such grace and composure. Here I was between two giants and had almost nothing to say while listening to them recognize my contributions.
Alhaji Joda then turned and asked, so when will you come to my house? I literally shivered. He quickly followed up with, I live in Glover. It is not difficult to find. I nodded in awe, awe and inspiration, but quite nervous in my makeshift turn. I decided it was best to strike while the iron was still hot. So on Sunday this week I showed up at his place without even a phone call. I felt it would be enough for me to leave a message indicating that I had visited him.
He introduced me to his wife who in turn was so gracious and warm. I was quite surprised that she already knew me. Alhaji Joda spoke enthusiastically of his appreciation of my writings from the “New Nigerian” era. He spoke most of the time, while unlike me, I listened to his wealth of experience, his agony and his deep concern about the state of the country. I reluctantly took time off after about two hours and two cups of tea. He escorted me to my car and let me know that I was welcome at his place whenever I wanted. Just know this is your house, he said as I got into my car.
We kept in regular contact on a Friday evening, Alhaji Joda called me and asked me, “Are you free this weekend? I want us to go see a Polo match. It’s a great game. Do you like it? ‘ I told him that I knew the game existed but had never really watched the game.
Again that day Baba went to the Catholic Secretariat to look for me. I was too shy to ask if his driver had traveled. As we left I wondered how this old man could drive around Lagos with such confidence. Considering the rudeness of the drivers in Lagos, I was wondering what if we hit someone or if someone fell on us? How would I explain that this old man is the one driving me through traffic in Lagos? I knew it was better than asking. We arrived at the Polo Club pitch in Ikoyi and the match had just started. We found our way to our seats.
Alhaji Joda was a class number and it was a great honor to be in his company. I finished my time at the Secretariat, traveled out of the country after the Oputa Panel in 2001, and returned to Kaduna three years later in 2004. We reconnected almost immediately to Kaduna. One day he invited me into what looked like a new house he was moving into on Sultan Road. At that time, I wasn’t sure what to think about our relationship. I was here, a little league player and this top gun of the Nigerian bureaucratic elite treated me like we were kind of buddies. Neither his age, nor his prestige, nor his place on the scale of famous national life. In his presence, you felt like you were talking to a close friend. As usual, we discussed the country. Then he said to me softly: I wish to ask you a favor and I hope you will accept. I would like you to join the National Council of our Association, Miyetti Allah. It is a misunderstood organization and in reality it is open to people who are not even Fulani but who have cattle. My jaw dropped. Me? How is that possible, I told him, I don’t speak Fulfulde and have never owned a cow. Your friend, President Obasanjo has cows and he would fulfill that kind of role, I said in protest. Well, he replied: I informed you and I will make you fill out the forms. It’s a harmless bunch, but we need to diversify it, he reiterated. Unfortunately, I didn’t warm to this proposal and somehow the case died.
Alhaji Joda always reminded me of how successful he thought I had been in the Oputa Panel and other presidential initiatives. During one of our discussions, I told him that I had decided to create a Think tank to put into practice my personal experiences in matters of Church and State. He was really thrilled and said he was ready to support me. He asked me for the location and I told him that I still had not found an office yet. He immediately said: ‘I have a house on Maiduguri Road next to Constitution Road and you can have it. I don’t use it but you use it for as long as you want. He entered his room and returned with a bunch of keys. Here, take these keys. Amazed, I collected the keys literally shaking in disbelief. A few days later, I went to see the house on Maiduguri Road. It was the kind of place we were looking for, a three bedroom apartment with an open courtyard. Unfortunately, my job at the National Political Reform Conference and then in Ogoniland was stretched out and I didn’t have time to really get started with the Center. I returned the keys to him with my apologies after almost a year!
From the start, I really didn’t know how to address Alhaji Joda. Over the years, I have always called her Baba mai run karfe. When I was appointed Bishop of Sokoto, he called me to congratulate me. I informed him of the ordination more out of courtesy than out of expectation that he presented himself. He did not come and I more or less stayed there. However, just three days after my ordination, I had just had breakfast when I was told that Alhaji Joda was at our premises. He had mapped out my house. I rushed outside and found him with another gentleman. I greeted them and they were barely seated than he said, I want to congratulate you once again on your well deserved date and send you my best wishes. I’m so sorry I couldn’t be here physically, but I have to come and pay my respects. I arrived from Kaduna yesterday and decided to see you this morning. I am so happy with your appointment and believe that you and His Eminence can help foster peace among our people. He turned to the gentleman accompanying him and introduced me as Alhaji Aliyu Dankani, president of the Dankani hotel. I told him before, if you need anything, please go see him. He got up and I drove him to his car while we said goodbye. The thoughts that Baba Joda had traveled all the way from Kaduna just to come and congratulate me and wish me good luck filled me with deep emotions. It was the measure of an almost perfect gentleman.
In 2012, I was invited by American University, Yola to give their convocation conference and receive an honorary doctorate that year. I was quite happy but I didn’t know it was a prelude to other things. I would later be invited to join its Board of Directors with Alhaji Joda as Chairman. Barely two years after the start of my mandate, he retired from the board of directors. He didn’t say much about the why. I suspected that he may have been responsible for my membership on the board.
Amid the euphoria of Major General Buhari’s (rtd) 2015 electoral victory, Alhaji Joda called me when he was appointed chairman of the transition committee. We traded jokes and he got right to the point: I want you to come please and address the members of the transition committee. When I asked what I was to talk about, he jokingly said, you are no stranger to the issues plaguing our dear country, so please do us the honor. Just talk about whatever you think the new government should focus on. There’s no way I can say no to him. I obliged, bearing in mind that I had also addressed almost all the transition committees since that chaired by General T. Y Danjuma in 1999. I took note of his frustrations as the wheels enthusiasm began to falter in the second year of administration. Once or twice when I tried to ask him what he thought of the government, he just shook his head in pain. I never asked him again.
Alhaji Joda was an almost perfect patriot. He loved the country and had sacrificed himself for it, but it was sad to see his frustration with this turn of events. For a man who made so many sacrifices for both the region and the nation, he must have gone to his grave a man very unhappy with the state of the country. Whenever I couldn’t reach him, I always turned to his daughter Asmau. She has always been my sounding board. More and more, and in response to my questions about where Baba was since reaching him had become a challenge, it was always, Baba yana gona. The farm had become his center of gravity, his retreat and his source of comfort. Alhaji Joda more than paid his membership fee. His family should be proud to have a patriarch of such impeccable character and grace. I have been blessed that he considers me worthy of his company. Meanwhile, we gaze at the foliage of northern Nigeria with worry and wonder, will the trees bear green leaves again? Who’s gonna do it Water them now that the last of the gardeners is gone? May God grant eternal bliss to a quintessential kirki, Mutumin.
Kukah is the bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Sokoto