Time flies fast. It is incredible how it flutters. It has been a year since I started walking with Governor MA Abubakar of Bauchi state. August 1st precisely marked a year since I left my comfort zone in the newsroom where I was lord of the manor. Where I was a tin footed ‘god’ with wide ranging ‘editorial’ and “managerial’ powers. Where, as Editor-in-Chief, I decided what story got prominence and or obscurity. Where, as a columnist, with a ‘pungent’ pen I wrote ‘acidic’ commentaries on politics and politicians and was “celebrated” as “daring”, and “fearless” for telling truth to power. I left all those “powers” to be in its “corridor” strewn with banana peels. Some curves in this hallway are, actually, strewn with land mines buried deep underneath. One wrong step, you may be blown to smithereens. I have stepped on several. I have been blown to pieces severally. And the boss has given me cover severally! That’s lesson number one. The boss gives you a second, third, fourth chance. Literally countless times .He is that sympathetic. Truly he is Mr. Nice Guy.
I am still learning twelve months later. I have learned perseverance, tolerance and tenacity. Nothing appears to deter or shock MA Abubakar. He has an incredible work ethic. I often marvel at his stamina for work and intellectual rigor. He literally works round the clock. Sleeps late, wakes up early, devotes time for play and family. A devout worshipper without any outward exhibition of religiosity. His facial appearance and sartorial elegance is contemporary. He walks the straight and narrow path. He does a lot of charity away from public glare most times anonymously. I have not seen a day he naps in public. Once I caught him yawning after listening to a clearly boring speech and I shouted inaudibly ‘voila’, ‘’he is human after all’’.
Perhaps his training as a lawyer makes him particularly censorious. He expects excellence from aides. But he is sufficiently considerate to help a faltering aide navigate the labyrinthine precincts of power. Walking together, sometimes, a step behind and other times, a step ahead, I have seen him handle all kinds of incredible pressure with equanimity and with a boyish smile. Rarely he flies off the handle. Among us, the battery of aides, we call him “No Tension” behind his back.
I have seen him handle grief and tragedies. I have seen how he spreads his big frame thin to walk his talk. His response to emergencies is rapid. The credo to such emergencies always is “treat fast’ within the ambit of the law.
Three character-defining tragedies occurred in the last year that brought governor Abubakar’s compassion to the fore. On February 22 students of Government Secondary School Misau perished in a ghastly automobile accident on their way to Kano. The governor was in the nation’s capital, which he arrived a day earlier. As soon as he got wind of the mishap, he suspended state duties and rushed straight to Misau, hundreds of miles away from the state capital, to comfort the parents of the deceased. He immediately set in motion a support system for the survivors. He again, personally and quietly, visited the injured lying in a hospital in Kano. The state wrote off all their medical bills.
A month later, in the third week of March, late Senator Ali Wakili, May Allah rest his soul, died in a most dramatic manner. Hale and hearty 24 hours earlier, he slumped suddenly and died in his Abuja residence. MA was distraught. A day earlier at the wedding fatiha of Aliko Dangote’s daughter in Kano, he and the deceased had shared moments that were deeply political. They had a frosty political relationship but united in their support for the president, Muhammadu Buhari. The hatchet was buried a few hours to the late Senator’s final bow.
The governor declared three days of mourning and directed flags to fly at half mast and working hours reduced to grieve for the late lawmaker.
Perhaps the biggest tragedy that nearly broke my governor in public was the hurricane that hit the state on June 16, a day after Eid-el-fitr. A cyclone, some say, all the way from CAR, crossed borders and hit Bauchi that fateful evening after we had all witnessed the colorful Hawan Sallah . The devastation was unprecedented. The ruination was catastrophic. Over fifteen thousand (15,000) houses were affected, several lives lost. Again, the governor had to cut short his well-deserved Sallah break and responded to that emergency. That same night, the Azare main market was razed by an all night inferno. Properties and goods worth millions of naira were destroyed. Over 800 stalls gutted. Thankfully, no reported loss of life. Again he rose to the occasion. He left no turn unstoned to ease the anguish with practically nothing. Underneath the tough exterior of MA Abubakar is a soft heart, incapable of keeping malice or grudges. In words and deeds, time and again, he has demonstrated that he “harbors no ill will” against anybody. In his cabinet are elements that worked against his emergence as gubernatorial candidate in the party primaries. Gracious in victory, he runs an all-inclusive government mindless of these internal divisions.
Bauchi state finances are pathetic. With an incredible workforce of over a hundred thousand and a monthly wage bill of over five billion naira, only a very financially disciplined leader could deliver what Abubakar has delivered in three years. He inherited an empty treasury months of outstanding salaries and a litany of social and economic problems. Today, salaries are promptly paid without waiting for federal allocation, education revamped, and urban centres renewed with over 400klms of roads.
The week I took charge, I goofed. I mismanaged a piece of information I picked and without crosschecking went to town. And boom, the opposition latched on to it. The opposition in Bauchi, like in other states, is unsparingly uncharitable. In our state however, it takes it a notch higher. It turns a molehill into a mountain-routinely. Often it kills a fly with a sledgehammer. It doesn’t believe in facts. It believes only what is convenient. It is from another world, I hasten to add.
In our own case, opposition is more within. There is a battalion of fifth columnists operating as allies in the mix. We have wolves in sheep clothing. Behind their smile is a stratagem to ‘discredit’ and ‘dislodge’.
A cacophonous media campaign was mounted on account of this gaffe. The searing response was my baptismal into the rancorous politics of the government and the army of opposition. It was also a wake up call before I even took a nap. They knocked the government and the governor silly. Every action or inaction of a political appointee is attributed to the governor by the opposition. As media adviser and spokesman, they wrongly reasoned, the governor must have ‘directed’ me to “mislead” the world with that unverified piece of information. My principal is an accomplished lawyer. He is not frivolous. He is not flippant. That bears stressing. It is therefore, inconceivable that he will deliberately encourage disinformation.
To control the damage, we owned up. We retracted and apologized. However, we stood by the rest of our claims of reforms in all sectors.
All through that travail in which the governor was “roasted” in the local media for information I passed and gleaned from, mostly, digital media, he didn’t even bat an eyelid nor look in my direction on account of that misstep. Till this day, not once has he referred to that incidence even fleetingly. Still, the opposition was unrelenting. It ceaselessly exploited every opportunity to remind the people that the new “spokesman” being a “foreigner” was ill equipped to be the mouthpiece of the governor. We crossed that bridge. Another lesson learned.
Being a gubernatorial aide was a road I had once travelled. It was thorny and bumpy. This one is no different. It is a lot bumpier and rougher. The driver however, is skillful and knows the road fairly well. He knows when to accelerate or decelerate.
It has been twelve dizzying months since I “ported”. I however, miss the newsroom.
Ali M Ali is an aide to Gov. MA Abubakar