By Nourah Bamalli
Alhaji Ahmed Joda, 91 years old, died on August 13, 2021 at noon, after a protracted illness at the Federal Medical Centre Yola. May his gentle soul continue to rest in peace, and we pray Aljanna Firdaus to remain his place of abode amin.
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“Chairman”, as I always addressed him, rose from the Northern Regional Government service in 1950s to the Federal Civil Service and served in various capacities, including as a correspondent with the Nigerian Broadcasting Service, Chief Information Officer and eventually became a Permanent Secretary. He was among the topmost powerful Federal Permanent Secretaries that earned the nomenclature of “Super Permanent Secretary” during the administration of General Yakubu Gowon and beyond. He also served the subsequent governments in similar positions from where he retired in 1978, but continued to serve the nation long after retirement, as chairman of many public and private sectors organizations.
He was appointed the Transition Committee Chairman during the inauguration of the Shagari Government in 1989, and based on his excellent performance and record keeping, Chairman Joda was repeatedly appointed to the same position during Obasanjo et-al and Buhari Governments respectively.
I came in direct contact with Chairman Joda for the first time in November 2012, when I took up appointment as Assistant Vice President with the American University of Nigeria, Yola. He was then the Chairman of the Board of Directors. Our President, Dr. Margee Ensign, organized the meeting in her office and we had an extremely fruitful discussion with the chairman on the great programs and activities the university was offering the Nigerian educational system, and in particular the academic quality and societal contributions of President Ensign to our teaming students and various communities in Yola and Northeast in general.
After this meeting, we maintained both professional and personal relationships and we carried out personal visits to each other, both at Yola and Kaduna where we maintain residencies. I was so overwhelmed and full of joy the day Chairman Joda popped up as a visitor to my house in Kaduna, simply to exchange pleasantries, and on several occasions, he would invite me and family to picnics and site seeing from time to time.
The one event I still missed out was the day he invited me and my family to Mambila hills, where he had a house. I had never been there, and as much as I and my family wanted to go with him, exigencies of work did not permit, and he agreed to fix a new date, alas, like we all say – it is now history!
Chairman Joda so much loved the shredded meat (Dumbun Nama) my wife used to happily prepare for him and would always demand for more. He supported my wife greatly in her poultry business in Yola, and we frequently visited his farm, on which he had invested so much energy and resources.
As we got closer in our relationship, I noticed several wonderful qualities of Chairman Joda, which made him so special to me. He was never an idle man, always creative in developing new and improving fading businesses – he was never in short of ideas. As a learning disciple, I took advantage of his every move and ideas and would assist him to fashion out the human requirement and the paperwork. He was an extremely modest man, who treated everyone with much respect and humility, he would never draw a line!
Chairman was a detribalized Nigerian, who had contacts across the country and related so very well with all and sundry. No matter how one tries to catch up with chairman’s energy and elasticity, he would beat the contestant flat. At his age, he could travel nine hours by road, drive himself around and would carry his laptop on his shoulder, and would not let anyone carry it for him! He would ask as many questions on deployment of technology and would remember all guidance.
One evening around 9pm, during the 2015 electioneering activities, I called the chairman on phone to clarify an issue, only for him to inform me that he just landed in Lagos airport and was on his way to Otta, to meet with General Obasanjo. I looked at the time again, and it was correct. Chairman Joda so much talked about Gen. Obasanjo and the wonderful working relationship they had built and developed over the years.
When President Buhari appointed him the Transition Committee Chair, Chairman Joda immediately invited me to join the Committee and serve as Secretary of the Civil Service Reforms Committee, he wanted me to work with Alhaji Adamu Adamu, who was the overall Secretary to the Committee. However, God in His wisdom made circumstances beyond our control not to allow his wishes to be. We only reviewed the activities of the committee in Yola after he submitted his report to the president.
Chairman Joda was a citadel of knowledge and experiences to me, and he was readily available to share with anyone in need. We could sit with him on certain weekends for several hours in his residence, where he would share experiences of the past, both in governance and social values. As a civil servant in the Office of the Premier, he told me one day, Sir Ahmadu Bello hosted NPC caucus meeting in Kaduna, with all party wigs in attendance, including the Prime Minister, Alhaji Tafawa Balewa. Before the meeting started, Sir Bello told the meeting that at 12 noon he would be excused for an appointed meeting, and the Prime Minister accepted, and agreed that the meeting should go on break at the time, to accommodate the wish of the Premier. Chairman Joda was asked to receive the visitor, and at the appointed time, a villager, almost in tatters walked in to ask for the Premier, and Chairman was not sure if he was the expected guest – but indeed he was.
Immediately the Premier came to receive his guest and Chairman Joda was asked to take minutes of their meeting. The man in tatters was the local leader of his community, and during the Premier’s tour, he cited some of the problems of his community, to which he was invited to Kaduna. His mission was to request for the provision of water supply and feeder roads for his people and these were granted in this meeting, in preference to the party meeting with the Prime Minister in attendance. I still find it hard to compare this with what we are going through nowadays towards serving our people!
I also recall another time, when chairman told me about an incident during a Council meeting with the Premier. On other matters, a Christian Minister requested for attention and the Premier obliged. In agony, the minister narrated how the prayer calls in the early morning would wake him up, when he was not going to pray. Chairman told me how angry the Premier was and instantly requested the Minister of Works to immediately alternate the houses with a Muslim Minister and the process must be concluded same day, to accommodate each other’s beliefs. Today, this issue would take a totally different dimension and create all kinds of problems and religious crisis, instead of solving a simple matter.
I have surely lost a great mentor, who was selfless and readily accommodating. The last time I spoke with him was on July 8, 2021, when he called and requested me to send a document via DHL to the Honourable Minister of Education, Alhaji Adamu Adamu, on his behalf. I did and confirmed to him. I was in Kaduna and requested when he would come to Kaduna. The answer he gave me weakened my heart, when he said his medical condition was not getting better, that he would remain in Yola for the time being, to observe his health condition. I kept trying to call him without success, his phone was always switched off. When I contacted his Personal Assistant, Mohammed Baba, he confirmed that Baba’s condition was not getting better. I called chairman’s line on August 12, 2021, which remained inaccessible, and I tried again on August 13, 2021 at about 4pm, with no response. At 5:35pm, I got the sad news of his demise and that he has already been buried in accordance with Islamic injunctions.
May Allah Almighty forgive all his shortcomings and grant him Aljanna Firdaus as his final abode and give his family, friends and country-men and women the fortitude to bear the loss, amin.
While I have lost a mentor, the nation has lost a colossal technocrat in the person of Alhaji Ahmed Joda.
Nourah Bamali is an associate of Ahmed Joda