My gaze settled on him while he was expounding on the security situation in Nigeria and I just marveled at the acuity of his cogitations and the precision of his delivery, taking note of his frail frame and the fact that the ravages of time had deepened since our last meeting. We were at a session of the Burdened Elders of Nigeria and Professor Anya was seated to his right, somewhere to his left Dr. Christopher Kolade sat relaxed with that signature inscrutable expression on his face. Engineer Shyngle Wigwe, Professor Joe Irukwu, and the brainiac Philip Asiodu were also in attendance. Quietly tapping his fingers on the table, Professor-double Ambassador George Obiozor’s eyes peered from behind the facial mask he wears to hide the acute brilliance of his brain.
My presence at the table was by default since 60 year olds in the Africa hardly qualify as elders’ talk less of those who were a few months shy of sixty but my elders had chosen to be gracious. Every time these elders met, it was obvious that deep was calling to deep! They collectively represented a quality and quantity that is melting away in the Nigerian narrative. These were true elders and I dare say that Baba Ahmed Joda was one of the deepest elders seated at the conference table. There are three definite assets he had besides the obvious that stood him out.
First, Baba Ahmed Joda had a rare grade of humility that was difficult to detect as most brilliant personalities have a challenge serving under less gifted people but this man could serve and in the course of his brilliant career had served under diverse personalities of varying intelligence grades without giving or taking offence. Even in his old age, Ahmed Joda had something that is described as “quick grasp” yet he tamed it with patience and would not move a discussion forward until everyone had caught up. For the second virtuous trait, as an old school Fulani, Ahmed Joda had an instinctive mantle of leadership but his leadership style went far beyond the stoicism of sheepherder enculturation. He was a model of steward leadership that believed in promoting others above himself if it was in the national interest.
On the third point, I was privileged to see the old man espouse a national success progression that many younger generation leaders are struggling to learn. Like babies, nations may be born dependent but they soon grow to become independent when they are weaned properly. From the second phase of independence the wise nation learns that interdependence is much more profitable. Ahmed Joda understood that both northern and southern Nigeria would be better off if we learned how to be interdependent but he also knew that interdependence requires a lot more intelligence to operate than independence.
Awhile back we had a private dinner in the Lagos home of one of his many protégés, a brilliant Fulani banker of note and I was amazed that Ahmed Joda was carrying a deep burden for the legacy of President Mohammed Buhari. Devoid of any guile Ahmed Joda agonized over the plight of the average citizen and voiced his opinion that the current president deserved better counsel than whatever he was receiving at the moment.
When I was informed that Baba Ahmed Joda had departed, my friends thought I would break down and weep knowing how much I respected his words. I cannot weep for a man who lived an impactful and fulfilling life because my tears are reserved for Nigeria itself. A nation that does not recognize the gifts God has given to it should be mourned. Sometime last year we had agreed that I would come over to Yola where he was retired as a farmer and he instructed me to call from the airport so he would arrange for my pick up. I could never understand why an Ahmed Joda would be kept on a farm instead of a university environment where his brains should be picked until his legacy is stored in a digital format. What a tragedy! I smile every time I recall our conversation about his days in Ibadan and his recollections of the native authority police era when we discussed the issue of state police. Off course, I amended my opinion about the introduction of state police structures in Nigeria after his submission.
Sadly there are two major components to the Nigerian problem, one portion is a brilliant ancient colonial construct that has remanded us in the kindergarten of independence when we should all be thinking interdependence! The second portion is a modern maze that we have not yet mastered. The key to unlock the prison of “independence” thinking was in the heart of Ahmed Joda and a few other true elder like himself. We need to treasure those who are still alive and extract that wisdom. Finally Ahmed Joda is now gone and the loss is irreplaceable, he was an exemplar of what the Fulani leadership heritage could contribute to national progress when it is properly harvested instead of this cattle herders’ nuisance that is being projected. My hope and prayer is that president Mohammed Buhari heard and understood the counsel that Baba Ahmed Joda gave to him.
Reverend Ladi Peter Thompson
Burdened Elders of Nigeria