BY FRED ONYEOZIRI
Each time I remember Senator (Dr.) Ahmadu Ali, the thing that quickly comes to my mind is the concept of “statesman”. And, in order to check on the correctness of my thinking, I decided to check for the exact meaning of statesman in the Chambers 21st Century Dictionary of the English Language. In defining statesman as “an experienced and distinguished politician”, the dictionary gave me exactly what I was looking for or what was in my mind.
Yes, Senator Ahmadu Ali is a perfect example of an experienced and distinguished politician or more correctly put, he is a quintessential statesman. He has been a minister of the Federal Republic, a three times Senator of the Federal Republic and then the National Chairman of Africa’s largest political party. And, before then, he had accumulated solid experience and knowledge as a military officer and a medical doctor.
He was one of the first statesmen in this country who brought a university level intellectual discipline to bear on their holding of public office. As the National Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Ali came across as the Chairmen’s Chairman. He filled the position of National Chairman in a way nobody has done before him, or after.
And, even the state Governors who are now the new terror of the Party did not need to be reminded of who was in charge of the Party when Ahmadu Ali was in the saddle. I always found it fascinating watching Ali use his pen like a fine tooth comb to meticulously go through memos on his table and in the process pick holes over some syntactical irregularities or typographical oversights.
The certainty that Ali will subject any document presented to him to critical overview was enough to induce whoever is doing him a memo to show both intellectual vibrancy and accuracy in the write–up. And almost invariably, Ali will add or delit something to upgrade the overall quality of whatever is presented to him. And age has not affected this attitude!
It is that readiness to subject even his Advisers to critical and alternative questions and scenarios that marks out a statesman who worries about the consequences of proposed actions from the regular self-interested politician who is in a hurry to secure his personal interests unmindful of the consequence for society of the proposed action. There are about three statesman-like qualities that many have attributed to Ahmadu Ali. One, he is a strong and principled character.
He does not run away from a fight even when he is respectfully relating to his superior. He is not like the average Nigerian Politician who is neither here nor there. Ali is not your ordinary run- of – the –mill sycophantic politician who is ready to tell you what you want to hear.
Two, Ali does not back away from a course of action just because it is unpopular. If he is persuaded that the issue is in the public interest, that is enough for Ali even if it makes him unpopular.
Yes, he can take the hard decision when most politicians would back away from it for fear that it will make them unpopular. Three, it is part of his standing for principles that he does not bother where you come from. He is rather interested in what you can do, your competence, rather than who you are or where you come from. For a country that is so ethnically fragmented, it is commendable that Ali is not bothered about where you come from.
It is only a patriot of Ali’s hue that would easily take a wife from outside his ethnic home base as early as he did. And not surprisingly, Ahmadu Ali speaks the three major Nigerian languages – Hausa, Igbo, Yoruba – is addition to his native Igala. This makes him something of mobile “Wazobia”. It is perhaps in recognition of this level of patriotism in him that he was appointed the first National Director of the NYSC Scheme, a scheme that played the seminal and vanguard role of crusading for Nigerian Patriotism among young graduating university students.
His strong and foundational imprint on the NYSC kept the scheme on an even keel for a long time. Ahmadu Ali has not only demonstrated these statesmanly attributes in his service at the highest level of the land, he has also shown it in his home where he has been a man of the people.
He runs a strong philanthropic organization for his Igala people, distributing scholarships and job placement services. And just as at the highest national level, he, has been honoured with the nation’s second highest award of GCON, He has also been honoured at home with the prestigious title of Ochada ata Igala Land. Ali was at the forefront of the struggle for the creation of his home Kogi State.
He has his hand in anything that is of public interest in his home State. His efforts also contributed to the establishment of the Federal Polytechnic, Ida and the Federal College of Education, Ugwuolawu, all in Kogi State. As they say, the contribution of a person does not necessarily consist of the multitude of things he does but his foresight in concentrating on the strategic issues. And for Ali, as indicated above, education is perhaps the most strategic of these issues.
In a country, where most politicians go into politics for their selfish interests, it is heartwarming to see the Alis of this world being motivated into politics to serve community and public interest. In a country where most politicians play the syncophantic game, it is exciting to see the Ali’s of this world take on principled positions even against their boss.
And in a country where communalism and nepotism are riding high, it is remarkable to see the Alis of this world rout for people for their competence and what they can do not where they come from.
It is the courage to say it like it is rather than what people want to hear, it is the propensity to promote the public interest rather than be preoccupied with the self serving, it is the compassion to improve the human condition of fellow citizens, and the promotion of competence rather than nepotism and communalism that reveal the statesman lurking in Senator Ahmadu Ali. For about four years (March 2005 – March 2008) Ahmadu Ali presided over the affairs of Africa’s largest ruling Party, and the Party did not break him.
He left at the due time after satisfying all the constitutional requirement and producing his successor. Can anybody claim a more sterner stuff than this? Unfortunately Nigeria is not noted for always recognizing its best because the perception with which we assess performance in the public domain is always jaundiced and narrowly personalist.
It is this weakness that pushes us into preferring those who are both here and there over those who have an identifiable position. On this special occasion of Ahmadu Ali’s birthday, I wish the distinguished Senator and his equally energetic and no – nonsense wife and the larger family a happy birthday and more fruitful years. Onyeoziri writes from Abuja