For Garba Shehu
On On Sunday, the last day of the year 2022, one of the best brains in the intelligence circles of the African continent, Ambassador Ahmed Rufa’i Abubakar, CFR, is honored, since the emir, Abdulmuminu Kabir Usman, is disturbed by the third Sardaunan . Katsina. The Sardauna is a revered title made famous by the late Prime Minister of the Northern Region, Sir Ahmadu Bello, himself the Sardauna of Sokoto.
Before him, Katsina, his birthplace, had awarded the first Sardauna title to Ahmadu Coomassie, a former inspector general of police and role model for the entire force and, more recently, to Senator Ibrahim Ida, an accomplished bureaucrat, businessman and politician who was promoted to the title of Waziri, Prime Minister of Katsina.
Before being honored at home, Ambassador Rufa’i had received praise and wide acceptance beyond Nigeria’s shores, particularly in the West African sub-region where his intelligence capabilities are known and highly respected, in Continental Africa where he just finished as Chairman of the Intelligence and Security Services for Africa (CISSA) and in the global intelligence community where he has become a true reference person in counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency matters. He is well known to our European and Middle Eastern partners for providing in-depth information on the threats facing the country, West Africa, and indeed the entire continent from within and without.
The Gold Fish, as the reference says, has no hiding place.
Ambassador Rufa’i did not start this illustrious journey to the top by accident.
The polyglot (he speaks Hausa, Kanuri, a little Fulfulde, English, French and Arabic) was recruited by the Katsina state civil service secret service, which in turn snatched him from the University of Bayero, Kano, where he taught language and French literature.
It had the distinction of being a product of an Arab school that later joined the modern school system and proved itself at all levels.
According to his official biography, the DG and Sardauna, soon to be turbaned, was born in the Kofar Durbi area of Katsina into a respected family of Quranic scholars. “As was the tradition in Northern Nigeria and indeed West Africa, Qur’anic scholarship brought his uncle to the Republic of Chad and took the young Abubakar with him.
On his return to Nigeria, Abubakar attended the Arabic Teachers College, Katsina, where he obtained his Grade II Certificate. He later went to the University of Bayero Kano, where he obtained a bachelor’s degree in French language and literature and a master’s degree in French-speaking Maghrebi literature. He worked as a professor at the University of Bayero before taking up a position in the Katsina state government. He subsequently transferred his services to the National Intelligence Agency, NIA in the 1990s”.
At the NIA, he worked as an intelligence officer for many years, during which time he served at the Nigerian Embassy in Rabat, Morocco, before resigning of his own free will to join the African Union, AU Peace Mission in Darfur, Sudan.
After a meritorious service at the AU, he later joined the United Nations as Director of Peace Support Operations, Mediation Process, Preventive Diplomacy and Good Governance Office. He also worked as political director of the UN Mission in West Africa during which he, Ibn-Chambas and others oversaw Nigeria’s successful elections and the transfer of power from an incumbent administration to an opposition winner, Muhammadu Buhari in 2015.
The published biography went on to recount how, as a senior UN official, the new Sardauna “gained extensive experience in UN peace support operations, the mediation process, preventive diplomacy and good offices, while helping to promote good governance and respect for the rule of law and human rights”.
Shortly after leaving the UN, to return home and settle into retirement, he was appointed Senior Advisor to the Multinational Joint Task Force, MNJTF made up of the Republics of Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Benin based in Djamena.
Not long after this appointment, he was recalled by President Buhari and placed in the Office of the Chief of Staff as Senior Special Assistant to the President for International Relations, where he oversaw diplomatic and politically sensitive matters of the country’s foreign relations.
Amid rising tensions and fears within the intelligence service and in the West African subregion, President Buhari appointed him as successor to the equally cerebral ambassador Ayo Oke.
Ambassador Rufa’i drew attention to this appointment following succession battles launched by some in the organization who believed it was his turn. In high-level appointments like these, succession battles are not new, but in the case of this one, it was very unpleasant.
But the governments take the last word, the Head of Government decides who to designate to the delight of some and the disappointment of others; and to the others, surprises. But he stays.
As the dust settled on the fire and brimstone succession at the NIA, Ambassador Rufa’i dove right into the job, introducing policies and measures that continue to change the nation’s intelligence landscape forever.
He sought and obtained the support of most of his predecessors in office, some of whom had left very wronged and in some cases in court against the organization that had nurtured their careers. Many of these cases have been discontinued.
Among the large crowd of ex-ambassador this and ex-ambassador that at the polo event in Abuja to honor the DG for achieving the Sardauna title were men and women who in the past had sworn never to have anything to do with the agency intelligence. He has brought almost everyone, serving and retired from the various sections of the country under the tent.
Internal staff issues related to delayed promotions, inattention and perceptions of unfair postings abroad have been and are still being addressed in a transparent and honest manner.
Much is being done to bring field and headquarters staff up-to-date through training on the current challenges facing the nation and our neighboring countries. Technology is being upgraded and made available, as are funds to carry out essential tasks.
As Boko Haram takes a beating, nearly 100,000 of them lay down their arms and accept peace, Islamic State-inspired terrorists have knocked on the nation’s door and NIA’s well-trained spy masters, through coordinated and effective collaboration with its national equivalent, the DSS. and the military and police continue to steer the country’s strategic and counterintelligence efforts in a safe direction.
With a management style like that implemented by President Buhari, the nation’s security and intelligence agencies are doing more with the little that is available.
Although essentially a secret service organization, the NIA was transformed into a veritable health center when the nation fell into the grip of the COVID-19 pandemic. They received the most qualitative and efficient testing laboratory in the Federal Capital Territory which became the laboratory/clinic of choice for the country’s leaders, including the Presidency, in coronavirus testing and treatment.
The agency, in collaboration with other partners, is currently making a historic investment in health. Construction is at an advanced stage of a new mega hospital in Abuja that will house dedicated centers of excellence in cancer, renal sciences, orthopedics, trauma, maternal and child care, and a high-tech fully automated centralized laboratory.
With a charming personality and very popular in her network, Sardaunan Katsina is also destined to bring progress and development to her home state.
To commemorate this turban, he did not call praise singers to trumpet his ego and invite people to dance parties. Yes, there were polo games, the flagship sport of royalty in Katsina, played in Abuja and Katsina.
But the most notable thing that he and the committee of friends who raised all the money through donations for the event are doing is a two-day seminar on the theme “Tradition and Modernity: Trends and Issues in Katsina’s History.” The seminar brings together academics and practitioners from various institutions to discuss the traditional system of government and suggest ways in which the institution will enhance national development. The remainder of the donated money will go towards building a quality primary school that will serve only the children of the poor.
Many prophets, the saying goes, end up without honor at home. For Sardauna (Ambassador) Ahmed Rufa’i Abubakar, there is honor abroad and honor at home.
• Shehu is senior special assistant to the president (media and publicity)