By Reuben Abati
This is an absorbing and detailed portrait of a growing political figure of high stock and promise: the Rt Honorable Dogara Yakubu, currently Nigeria’s No. 4 citizen, that is the Speaker of the House of Representatives and since 2007, the member representing the Bogoro/Dass/Tafawa Balewa constituency of Bauchi State. The art of political biography is a risky enterprise, more for the simple reason that it is often difficult to mask the author’s bias. Autobiographies tend to be self-indulgent, authorized biographies may be too sympathetic while unauthorized ones may be no better than attack jobs in which reputations may be skewered, and yet political biographies must be encouraged, written and read for they deal with the lives of the important people who take the decisions and the actions that affect the rest of the community. They also of course open up the leadership elite to further public appreciation and scrutiny and promote a necessary conversation about values, politics and people.
This book, written by Dele Momodu is a welcome addition in this regard, and what I find particularly commendable is how he manages to keep whatever bias he may have out of the way. He allows the story to tell itself, by focusing on the politics of the personal and the politics of his subject’s public life, through interviews and fact-based narratives. Dele Momodu provides his subject an opportunity to reflect extensively on his own life by revisiting through these pages, some of the highlights of his life, his upbringing and growth, the influences on his life, and motivations, the complexities of Nigerian politics and his own political achievements. Many voices are heard in this book, testimonies are given; the biography is essentially the work of a reporter, who through detailed interviews, paints a portrait. The story of Speaker Dogara’s life is a story of influences and how environment, personality and values shape both the personal and the public.
Background matters and the family remains an important element in individual lives. Dogara Yakubu was born on December 26, 1967 into a modest, but comfortable family in the town of Gwaranagah in the then Tafawa Balewa district of the old Bauchi Division in North East Nigeria. He is of Zaar ethnic extraction, a minority ethnic group, and a Christian, yet another minority group in the largely Muslim parts of Northern Nigeria. His two parents were very staunch Christians who brought up their six children along the Christian path, and who understood the value of education, hardwork and discipline. We are told that one of Pa Yakubu’s famous exhortations to his children was “Go out there and show that you’re a Ganuwari…whatever you get from that school must be excellent.” This must have been the guiding principle for the rest of Dogara Yakubu’s life to date, and what the author celebrates about him in writing this book, namely a determined search for excellence.
In the first part of the book, we are taken on a chronological journey through Dogara’s life, with special emphasis on the major events of his early life, beginning with his outstanding performance as a primary school pupil, his enrolment in Bauchi Teachers’ College, his love of sports especially football, volleyball and basketball, how he conquered his fear of Mathematics as a subject, his leadership role throughout his school days either as House Captain or member of Christian groups, his undergraduate days as a student in the Faculty of Law at the University of Jos and the testimonies of his teachers and colleagues. By taking us through this narrative, the biographer manages to establish the early demonstration of leadership qualities by the subject. It would appear that one preoccupation in this book is to demonstrate that accidents do not always happen, people become leaders through a process of preparation and Dogara seems to have been well-prepared for future leadership.
In addition, we encounter different stories of his resolve and confidence in his own abilities. One story stands out: he was once told that he could not study law by an administrative staff at the University of Jos, and advised to seek a place in the Faculty of Education having graduated previously from a Teachers’ College. Dogara refused. He went back to sit for the Universities Matriculation Examination and would not relent until he became a student of Law. Anecdotes such as this convey a measure of the man.
The entire book is similarly full of illustrations of Dogara’s commitment to the Christian faith, or put differently his faith in God, or rather, the God-factor. Readers will find particularly interesting specific episodes of Dogara’s encounters with God and the gradual growth of his Christian faith. From turning down the offer of national service in an oil company, and opting instead to work for a Pentecostal Christian Fellowship group, during his NYSC year, to the miraculous healing he received from a mysterious tuberculosis, or his out-of-body experience of Heaven, and the healing of his son who had been diagnosed of sickle cell anaemia and was in coma, and had been declared more or less dead, the spiritualism in sections of this book would interest all persons of faith. Even if there is no touch of evangelism, the careful emphasis on the power of faith, prayers and miracles is unmistakable. Businesspersons should also be interested in reports of Dogara’s practice as a lawyer and as a businessman and investor – all of this background proving the point of how the reed grew into the flint that he became. Many Nigerian politicians go into public office to make money but it certainly helps to have a profession and a source of income rather than seeking public office as a meal ticket.
But of course, the more interesting parts of the book can be found in the later sections focusing on Dogara’s foray into politics, despite the objections of his father and other family members, and his own initial reluctance. His first appointment was as Special Assistant to a former Minister of State and later Minister for Transport Mallam Mohammed Habib Aliu, at the instance of the then Governor of Bauchi State, Alhaji Adamu Ahmed Muazu. In 2007, he was again invited by his political mentor to seek election into the House of Representatives and this marked the beginning of his baptism of fire in the murky terrains of Nigerian politics.
Every politician has a story to tell, and indeed in this book, Dogara’s political journey has been immensely eventful. The biographer painstakingly documents that journey, but in telling the story, what further stands out are the limitations of Nigerians politics, the divisiveness, the intrigues of political opponents, the desperation. Much of what is reported is contemporary and topical, but it is useful that the book reminds the reader of the fault lines in Nigerian politics, particularly with the manipulation of religion and ethnicity to cause disaffection, the use of violence, abuse of access to security agencies, even the abuse of court processes. Following his victory at the polls in 2007, his opponent, Alhaji Barau Shingiri, who also happened to be his maternal uncle had gone to court, all the way from the Tribunal to the Court of Appeal. Dogara was advised to give money to Judges. He refused. Instead, he kept his faith in God. He also reached out to his Uncle to withdraw the case and let him be. The man refused.
But this is what happened: “So many people, family members spoke to him but he still said No way!” I think the whole thing was accentuated on account of religious differences really. He said he wasn’t going to give up. Before we ran for the primaries he had had a stroke but he refused to give up in spite of his failing health. Unfortunately, I think we were at the stage of the hearing at the Court of Appeal when he got very sick, an obvious aggravation of the stroke, perhaps from the stress and pressure of electioneering. The Bauchi State Government sent him to Egypt for treatment, and sadly, he didn’t make it. He died. It was the end to the case. Dogara Yakubu’s place as a member of the House of Representatives would no longer be challenged.”
The rest of the book is devoted to Dogara’s membership of the House of Representatives, his membership of the New Agenda Forum –a pressure group within the House – his Chairmanship of various committees, including the Committee on Customs and the House Services Committee, and the role he played during the Patricia Etteh saga. Anyone who has followed Nigerian politics closely in the last five years would readily remember some of the incidents that define Dogara Yakubu’s political career and ascendancy to the office of the Speaker of the House of Representatives: his opposition to the change of the Headquarters of Tafawa Balewa local government and the victimization of his people on political grounds, his subsequent defection from the Peoples Democratic Party to the All Progressive Congress (APC), the high drama of the 2015 elections in Bauchi state, and within the PDP and how the PDP lost out, the politics of his eventual emergence as Speaker, and the battles he subsequently faced when he and others were accused of wrong-doings by Abdulmumin Jibrin, described here “as one of the also-rans for the Speakership”, who later went “haywire(s)” and “on a rabble-rousing spree.”
The account in this latter part may be controverted by some of the key actors in the drama, all of whom are still actively involved in politics, particularly Abdulmumin Jibrin who may be tempted to exercise a right of reply, but in general what comes across is the image of the subject of the book as a gifted legislator, a bridge-builder who enjoys the confidence of his colleagues, a committed and dogged champion of the interests of the people that he represents and a convinced opponent of the politics of settlement and mischief. In writing about Hon. Dogara’s life, career, and the values at the heart of his politics, Dele Momodu draws attention to much-needed values in Nigerian politics and democracy. There is no doubt that there is a lot that is lacking in Nigerian democracy: integrity and honesty being the chief victims.
Hon. Dogara may sound somewhat harsh in his assessment of the Peoples Democracy Party (PDP), the political party on whose platform he made his foray into politics, but then this is a book about him, and he is certainly entitled to the freedom of speech in a book that bears his own name as subject. Detailed and comprehensive as this biography is, it also could have benefitted from a closer analysis of the various bills sponsored or supported by Dogara as legislator. I also find the Romeo and Juliet sub-plot in the book, between Dogara and his wife, and their numerous love letters amusing. We get to know through this that the Rt. Hon. Dogara is a fan of the Arsenal football Club, UK. Arsenal? Not a Nigerian football club? This may seem on a lighter note but it is indeed ironic that even when Nigerian politicians are passionate about their political constituencies, there is always a side of their passionate hearts, in love with foreign totems. This may be excused on the grounds of globalization or the tyranny of the New World information Order, but hopefully, the day will come when Nigerian leaders will learn to reproduce the same foreign totems and institutions they admire at home.
Richly illustrated with photographs, written in reader-friendly prose, and significantly topical, Dogara: A Reed Made Flint is a thoroughly engaging book, and given the political issues it covers, it is bound to be a book of interest to every student of Nigerian politics. At 50, the subject is still in the prime of his public career, and there may be no doubt whatsoever that there is much promise and many possibilities in that direction. This may be Dele Momodu’s first biographical work, but as a writer, he has shown that he may have found another worthy dimension to his own already fruitful and notable engagement in the Nigerian public space. To both the author and his subject, congratulations.