It is a couple of days now since I lost a bosom friend of immeasurable value and affection. My relationship with the late Mallam Tijjani Yusuf transcended friendship. It metamorphosed from mere friendship into brotherhood. Oga Tijjani as I used to call him (he also used to call me Oga PS) was a confidant and a true brother that fits the common adage of fraternity where you can easily introduce and refer to such an individual in whom you are pleased as “my brother of different parenthood”.
I first met Oga Tijjani some three decades ago. I had reported to the Federal Ministry of Water Resources, Area I Garki, as the Personal Assistant/Legal Counsel to the late Alhaji Abubakar Habu Hashidu, the then Minister of Water Resources and later Minister of Agriculture, Water Resources and Rural Development until 1993 when the Transition Council was formed and we vacated office. Oga Tijjani was then the Personal Assistant to the Director-General, Dr. Alex Kadiri.
It was easy for me to settle down to work through the instrumentality of Oga Tijjani’s readiness to put me through using his humble nature and humane attitude of being a brother’s keeper at all times. He immediately taught me the rudiments of the job of a Personal Assistant, including the expectations therefrom, the survival techniques and the intrigues therein. I later came to appreciate the essence of his tutelage after surviving on the desk, until my Principal vacated office as the Minister in 1993. As an Aide/Civil Servant, initially on secondment from the Bauchi State Civil Service, I walked the tightropes of working and operating as a Federal Civil Servant; mediating my relationship with all the top management staff of the Ministry as well as Heads of Parastatals of the Ministry and their operators, which resulted in a cordial relationship that outlived our sojourn while it lasted. All thanks to Oga Tijjani’s tutorials and guidance.
I left Oga Tijjani in the Ministry at the end of my Principal’s tenure in January, 1993 back to my state, Bauchi, to resume as Senior State Counsel and subsequently transferred to the Presidency in May 1993 as Assistant Chief Legal Officer/Legal Adviser in the office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF). I was privileged to serve in that exalted office as Legal Adviser to: the late Alhaji Aliyu Mohammed, the late Alhaji Mustapha Umara, the late Alhaji Aminu Saleh, the late Alhaji Gidado Idris and Chief Ufot Ekaette, all former SGFs and statesmen of repute. May the souls of those who departed among them rest in Aljannat Firdaus. It was fulfilling that I was able to deploy some of the lessons learnt from Oga Tijjani to serve these Principals and worked amicably with colleagues alike. All the while we were holding on together with Oga Tijjani.
My new schedules after May 1993 (being Legal Adviser to the SGF) kept me close to the Villa. Save for the last two, the earlier three SGFs all had offices in the Villa. The daily shuttle we embarked upon made us quasi Villa staff, and obviously became abreast with the day-to-day happenings in the Villa. Again by sheer coincidence and providence, Oga Tijjani was posted to the office of the First Lady in 1994, so, we got reunited at workplace, thus rekindling our personal bond and unison, which had since gone beyond common friendship but family ties. My formal deployment and permanent relocation to the Villa in 2007 as State House Counsel was the icing on the cake for the consolidation of my bond with Oga Tijjani. It then became a brotherhood made in heaven, as we got connected 24 hours, seven days a week, and so were our two families.
My schedules as State House Counsel were purely legal though sometimes blended with tasks that are policy in nature and given by Mr. President and or the Vice President directly or through the Chief of Staff. I was privileged to offer second legal opinion at all times in close consultation with the Attorney-General of the Federation (HAGF), who is the Chief Law Officer of the Federation. There were instances where I had my differences with the HAGF and sometimes Ministers whose policy proposals and advice we scrutinised on instructions. Knowing that expressing so might not go down well with them, and I needed to employ tact and respect in conveying my views to them before returning my submission to my principals, I found an interlocutor in Oga Tijjani. Though not “a learned friend,” I would explain my dilemma and apprehension to Oga Tijjani, and he would, in his characteristic manner, make good suggestions on approaches that would ultimately help to douse tensions. Very wise man, self–effacing but full of experiences of life!
We have had our rituals of communal eating since I formally moved into the Villa. Initially, we would congregate in Kabiru Jibir’s office in the mornings for tea immediately after each morning’s briefing with the Chief of Staff (COS). Kabiru was then a Special Assistant in the office of COS. Lunch was usually served in my office and we sometimes had Imam Abdulwaheed join us. There was always an early evening snack in the office of the late Lawal Abdulganiyu where we were joined by Mallam Lawal Daura (then with PC4) and Mr. Olojede of the office of COS. At such an informal setting, we learnt so much from each other and you can bet the less talkative among us was Oga Tijjani. Speaking/talking less but once spoken, his contributions were sharp while his ideas deep, tested and enduring. This congenial setting and tradition continued till his last days. Breakfast and lunch sessions continued in my office until 2015 when lunch was moved centrally to the office of Mallam Abba Kyari (CoS), our boss, who made it semi-mandatory for all of us, including his Assistants to eat jointly as a family. The CoS always chaired the eating sessions as the head of the table. Allah Sarki! Today who will sit next to me as you are gone?
My tour of duty as the Permanent Secretary, State House, achieved the modest successes so far recorded with the much support, boost and encouragement I received from you, my departed brother. Onshore or offshore, my absence was never felt in the discharge of my functions. Without prejudice to the statutory role being played by my directors and colleagues alike, Oga Tijjani was always there as my “Deputy.” Because of our closeness, it was easier for him to take urgent decisions and actions on my behalf that often required no ratification. He knew me so deeply and appreciated my psyche that he acted in my absence and on my behalf that I could have no cause but concur, since I would have found nothing unsavoury in his action/decision. My boss, the CoS, would always not worry with my absence when it comes to executing an instruction so long as Oga Tijjani was on ground. So also the State Chief of Protocol, SSAP Domestic, SA Housekeeping, Director Maintenance, Commander Guards Brigade and all other Principal officers who relate with me in the course of discharging their functions. Reaching me whenever I shut down and no matter where I am and unreachable become easy if you can reach Oga Tijjani. I make bold to say, that included members of my nuclear family, they too rely on his “fishing” traits to find me. That was how close we were. He had my spouse’s phone number as well as those of my other family members and he had unfettered access and so am I to his immediate family that look up to me as a father figure.
If there was one person that could change my decision outright and I could not say no to, that person was Oga Tijjani. There were instances that I would remain stubbornly opposed to a decision in and out of the office, but he will reverse it, sometimes without informing me and I would do nothing but accept as he would always give me good reasons for doing so, especially where or when we were unable to meet for an explanation before execution.
Allahu Akbar! Such is life. Today, Oga Tijjani is no more and indeed I have lost a worthy companion that was honest, sincere, trustworthy and undeniably reliable to me and my cause. He stood by me through thick and thin and took so many bullets on my behalf, some of which I never and would never ever have known. He counseled me and allowed me to drink from his fountain of wisdom as any elder would do to his younger brother. I learnt perseverance, patience, commitment and hard work from Oga Tijjani and most of all, I learnt peaceful co-existence, fairness and fear of God as a vehicle to meaningful life from you my dear brother of inestimable character.
But the loss of Oga Tijjani is not just a personal one. Villa will really miss his diligence and commitment when it comes to event planning for which he was the Master-Key. Unfortunately, the essence of his retention after retirement, as part of our succession plan, would appear dimmed by his sudden exit. But we take solace in the fact that the foundation he had laid through his personal character and meticulous approach to matters would remain enduring with his subordinate officers and staff alike.
My ardent supporter, admirer and genuine friend, I will miss you very dearly but will be comforted by the fact that you lived a decent life and helped humanity till the end and true to the teachings of your faith. This was evidenced by the mammoth crowd that attended your Janaza. May Allah give us, your admirers, your associates and members of your larger family the fortitude to bear such enormous loss. Till we meet to part no more in Aljannat Firdaus in shaa Allah. Adieu Oga Tijjani.
• Arabi, is Permanent Secretary, State House, Abuja.