His friends affectionately called him Doki (Hausa for horse), in apparent acknowledgement of his reputation for hard work. A more appropriate epithet would have been Dokin Karfe, a Hausa metaphour for integrity. For, Major-General Mamman Kontagora who died at 69 last Wednesday May 29, lived a truly modest lifestyle in spite of retiring as a well-connected senior military officer and occupying some of the most “lucrative” public offices in the land.
Anyone who had worked with the man would agree that he was a personification of hard work. In all the high public offices he held, the most important of which were twice as a minister of the Federal Republic, he was almost always the first to arrive office and the last to leave. In between he went about his duties with an attitude that detested eye-service and discouraged sloth and shoddiness.
However, great as his reputation for hard work was, his reputation for honesty was even greater. Two episodes, by no means apocryphal, bear testimony to this reputation. First, when former military head of state, General Abdulsalami Abubakar, pencilled him down as his minister of the “lucrative” Federal Capital Territory, a senior traditional ruler from his local government, Kontagora, objected. Asked why he should object in spite of his subject’s reputation for hard work and honesty, the respected traditional ruler said he had no problem with either, only that the man was too inflexible to overlook the bending of rules necessary for the occasional patronage to kith and kin which greased governance all over the world. Needless to say, General Abubakar went ahead to offer the man the job.
His performance in the job was by no means stellar, but unlike many ministers before and after him, he did not leave it any richer than before he took it.
Second, in an earlier episode, his home state, Niger, gave him a job as an army engineer, to identify the proper boundary between his own local government and Bida in an area which had become volatile and even a source of altercations between the late Etsu Nupe, Alhaji Umaru Sanda Ndayako, and the Sarkin Sudan of Kontagora, Alhaji Sa’idu Namaska. It was a reflection of the faith both sides had in the man’s integrity that neither objected to his choice. In the end he did not disappoint, at least not from the Bida point of view; he ruled in her favour against his own local government.
Predictably some of his fellow Bakontagores who could not understand how anyone would find against his own people said he did so because his mother was Nupe! Apparently it did not matter to these critics that he loved his paternal side so much he used the name of the local government it came from as his surname.
General Kontagora, like his friend, General Abubakar, was as apolitical a soldier as any could be; throughout his career, he never participated in any coup planning although many of those who did were his friends, even confidants; presumably they didn’t think the man was flexible enough to succeed at military politics.
Yet once their coup succeeded he was among those they turned to to get things done professionally and honestly. Thus in addition to serving as the Minister of Federal Capital Territory under General Abubakar, he also served in the vast and “lucrative” ministry of works and housing between 1993 and 1995.
In September 1995 he was offered the thankless job of auditing Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, his alma mater (Class of 1972), one of Nigeria’s oldest and Africa’s largest, by the regime of General Sani Abacha, also a friend. This followed a serious financial and administrative crisis in the university that disrupted studies in the premier institution. In early November Abacha went on to assign him the job as sole administrator to clear the mess he had identified, a highly unusual job since universities are supposed to be the epitome of academic freedom and free speech.
Not surprisingly, mixed reactions trailed his appointment and his tenure. Yet not even his worst critics could question the integrity he brought to bear on his assignment which he completed in July 1998. At any rate those who took over from him were happy enough with his performance they named its convocation square after him.
Following the return of politics in 1999, the man, like several of his military compatriots, tried to transform into a politician. He was, it seemed, too perpendicular and too austere to make much of a success of his transformation in Nigeria’s shark infested political waters where only the shark repelling rich and their godsons – and goddaughters – dared swim; in his first stab at an elected high office in 2003 he lost the primaries for the senatorial candidature of his party, the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), for Abuja to an obscure candidate, Isa Maina, himself a military officer but even more junior.
Undeterred the general went on to seek for the presidential ticket of his party in 2007. Few Nigerians thought he had the connections and the financial resources to be taken seriously. He proved them right when he could not form a credible campaign team, never mind mounting even the most rudimentary campaign to win over fellow party members. In the end his bid for the party’s ticket was, for all practical purposes, a no-show.
Following this dismal performance the man retired to his modest farm in Kontagora and into politics at the local level even though he maintained his home in Abuja. It was from this semi-retirement from politics and from public life that he was appointed the deputy chair of Subsidy Re-Investment and Empowerment Programme (SURE-P) Committee (SURE-P), a poor imitation of the Petroleum Task Force chaired by General Muhammadu Buhari under General Sani Abacha as head of state.
General Kontagora did not properly assume office after the inauguration of the committee last year before he succumbed to the illness that has proved fatal. His death is a great loss to a nation in dire need of leaders like him who are hardworking, competent and, above all, honest.
May Allah make aljanna firdaus his final resting place. May He also grant the dear ones he’s left behind the fortitude to bear his loss.
GEJ, NGF and 2015
Still talking about the shortage of honest leadership in the country, it’s hard to find anything more dishonest than the stand of the presidency of Dr Goodluck Ebele Jonathan on the contrived crisis of chairmanship of the Nigerian Governors’ Forum. His spokesman, Dr Reuben Abati, has averred that his principal has no interest in who chairs the forum. Yet everything the presidency has done to the contrary since the crisis started last year has spoken much louder than the words coming out of there.
From forcing a postponement of the election several months ago because it was clear the presidency could not force its preferred candidate on the governors, through creating and force-feeding a divisive PDP Governors’ Forum on those so elected on the party’s forum, and now to the shameful rejection of the outcome of last month’s election of the NGF chair which its candidate lost in spite of all means, more foul than fair, that were used to stop Mr Rotimi Amaechi, the Rivers State who has since become a persona non grata in the presidency, from retaining the chair, it should now be obvious to even the most enthusiastic supporters of the president that he does not truly believe his mantra about every vote counting in an election.
The question is, if the presidency would reject the outcome of as transparent an election as that of a numerically insignificant electorate as that of 36 governors, what guarantee is there that he will allow 60 million voters cast their ballot papers freely in 2015? And if he does, how do we know that he will honestly practice what he has preached about every vote counting?
It is truly frightening to think that what happened a fortnight ago is a mere dress rehearsal of what will happen two years hence.
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