Sardauna Title Solemnizes Nigeria’s Intelligence Chief 

GUEST COLUMNIST BY GARBA SHEHU

On Sunday, the last day of the year 2022, honour is being conferred on one of the best brains in intelligence circles on the African continent, Ambassador Ahmed Rufa’i Abubakar, CFR, as the Emir, Abdulmuminu Kabir Usman turbans him the third Sardaunan Katsina. The Sardauna is revered title made famous by the late Premier of Northern Region, Sir Ahmadu Bello, himself the Sardauna of Sokoto.

Before him, Katsina, his birth place had conferred the first Sardauna title on Ahmadu Coomassie, a former Inspector General of Police and a role model for the entire Force and lately, upon Senator Ibrahim Ida, an accomplished bureaucrat, businessman and politician who got promoted to the title of the Waziri, Prime Minister of Katsina.

Before they got to do this honor for him at home, Ambassador Rufa’i had received accolades and wide acceptance beyond the shores of Nigeria, most notably in the West African subregion where his intelligence capabilities are known and much respected, in continental Africa where he just finished serving as the Chairperson of the Intelligence and Security Services of Africa (CISSA) and in the global intelligence community in which he has become a veritable reference person on matters of counterterrorism and counter insurgency. He is well known to our European and Middle Eastern partners for providing deep insights about the threats faced by the country, West Africa and indeed the entire continent from within and from outside.

The Golden Fish, as the reference goes, has no hiding place. 

Ambassador Rufa’i didn’t start this illustrious journey to the top by accident. 

The polyglot (he speaks Hausa, Kanuri, a bit of Fulfulde, English, French and Arabic) was headhunted into the secret service from Katsina State civil service, which itself snatched him from the Bayero University, Kano where he taught French language and literature.

He had the distinction of being a product of an Arabic school who later joined the modern school system and proved his mettle at every level.

According to his official biography, the DG and the soon-to-turbaned Sardauna was born in Kofar Durbi area of Katsina into a respected family of Quranic scholars. “As was the tradition in Northern Nigeria and indeed, West Africa, Quranic scholarship took his uncle to Republic of Chad and he took the young Abubakar with him.

On his return to Nigeria, Abubakar attended Arabic Teacher’s College, Katsina where he obtained his Grade II Certificate. He later went to Bayero University Kano where he obtained a B.A degree in French Language and Literature, and an M.A degree in Francophone Maghrebian Literature. He worked as a Lecturer at Bayero University before taking up appointment with Katsina State Government. Later he transferred his services to the National Intelligence Agency, NIA in the 90s.”

At the NIA, he worked as an intelligence officer for many years during which he had served at the Nigerian Embassy Rabat, Morocco, before he quit on his own volition to join the African Union, AU Peace Mission in Darfur, Sudan. 

After a meritorious service at the AU, he later joined United Nations as Director in Peace Support Operations, Mediation Process, Preventive Diplomacy and Good Governance office. He also worked as the political director of the UN Mission in West Africa in the course of which he, Ibn-Chambas and others supervised Nigeria’s successful election and transfer of power from an incumbent administration to an opposition winner, Muhammadu Buhari in 2015.

The published biography went on to state how, as a top official of the UN the new Sardauna “acquired extensive experience in peace support operations of the UN, mediation process, preventive diplomacy and good offices, while all along helping to promote good governance and respect for the rule of law and human rights.”

Shortly after leaving the UN, to come home and settle down in retirement, he was appointed as a Senior Advisor with the Multinational Joint Task Force, MNJTF formed by Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Benin Republics with headquarters in Djamena.

Not long after this appointment, President Buhari recalled him and placed him in the Office of the Chief of Staff as Senior Special Assistant to the President on International Relations where he supervised diplomatically and politically sensitive matters of the country’s foreign affairs.

Amid heightened tensions and fears within the intelligence service and in the West African subregion, President Buhari named him as the successor to the equally cerebral Ambassador Ayo Oke.

Ambassador Rufa’i hit the spotlight upon this appointment following succession battles launched by some in the organization who believed it was their turn. In appointments to top jobs like these, succession battles are not new but in the case of this one, it was very nasty. 

But governments take the final call, the Head of Government decides who to appoint to the joy of some and disappointment of some; and to others, surprises. But it stays.

As the dust settled on the fire-and-brimstone succession in the NIA, Ambassador Rufa’i steeped himself in the job, introducing policies and measures that continue to change the nation’s intelligence landscape for good.

He sought and obtained the support of most of his predecessors in office, some of whom had left very aggrieved and in a few cases in court against the organization that had nurtured their careers. Many of such cases have been discontinued.

Among the large turnout of ex-Ambassador this and ex-Ambassador that at the Polo event in Abuja to honor the DG on the attainment of the Sardauna title were men and women who in the past had sworn never to have anything with the intelligence agency. He has brought nearly everyone, serving and retired from the diverse sections of the country under the tent.

Internal staff matters concerning delayed promotions, lack of care and perceptions of unfair overseas postings were addressed and are still being paid attention to in a manner transparent and honest. 

A lot is going on to have the field staff and those in headquarters updated through training on the current challenges facing the nation and our neighboring countries. Technology is being updated and made available and so are funds to carry out essential duties.

As the Boko Haram receive a battering, nearly 100,000 of them dropping their arms and accepting peace, the Islamic State-inspired terrorists have come knocking at the nation’s doorstep and NIA’s well trained spymasters, through effective coordination and collaboration with their domestic equivalent, the DSS and the armed forces and the police continue steer the country’s strategic and counter-intelligence efforts towards a safe direction.

With a style of management as put in practice by President Buhari, the nation’s security and intelligence agencies are achieving more with the little that is available. 

Although essentially a secret service organization, the NIA was transformed into a veritable health hub when the nation fell into the grip of COVID-19 pandemic. They hosted the most qualitative and the most efficient testing laboratory in the Federal Capital Territory that became the choice laboratory/clinic to leaders in the country including the Presidency on coronavirus testing and treatment.

The agency, in collaboration with other partners is currently making a historic investment in health. Building is at an advanced state of a new mega hospital in Abuja that will house dedicated centers of excellence in cancer, renal sciences, orthopedics, trauma, mother and child care, and a hi-tech, fully-automated centralised laboratory.

A charming personality and highly popular in his network, the Sardaunan Katsina is destined to bring progress and development to his native state as well. 

To commemorate this turbaning, he didn’t call praise singers to trumpet his ego and invite people to dance parties. Yes, there were Polo games, the signature sport of the royalty in Katsina played in Abuja and Katsina. 

But the most notable thing he and the committee of friends who put together all the money through donations for the event are doing is a two-day seminar themed: Tradition and Modernity: Trends and Issues in the History of Katsina. The seminar brought together scholars and practitioners from several institutions to jaw-jaw on the traditional system of rulership and to suggest ways the institution will enhance national development. Whatever is left of the donated money will go into building a quality primary school that will serve only the children of the poor.

Many a prophet, goes the saying, ends up without an honour at home. For Sardauna (Ambassador) Ahmed Rufa’i Abubakar there is honor abroad and honor at home. 

Garba Shehu is Senior Special Assistant to the President (Media and Publicity).

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