He’s not the president but being at the top can be a little lonely. With modesty, he considers himself to be lucky for all the opportunities he’s had in life. Two years ago, he got the mandate to govern a state in Nigeria. And, at age five, he claims he’s been running things. And, with a home boasting of two wives, ten children and four grandkids, Umar Tanko Al-Makura understands very well that charity begins at home. To keep his beloved state and its people moving forward, the blue-blooded governor of Nasarawa state needs to play hardball on critical issues. Adedayo Adejobi engages Al-Makura in what turns to be a thought-provoking episode
The blue blood flows in him in spite of his studied modesty. Clad in neatly starched white Babariga, he deemed it fit to start his story from an age he considers pivotal to his personal development – age five. Sitting, cross-legged, on a brown sofa, inside his expansive private home, the governor of Nasarawa State seems willing to share some of his private moments with the public.
‘‘At that stage of my life, I had become aware of my existence as someone who could direct his own affairs. I had graduated from childhood into advanced childhood. I was conscious of what I did and how I went about doing same, at the age of five. After Quranic education, I was enrolled at the Dunoma Primary School in 1959. I graduated from the primary school with a First School Leaving Certificate in 1966. It was then the most popular pubic primary school in Lafia.
“Every son and daughter of Lafia who went to school then had to go through Dunoma Primary School. It was the first primary school before the missionaries came to establish schools. I proceeded to Keffi Teacher’s College in 1967. I graduated in 1971 with the Teacher’s Grade Two Certificate. The following year, after my graduation, which was shortly after the civil war, the three R’s of which I can only remember two, namely reconstruction and rehabilitation, formed the mechanism that the federal government put in place to bring the country together, thus cementing our corporate existence. And so, at that time, there was this idea of exchange programme. Students from the North were sent to the South and vice-versa. And, they were looking for those with good results; I got selected as my grades were highly impressive along with five other people from the then Benue/Plateau State. We went to the South-Eastern state where we became part of the first set of College of Education, Uyo – between 1972 and 1975. I graduated with National Certificate of Education.
‘‘After my graduation, I had a stop-gap: I worked with Broadcasting Corporation of Northern Nigeria, now known as NTA, Kaduna. I was employed as Assistant Producer, News and Current Affairs. I worked with the likes of Al Bazoro, Adamu Aogi, Thamaus Matathais and Sam Saba. My employment at BCNN was for a short while; it was from May to October the same year, before proceeding to Ahmadu Bello University. I was admitted to study Social Studies and graduated in 1978. I then proceeded for my NYSC in Benue State and passed out in 1979.’’
Al-Makura followed in his father’s footsteps of trading in agricultural produce, farm machineries and real estate.
‘‘My family background is that of private entrepreneurship. My father, being a technician, dealt in the sales and service of agricultural and industrial machineries – like grinding mills, rice mills, shelling mills for groundnuts and maize. So, that had been the vocation in the family. After I graduated, being the first in the family who had been to school, I felt I should pay back to the family by going back to the family business. Even before I graduated from the Ahmadu Bello University, in 1976, I founded and registered our family company, named Al-Makura Nigeria Limited. My coming back to work in the family business was to make sure that the business is not abandoned. I was trying to give a corporate outlook by registering it; and then, pursuing the job in a modern way so that we could build the company and also give the children some opportunity to explore themselves within the family vocation. It got to a point where we were importing Agric machineries from Britain, India, France and Germany – as far back as the early 80’s, up to the late 80s.’’
Carrying on a business in the family line would have been expected to be a piece of cake. But, for Umar Al-Makura, it turned out a hard nut to crack.
‘‘Honestly, it has been a herculean task. Because in a situation where you want to convert a business outfit that was not modernised, to one that will cope with modern demands of business, it is a very big task. As you have to convert the way you do things and get the business pursuits and interests of the company in line with modern acceptable standards. Then, my father would go and buy machineries. Sometimes in Enugu, Kano and even Jos, with the little resources he had. And at that stage, there were no book-keeping, no records, no receipts or inventory. When I took up the business, we set up invoices, ledgers, audit and accounting systems and receipts so that we would be able to keep track of how beneficial the business was. It was a real task, most particularly when we had little or no patronage. The amount of what we were able to achieve depended largely on our own effort, strategies and state of mind on how to keep track of opportunities that avail themselves. So fortunately, I have a big brother who is well-to-do, he gave me the encouragement to push the company to a level that it has reached.’’
Having garnered experience, fame and fortune over the years in the business terrain, one would expect he would remain in that comfort zone. No, he wasn’t. He wanted to try his hand on something else – politics. Why politics? And, how did the decision to join politics come about?
‘‘I started my political activities right from school while at the College of Education, Uyo. I had started actively in unionism and attained the position of P.R.O of the students’ union in 1974. By virtue of that election and appointment, I became an executive member of the National Union of Nigerian Students (NUNS) as National Secretary. At that time, we had people like Nwodo, the former Minister of Information, who was the President. After that, when I came to Ahmadu Bello University, I became a member of the students’ parliament. Right from these formative years in the campus, I became attracted to politics. I see in politics, an avenue and a vehicle where one can express his inner self as it affects how he wants his environment to be kept. How he wants society to live; how he can impact on the activities of his society. Ever since then, I got so attracted to politics. I found it as a way I can add value to the society, as I really meant business.
“From the university, and having worked within the family setup where there are no restrictions for participating in political endeavours, I had the leeway to launch myself into politics at the very early stage of the formation of APN in 1979. I just got into APN while I was doing my business at home because there were no restrictions. Just a year after, I was elected as the Youth Leader of APN in the then Plateau state. With student politics and unionism, entering into political party activities became a smooth transition. And so, I have found myself reaching out to a larger society since then. My intention to participate actively in the politics of Nasarawa State is to see how much value I can add to the political activities of Nasarawa. Having garnered these experiences right from school and been in politics all these years, I felt it will be a great deal of disservice to my people if I didn’t participate and fraternize with politicians so that I could bring my experience to bear for the gainful benefit of my people. My focus and vision with regards to politics, has to do with two issues namely philosophical and physical attributes.
“Over the years, I have observed a very fundamental problem within the political arena and that problem is that of value system. I believe if the right values are inculcated and nurtured in the minds of the people, which would be the beginning or the foundation for effective development. And the values are patriotism, diligence, accountability, exemplary leadership, judicious use of government funds and others associated with a trusted value system. People, who champion the political activities of their people lead by example, conduct themselves with the best of decorum in line with expectation of the rules and regulations of democracy. A leader should also see the responsibility of governance as participating in determining the affairs of the people to be a covenant and contract that must be conducted in the best interest of the people.”
Being in government is considered by many as an opportunity to loot. Al-Makura thinks differently.
‘‘Leaders should not consider government property as nobody’s property; they should not consider government funds as nobody’s funds. So, if leaders could have this kind of philosophy and value system, society will be better for it. The reason why I have participated actively in the politics of Nasarawa is because the state is in dire need of physical infrastructure.”
A lucky guy you may call the executive governor. Al-Makura believes he has been very lucky.
‘‘I have been very lucky in the sense that since my growing up, I have been privileged to spend most of my time within my environment which is Lafia in Nasarawa State. My growing up and life endeavours have been like any other child’s. I was not exposed to negative tendencies. My pedigree and experience within my society have to a large extent been one without blemish. And the people have seen what my life has been as a child, an adolescent, a student, an adult, a business executive and as a politician. You see, society is a very good analyst. You may think your activities are not being watched, but at the appropriate time, society will tell you exactly what kind of person you are. So, I think I am lucky, as my life had all along been guided by certain divine standards through the people I worked with. Part of the activities I did as an individual in politics, business, and philanthropy and community service has endeared me to the minds of the people. Because they had seen by what I may not be able to say to convince them.’’
Being at the helm of affairs of Nasarawa State for almost four years now, he shares how he has managed to balance business, marriage and politics.
‘‘I am living on a tripod. My life in the past few decades had been a life on a tripod. The tripod is my family, politics and business. I consider my family as a big business as I have two wives, 10 children and four grandchildren. That, in its real sense, is a big business; as I have to manage myself and also this retinue of household. I see to it that everyone is hale and hearty; that I provide for at least the basics of all the retinue. And as the head of the family, I have to be the head of virtually everyone in the family. You have to keep a tab on the children and see that everyone – making sure that their ways, idiosyncrasies and value system – follows the kind of tradition you set for your family to follow.”
As a rule, when it comes to business, the Nasarawa state governor doesn’t do contracts.
‘‘On the other hand, the business angle, before assuming public office, I don’t do contracts. My main preoccupation in terms of vocation is real estate with my focal point in Abuja. It is a very sensitive, intricate business, because it is risky and not only capital intensive, it has to do with a lot of due diligence. There are loads of speculators and speculations in the business, and if one does not take care, you will end up losing millions in a single business.”
Raising his relatively large family isn’t a joke. So also is doing business. But, how does being in politics compare to family and business? Without hesitation the Nasarawa governor provides the answer without mincing words.
“The most volatile of the tripod is the political arena. It’s a very interesting aspect of my life, even though it’s about the most volatile as you could be called all sorts of names. You could find yourself doing what you thought you never could do, by going out of your way to please people. Sometimes, you do the right things and they are misinterpreted. You have to go all the way back to explain your views. That’s the kind of life this side of the tripod is like, and I thank God. It is better for one to get exhausted having challenges than to sit idling around.’’
Sometimes, even a state governor -with all his executive powers –needs a shoulder to lean on. Where does Al-Makura look to for more inspiration? You guessed right –no, you’re wrong.
‘‘My mentor and role model is a lady called Helen Keller. She was deaf and blind. But before she died, she had made an impact in the whole world. So if such an impaired person can contribute meaningfully and positively to the growth and development of the society, thus making a global impact, one has no reason not to attempt, conquer and attain greatness in life.’’
Umar Tanko Al-Makura is blue-blooded – a likely future Emir of Lafia. Besides, you can call him a double-chief. He’s the Ciroma Kwandare and Sarkin Dawakin Maituta of Lafia.
‘‘By birth, I come from the royal family of Kwandare. I am presently the Ciroma Kwandare, a great traditional title. Secondly, I am a title holder in Lafia, as His Royal Highness, the Emir of Lafia has graciously installed me as the Sarkin Dawakin Maituta of Lafia. That again, is a very important title, as you are considered amongst the council of advisers to His Royal Highness, the Emir. And so, there are two traditional titles I guard jealously, and I will continue to conduct myself in line with expectations of such titles.’’
But, what’s the governor’s association with the Ombatse cult? ‘‘I gave Ombatse youth N1 million for refreshments. I invited the youth to hear their grievances after they blocked the Akwanga-Lafia Highway at Nasarawa-Eggon. There was a protest at Nasarawa-Eggon by some youths who obstructed traffic and held commuters for almost six hours, alleging that the Military obstructed their prayer session at Alogani Village. After admonishing the youth leaders – about 15 of them- on the need for peace amongst all citizens, irrespective of religious inclination, they listened. I felt it was only proper to give them some money for transportation and refreshment since I did not give them lunch. It was after the encounter that the name Ombatse was first mentioned to me. I had no knowledge of the existence of the group prior to the incident.’’
Umar Tanko Al-Makura must be playing hardball to keep things running. But, he deserves a break. Whenever he gets that rare break, guess what he does with it? –again, you’re wrong. He doesn’t go surfing. For the first citizen of Nasarawa, a very good way to chill out is by reading books, watching documentaries, wildlife films, listening to news and intellectually-engaging television programmes.