A Journey of rediscovery: The chronicles of a Kashim Ibrahim Fellow (I)

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By Muhammad Kabara

It was in January 2015 that I read an interview in the Daily Trust newspaper with Bello, one of the sons of Malam Nasir Ahmad El-Rufa’i, the then APC gubernatorial candidate in Kaduna State. What first attracted me to read that piece was the catchy headline on the front page which I first saw in the hands of a vendor, “My Dad dislikes Tuwo Miyan Kuka”, emblazoned side by side with Bello’s picture. That day, I couldn’t wait for my own father who likes tuwo so much that he eats a preserved one in the morning as breakfast popularly known as “dumame”, to return home. He gets a copy of the Daily Trust newspaper every day, which I also consistently read and perhaps explains my early interest in politics and governance. This and other exploratory reading habits shaped my worldview and later came to be handy during my one year as a Kashim Ibrahim Fellow.

My initial curiosity was who is this father that does not like tuwo, a swallow staple which is like a sacred revelation for dinner in most Northern Nigeria homes and most especially popular among people of his age bracket, a la my father. I finally got my hands on the paper, and I hardly began to read the interview before I learned about the affectionate father-son relationship, which was the subject of the interview, that Bello shares with his father.

One of the pictures featured in the interview with Bello

But the deal breaker for me came at the tail end of the interview when he described Malam as one of his best friends and one of the most brilliant minds in the world. This piqued me, and I instantly launched Google to get more details on this Nigerian politician who is one of the “brightest minds” in the world. I have always held the opinion that our politics is filled with dull people and my reason was simple. If they were at all smart, why have they not been able to solve the numerous problems bedeviling our country yet? However, on this one, my assertion was proved wrong as the search results got me astonished! What it revealed to me was a phenomenon, a man of rare intellect and courage. He is indeed one of the most intelligent people you would ever meet, one of a kind which only a few are endowed to a generation. I suddenly got enamoured, I watched videos, and read every piece I could find on the man. I also found out that he has written a book, the Accidental Public Servant. I promised myself that it would be the first book I would read after my graduation from university. I was in my final year and with my timid mind then, I could not risk reading a more than 500 pages book that was outside my studies curriculum.

Hardly had we written our final exams in December of that year that I immediately borrowed the book from one Ahmed Na’abba whom we are family friends with. I devoured the book, reading it day and night until I finished it. But unlike other equally great people I had read about, I instantly wanted to be like this man without any reservation whatsoever. I even thought if I had known about him earlier, I would have had no confusion in the choice of what I wanted to study at university. When the time came to choose a course of study, I was totally confused about which career to pursue and wondered throughout my four years at the university why I was studying Computer Science. I would have studied Quantity Surveying straight away as Malam did in his first degree! To say that I am an ardent fan and an Obidient mentee, to borrow the term used to describe Peter Obi’s supporters is an understatement. Another factor that got me el-Rufainated was the fact he is Sanusi Lamido Sanusi’s friend from their teenage years. Sanusi now Khalifah Muhammadu Sanusi II is a mentor too who ironically was only displaced from the top of my numerous mentors’ list by Malam because of his insistence to be an emir than be in politics like his friend to save the soul of our country.

Predictably, when Kaduna State Government began the Kashim Ibrahim Fellowship (KIF) in 2018, a vision of Malam himself, I could not think of a better avenue to understudy this great man than to be in this Fellowship. I applied to be in the programme thrice and successfully submitted my application on two of the occasions but could not get in. On the fourth attempt, I was lucky to make the cut, and on August 15, 2021, I and twenty-three other Fellows began a transformational journey as the Fourth Cohort of KIF dubbed Class of Gamji. Before I take you into what I consider a journey of rediscovery for me, it is noteworthy to mention that I had the rare opportunity to meet Malam one on one in early 2020. It all started in 2018 when I worked on a Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) formerly Department for International Development (DFID) funded project called Mafita. The project objective was to create economic opportunities for marginalized young people in four northern states which includes Kaduna. On one of my numerous last days on the project, because I left and went back a few times, I jokingly told the head of the Kaduna Team, Hajiya Amina Danjuma, who is well known within the Kaduna State Government (KDSG) circle that I was leaving without them taking me to Malam. To my surprise, she gave me Malam’s contact straight up! And she simply added that I should write to him stating that I wanted us to meet.

My first meeting with Malam Nasir El-Rufa’i

Though reluctantly, I decided to give it a try. Why would a whole State Governor with all his busy schedules use his executive time to respond to a fan’s message I thought? I sent him a message on WhatsApp and emailed him twice that I wanted to meet him. On my third attempt, a reply came from Amina Saude Atoyebi, his then Senior Special Assistant on Administration now his Deputy Chief of Staff (Administration) asking me for a convenient date to set up an appointment for me with the Governor. We finally agreed on a date and with a slight change, on a Thursday morning of 9th January 2020, I finally met “the Giant”! The meeting which took place in his palatial office, lasted for about twenty minutes, with only him, me, and God!! So, you can imagine my elation for this second coming, only that this time as a Kashim Ibrahim Fellow; his full-time student for one year, a dream come true!!!

To be continued…

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