By Sam Nda-Isaiah
I have known him all my life. At least I remember the day, while I was in primary school, I heard my father telling some of his friends that a new editor, a brilliant young man, had been appointed editor of the New Nigerian, and he was to take over from Malam Adamu Ciroma. Malam Adamu, who had been a powerful editor for four years, had just then been promoted to general manager/chief executive. Malam Mamman Daura was the incoming editor.
In those days, the New Nigerian was by far the most influential newspaper in Nigeria. As a kid, I knew a lot about the New Nigerian and the top dogs there. My father was a senior editor and I always looked forward to visiting my father in the office in the hope of catching a glimpse of those we wanted to be like when we grew up.
Even as a child, I was reading the editorials of the newspaper which were usually very short and on the front page. Everybody read them. “Candido” was also another delight served every Wednesday. Then I used to think that there was a particular person called Candido until my father told me that several people but mainly the editor and managing director wrote the very witty and sometimes “wicked” column.
Mamman Daura was appointed editor of New Nigerian in 1969 at the age of 29; and, since then, I have followed or rather stalked him. He was such a fascination to me that I continued to follow his career and extraordinary successes as a high-flying industrialist and technocrat. He was highly sought after by multinationals, governments and the society at large to give value to governance. Even as managing director, he was nominated by the federal government to be a member of the constitution drafting committee under the chairmanship of Chief Rotimi Williams. Obafemi Awolowo and Aminu Kano were also appointed, even though Awolowo later declined.
The first time I really got close to him was nearly 20 years ago and I have not let him off my sights since then. We have remained extremely close. From our first meeting, I discovered he was everything I had thought and heard about him and even more. He is an extraordinary man of character and discipline. He could listen to a person speak to him for more than one hour without him interrupting or losing the thread. He has always had clarity in both his thoughts and statements and spoke very little in meetings. In fact, he spoke only to add value – he did not repeat anything that had already been said. There are people who are brilliant, others are intelligent, but M. Mamman is both brilliant and intelligent without being showy. He has a clear intellectual mindset.
Apparently, he has always been brilliant: As a little boy in secondary school — first in Katsina Middle School and then Government Secondary School, Okene — he was one of the most brilliant boys of Northern Nigeria that the Sardauna of Sokoto took note of and dispatched overseas to complete their secondary education. My friend, the late Angela Durlong, used to tell me how her father Ambassador Durlong, who was Malam Mamman’s teacher in secondary school, used to speak very highly of him to them (his children).
Mamman has deep insights and takes personal integrity very seriously. He minds his business and does this to the annoyance of some people — and I often find that very funny. They have accused him of being arrogant simply because he would never respond to comments about himself or people without facts.
For those who know, Malam Mamman is one of the best English language writers in the country. As editor of New Nigerian, Adamu Ciroma once said, in an extraordinary sense of humility, that Mamman Daura was better than him. Only a confident man would say his subordinate is better than him. In his heyday as editor, some members of the southern intelligentsia used to spread rumours that the editorials of New Nigerian were written and faxed in by the British because they were so well written. M. Mamman never responded in any way even when he had the opportunity to do so, and he left many of them to continue to make a fool of themselves.
I am one of the very few Nigerians who can claim to know M. Mamman very well. And only very few people that make this claim. He does not socialise and rarely visits anyone. His friends are very few and are just like him. Dr. Mahmud Tukur, another vastly brilliant and accomplished scholar whose whole being revolves around intellectual pursuits, is his closest friend. It’s usually a delight watching them speak and banter. These are extremely very serious people, even when they joke.
People associate guest houses with devious and philandering plutocrats, but people like Dr. Tukur keep guest houses only as hideouts to read and study and to contemplate. Meetings are called to discuss national issues and analyse policies. I have attended several of such meetings in Kaduna. It’s always interesting watching Dr. Tukur and M. Mamman throw puns at themselves. I remember on one occasion, sometime in 2002, a meeting was convened — I think Dr. Tukur mixed up the timing and arrived nearly an hour late and appeared shocked that the meeting had long started. M. Mamman looked at him with a straight face and told him as matter of fact that he arrived just in time to say the closing prayers. Of course, the meeting was not about to close. Everyone in the room burst into laughter.
Dr. Tukur could be exceptionally funny and intellectually contrarian. GMB, as we referred to President Muhammadu Buhari before he became PMB, on May 29, 2015, once asked Dr. Tukur to give him a ride to see a retired soldier old friend of his around Angwan Sarki in Kaduna. They got there and the man was sitting alone reciting his Quran in his ante-room, surrounded by goats, sheep and chickens. GMB and Dr. Tukur sat down quietly and waited for the man to finish up. The man finished and, after exchanging greetings, they spent a few minutes keeping him company. On their way back, GMB was so impressed with the man’s austere lifestyle and praised him. “This man has absolutely no problems at all”, GMB said. Dr. Tukur quickly retorted, “No, Sir, he has lots and lots of problems. How can someone be sitting among goats and chickens and you say he has no problems?” GMB laughed and laughed until they got home.
Mamman and his friends would often think outside the box or even cobble sound opinions when there is no box at all. That is why when those who barely know him talk about him and his friends in very outlandish terms, people who know them get amused. M. Mamman shuns government appointments and has refused every appointment since he resigned as managing director of New Nigerian, except part-time assignments. Not that I agree with him on this one. As I often say, he deprives the country of invaluable services, but that’s who he is.
One hears so many funny things like him getting a percentage of all oil exports of Nigeria and cornering all the major contracts. Many of those who spread these silly rumours cannot even fish him out of a crowd of two. M. Mamman resigned as managing director of New Nigerian after just three years. General Murtala Muhammed had taken over as head of state and, in no time, took over 60% of Daily Times and 100% of New Nigerian. Malam Mamman met with the head of state and told him in no uncertain terms that it was a bad idea. He then tendered his letter of resignation and went straight into private business and serial entrepreneurship. He was appointed a director of United Nigeria Textiles Limited (UNTL) and subsequently its chairman. While he was a businessman, his uncle, friend and confidant Col. Muhammadu Buhari was the federal commissioner of petroleum at the time. M. Mamman refused to have anything to do with the oil industry. And, in fact, of all his board appointments at the time (and he sat on several dozens of blue-chip and multinationals boards), he never sat on the board of any oil company. Even when GMB became the PTF chairman, none of his companies participated in any contracts. Not that it could have been wrong for him to have served in any of the boards of the oil companies or to have delved into the oil business himself, or even his companies participating in the PTF, but that was just who he was. And that is the level of discipline and integrity of the man I have come to know very closely.
As a businessman he was extremely successful. There was a time he virtually controlled the textiles business around the northern axis, sitting on the boards of UNTL, Arewa Textiles, Funtua Textiles and Finetex at the same time. He virtually owns the KFCC, the largest furniture company in West Africa. The KFCC furnished Transcorp Hilton at inception and several of other big companies and banks in the country. He also owned Kaduna Aluminum Ltd, Kaduna Machines Works Ltd and a few others. He was the chairman of BCCI (which later became African International Bank) and a board member of Boots, Hegemeyer, Dunlop, APICO Insurance and a lot more. He had controlling shares in a construction company. He was also the chairman of the NTA at a time.
From the first day M. Mamman set eyes on me, he adopted me as his own; I generally consider myself as the firstborn of his household — and this is a fact his children, Mohammed and sisters, have no choice but to accept. Halima, the pharmacist, and I have joked about that. Halima it was who informed me, as the first born of the family, that Baba would be 80 today. M. Mamman is so private that even his birthday was not public knowledge. When she told me, I quickly saw an opportunity to write this tribute. This is something I had been wanting to do for a long time, and his attainment of 80 years of age offers the perfect opportunity.
He takes everything concerning me very seriously. When I lost my father five years ago, he was one of the first to call me. He considers LEADERSHIP Newspapers as his own and he is extremely proud of the newspaper. He is particularly sentimental about LEADERSHIP.
Long before I established the newspaper, I was the spokesperson of The Buhari Organisation (TBO) and the way I was going about the job — with anger, after President Obasanjo had thoroughly rigged the election against us — frightened Malam Mamman and others who then conspired to dispatch me abroad to do some postgraduate studies in journalism, as I had not had any formal training in journalism, just to keep me away. He feared that I might be harmed by the murderous regime, after the assassination of Marshal Harry, Bola Ige, Aminosari Dikibo and others. He was gravely concerned about my safety.
In 2003, when I started LEADERSHIP CONFIDENTIAL, the subscription-only confidential newsletter, he paid for two years at once, never minding if the publication would go beyond its first issue. And there is something else he did in 2003 that frightened me and I will never forget.
The subscription base of LEADERSHIP CONFIDENTIAL grew like wild fire. We had some overseas subscribers but we didn’t have an overseas bank account. I went to London to see the possibility of opening a bank account. Every bank I visited at the time turned down my request. Nigerians were a subject of suspicion then. M. Mamman happened to be in London at the same time. Sarki Abba who was also in London was discussing my predicament with someone else and not even with him. The next thing that happened was that M. Mamman, the very private man, picked up his pen and wrote to his bank manager in London introducing me and virtually instructing them to open the account for me. And the clincher: he ended by writing, “Dr Mahmud Tukur, Malam Musa Bello and I endorse him.” That meant that both Dr. Tukur and Malam Musa Bello also banked with them. He did this without clearing from the other two, and I am not sure he ever told them. I read that letter several times and got so frightened that I almost did not submit it. The confidence in me was too much and I was not too sure I could bear it or even deserved it.
When I eventually summoned the courage to take the letter to the bank, I was treated like a VIP and the account was opened with dispatch. It is easy to take this for granted now, as one has grown into it. But in those days it was such a big deal.
Before then, on a certain day in 2002, I went to his house and I saw many cars parked. I thought he was holding a meeting, so I drove off and returned a few hours later. He told me he saw me driving off and that his house was open to me anytime, whether he was holding a meeting or not. That was humbling. This was a man who an emir (name withheld) once visited without a prior appointment. His guards ran to inform him that the emir was at his gate. He was clearly surprised as he had no prior appointment with the emir. Unbelievably, M. Mamman walked to the gate, greeted the emir and told him he could not come in as he was holding a meeting in the house and the emir had not informed him he was coming. The emir accepted and drove away with his entourage.
To make the reader understand the politics of this solid man of character and his friends, I will tell a story.
When President Umaru Yar’Adua got terminally ill and it became apparent that the worst might happen, and fearing that the North was in disarray, and to avoid making the mistake of choosing a vice president without capacity when the inevitable finally happened, Abba Kyari and I decided to meet General TY Danjuma to convince him to chair a meeting of a select group of serious senior northerners to shortlist names of a possible vice president. TY encouraged us to move into action quickly. M. Abba went to Kaduna to inform GMB, M. Mamman, Dr Tukur, M. Ahmed Joda and a few others. While in Kaduna, he informed M. Mamman first about the proposed meeting. Almost without thinking, M. Mamman said there was no need for such a meeting. The best thing that could happen to the North was for Gen. Danjuma himself to agree to be vice president. Dr. Tukur also said exactly the same thing. Except that he added that the only problem was that TY would say “rainin ya yi yawa!” — roughly translated, it means that TY would say the insult was too much to ask him to be vice president to Jonathan.
GMB was to visit M. Mamman in the evening of that day, so M. Abba decided to wait for him to give him the message. When he came in, without knowing what M. Mamman and Dr. Tukur had said, he simply said that the only person he trusted to be vice president at that time was TY himself. M. Abba laughed and called me. He said something funny was happening and that he would give me details when he arrived in Abuja. M. Ahmed Joda also said the same thing. M. Ahmed Joda, another great mind who had operated at the highest levels with perpendicularity virtually all his life – in the civil service, in journalism and in the private sector — took it upon himself to make arrangements for the meeting in his house. But this time with TY as the proposed vice president. I didn’t hear anyone raise the issue that what we were discussing was in fact a Christian-Christian presidency. I was intrigued by what I was seeing and hopeful that there was nothing wrong with Nigeria that could not be solved with what was right with Nigeria. I was in fact the only one in that meeting that drew the attention of the house to the fact that what we were discussing was a Christian-Christian presidency which could pose a problem in a complex polity like Nigeria. I was told clearly that it didn’t matter and that “we all know TY very well”. At this point I knew that these people whom some people had fondly called “Kaduna mafia” had in fact earned their stripes. They represent what is good and what is right with Nigeria.
The story eventually leaked in ThisDay. TY himself showed me the story and quickly said he was sick himself. I laughed and told him people who were discussing this didn’t think he was that sick. That discussion continued until our greatest fear crystallized, at which time the now President Jonathan himself invited TY to help him choose a vice president from among the serving governors. After interviewing a few of the governors, he gave Jonathan three names: Babangida Aliyu of Niger State, Namadi Sambo of Kaduna State and Ibrahim Shema of Katsina State in that order. Babangida Aliyu was disqualified on grounds of zoning, as Senate president David Mark and himself were from the north-central zone. That was how Namadi Sambo, who was at that time mobilizing support for his predecessor Ahmed Makarfi to get the job, received a call from TY to see him. The rest, as they say, is now history.
Now some home truths. Let me knock out the bottom out of some “received” opinions or rumours. First, M. Mamman does not control the president. That is not his style. Even if that were his style, it would be silly for anyone to assume that the president could be controlled. And, in fact, anyone who thinks PMB could be controlled does not know the first thing about him. One of the adjectives freely used to describe PMB for decades is “stubborn”. If M. Mamman had that kind of hold on the president, Sambo Dasuki would not be in detention today. Sambo Dasuki is M. Mamman’s brother-in-law and they are close.
Another thing: M. Mamman did not appoint or recommend Abba Kyari to the president for chief of staff in 2015. The president called M. Abba and told him, and he in turn informed M. Mamman just about the same time the appointment was announced. I know this because I should know. In the entire first-term cabinet of PMB, M. Mamman had a hand in the appointment of only one junior minister, who is in fact no longer a minister in the current cabinet.
Yes, the president and M. Mamman are close — in fact very, very close — and they have been so since they were children growing up together. They are a family but most importantly they are friends and confidants. The president is three years younger than him — he, the president, is the uncle; the older one is the nephew. And because of that, the president enjoys bullying him as his uncle, probably to leave no one in doubt as to who is the uncle. Adamu Adamu and I used to find it quite amusing watching them. They have a complicated relationship and they are inseparable, and I don’t know what is wrong with that. Somehow, the president has come to depend on M. Mamman’s vast brainpower over time.
But I’d rather my president’s brain trust is a Mamman Daura than a Dieziani or other funny characters we had that surrounded a president like Obasanjo.
There are too few heroes in Nigeria and their supply keeps dwindling by the day. That is why we need the few that are still around to remain with us for more decades to come. Malam Mamman Daura is one of such heroes. As he clocks 80 years old today, it is my fervent prayer that he lives the remaining of his long life in strength and good health as he continues to serve his nation.
Happy birthday Sir!
-Nda-Isaiah, is the Pubilsher of Leadership Newspapers