A Centre of Excellence

06 Dec 2012

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The Verdict By Olusegun Adeniyi. Email,

Come Saturday in Abuja, Ms. Jacqueline Farris will launch her children story book titled, “Shehu Musa Yar’Adua (Neither North nor South, East nor West: One Nigeria),” which tells a compelling story not only of the late Tafidan Katsina but also of an important period in Nigeria’s history through the eyes of a child. It is a fascinating attempt to present the Nigerian story for the Nigerian child and a brilliant effort by Jackie to immortalize Yar’Adua who died at Abakaliki prison on December 8, 1997.

With illustrations by Mustapha Bulama and principal characters like Yakubu Gowon, Murtala Mohammed, Olusegun Obasanjo, Shehu Shagari, Muhammadu Buhari, Ibrahim Babangida, Sani Abacha, Moshood Abiola, Ken Saro-Wiwa, Umaru Musa Yar’Adua et al, the story ends with the 50th Independence anniversary of Nigeria on October 1, 2010 and the inauguration of Dr. Goodluck Jonathan as president less than a year after. But while the tales woven into the children literature are interesting, Jackie’s own story is even more compelling. This is especially more so when we consider how she has blended into our society within so short a time. Many, in fact, assume she is a Nigerian when she is actually a full-blooded American.

It all began in 1992 when Jackie, then working in Atlanta with Ambassador Andrew Young, was contacted by a Nigerian politician on behalf of the proscribed Social Democratic Party (SDP) which was looking for an international media consultant to manage its image towards the National Assembly elections. Having shown interest, Jackie was then introduced to the party chairman, Ambassador Baba Gana Kingibe, who signed on the group for the job. It was Kingibe who would later introduce Jackie to the late Major General Shehu Musa Yar’Adua (rtd), whose media she and her group helped to manage in his attempt to secure the SDP presidential ticket.

With that friendship built, it was no surprise that when Shehu and his former boss, Olusegun Obasanjo were arrested in 1995 on the trumped up charges of planning a coup, Jackie would team up with President Jimmy Carter, Andrew Young, Carl Masters and other members of what I usually call the “Atlanta-Abuja Mafia” (all of them very close to Obasanjo) to nudge the American State Department to put pressure on the late General Sani Abacha regime to release the duo.

However, following Shehu’s death in detention, it was former Vice President Atiku Abubakar who voiced the idea of immortalizing him with a foundation. “I recall Atiku told me, ‘we need a foundation to immortalise Shehu and I know we can raise the money to start a centre but we cannot continue to raise money to sustain it,’ ” said Jackie. And that was where her own resourcefulness came in; by giving Nigeria what is today its most highly sustainable and professionally managed centre.

Today, the Yar’Adua Centre offers scholarship to no fewer than 24 brilliant students from less-privileged families, drawn from across the federation. One of the beneficiaries, who hails from Enugu State, got the best result in NECO in Adamawa State, where she completed her secondary education last session. Another girl from Nasarawa State won the Cowbell Prize in mathematics. With the support of the Yar’Adua Centre, these young boys and girls have seized the world of opportunities unlocked for them by good education. Not only has this programme gotten such children to move up to university level education, it has also saved many of the scholars it supports from the vicissitudes of early marriages.

Incidentally when Jackie arrived Nigeria in September 1998, her plan was to stay for no longer than three years during which she believed she would have put the centre together. “I never imagined I was coming to stay for life. For three years, all my personal effects were in a storage in Atlanta until I finally moved everything down to Nigeria.” she told me during the week.

Jackie said from the outset, her idea was to replicate what she learnt from the Martin Luther King Centre and the Carter Centre, both in Atlanta, by recreating a multimedia exhibition of Shehu Yar’Adua’s life. That has been done successfully, as anybody who has visited the centre would attest.

Speaking with Jackie, you cannot but understand how much she believed in the ideals of Shehu Musa Yar’Adua. Yet it is rare to meet a person so willing to defy the odds for the triumph of a symbol like Jackie has done with the Yar’Adua Centre, which remains an enduring legacy to an individual of its type in Nigeria. With a strong Board of Trustees whose members have extensive experience in their responsibilities, and a management headed by her and line professionals selected with the help of consultants, the Centre publishes its annual accounts and report year in year out. These accounting credentials have earned the Centre many and continuing partnerships with sponsors as numerous as those interested in the conduct of scholastic studies and provision of humanitarian services.

While hosting world class events has placed Jackie among the top league of Nigeria’s managerial talents, the Yar’Adua Center has survived as both a cultural icon and a competitive conference brand that continues to attract tourists and annual general meetings of every corporate member of Nigeria’s blue chip companies. In hosting AGMs, EGMs and international events attended by past and former prime ministers, presidents, leading philanthropists like Bill/Melinda Gates and George Soros, Jackie has made Yar’Adua Center a thriving 5-star brand.

But the brand is not just a building. It is also more than the efficiency and professionalism that it exudes on all fronts. The brand is, at once, the best and richest library in Abuja, the most structured conference facility, an architectural reference and - above all - a virtual edifice that is a fitting tribute to a great Nigerian.


What About Intra-Agency Coordination?

Innih Akpan

Dear Olusegun,

It was good that you accepted taking notes on the feelings from the barracks at the Chief of Army Staff (COAS) conference in Asaba. It was even better that you thought it wise to defer your thoughts on the encounter for the future because it has afforded me an opportunity to voice out my concerns from a distant land. So much has been said about the lack of inter-agency coordination which I need not repeat here; but hardly has anything been said about intra-agency cooperation especially as it affects the Army. Yet if coordination at an intra service level is disjointed and ineffective, it is not possible that you can ever achieve much at an inter-agency level.

At a period of national security emergency, much is expected of the security arm of the military, especially if counter measures are to be effective and efficient. But the military cannot effectively implement its counter insurgency operations if it continues to discountenance its intelligence assets. Before now, the Nigerian Army Intelligence Corps (NAIC) was an efficient, well trained professional security outfit with hardly any comparison in the Nigerian security community. The other military services (Navy and Airforce) depended on the Nigerian Intelligence School (NAIS) for training of their manpower; ditto the SSS, Police, Immigration and even the Central Bank of Nigeria. Every Nigerian Defence Attachee went through a refresher course at NAIS before deployment. The standard of training in NAIS was also recognized by the Ghanaian and Rwandese Armed Forces who sent in their personnel for training. What went wrong and how does it rub off on the present state of events?

 Following the advent of democracy in 1999, the NAIC became the butt of ridicule to which it is yet to recover while the command of the corps by thoroughbred professional was discarded for political and loyalty considerations. The new military helmsmen and Nigerians at large, deliberately forgot that the non-traditional roles undertaken by the NAIC under the military government was foisted on it by circumstances; and above all else suited and sustained the political arrangement of that time. The situation has not changed even when we are faced with a national emergency that requires the professional competency of NAIC officers and men.

Granted that in the military era, the NAIC experienced the influx of unsuitable hands and all manner of freeloaders whose only ticket to survival depended on such unwholesome practices as gossips and blackmail. This, however, does not in any way debase or diminish the professional competence of over 80% of the corps personnel. The business of intelligence is a very serious thing that requires professional human resources that are familiar with the procedures and rudiments of the calling. It is not an all-comers kind of thing. I therefore felt scandalized by the COAS speech in Asaba that Police Instructors were deployed to the Armed Forces Command and Staff College (AFCSC), Jaji to teach Intelligence and searches.

This is not to say that I am against inter-agency coordination, but having been an instructor in NAIS for over six years of my career, I think otherwise. Even Nigerian Police trainees drawn from the Police Detective school during my time accepted to the NAIS syllabus on searches as being superior to anything they ever knew. This is suggestive that the Intelligence Corps of the army is still struggling under the burden of suspicions and the tag of outcasts.

It is now time to properly judge the mood of the times and channel all available resources to combating the menace of insurgency. A need therefore exist for the Army to build its own house with solid bricks before extending a hand to other Agencies. It should start with the identification and recognition that treating core professional intelligence personnel with disdain has a psychological dimension with consequences on the present fight against insurgency.

As far back as 2002, my threat factors analysis captioned “compendium of Militant Groups in Borno” had predicted the emergence of Boko Haram. The indicators were all there and my indefatigable Commander, Major General A.T. Umaru (rtd) and the then hardworking Director of SSS, Mr Dogo can attest to this fact. I am yet to see any visible arrangements to tap from the professional expertise of retired intelligence officers. There are too many core professional intelligence officers trained with tax payers money who are now outside the corps (retired) than there are currently in service. This is the right time to request for their services in the overall interest of our country.

•Major Akpan (rtd) wrote in from the United Nations African Union Mission in Darfur, Sudan

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