I start thinking of as many options as possible each time a new Nigerian leader emerges – in case we need one. When Olusegun Obasanjo started with his plans for Third Term I quietly started considering the possibilities for his replacement. Late in 2005, I wrote a series of articles titled AFTER OBASANJO, WHO ELSE?

Eight different Nigerians were featured in the series. Some have been degraded by diminishing time and can no longer be seriously regarded as options. But, surprisingly, two are now very actively considered as plausible successors to Buhari and one might be added as time goes on. With only fifteen months left to the Presidential Elections in 2019, permit me to introduce the first of the two active opponents of Buhari identified as far back as 2005. Please read on.


“It is difficult to see how an arrogant, authoritarian, self-admiring egomaniac can be transformed into an effective leader in a democracy” Anonymous

Governor Ahmed Mohammed Makarfi was not born with a silver spoon in his mouth; indeed he had no spoon of any sort. He was born into poverty and had to pull himself up, one would have said by his boot-straps but he had no boots either. At least not until later in life and he had to get the boots himself.

That he received a very sound education by any measure known to mankind is itself a triumph of will over fate. And when he later became successful, he started out in politics with the PRP, the Malam Aminu Kano led party for the poor and under-privileged. Humility is so ingrained him that it is clear within minutes to a visitor that it is not faked. He really understands the poor and he is not too far removed from them despite his now exalted position.

When Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936) wrote, in one of the poems that brightened our secondary school days, “If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue/ Or walk with kings – nor lose the common touch”, he must have had a person like Makarfi in mind.

Shortly after our interview with him; at 1.45 a.m (that is the middle of the night for God’s sake) the governor drove out with only a driver and a police officer in mufti to attend a meeting on his government’s anti-poverty programme! Only the Chief Executive of a state who is sure of himself can do that. So, tenacity the man has in abundance and that is one attribute which our future Presidents must be able to demonstrate before they get elected.

Courage is the noblest of all human attributes after justice. Some are born with it; others acquire it through experience. Young Makarfi must have been born with an abundant amount of it. After beating all odds to complete his primary school education, principally by working himself to the bones after school, he was confronted with the choice of secondary school to attend. He could have joined the band-wagon of the northern elite to attend Barewa College; but he rejected it. He also had a choice of attending Kings College, Lagos; he declined that also.

Instead, he decided to go to Federal Government College, Enugu. When asked if he was not afraid, given the fact that the civil war ended only three years earlier and tempers were still high, he replied that he was fascinated by the enterprising qualities of the Igbo people, who had trooped back to the north and re-established their businesses as soon as peace was declared. Even Daniel walking into the lion’s den must grant the young man some credit for guts.

And from that experience, he was able to develop the ethnic tolerance that would save Kaduna from going the way of Kano when the religious conflict that engulfed the state during his first term broke out. He also learned to trade profitably, which is nothing to laugh at; most of the rest of us, non-Igbos, cannot manage an iced pure water stand in the Sahara desert profitably even if there is no competition.

The lesson we can draw from this, given the composition of our nation as a multi-ethnic and multi-religious polity is clear. We need leaders whose background and previous experience would have prepared them to transcend their narrow ethnic, religious and class affiliations. Kaduna state, next to Lagos state and now Abuja, is home to representatives of all the ethnic groups in the country. The future president of Nigeria must have had some experience balancing the interests of multiple groups; even when those interests can be sometimes diametrically opposed.

NEXT WEEK: HOW MAKARFI SAVED “MINI-NIGERIA”; KADUNA STATE. That was not all. Next week, readers will be served another slice of Ahmed Makarfi, a natural bridge builder since 2005. The series will end with how Markarfi achieved the miracle of mending the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, which we all thought was dead.

Dele Sobowale