I can’t remember the exact date I gave him that name, ‘Mazan Fama’. I had given him series of assignments, some of them really tasking. All I did was to give him targets. I wanted all the assignments accomplished for the good of Borno but I wasn’t expecting them accomplished in one outing! It was typical of what we do in the banking sector where I spent most of my professional years. In the bank, targets are always given to Banking Executives and in most cases, the targets were raised so high that meeting them may appear unrealistic but then achievable. Fortune favours the brave and the paranoid always survives! I spent years in the bank always under pressure of pursuing ever increasing targets. This is still the practice in banks, meant to keep bankers on their toes, push them to going after customers with the motive of meeting these targets set as conditions for promotions or retaining their jobs.
It was early into our first term in office, when I commissioned our Deputy Governor, His Excellency, Alhaji Zannah Umar Mustapha to travel to Gombe, Abuja and Lagos with a tall list of deliverables. As he was glancing through the list, I looked at his face, expecting to see him wear a look of anxiety like we mostly wore in the bank any time we had new targets to meet. The Deputy Governor seemed normal. I asked him, have you gone through the list, he said ‘Yes, Sir’ and pocketed the list. He was then asking if there was anything in addition to the tall list. ‘What is wrong with this man?’ I said to myself before responding to him. ‘No, there is nothing else, Your Excellency, just proceeds with that and please try to return to Maiduguri as quickly as you can’ I said to him. He left me immediately. I was confused, wondering if he understood the weight of the work ahead of him, the number of people he needed to meet at some agencies of the Federal Government, with and without prior appointments. The task was really challenging. All I expected was something out his planned trip. My anticipation was somewhere around 50 to 60 percent which would have been okay by me, given the importance of the tasks. Within few days that he left, he was back to Maiduguri unannounced and walked straight to my office. I was rudely shocked when I saw him. I was afraid of asking him what happened. I was so sure he must have encountered a serious setback. But then I asked myself, ‘why didn’t he call to tell me the problem so I could try to come in instead of returning to Maiduguri?’. I was becoming inpatient as he stood in the middle of the office exchanging pleasantries with a guest that I dismissed on sighting the Deputy Governor. Before he sat down properly, I said to him, ‘Your Excellency, hope all is well?’. He smiled but I was too anxious to make anything out of his face. I folded my hands, waiting for a sad news. He brought out an envelope he was holding, brought the list I handed him before the trip. One after the other, my Deputy Governor had convincingly achieved all the tasks I gave to him. He went further to accomplish two others that were related and important but which I didn’t note. Then, he amazed me with three words, ‘what next,Sir?’. It was that day I nicknamed him ‘MAZAN FAMA’ which I used in describing him as my ‘reliable warrior’. For four years and 78 days, I had such a sufficiently efficient man as my Deputy in Borno before the untimely, cold hands of death came calling on Saturday, August 15, 2015.
My late Deputy Governor wasn’t only efficient; he was also extremely honest and prudent. Officials serving in committees liked his commitment but preferred not to take request to the Deputy Governor because he mostly cut down unreasonable requests mercilessly and very correctly, to save funds for the Government. He transparently used little to achieve so much and disclosed savings for return to treasury. Taking advantage of his competence and character, I made sure the Deputy Governor was chairman of any special group that was to be entrusted with so much funds for execution of public programmes and capital projects. He chaired the committees that built more than half of the 2,500 houses we are completing, coordinated disbursements on immunization programmes, and was my permanent Ameerul Hajj from 2011 till he died during which he remarkably raised the welfare of pilgrims; he was empowered to summon any government official and any contractor handling any public project in Borno State and he did many interventions with my expressed approval. But in all that he was doing, he was most passionate about his role as chairman of central coordinating committee on the welfare of internally displaced persons, IDPs, to the extent that there was virtually no time I and him were alone that he wouldn’t say something about IDPs. In fact, even when died in Yola, one of his schedules after the Convocation ceremony at the Modibbo Adama University of Technology (MAUTECH), was to follow up on his earlier visit on matters affecting the welfare of IDPS from Borno State who were conveyed from Cameroon to Yola.
We went through the darkest moments of Borno like a ‘tube and tyre’ as they say it. Four years have gone by after the seemingly interminable and deadly conundrum that has gripped our land. A renewed air of optimism is now sweeping through the hearts and minds of our beleaguered, yet resilient people, seeing that in the dark clouds that have hovered over the skies for so long, the glimpses of a silver lining is beginning to appear, thanks to the strong political will demonstrated by the President Muhammadu Buhari Administration in tackling the insurgency. As a result, we in Borno – both as a government and people – are bracing up to tackle head long the enormous but not insurmountable challenges that are bound to come with the onerous task of rebuilding Borno and restoring it to its former glory, and my late Deputy’s trailblazing role was assured in the scheme of things.
My unyielding show of confidence was far from being misplaced, for the late Deputy Governor was hardwork, passion, commitment and diligence personified. A workaholic per excellence, an asset virtually indispensable, always cheerful and full of life, my Man Friday, mazan fama (the reliable warrior); the quintessential Zannah Umar Mustapha. Therefore, to say that His Excellency’s sudden death in the early hours of that dark Saturday in his sleep, hit me like a thunderbolt out of the blues is to grossly understate a glaring fact.
As unwavering believers, we solemnly affirm not only that “every soul shall have taste of Death” (Kullu nafsin za’i katul Mawt, Qur’an 3:185), but no death is untimely. Indeed, when our appointed time arrives and the Angel of death comes knocking, there is absolutely no room for negotiation, debate or casting the ballot. That undeniable truism does nothing however, to detract from the sheer depth of the devastation caused by our irreparable loss.
Considering how our friendship, nay comradeship, blossomed with time, I could say my crossing of paths with my Zannah occurred in fairly inauspicious circumstances. As astonishing as it sounds, before the irresistible allure of politics eventually pulled us in the same partisan direction, we were at best casual acquaintances, and by the time we had our first real and sustained interaction in 2011, I was already by God’s grace ANPP Gubernatorial candidate and he my presumed running mate.
Four years and 78 days absolutely changed what we meant to each other. In that relatively short period of time, we bonded into a friendship very rare in its cordiality, political soul mates of a special hue and, above all else, into brothers as though of the same blood.
In the immortal words of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jnr., “the ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in the moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenges and controversy”. Zannah Umar Mustapha endeared himself to me in particular and our people in general chiefly and precisely because he was able to prove his mettle in our handling of the well-known security and other developmental challenges that have confronted Borno in the last half a dozen years or so. He relished the hardwork and loved to carry out difficult tasks assigned to him and more importantly, he possessed an uncanny ability to deliver results, and speedily too. Therefore, entrusting such tasks to him became a second nature to me, knowing I was totally at home and could sleep with both my eyes closed.
Both on account of the law of nature and constitutional requirement, the gaping hole created in our administrative set up by the unexpected exit of the amiable Zannah Umar Mustapha must be filled. Yes, fill we must the vacant position of the Deputy Governor of Borno State, but without any shadow of doubt Zannah is irreplaceable. He was an honourable man and an extremely loyal, a trusted deputy and ally.
What made us a pretty good team was that my late indefatigable deputy and I complimented each other rather seamlessly. Where I am an introvert – quieter, more reserved, he was aggressive and vivacious; where I am diplomatic and (I am told) self-effacing, he was blunt and point-blank; where I am the product of a free wheeling, laissez faire civilian up-bringing, he was a beneficiary of military regimentation. In fact, even in terms of our physical attributes, we mixed quite well – where I am fair in complexion, he was dark ebony. About the only attribute we had that didn’t complement each other is our age, which is about the same, both of us having been born in 1966.
I dare say that our complementarity tended to conform with the Yin and Yang (literally meaning dark and bright) strand of Chinese philosophy which describes how apparently opposite or contrary forces are actually complementary, interconnected and interdependent in the natural world, and how they give rise to each other as they interrelate to one another. Like Yin and Yang, we tended to act as complementary (rather than opposing) forces that interact to form a dynamic system in which the whole is greater than the assembled parts. That was how the Deputy Governor and I blended.
I state without any iota of ambiguity that I have lost my bosom friend and brother; the APC, our party, has lost an astute politician and a consummate mobilizer; Borno’s multitudes of IDPs and other hapless victims of Boko Haram, a comforter; Borno State, a committed leader; and for Nigeria, the country has lost a true patriot.
Mazan Fama is gone forever, but we cannot afford the luxury of wallowing in self-pity, for there is an awful amount of work to be done. Besides, we can’t question the wisdom of the best planner of them all, Allah the Almighty. Indeed, the most befitting tribute we can pay his sweet memory is for us to rededicate ourselves to doing sufficient justice to the sacred mandate the good people of Borno freely and overwhelmingly gave us. The best honour we can bestow on the soul of our departed hero is to make Borno a bastion of good governance, an enduring model of excellence in sustainable development, a true home of peace and harmony, a much better place for its teeming inhabitants to live in than we found it. In short, to restore Borno’s diminished glory and reposition it for greatness. As Abraham Lincoln succinctly captured, “In the end, it is not the Years in your life that count. It is the life in your Years.”
Adieu my dear friend and brother, may Allah (SWT) forgive your sins and grant you abode in Al-Jannat Firdausi. Inna Lillahi wa inna ilaihi raji’un (surely, we belong to Allah and to Him shall we return)!
Kashim Shettima, a former lecturer at the University of Maiduguri, is the Governor of Borno State.