I wanted to write this piece to felicitate with Gov Mai Mala at his 53rd birthday celebration a few days ago. It wasn’t that easy, for I am very bad with prose writing (being from IT background). But my recent crisis with overwhelming trails of thoughts over the meteoric rise of Honourable Mai Mala Buni to a Governor and Nigeria’s political centre stage compelled me to document these factual thoughts to mirror the lessons as a reckoning history for all of us.
People are inclined to dismiss clichés, especially political ones for they generally represent manoeuvring rhetorics, political jargons if you like, by which politicians flirt with the minds of ordinary masses as they compete in chase moves to gain popular trust or consolidate their political dominance.
In contrast, “all politics are local” is one that stands out as a gospel certitude. This common saying is evident in Hon. Mala Buni who was, as recent as 1999, said to be a Ward Councilor in Gujba Local Government of Yobe State. He clung-on to the masterpiece strategy of growth: gradual and consistent, and steadily rose to become a Governor and now doubling as the Chairman (acting) of Nigeria’s ruling party with multiple traditional titles. I try to examine the behaviour of Mai Mala in an attempt to find an explanation for the steep metamorphosis in his socio-political status.
Character is the most defining factor in human development. Understanding the rules of the game in any human endeavour is essential but is only efficient if accompanied by the right kind of character.
Politicians tend to be fake in their conducts and dispositions, to ‘play along’ and exclusively possess the followers, then often immediately reassume their real selves after attaining power. Few are seldom found, however, true to themselves, with a sincere commitment to their constituents. The latter, as many people attest, is the character of Mai Mala: uniquely loyal and passionate a politician. He is adjudged to be humble, tolerant and warm. His excellent ability to remain in the team even in moments of pandemonium is, to succinctly put, superlative.
These estimable traits made him easily admired, trust-worthy to even the most paranoid amongst his political contemporaries. And these, in my opinion, are the secret of his remarkable pervasion largely due to unforeseen circumstances, either as a necessary (dependable?) partner or as a consensus messier when the searchlight is on for one.
This exceptional grassroots politician came to limelight first when his fellow elected councillors found a leader in him and quickly made him their speaker to become the number three in the Local Government Council, Gujba Yobe State. Baa Mala (as he is fondly called) quietly grew to become a revered political figure in the state within a very short while. Always dressed in glamorous Babban Riga and Zanna Bukar (cap) fashion, he commands an unmatched legitimacy and political goodwill from across all demographics in Yobe State and the national level today.
In his smart touch with and respect for traditional institutions, Gov. Mai Mala wears, at least, two high ranking traditional titles of Walin Damaturu and Chiroma of Gujba adding to his charismatic aura.
Building up to the 2007 general elections, a disruptive Mai Mala joined the anti-third-term vanguard against President Obasanjo and others who supported the agenda to benefit from its reflective effect. He saw the potency and picked that opportunity to become a leading figure in the newly founded Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) at that time.
It wasn’t long before he emerged the State Chairman of ACN in Yobe State and played a key role in the emergence of then Vice President Atiku Abubakar as Presidential flag bearer of the party and Tijjani Musa Tumsa as Gubernatorial candidate for the State. Hon. Mai Mala started sowing yielding seeds, planted strong tentacles for future political networks at both state and national levels.
When the altruistic late Mamman Ali, of blessed memory, became Governor in 2007, he immediately invited Mai Mala to join the administration as an unofficial Adviser to help him in manufacturing the consent of Yobeans as he embarked on massive socio-political and economic reforms.
Apparently, Gov. Mamman Ali had taken constructive notice of the blue-ocean political strategy deployed by Mai Mala to capture the state from the ruling ANPP but for the popularity of Mamman Ali. The resistance and opposition his policies faced, was only sustainable with a master grassroots political risks expert by his side.
Unfortunately, Mamman Ali’s tenure was shortened by his sudden death in January 2009 at a hospital in Florida, US (May Allah forgive his shortcomings). Rather than a major setback, Mai Mala only soured higher. Already, his relationship with Ibrahim Geidam (late Ali’s deputy) had reached a personal level. He continued to serve as Personal counsellor to the new Governor and later appointed him as Secretary of Geidam 2011 Campaign Organisation, which planned and executed a robust campaign strategy to successfully defeat the popular political god-father billionaire, late Usman Albishir, candidate of the PDP, with a record margin of over 240,000 votes. After the election, he was appointed Political Adviser officially.
Mai Mala remained demure, like a lamb to the slaughter, as Geidam assertively ruled the state. Weak-kneed Mai Mala was hardly heard of or seen in public, playing Robert Green’s tactic: never outshine the master, right into the psychology of Ibrahim Geidam. So Hon. Buni remained homely in the Governor’s mind, as various political activities continued to unravel across the nation. With the merger of about four political parties into one that formed today’s ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), Gov Geidam installed Mai Mala as Chair of the state chapter in 2014. That was only the beginning.
At the first National Convention of the APC, some of the top north-east stakeholders nominated Dr Garba Abari, a national figure of the party from Yobe (current DG, NOA) to be it’s National Secretary, while Governor Geidam would rather have someone comfy, therefore, he nominated Baa Mala and a consensus was arrived at between them, for Geidam’s favoured Mai Mala to fill in as the National Secretary of the APC. The duo of Dr Garba and Mai Mala is a long time political allies since the ACN days which made the consensus much easier.
As National Secretary of a ruling party, Mai Mala didn’t change. He served with biddable and tractable acquiescence, yet pervasive. He assumed the role of a fixer and diplomatic agent responsible for settling squabbles between warring figures of the party. He was unanimously re-elected for a second term, even though his Chairman, Chief Odigie Oyegun was replaced with Adams Oshiomole. He was also one of Buhari’s loyalists from within, protecting the interest of the President inside the party politics. Little wonders that Buhari received the party’s ticket unchallenged in the 2019 elections circle. Buni was also appointed Board Chairman of the Shippers Council of Nigeria. Even in Abuja, he maintained his relationship with Gov. Geidam, friends and associates back at home, Yobe and it continues to pay-off till date.
Soon after he was re-elected for a second term, Mai Mala became the consensus candidate to replace Gov. Geidam, whose two-term tenure was coming to an end as Yobe Governor. It came as a shocker to both players and observers in the state’s politics. Few people actually thought of him as a possible successor to Ibrahim Geidam. Little was known, however, that the never confrontational Mai Mala was working underground to secure Geidam’s support at the last minute. Some even speculated that he used his Abuja, nationwide and the Presidency connections to lure Geidam into anointing him. As God will have it anyway, he was sworn in as Governor on May 29th, 2019. But not even the Governor’s seat would tame this moving cobra, because there was a vacuum created by his departure at the National Secretariat.
One year later, the combative Oshiomole led-APC National Working Committee was already in serious crisis and unlike before, there was no umpire for peace. The party was about to implode, a middle man was needed and Governor Mai Mala rightly matched.
The NEC dissolved Oshiomole led-APC NWC and Mai Mala was endorsed unanimously to lead the Caretaker Committee. This shining star, through his diplomatic approach to leadership, has, so far, resolved a chunk of the internal crisis, and under his watch, some opposition big-wigs, especially those who left the party earlier are trooping back. People like Yakubu Dogara and Sani Inuwa Nguru among others who left before the 2019 general elections have since returned.
While in an important move to penetrate the opposition stronghold, the south-east geopolitical zone: the Buni led Caretaker Committee was able to drag into the party a famous pro-Igbo politician and APGA stalwart: Dr Alex Otti and the Governor of Ebonyi State David Umahi.
Interestingly, this national assignment isn’t enough distraction, Mai Mala’s administration of Yobe State makes remarkable achievements. The state witnesses institutional developments like never before. Institutions for Contributory Healthcare Scheme, Drugs Supply Chain Management, Roads and Traffic Agency, Geographic Information System etc. He has exhibited a shift from the norm in political appointments, bringing for the first time, a group of young educated progressives to hold important positions.
In terms of infrastructure, the Yobe International Cargo Airport is near completion; while Damaturu, Potiskum, Gashua and Nguru Modern Markets are under massive construction in addition to a gigantic Modern Trailers’ Park in Potiskum to boost the haulage industry in the town. Housing development, primary and secondary healthcare and education, rural road networks, rural electrification projects receive unprecedented attention. The state’s owned Fertilizer, Flour Mills, Zinc and Aluminium industries have been revived. To mention a few.
Usman Abba Usman Biriri writes from Abuja