by Turaki Hassan
“My own definition of leadership is this: The capacity and the will to rally men and women to a common purpose and the character which inspires confidence.” —General Montgomery
Today, December 26th – being a day after Christmas when Christians all over the globe celebrate the birth of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, who laid down his life that mankind would be saved – is also the 48th birthday anniversary of Rt. Hon. Yakubu Dogara, Speaker of the House of Representatives.
Born on this day in 1967 in Tafawa Balewa province of Bauchi state, Dogara rose from a very humble background in that rural community where Nigeria’s first and only Prime Minister, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, came from. He is the last born of seven children – five male and two female. He attended Bauchi Teachers College (BTC) and went on to study law at the University of Jos and later on studied international commercial law at Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen.
He joined private legal practice before taking up his first public office appointment as Special Assistant 10 years ago, and was first elected into the House of Representatives in 2007 from one of the most diverse constituencies in the country with Christians and Muslims from many ethnic groups peacefully co-existing. Yet, within the span of eight years, he has been able to win the confidence of all segments of the population – young, old, men and women – whose lives have been touched by this young gentleman.
Dogara is a natural born leader whose sterling qualities are exceptional. He is one man who grew through shrewdness, hard work, discipline, and can best be described as a bastion of hope, courage, and an epitome of humility to anybody who comes close him. In his public and private utterances and conducts, he remains a unique individual and is made so by his uncommon humility, courage, honesty, credibility and integrity.
Close associates and family members would say that he never struggled for anything in life. While he acknowledges God’s divine grace and favour over his life since childhood, Dogara never took it for granted that this divine grace may abound as an upright man. A highly devoted Christian who fears God and does not take that which is not his; he is also a prudent manager of resources who somehow manages to remain generous.
It takes only a courageous person like Dogara who, despite being from a constituency that was a stronghold of the then ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) – and without the support of his governor – defected to a newly formed opposition political party, the All Progressives Congress (APC). Many friends and associates came down hard on him as a result of that singular principled decision. However, he remained resolute knowing fully well that the era of change was beckoning. He would go on to record a landslide victory on March 28.
I recall that in August 2014, Honourable Dogara organised an empowerment programme where over 2000 lives were touched. Days later, a friend and former colleague of mine who witnessed the epoch-making event where thousands of people thronged Tafawa Balewa from across the country called to say: “Please tell Honourable to continue with what he is doing for his people. He will go far.” This fellow didn’t know that he was being prophetic as just ten months later, Dogara emerged as Nigeria’s number four citizen.
His election as speaker was not surprising to those of us who have been close enough to him. Friends, foes, and even his worst critics admit that he is an embodiment of leadership.
To him, public office should never be used for personal elevation or primitive, prebendal accumulation and acquisition of wealth but should be seen as a call to duty, to serve God and humanity. It is his philosophy and belief that leaders are like the moon whose light should radiate and reflect in their followers like the stars and that leadership is not a zero-sum game.
Whether in public or private, I always see a man who is in pains. His angst is not personal because he is a contented man. He has got what it takes to live a comfortable life but his pain stems from the fact that despite being blessed with abundant natural and human resources, Nigeria, our beloved country, has not been able to provide basic social services to its citizens – a result of which a vast population of the people is facing existential threats.
More specifically, to him, the greatest resources that the almighty God blessed Nigeria with is its human resources but successive governments at all levels have not been able to harness that maximally for the good of the society. He always says that the most advanced nations in the world may not have been endowed with natural resources but they invested much in their citizens and today, in the 21st century, wealth has moved from what is buried beneath the earth to what is in the human head and that poverty, illiteracy and squalor are the greatest threat to democracy in Africa. Therefore, education is the key and as Mirabeau B. Lamar said: “The cultivated mind is the guardian genius of democracy and, while guided and controlled by virtue, the noblest attribute of man, it is the only dictator that freemen acknowledge and the only security that freemen desire.”
As stated earlier, to him, leadership is call to service and the primary purpose of government in democracy is to serve the common good of the people. Every government decision must be one that is anchored on delivering greater good for the greater number of the people since the primary purpose of government is the security and welfare of the people. To achieve this, it is his conviction that education must not only be free and compulsory, but also of the highest possible standard. It must also be given priority over and above all other considerations as the cornerstone of development of every society without which no progress can be made at both societal and individual levels.
It is also his belief that democracy – which is the best system of government to have ever been invented by mankind – should deliver on its promises of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and that the challenges confronting Nigeria including that of Boko Haram insurgency especially in the North East, is a direct result of failure of leadership. Thus, leaders, according to him, must collectively admit that they have failed the people and then chart a new course for the socio-economic and political development of the nation so that the change promised the people will come to fruition.
The Speaker often says that the entire history of democracy has been that of struggle between the included and the excluded, the haves and the haves not. For instance, women struggled to achieve universal suffrage in the United States of America and blacks also paid with their lives for the right to vote and half a century later, a black man is president of the most powerful nation on earth. Therefore, to him, nothing is impossible so long as there is the common will.
His dream, vision and aspiration is that sooner rather than later, a better Nigeria will emerge where both the haves and the have-nots will have a place that will accommodate them in the system; where a room will be available for all.
Dogara strongly believes that a system is evolving where the people will be at the true centre of governance and that democracy in Nigeria will soon be able to deliver its promises to the people.
These are his thoughts, this is his vision, and what he wants to see come to reality in our nation. In fact, weeks ago, he told a gathering of lawmakers and the president that the time for change is now and that this generation cannot afford to fail.
In spite of the minor distractions after the June 9 election, today the House under Dogara’s leadership is very stable and is at peace with itself as lawmakers are busy working to deliver on the change promised Nigerians.
This would never have been possible but for the magnanimity of the person of Dogara who, even after winning the most hard-fought election in the history of the Nigerian parliament, was magnanimous enough to not only name his opponent as the majority leader but also conceded many positions to those who opposed him the most, all thanks to his political sagacity and leadership prowess.
Already, Nigerians have begun to see the immense leadership qualities in him as the House has since gone far with its legislative functions and even set a record of legislation on December 10 when an unprecedented 130 bills were presented for first reading. Today, over 300 bills have been introduced in the green chamber since June and are at various stages of legislation. The House is cleaning up Nigeria’s statutes books as some of the nation’s extant laws are 100 years old as bequeathed to us by British colonial masters. This is not to mention scores of investigations into many sectors of the economy such as the railway contract probe, crude oil swap probe, and the privatisation probe, among others. All these are in line with the 8th Assembly’s Legislative Agenda introduced by the Speaker.
A passionate advocate for the rebuilding, reconstruction, rehabilitation and recovery of the violence ravaged North East region, Dogara also made history as the first-ever Speaker to step down from his seat to move a motion on the floor of the House calling for national and international intervention in the North East, thereby discharging his primary responsibility of representation to his people.
Again, on December 15, he stepped down to lead the debate on five bills, the most prominent of which was the one seeking for establishment of the North East Development Commission to help marshall out a plan for the development of the region. He sleeps and wakes up with this burden in his heart which is that over five million Nigerians have been displaced in the North East, while about 700,000 are said to have fallen victims to insurgency.
Like him or not, Dogara’s record of incorruptibility cannot be challenged. This was brought to the fore when he chaired the House Committee on Customs and Excise. He conducted one of the most comprehensive and revolutionary investigations in the history of the National Assembly which led to the reform of the service. Millions of Dollars were offered to him by undesirable and unscrupulous elements who did not want the probe to go on, but he rejected all and went ahead to conduct the investigation. Today, Nigeria Customs Service is not the same.
Also, when he defected to the APC in December 2013, some powerful people in the PDP offered him N500 million and an automatic return ticket to the House, only if he will defect back to the PDP; this offer, he also declined. He is the only lawmaker in the history of the House to have chaired the House Services and Welfare Committee under two different dispensations and come out without any allegations of impropriety. Indeed, it takes more than enough courage for anyone to resist the temptations to be induced or to enrich oneself in a society where majority of the ruling class are in competition to amass stupendous wealth and live in ivory towers while the mass of the people are languishing in abject poverty and deprivation, making them victims of want in the midst of plenty.
Gentle and peaceful to a fault but hard as steel, too generous yet unassuming, exceptionally intelligent and a natural orator; for anyone who knows Dogara, these things are easily discernible about his character – humility, intellect, courage and a calm spirit.
These same qualities were said of the late Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa of blessed memory and today, Dogara is following in his footprints.
To this young gentleman, a lawyer of high repute, erudite scholar, family man and a devoted Christian, I say a happy 48th birthday anniversary and wish him many happy returns.
Turaki Adamu Hassan is Special Adviser on Media and Public Affairs to the Rt. Hon. Speaker, Yakubu Dogara.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.