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Lawmaker Who Longed for Peace in Nigeria Died an Unhappy Man: Catholic Bishop

Alhaji Ahmed Joda, a former Permanent Secretary in Nigeria’s Federal State passed on August 13. Credit: Public Domain

One of the things that Alhaji Ahmed Joda, a Permanent Secretary in Nigeria’s Federal State longed for, in the years that the Catholic Bishop of Nigeria’s Sokoto Diocese knew him, was a peaceful Nigeria where people from various religious divides live in harmony especially in the Northern part of the country.

But Bishop Hassan Kukah has remembered “a near perfect patriot” who went to his grave a sad man, leaving behind a country that had been taken over by bandits, with Christians on the receiving end.

In a heartfelt tribute shared Monday, October 4, Bishop Kukah remembered people who he said had died without realizing their dreams for a better Nigeria and describes Joda who died on August 13 as the last on the list of influential leaders who meant well for the West African country.

With Joda’s death amid heightened insurgency from armed Fulani herdsmen and Boko Haram militants in Nigeria, the Catholic Bishop describes the future of the West African nation as grim.

“The death of Ahmed Joda marks the drop of the final leaves of the northern autumn,” Bishop Kukah says, and explains, “Ordinarily, in spring, the first drops of the rains and moisture breathe life into the foliage and in turn, a long process begins to ensure that fresh leaves return to the trees. However, with the bandits and kidnappers having taken over the region, Northern Nigeria is faced with a prospect of self- immolation that is almost impossible to contemplate.”

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“Alhaji Joda was a near perfect patriot,” the vocal Nigerian Bishop says of the deceased lawmaker who retired as Permanent Secretary of Nigeria’s Federal Ministries: Information, Education, and Industries in 1978, and later ventured into private business.

“He loved the country and sacrificed for it, but it was sad to watch his frustration with the way things turned out,” Bishop Kukah further says, and adds, “For a man who made so much sacrifice both for the region and the nation, he must have gone to his grave a very unhappy man about the state of the country.”

According to the Catholic Bishop, Joda’s family “should be proud that they had a patriarch of such impeccable character and grace.”

Bishop Kukah’s tribute is a well-knit account of one of Nigeria’s “most illustrious, magisterial, self-giving, graceful and patriotic son.”

“Meeting and getting to know Ahmed Joda was a great blessing and honour to me, but also something I thought was like a trophy for the shelf,” Bishop Kukah says of the Nigerian leader who he says possessed “an intricate, labyrinthine and affectionate mind.”

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The two first met in 1994 at a lecture where Joda struck the then Catholic Priest as an easy man to interact with despite his high status in the Nigerian government.

Describing their first meeting, Bishop Kukah says, “I was emboldened by his physique and came to the conclusion that he was at least, we would level up easily. As I walked towards him, I was shocked when he beamed a smile and stretched his hand towards me. Father Kukah, so good to see you, he said, as I struggled to gain my composure.”

The two had numerous encounters since then, most of them adventurers after the lawmaker invited then Fr. Kukah to his residence.

Most times, Joda picked Fr. Kukah from the Priest’s residence and took him to relaxation joints and on long walks. The Bishop of Sokoto narrates that the late parliamentarian never stopped taking the driver’s seat when the two went out even in his old age.

Away from the social life, the two attended similar conferences and many other lectures, with Joda acting behind the scenes to brighten the Catholic Bishop’s star.

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“In 2012 I was invited by the American University, Yola to deliver their Convocation lecture and to be conferred with an honorary Doctorate degree that year. I was quite pleased but did not know that it was a prelude to other things. I would later be invited to join its Governing Council with Alhaji Joda as Chairman. Barely two years into my term, he stepped aside from the Board. He did not say much as to why. I suspected that he may have been responsible for my being a Member of the board,” Bishop Kukah narrates.

At one point, the Nigerian lawmaker tried to convince the Bishop to join the controversial Miyetti Allah, a group of Fulani that has been accused of fueling attacks against Christian farmers in parts of Nigeria.

His membership in the group as one of the board members, Joda hoped, would create some form of diversity.

Recalling the late politician’s request, Bishop Kukah says in the tribute, “He gently said to me… I would like you to join the national Board of our Association, Miyetti Allah. It is a misunderstood body and in reality, it is open to people who are not even Fulani but who have cattle.”

“My jaw dropped. Me? How is that possible? I said to him, I do not speak Fulfulde and have never owned a cow. Your friend President Obasanjo has cows and he would fit that kind of a role, I said in protest,” the Bishop recalls his astonishment at being asked to join Miyetti Allah, an organization that is said to be currently under the patronage of Nigeria’s president Muhammadu Buhari.

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“Well, he responded: I have informed you and I will get the forms for you to fill. It is a harmless group, but we need to diversify it, he repeated,” the Nigerian Prelate further recalls the conversation.

Joda is said to have insisted on delivering membership forms to Bishop Kukah, an offer that the Bishop turned down. Unfortunately, the Catholic Bishop recalls, “I did not warm up to this proposal and somehow, the matter finally died.”

The Bishop remembered another incident in which the late lawmaker gifted him a three-bedroom house when he expressed his desire to start to set up a Think tank. Bishop Kukah recalls that Joda was genuinely delighted and said he was ready to support him.

“He asked me for the location and I told him I still had not found an office yet. He immediately said, I have a house on Maiduguri Road off Constitution Road and you can have it. I am not using it but you can use it for as long as you want,” he recalls Joda’s offer.

The Bishop says of the house, “It was the kind of place we were looking for, a three-bedroom flat with an open courtyard.”

Following his ordination as Bishop of Sokoto, Mr. Joda is said to have paid the Bishop a visit to congratulate him.

“All along, I really did not know how to address Alhaji Joda. As the years rolled by, I always called him Baba mai ran karfe,” Bishop Kukah says.

He adds, “When I was appointed Bishop of Sokoto, he called to congratulate me. I informed him of the ordination more out of courtesy than an expectation that he would show up. He did not come and I more of less left it at that. However, barely three days after my ordination, I had just had breakfast when I was told that Alhaji Joda was in our premises.”

The 69-year old Bishop narrates that Joda’s enthusiasm in fighting for peace in Nigeria began to dwindle not long after President Buhari who had ascended to the helm of the country in 2015 assumed the second term in office.

Following the 2015 election, Joda who had been made Chairman of Nigeria’s Transition Committee invited the Bishop to address the Members of the committee.

Recalling the invitation, Bishop Kukah says, “When I asked what I was expected to speak on, he jokingly said you are no stranger to the issues bedeviling our dear country, so please do us the honor. Just speak about anything you feel the new government should focus on.”

“I took note of his frustrations as the wheels of enthusiasm began to wobble by the second year of the administration. Once or twice when I tried to ask him how he felt about the government, he merely shook his head in pain. I never asked him again,” Bishop Kukah said in his tribute to the former government leader who passed on at the age of 91.

The Bishop says that the former government official tried his best to make Nigeria a better country.

“Alhaji Joda more than paid his dues,” he says, and adds, “I was blessed that he counted me worthy of his company. Meanwhile, we look at the foliage in northern Nigeria with trepidation and wonder, will the trees ever bear any green leaves again? Who will water them now that the last of the gardeners is gone?”

In his tribute to the man he describes as selfless, the Bishop says, “True or false, with Ahmed Joda gone, the north is at best now a huge graveyard. Its children are now largely orphans, with over ten million Almajiri street children, the highest levels of poverty, the highest levels of stunting, wasting and sick children and today, a turf for bandits, kidnappers, robbers and death.”