There were many things special about Alhaji Ahmed Joda, the astute administrator and elder statesman, who spent 91 solid years on planet earth. His was a life of purpose; he touched many lives and also preserved the unity of the country.
Born on a Friday, Joda, who also bid mother earth goodbye on a Friday, had thought he would live for just 37 years. This thought came as a result of the happenings in Girei, headquarters of Girei District in Adamawa State, where he grew up. Joda shared his last moments with his father in an interview he granted Daily Trust in 2018.
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Speaking on how he got admitted into Barewa College, Kaduna, he had said, “My parents were not the kind of people that could easily be excited; they took things as they came. They had no idea I had taken the examination until after I had been given admission and allowed to go home for a few days holidays to prepare to come back. When I arrived, my father was surprised. He was also a teacher in a primary school. I told him I was given a break to prepare to go to Kaduna College. He said, ‘Oh! You are going there? Good.’
“When I went to the school where my father was teaching to say goodbye to him, he told me to do my best, that perhaps I might be the one to take care of the family. So I left. That was his last words because I never saw him alive again.”
Even though Joda lost his father at such an unripe age, the incident did not stop his greatness in life. He fought his way to the top.
A MEMBER OF ‘KADUNA MAFIA’
Joda was a member of the influential elite group known as ‘Kaduna Mafia’. It was a small clique of policy advocates in Northern Nigeria. The clique comprise the influential group of young northern Nigerian intellectuals, civil servants, business tycoons and military officers residing or conducting business in the former northern capital city of Kaduna.
The group reportedly influenced government policies during the military era and previous civilian administrations. Among members of the clique were Mamman Daura, Buhari’s nephew, Adamu Ciroma, former governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), and Hamza Rafindadi Zayyad, the former head of the Technical Committee on Privatisation and Commercialisation in Nigeria, Ibrahim Tahir; Minister of Commerce and Industry during the Buhari-Idiagbon regime, former Sultan of Sokoto, Ibrahim Dasuki; Umaru Mutallab; former presidential aspirant and number-two man, General Shehu Yar’Adua; a former Vice Chancellor, Ahmadu Bello University, Professor Ango Abdullahi and Professor Jibril Aminu.
Indisputably, Joda had an illustrious stint on earth. His life was characterised by unmatched honesty, an unwavering loyalty, and doggedness to chart a new course for the country.
For those who knew him, the deceased was in a class of his own. He left his marks as a practising journalist and in other field of endeavours.
ADMINSISTRATOR PAR EXCELLENCE
Joda would be remembered for his heroics as an administrator in the Federal Civil Service where he dazzled for years. He first started out as the chief information officer for the Northern regional government before he was named as the Permanent Secretary, from 1962 to 1967.
Following the outbreak of Nigeria’s civil war in 1967, Joda was deployed in the federal civil service as a permanent secretary, serving in three key federal ministries namely information, education and industries.
There are permanent secretaries and there are permanent secretaries. Joda’s dedication to duty earned him the sobriquet, ‘Super Permanent Secretary’. There were four persons in that category at the time. They were Joda, Allison Ayida, Eme Ebong, and Philip Asiodu, who is the only one alive now.
Such an outstanding feat was supposed to come with pride but Joda did not let the praises get into his head.
“It was something the public, perhaps the press, invented and promoted. I found myself at the beginning of the Nigerian Civil War to be the permanent secretary in the Federal Ministry of Information. It was a time Nigeria was going through bad press around the world and I was new to the situation. When I arrived in Lagos and took my position, I inherited all the good and the bad. I had no experience of how to deal with it, especially the international press. I was quite familiar with the Nigerian media, but in trying to get used to the job, I found a group of very tough civil servants, among them permanent secretaries who were willing to be involved and who offered their help, and together we devised strategies and travelled around the world. And because we were seen at public events and wherever important public occasions were taking place, we were exposed to the press more than our fair share. I think those clichés just happened.
“It wasn’t because we were better than anybody else, it happened that at that particular point in time, we had the opportunity to be seen and heard,” he told Daily Trust.
After his retirement from the civil service, Joda delved into the business landscape where he also excelled. His leadership and managerial acumen was unrivalled.
During the Second Republic, Joda served as chairman and board member of various companies including the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), Pastoral Resolve, SCOA, Nigeria, Chagoury Group, Flour Mills of Nigeria, and the Nigerian LNG.
He is the founding father of the Nigerian Economic Summit Group (NESG), a private sector-led think-tank and policy advocacy group. In 1993, he worked with Chief Ernest Shonekan, Mr Pascal Dozie, Mr Dick Kramer and many other notable personalities to convene the Nigerian Economic Summit.
HIS ROLE IN TRANSITION OF GOVERNMENTS
For the generation of younger Nigerians, Joda’s role in the transition of governments happened in 2015. President Muhammadu Buhari had appointed the then 85-year-old administrator to head his transition committee.
However, history shows that he played significant roles at different transition periods in the country. The iconic figure chaired the transition committee when as a military head of state, Olusegun Obasanjo handed over power to President Shehu Shagari in 1979.
He was also a member of the 1988 Constituent Assembly which planned the constitutional transition of the Third Nigerian Republic.
HE SPOKE THE TRUTH TO POWER
Joda had the penchant for upholding the truth, no matter whose ox is gored. In a 2015 interview, he had detailed how he vehemently stood against those who wanted him to influence contracts and appointments for them during his time as transition chairman of the incoming government.
He said: “There was a lot of that from people who wanted contract, who wanted to be given special favours. They were coming to me day and night and I said to them these are my terms of reference; they didn’t include things like award of contracts or recovery of bad debts from government or for employment of any group of people or individuals.
“I told them these were not part of our terms of reference. But we continued to receive them and nobody believed me when I said I could not appoint them ministers or chairmen or whatever; they said look you have influence on Buhari and I said I don’t have and even if I had I didn’t think he would respect me if all I did was go to him with piles papers and saying he should do this favour to this or that man or this or that woman.”
HAD A FAIR SHARE OF THE NIGERIAN STORY
In retirement, Joda invested in different businesses but sadly, the Nigerian factor affected him in some areas. In an interactive session with Daily Trust, he narrated how he was frustrated to abandon a modern abattoir which he established in Lagos.
“I decided to establish an abattoir and was trying to sell my meat at the time the market only existed in Lagos. So I had to put the meat in refrigerated trucks all the way to Lagos. That was fine, but then I discovered that every 20 or 30 kilometres, there is a police or immigration or customs officer and they insist on seeing the content of the truck.
“My people say, ‘This is meat and if you keep opening it, it will spoil.’ They insist by saying, ‘open’ and then you open and close, you pay bribe and they allow you to go. By the time you reach Lagos, you must have passed about 50 checkpoints. Imagine how much money you must have given to the police, sometimes immigration and sometimes customs. Sometimes, they hold your van for two days if you refuse to pay. Eventually, when you get to Lagos – I used to sell to Sheraton, Kingsway shop and other places – there also, unless you paid bribe to the cold store manager in the UTC store, they would tell you that the cold store was full, so you had to wait for three days. So if I had three vans, running on the road, if one was held for four or five days doing nothing, my factory in Yola would have to shut down and I would have bought cattle that I had to feed, so I would be running at a loss.
“When it came to payment, it was delayed. They paid one month after delivery and they spent three months because they could not find the second signatory or the cashier. This is the problem. I am talking about myself now.”
In a more recent interview, he also spoke about the corruption syndrome, describing the scourge as Nigeria’s biggest problem.
He said: “Nigeria should be ready to face a lot of challenges. The biggest in my view is corruption; it is everywhere. There is no department, no ministry that can be said to be free of corruption. There is nowhere that fraud does not take place on a daily basis.
“It has become embedded in the minds of the people because the rule books have been thrown away and everybody is doing what they like. Nobody follows the rules anymore.”
BIRTH AND EARLY DAYS OF THE ICON
Joda was born to a Fulani family in Yola in February 1930. His
great-great-grandfather was Modibbo Raji, a 19th-century Islamic scholar and contemporary of Sheikh Usman Dan Fodio.
He started his education at the Yola Elementary School and Yola Middle School. After coming out in flying colours, he proceeded to Barewa College from 1945 to 1948.
Being a multi-talented and hard-working individual, Joda worked briefly at Moor Plantation in Ibadan, Oyo State, before he became an agricultural officer in Yola.
The deceased kickstarted his foray into journalism at Gaskiya Corporation in Zaria. He thereafter attended Pitmans College, London from 1954 to 1956. By the time he returned to the country, he was offered a correspondent role at the Nigerian Broadcasting Service from 1956 to 1960.
- In 1965, at the age 35, he received the Officer of the Order of the Federal Republic
- In 1979, he bagged the Commander of the Order of the Niger
- In 2002, Commander of the Federal Republic
JODA’S LOVE STORY
As a young man who was just starting life, Joda met his wife in Ibadan, with whom he had four children. When the wife died, he refused to get married, devoting his time to his children and grandchildren.
He once shared the story of how he met his wife in an interview with PUNCH.
“It was in Ibadan one Saturday, my friends and I were talking about girls. Then one of my friends said there’s a very nice girl that he thought would be good for me. He described the girl and said the girl was introduced to him and he wrote her and asked her to be his girlfriend but that the girl refused.
“The girl told him she didn’t want him as a boyfriend, so they told me why didn’t I try. The girl was from Michika, in Adamawa so I wrote and was careful not to tell her I wanted to be her boyfriend. We wrote each other for two to three years and weren’t talking about love. One day, I told her I was coming to visit her in the school, I told the school authorities I was her brother, so they allowed me to see her. I visited her when she was in teacher training college, and I went with a friend.
“My friend, said to her, ‘look this man wants to marry you.’ And she said that was not for her to decide; it was a decision for her parents. So my friend asked that we go to see her parents in her village in Michika. When we went, the father asked me whether we had agreed between us to get married. I said, ‘No we haven’t agreed because she said the decision was yours to make.’ He said ‘alright, if it is left to me, I have no objection.’ So I travelled to Yola, met my uncle and all my relatives who followed me to Michika and paid her dowry. She was put in a lorry and brought to me.”
Tributes have been pouring in for him from all corners of the world but as expected the voice of Nigerians have been the loudest.
Dr Bashir Gwandu, one of his younger associates, said, “I worked with Baba Joda directly at the NCC when he was Chairman of our Board. I also worked with him in various groups working to bring harmony to the country, and also in various committees to support President Buhari’s candidature towards 2015 Elections.
“In fact, before the meetings of the Transition Committee moved to Transcorp Hilton, Hotel, my dining room was the meeting venue, chaired by Baba Joda.
“I have participated in numerous committees and conferences, nationally, regionally, and internationally. I can say without any fear of contradiction that he was simply one of the best Chairmen and most efficient manager of meetings that I have worked with. He was truly gifted and simply among the best. I have learned so much from him.”
In a glowing tribute by Obasanjo, whom he had 60 years relationship with, recalled how Joda and worked with other permanent secretaries in the federal civil service to prevent Nigeria’s disintegration shortly after the 1966 coup.
He said: “I know that if not for people like Joda and other Senior Permanent Secretaries as they were called Super Permanent Secretary as at that time, after the second upheaval of 1966, after the first upheaval we would have had Nigeria broken into pieces. Because Araba was bent on having Nigeria divided.
“Well, Dear Ahmed, you have served your family, your community. You have served your country and indeed humanity, you have done your best, including working for the transition between the Buhari administration and Jonathan administration.
Joda was a writer and a very fine one at that. When Shagari died in 2018, he wrote a befitting tribute for him.
“He has lived to the ripe age of 93 and has not enjoyed good health for quite some time. While writing this piece a friend reminded me of a conversation we had with the former President. He told us that when he was very young it used to be said in his village that men generally died at forty. He constantly prayed that he would reach 40. But when he was approaching forty and was still in perfect health, he changed his prayer that he should reach a riper old age. He lived until the ripe old age of 93. Nevertheless the death of the revered and respected leader evoked deep memories and emotions in the nation especially among the men and women of many generations that shared the lives and times of such great and respected souls,” he had written.
Joda and Shagari’s widow died 24 hours apart.