By Damiete Braide
Footprints on Marble: Murtala H. Nyako, Dan Agbese, 2020, May Five Media Limited, pg 457
The decision to write the biography of one man who is an all rounder couldn’t have been an easy task. Nonetheless, author, Dan Agbese tows this path to bring to life what is a captivating story of a northern boy who from a cattle rearing background turned out to become a two-term governor of Adamawa State and an enviable naval officer who made huge impact in the navy and governance.
Footprints on Marble: Murtala H. Nyako chronicles the “inspiring and colourful life of young Nyako”, as the author puts it. It can be said that the persona and the era at which he was born helped shape his destiny. Nyako proved to be a prudent, hardworking, humble chap. Also, he was more fortunate than not in most cases.
Agbese says: “If you peel off the layers, you would find Nyako in multiple characters rolled into one. He is very simple yet very complex. He is warm and generous; yet, by his admission, he is a maximum trouble maker; he is a mentor, and, in the navy, attracted many young officers who aspired to be like him, but he suffered fools not at all. He earned positions of power and influence but he never sought to exploit them for the sake of power.”
In the first three chapters, the author describes the childhood of his subject. He points out that Nyako was a rebel towards the cause of justice. He would fight for what he thought was right and seriously detested unfairness. He also had a temper that put him in fights with other boys of his age. It is not strange that he masterminded the rebellion that ended the traditional weekly visit to the Lamido Adamawa’s palace by the students in the provincial secondary school, Yola.
Even when he was determined to be an engineer, fate intercepted him, and threw him into the military where he scaled all hurdles, academic and social wise, to become Chief of Naval Staff. His divisional officer saw the “potential” in him and lured him from engineering to the executive branch of the Navy. He spent 30 years in the Navy before fate again threw him into politics in 1976.
One high point in his naval career was helping to combat rebellious forces of the late General Odumegwu Ojukwu, who had led a civil war on Bonny Island barely a year after he graduated from Dartmouth and maintaining the peace afterwards.
The new assignment to become the military governor of a newly created state was seen as just another military assignment, as he never bothered to know how he came to be chosen for that post. Someone, somewhere always recommended Nyako.
In August 21, 1976, Nyako launched reforms to Niger State which he termed necessary, because «most of the existing local authorities have not only proved non viable but would find it difficult and impossible to discharge the functions which the state was directed to delegate to them unless they are re-organised». Following this was the creation of eight local governments derived from the previous five divisions of Minna, Kontagara, Agaie-Lapai, Abuja and Bida. His rescue of the education sector is still today a reference point to his governance.
When he was nominated as Adamawa State Governor, what significantly stood out during his tenure was his resolve to complete inherited development projects. This earned him a glowing tribute from the then head of State, General Olusegun Obasanjo. While he was looking at the affairs of the state, he wished to go back to sea. Twice, he put in requests with his superiors until he finally got his wish to go back to the sea in January 1978.
This time, he made a case in a series of letters for the Navy to consider domesticating its basic training facility to end its dependence on foreign military institutions. He harped on needed transformation necessary to facilitate improved service conditions and other issues of concern about the country. Today, Nyako’ s critical points mentioned far back are still a deficiency in the navy.
As the story progresses, the author is caught up with the trappings of politics. Although Nyako played on the stage for a bit over seven years, it was never by choice. On the two times he got into politics, he was baited in. Agbese could not have separated his subject from all that happened on the political stage. Perhaps Nyako’s personality before politics made it difficult for him to fully take the reins without objections. His philosophy about politics was starkly different from what played out. The biography let’s us see that political adventure for Nyako was something he never prepared for. It was nothing like watching the sea with a telescope or manning a ship. Despite this, he went in with promises which he worked hard to fulfil. He was able to improve quality of life in all sectors for Adamawa State dwellers until his tenure was cut short abruptly in July 2015.
This impacted Nyako in many ways. Regardless of what the author has given us is a submission that Baba Mai-Mangoro (Hausa parlance name Nyako earned as a mango exporter) lived an exemplary life in office and public service and, there in Adamawa, his ‘size ten foot prints’ remains visible.