I had called his mobile line one Thursday afternoon in June 2016, but he didn’t pick the call. So I left a message for him. At about 11pm on that same day, I was getting set to go to bed when my phone rang. On the other end was Malam Mamman Daura, a figure of legendary proportions in the Nigerian polity. He apologized that he couldn’t speak with me earlier. He had just got back home from work, and thought to return my call.
He was warm, amiable and a little casual, even though we hadn’t met and were talking for the very first time. I was much impressed by his manners, and felt relaxed for the moment that our conversation lasted. What I found most striking, however, was that a 77-year old man still worked long days and late nights.
His daughter, Fatima, would later attest in the media that that is what they had always known him for: ‘Baba worked extremely hard and for long hours and was a prosperous industrialist.’ Apparently, hard work had paved ways and opened doors for him in his rise in society.
Sometime ago, I had visited an elderly friend, Malam Abdullahi Mahmoud. In the course of our chat and a casual reference to some of his career experiences, Malam Daura’s name came up. ‘I saw and learnt honesty and integrity from Mamman Daura,’ Mahmoud had averred.
Back in the day when Malam Daura was Chief Executive of the then famous New Nigerian Newspaper Limited, Mahmoud was appointed Chief Accountant/Company Secretary of the company. Daura would always account for money that came his way as Chief Executive, Mahmoud recalled. Whenever he travelled outside the country, he routinely retired his estacode and returned whatever sums he did not spend during his trip. He rarely travelled without returning some money. That was rather atypical of common public and private practice in Nigeria.
Malam Daura sat on the board of a few companies in his time as CEO of New Nigerian. His directorships in those days included the Northern Nigeria Investments Limited (as a non-executive director), the Nigerian Bank of Commerce (as Chairman), and Dunlop Industries Limited (as Chairman), among others. But being a full employee of the newspaper house, he conceived of every other thing he did outside the company as an extension of his contribution to the New Nigerian group. Thus, he always paid into the accounts of New Nigerian all the fees that accrued to him as a non-executive director in the other companies.
There was no rule that stipulated such in the company, but that was Malam Daura’s own idea of ethical practice. He argued that as a full-time officer of New Nigerian, the time spent in the service of the other companies actually belonged to the newspaper group, and so was the compensation that accrued from those sources.
At one time, Malam Daura thought that Mahmoud had a lot more work to do than him as Chief Executive. He went to the company’s Chairman, the renowned public servant, Chief Simeon Adebo, and asked that Mahmoud’s salary should be adjusted upwards to enable him to earn more than the Chief Executive. Chief Adebo turned down the proposition, describing it as too unconventional.
But that was the unconventional Daura, who in his younger days rarely sat at the big man’s corner in his official car. He carried his bag himself and always took his place at the front seat beside his driver. His sense of simplicity and fairness gave much consideration to the other person.
It was largely in the context of such principles of fairness and equity that he became a champion of political and economic development in the north in his days as Editor of New Nigerian. Without doubt, the north lagged behind the south in some critical aspects of development in the country.
The west controlled the nation’s bureaucracy, and the east held sway in the realm of commerce. The bulk of economic strength in the country was down south. The north’s control of political power thus offered an opportunity to steady the pendulum for some measure of equitable development in the country.
New Nigerian newspaper became a veritable platform for the pursuit of an agenda for northern development, in about the same way that The Tribune and Nigerian Statesman, for examples, subtly and aggressively pursued Yoruba and Igbo interests.
The New Nigerian under Malam Daura became a point of coalescence for ideas, critical discourses and activities that moved the north farther away from its feudalist past into modernity, and placed it in a stronger position in Nigeria’s political equation. But the Malam also built bridges with the south in his quest for northern development. The setting up of the company’s southern plant in Lagos in 1973 was a landmark achievement in terms of strategic business expansion and forward-thinking editorial accommodation.
He actively promoted the idea of ‘One Nigeria’ within the context of equitable development that catered for the disadvantaged north. It was thus disagreeable to him when the Federal Government under General Murtala Muhammed took over the ownership of New Nigerian newspaper in 1975. New Nigerian was the voice of Northern Nigeria, and the take-over was a critical disenfranchisement of the region. Mamman Daura resigned from the company in protest of government action.
However, his commitment to the development of the region could not be held back by not occupying an office of public interest. He worked with other leaders from the north to facilitate the active participation of many northerners in the public sector and in private enterprises in the country. Following the Sardauna’s roadmap of ‘One North’, the coordination of northern interest in politics and the economy was so effective and far-reaching that persons outside its orbit of primary engagement soon imagined that there was a Kaduna Mafia supposedly led by Malam Daura.
But there was never a Kaduna Mafia anywhere, except in mythic imaginations. Various efforts at organizing northern interests in the context of Nigerian development would subsequently metamorphose into what became the Arewa Consultative Forum. Similar efforts at regional organizing had produced the Ohanaeze Ndigbo in the southeast and the Afenifere in the west.
The agenda to build the north was exemplified by the leading role that Daura played in the industrialization of the region, working with local and international partners and investors to set up manufacturing companies in Kaduna and other places. But his effort at industrial and economic development was also nationwide in scope. In the 1980s and ’90s especially, he became a consummate businessman who provided strategic leadership directions in the nation’s banking and manufacturing sectors.
Malam Daura remained consistent in the values and principles that he practised and espoused in private, professional and public life. In 1995, he turned down a choice piece of land in Abuja allocated to him by the Sani Abacha government. He was a Committee Chairman at the 1994/95 Constitutional Conference, when the nation needed some urgent answers to many thorny national issues.
At the end of the day, plots of land in Abuja were allocated to its leaders and members of the conference. Most of the conference committee chairmen and participants from all parts of the country jumped and grabbed the offer. But Mamman Daura did not join the party. He had received accommodation and sitting allowances during the year-long event, and reasoned that the bonanza was needless. ‘I selflessly serve my country and need no reward,’ he told government officials.
Could we imagine what the response of many Nigerian leaders would be to such an offer today? Altruism and patriotism have remained hallmarks of Daura’s service to the nation. Very few leaders can lay claim to the consistency of temperament and ethical conduct over such a long period in and along the corridors of power.
Though he has never held any elective office in the country, he has been a steady influential decimal in political governance in Nigeria for over fifty years. Between December 1983 to August 1985, and since 2015 till date, he has played the role of a strategic thinker and adviser at the highest level of government.
It is an intriguing irony that a man who has been at the forefront of regional and national political and economic development in the country for more than half a century has no national honours, honorary degrees or traditional titles adorn his name. He is just simply ‘Malam’, and seems to crave for nothing more; neither does he have monuments named after him. This is in a country where political power almost always translates into access to everything that can be got from society.
Daura’s reputation for integrity and honesty is underscored by his rather austere disposition, remarkable humility, and unfailing courtesy that set him apart from many who have walked the rarefied heights of power. Though he cut his professional teeth in the media, he is the quintessential quiet and unassuming leader and mobiliser who rarely puts himself in the news. Partly because he hardly speaks in public, the media has been sometimes awash with myths and fabricated stories about him. At other times, they ascribe near-mythical political powers to him. But Daura is just who he is: Malam Mamman Daura.
President Muhammadu Buhari describes him as ‘a veteran of Nigeria’s political history and active participant in its development.’ Though older in age, Malam Daura is the President’s nephew, and has had a steady positive presence in the life and career of the President. But he has meant about as much to many other political and business leaders in various parts of the country.
He continues to provide sagely counsel to political leaders, and has remained a messenger of moderation and tolerance in a country where the polity is quite often charged with polarizing ethno-political tantrums and acrimonies.
Still bearing the torch of hope for a better nation, Mamman Daura is indeed the New Nigerian, who is waiting to be born in many of us. He recently turned 82, and is very deserving of the accolades and encomiums that poured in from every nook and cranny of the country.
The power of good health, longer life and peace ultimately rests with God, and I wish Malam Daura more good measures of God’s blessings. But more important, I believe, would be finding an answer to the question: what do we as a nation make of such shining example of good character and selfless service in leadership?
Dr. Udu Yakubu is a biographer and publisher. He can be reached at: email@example.com