Mai Mala Buni: On a Quest for a United Party

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Mai Mala Buni is the Governor of Yobe State but beyond this, he is the Caretaker Chairman of the All Progressives Congress, Nigeria’s largest political party. Come February 26, 2022, he will lead his party to a national convention to elect new men and women to pilot its affairs during the 2023 general election and beyond. Chiemelie Ezeobi reports that given how far he has taken the party in the last 18 months despite the numerous hitches and challenges of office, the true test of his strong leadership and drive for a united party will be paid forward

Though his primary assignment is the governorship of Yobe State, Mai Mala Buni was called in for emergency service when the party ran into troubled waters under the leadership of ex-Edo State Governor Adams Oshiomhole, who was fought to a standstill on all fronts by party members of the All Progressives Congress (APC).

In fact, there were fears that the ship of the party would not be able to berth successfully. Thus, it was decided that a caretaker committee should take over the running of the party.

It was not easy pick but at the end of the day, the Yobe State governor was given the task of running the party, which he had served as its national secretary before being elected governor.

He is being assisted by two of his colleagues, Osun State Governor Isiaka Oyetola and Niger State Governor Sani Bello.

Others in the APC Caretaker Extraordinary Convention Planning Committee (CECPC) are a former senator for Akwa Ibom Northeast John Akpanudoedehe; former Senate President Ken Nnamani; APC governorship candidate in Bayelsa in 2019, David Lyon; Baze University Vice-Chancellor Tahir Mamman (SAN); the Vice Chairman of the Senate Committee on Cooperation and Integration in Africa and NEPAD, Abubakar Yusuf (Taraba Central Senatorial District); Rep Akinremi Olaide (Ibadan North Federal Constituency of Oyo State); Executive Director (Business Development) of Nigerian-Export Bank (NEXIM), Stella Okorete; Plateau State Disability Rights Commission Chairman James Lalu; former interim chairman of the APC Youth Forum (APYF), Ismail Ahmed; and Abba Ari representing the Northwest geo-political zone.

Formative Years

This governor, with the onerous task of delivering an APC controlled by its members and not godfathers, was born November 19, 1967. He was born in Buni Yadi, Gujba Local Government Area. He is versed in the Quran, which he started memorising at an early age from his parents and other clerics.

Education

He had his primary education at Buni Gari Central Primary School where he obtained the First School Leaving Certificate in 1979.

He had his secondary education at the Government Secondary School Goniri and earned the West African Examination Council certificate in 1985. He began playing active politics early and not until 2014 did he earn a degree in International Relation as a part-time student of the Espan Formation University, Benin Republic.

He capped it with a Master’s degree in International Relations from the Leeds Becket University, United Kingdom.

Foray into Business

However, business was what took his attention after secondary school. He was on the board of companies such as MBG Integrated Farms Limited, MMB Petroleum and Chemical Company Nigeria Limited, MBG Construction and General Services Limited, Buni Gari and Company Nigeria Limited, Bright View Capital Alliance Limited, Subi Mega Global Solutions Limited, Rehab Synergy Nigeria Limited and First Integrated and Logistics Services Limited.

Political Odyssey

Meanwhile, his political odyssey began in 1992 when he won election to be the councillor for Buni ward in the Gujba Local Government Council on the ticket of the National Republican Convention (NRC).

He was chosen by his colleagues as the speaker of the council. In 2004, he was a senior legislative assistant in the National assembly in 2000, and in 2004, he became a member of the University of Uyo Governing Council.

In 2006, he became the Chairman of the Advanced Congress of Democrats in Yobe State and in 2007, he became the Chairman of the Action Congress and occupied the position till 2010. By 2011, he joined the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) and served as Special Adviser on Political Affairs and Legislative Matters to the then Yobe State Governor, Mallam Ibrahim Gaidam.

In 2013, following the formation of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Buni was its protem state secretary in Yobe State and in no time emerged its pioneer state Chairman. It was from this seat he rose to become APC National Secretary. He served till 2018 and in 2019, he got the APC ticket to become governor and subsequently won the election as the fourth Governor of Yobe State.

Key Derivatives for Yobe

For Buni, his assignment in APC has not slowed down his effectiveness in Yobe. When he was sworn-in, he said: “Our administration would strive to ensure prompt payment of counterpart funds to the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC), to enable the state access UBEC grants to improve primary education.

“We would equally build more school classrooms, employ more teachers as well as improve teacher’s incentives and provide additional instructional materials to meet the requirements of such communities. This approach would be replicated in the secondary education sector, we will equally make the teaching profession attractive and education more functional.

“The payment of examination fees by the government to students in public schools would be sustained. Parents and guardians in the state would be free from the burden of paying school and examination fees for their wards. In order to improve and encourage pupil’s enrolment in our schools, this administration will partner with the federal government for the implementation of the Home Grown Feeding Programme.”

And he has been walking his talk. He has spent over N2.1 billion on the construction of seven model primary schools in different parts of Yobe State and they have helped to decongest schools in the urban centres overstretched by fleeing Internally Displaced Persons. Boko Haram has wreaked havoc on the state and Buni has ensured the return of many IDPs back home. He achieved this by reconstructing their homes. He also provided livelihood support packages in partnership with the African Development Bank under the Agro-Processing, Productivity Enhancement and Livelihood Improvement Support (APPEALS). Over 5,000 IDPs have benefitted from the support.

In September 2020, his administration inaugurated houses for IDPs. The houses were funded by the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria Limited (SPDC) Joint Venture (JV), Shell Nigeria Exploration and Production Company Limited (SNEPCO) and Total Nigeria Plc.

His administration has constructed 53 of 178 proposed functional Primary Health Care Centres. They are complete with laboratories, pharmacies, male and female wards and housing quarters for health officials. The first phase of his administration’s housing units has seen the construction of 1,800 housing units in the six urban centres of the state. The second phase will also have 1,800 housing units.

Buoyancy for APC

Under his leadership, APC states have increased from 19 to 22. Beginning from January 28, 2021, three sitting state governors and scores of parliamentarians from other political parties joined the APC.

On January 28, 2021, seven APM lawmakers in Ogun defected to the APC. The lawmakers are Modupe Mujota representing Abeokuta North State Constituency, Musefiu Lamidi from Ado-Odo/Ota II and Amosun Yusuf from Ewekoro State Constituency.

The APC also received Ajayi Bolanle and Ganiyu Oyedeji from Egbado South and Ifo II State constituencies, and Ademola Adeniran from Ipokia/Idiroko and Sagamu II constituencies.

By February 15, 2021, ex-Osun State Deputy Governor Iyiola Omisore defected from the Social Democratic Party (SDP) to the APC. A day later, a former Governor of Ogun State Otunba Gbenga Daniel found a new home in the APC.

The House of Representatives member representing Ondo East/West, Abiola Peters Makinde left the ADC for APC on February 23, 2021. Hon. Blessing Onuh and Hon. Yakubu Abdullahi also joined the ruling party that month. Onuh represents Oturkpo/Ohimini Federal Constituency of Benue. Abdullahi represents Bauchi Federal Constituency.

The party also gained Ebonyi State Governor Dave Umahi who defected from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) PDP to the APC.

Cross River State Governor Ben Ayade also joined the Buni-led train. He announced his departure from the opposition party while hosting Buni and five other APC governors in Calabar, the state capital.

With Ayade’s defection, APC gained a governor in the South-south. It earlier lost Edo State when the tussle between Oshiomhole and Governor Godwin Obaseki led to the governor defecting to the PDP and eventually winning re-election.

Buni was also able to attract Zamfara State Bello Matawalle. Zamfara was lost by the APC after the Supreme Court nullified the APC’s victory. With Matawalle’s defection, it got back its state. Some federal lawmakers from Zamfara also pitched their tent with the APC.

Setting up National Reconciliation Committee

He also set up a National Reconciliation Committee headed by Senator Abdullahi Adamu to settle the rift between party chiefs. Buni said the “caretaker committee found it expedient to constitute the National Reconciliation Committee to reconcile emerging misunderstandings and differences which might arise from the outcome of the congresses.”

Buni urged the Senator Adamu Committee to “conduct appropriate engagement between identified groups in each state where there are disputes with a view to bringing about genuine reconciliation and establishing lasting peace and unity in the party; consult with party Leaders and concerned members as the committee deems necessary with a view to achieving peace therein.”

The committee, Buni said, is to “critically examine areas of conflict on the just concluded ward and local government congress and advance solutions in the circumstance”.

It is already going around the country and also receiving petitions and it is hoped that the outcome will be in the party’s interest.

Convention’s Deciding Moment

It is not an ordinary convention because it is one President Muhammadu Buhari expects to choose leaders who will not be beholden to kingmakers but members of the All Progressives Congress (APC).

With the date of the convention now announced, Buni is guided by President Buhari’s words: “There is no kingmaker from Abuja. No constituency is being dictated to. All constituencies are supposed to produce their leadership in our party.

“What other parties are doing is their own business, but we want to make sure that our party members understand that they are respected. It is from polling unit, to ward to local government, to state and after Abuja. So, those who want to be elected at any level let them work for it. Nobody is going to appoint anybody.”

He and his men have promised to deliver a rancour-free and world-class National Convention. Nigerians are watching.