Hon. Yakubu Dogara is the Speaker of the House of Reps. Daily Trust Saturday sat down with him for an interview, during which he spoke about his family, business, life before politics, and other aspects to his persona previously unknown. Herewith, are excerpts:
‘Why I used to hate politics’
Daily Trust: At what point in your life did you decide to become a politician, and why?
Hon. Yakubu Dogara: It will surprise you to know that it wasn’t entirely a deliberate choice on my part to go into politics. I was never interested in it. As a matter of fact, I hated politics with a passion because of the betrayal and backstabbing involved. I’d already cut my teeth in the private sector, comfortable in my skin about the future having made some investments that were beginning to yield tangible returns. With that in mind, I thought I needed no career in politics, because of my belief then that those who had a chance of making it in other endeavours shouldn’t have anything to do with politics. Therefore, I had zero interest in politics, generally, much less running for an elective position.
My journey into politics began when our then sitting governor, Dr. Ahmadu Adamu Mu’azu decided that because of certain qualities he had seen in me, I should join politics and run for the House of Reps in 2007.
Initially, I had reservations, but along the line he won me over, not just because of his own desire to improve on the quality of those he was recruiting into leadership positions, but by his sterling performance as the governor. It is now the consensus even among his bitter opponents that he remains the best governor Bauchi State has ever had.
In short, I owe my sojourn into politics to God, who orchestrated it, and used Mu’azu to make it possible.
DT: As the Speaker of the House of Reps, your schedule must be gruelling. How has this affected your family life?
Dogara: It’s absolutely true that as Speaker, I have a very gruelling schedule. You will agree with me that presiding over the affairs of 359 people from different backgrounds is not a cake walk. I don’t see any other job in Nigeria that is as demanding as Speakership at the moment. Unfortunately, many do not understand this.
There’s hardly a day that I don’t see up to 30 members. Assuming each member takes just 30 minutes of your time on the average, most will take more time, that’s 10 hours of the day gone. Most Members come with problems that are not just difficult, but wicked. Wicked problems because they are complex with no immediate solutions. These issues are spiritually, physically, emotionally and psychologically challenging. Therefore, the kind of fatigue you experience is intensely consuming. Not many people have mastered how to deal with this type of fatigue. As a matter of fact, there are times you feel like you should just be left alone.
The difficulty is that unlike executive position, members are not your subordinates, they are your equals. Greater degree of discretion must be deployed in relating with them and handling issues affecting them. So as you can see, most of my time is spent attending to members. On the average, I close at 3:00am daily. Except I force it, it is almost impossible to have time for family, friends and constituents.
My luck is that my two children are already in university, and are only around during vacations. As for my wife, I believe these are the loneliest moments of her life. I don’t know how she copes, but it appears she is coping well. The time I have to invest on my family is the annual vacation and I do it unapologetically, I put off my Nigerian number and spend all my time with my family. It’s grossly inadequate, but that’s the best I can afford for now.
DT: Speaking of your wife, how has she supported your chosen profession?
Dogara: She’s been very supportive. I’m thankful to God that I have her as wife. She has really been a pillar of support, in prayers and in extending assistance to our constituents and beyond through her NGO, Sun of Hope Foundation, which has helped in renovating and re-equipping the National Obstetric Fistula Centre, Ningi, Bauchi State. Although VVF is not a major problem in our immediate constituency, she has seen hundreds of VVF patients repaired and restored to a life of dignity and honour. Her foundation has screened thousands for hepatitis/HIV in Bauchi and beyond, run free medical outreaches and distributed hybrid rice and maize seedlings with fertilizers and herbicides to thousands of women and youth. She has no doubt earned a page, if not a chapter, in any book that may be written on my politics.
DT: How did you first meet?
Dogara: We first met at a Rescue Mission Fellowship event. When I saw her and her commitment and passion for the things of God, I had no doubt in my mind that if I ever wanted to raise a family then she must be the mother of my children. We became friends thereafter, and later bosom friends. So when I got married to her, I actually married my bosom friend. Thankfully, it will be a solid 22 years in November, of marital bliss and I can without any sense of contradiction say that we have yet to witness a major quarrel.
DT: Among your many qualifications, the first one is that of teacher. After you graduated from Bauchi Teachers College in 1982, did you teach, and for how long?
Dogara: I taught at ATBU Staff School from April 1988 to November of that year when I resigned my appointment in order to pursue my university education. It was a brief stint, but I must say the memory lingers. I love imparting knowledge. Teachers are special people and I doff my hat for all those wonderful men and women out there who have embraced the profession, with all the self abnegations and inadequate reward system plaguing the sector.
DT: You served in 1993 in Akwa Ibom State for your NYSC. How would you describe the experience, and what impact would you say it had on your mindset?
Dogara: It was a year like no other. It was the first time in my life that I would live on my own in a land where I couldn’t understand the language. I was compelled to learn budgeting, knowing I was far away from home and must take care of myself within the available resources. The foundation for the stability I have today, was laid during the service year.
The service year also brought home the reality that Nigeria was truly a rich and diverse nation. My one year in Lagos during Law School offered me a glimpse into Yoruba culture and there I was in the heart of the South-South. I came across spirited young men and women who were supremely devoted as I was to working for a truly united and prosperous Nigeria. It was such an incredibly transformational experience that helped changed my outlook and strengthened my resolve. The very fond memories still linger.
DT: You studied Law. How long did you practice?
Dogara: In Nigeria, people always forget that the legal profession is fused, in the sense that once you are called to the Bar, unlike in Britain, you are free to practice as a solicitor and advocate or as a solicitor or advocate because you are qualified as both. So, when you talk of legal practice, the tendency is always there to begin to look at the years a lawyer goes to court as a counsel or advocate. But the law can be advocated in courts as well as classrooms. That’s why Law lecturers with demonstrable proficiency in certain thresholds are also admitted into the inner bar.
Therefore, it will appear that by advocating law in classrooms they are also into active legal practice. Likewise those that choose to be solicitors and are practicing as such, are also into active legal practice.
Having laid that foundation, I can now tell you that I was in practice as a counsel-slash-solicitor for a period of 11 years from 1994 after my NYSC to 2005 when I was appointed as Special Assistant to a minister.
DT: As a lawyer, can you recall your most memorable day on the job?
Dogara: The first day I was to move a motion in court, I had prepared it, read it through and through, but I still had butterflies in my stomach. I must confess, it was a sickening experience for me, as I was an introvert, and terrified by the prospect that if it doesn’t go well, it may affect my future outings in court. I got to the court that day, and as I sat, my mind ran wild, until the judge sent word that she would not sit that day, that the motions will be taken in her chambers. So I moved the motion in the chambers, and it went so well that the judge openly commended me. Little did she know that my performance that day was largely propelled by fear of failure, than by desire to succeed. This was the baptism I needed, and I got it early.
DT: So do you miss courtrooms, and the attendant drama?
Dogara: The courtroom is perhaps the best learning environment. In the university and Law school, you are taught the law but you actually find the law in practice especially in the courtroom. There is nothing as fulfilling in law practice as appearing before a judge who knows his or her onions. That’s what precipitates the drama. Any courtroom lacking in drama is indicative of the fact that either the judge or counsel are shallow, or both. No doubt, I have missed, and I’m still missing it, a lot.
DT: Your bio states that you’re 50-years-old, but you look younger. Do you have a regular regimen for keeping fit?
Dogara: Unfortunately, no. It’s difficult to have a regular regimen for keeping fit once you have the kind of schedule that I have. When I have time, I play my favourite game, which is basketball, but that’s not regular. What I do regularly is that I monitor what I eat. I try as much as possible to cut carbs from my diet, and that has been very helpful. However, because of the kind of work I do, coupled with the fact that as Africans we are addicted to sugar-related diets, sometimes the body rebels and you are left to deal with the consequences.
DT: You recently released your memoirs, ‘A Reed Made Flint’. What prompted you to pen one, especially since you probably have much more way to go in your career?
Dogara: In life you never know, although we are positive all the time. I thought 50 years is enough landmark, really, in one’s life journey. More so, I have always skipped marking my birthday, until I clocked 50.
I thought that at that age, it was necessary to tell my story so it may inspire a few. I am happy that a lot of people have said to me that they are encouraged and strengthened by the narratives in the book. A colleague of mine in the House told me that he has read it three times.
I was also moved to raise some money for charity on my 50th birthday and I equally thought the best way of doing so was to present the book on that day. I am happy to report to you that as at today, we have raised over N200million from the nearly N400million pledges that were made in the course of the event. The entirety of that money will be deployed for charity, most especially to address the plight of IDPs and gifted indigent students in the Northeast and other zones. As we speak, the modality for disbursement of the funds is being worked out.
DT: Does that mean there’s another book on the horizon?
Dogara: What’s left now is the autobiography which will hopefully capture some of the thrilling details of my career that were not captured in the first book. That will come in the fullness of time, by God’s grace.
DT: When your speakership is done, what do you plan to engage in?
Dogara: I’ve lost interest in planning the next phase of my life. Therefore, my answer to your question is very simple: my training brings me a lot of opportunities for service. When I am done with speakership, I will weigh the opportunities available to me for service and the one that will result in maximum impact on others is the one that I will embrace without equivocation. It is not about what I want to do, but how can I deploy my talents and gifts in ways that will have maximum impact on others. I have no other plan.
DT: You’re also known for an enthusiast of agriculture. How deep into it would you say you are?
Dogara: As at today, I am not deeply into agriculture, although I am a part-owner of a farm. I started my foray into farming in the late 90s when I first established an orchard on the banks of River Tafawa Balewa, which is still flourishing till date. Before I got into politics, I acquired the present farmland at Gidan Kura, Nasarawa State, for the purpose of cultivating cassava on commercial scale. Unfortunately, the policy on cassava farming introduced by the then-Obasanjo government failed. We were left with so much cassava that we didn’t know what to do with. We sold a full pick-up truckload for N30,000 then, but there wasn’t enough of a market to take all of it.
When cassava failed, we decided to turn the farm into an orchard. In 2006 before I joined politics, we planted 37,000 mango seedlings consisting of 12 different foreign varieties and 17,000 jumbo guava seedlings on the farm. We lost quite a number in the process of nurturing the trees to maturity, but right now it’s an established orchard. We have added banana trees, fish ponds, poultry and a small ranch as the years went by. In collaboration with partners, we want to expand the poultry and begin processing rice and maize. But that is work in progress.
It is also true of Nigeria that as long as we are not running mechanized farms, any talk of progress in agriculture is cheap talk. When more than 99% of farmers still go to farms with hoes, there is no way we can successfully feed our ever-increasing population. Something has to be done, and very urgently, as we are not near any breakthrough in agriculture, if the truth must be told. If we must grow what we eat, and eat what we grow, then government must ensure that our farmers remain on the farm no matter the cost and lay the foundation for mechanization of agriculture and smart farms.
My father told me farming is a noble profession, because without farmers we will have no food, and without food we will all be in trouble. Although a successful business man in his days, he did not give up farming. He raised me as a farmer, so it’s been in my DNA. So going into it wasn’t a question of interest, it was a question of deploying what was already in me.
As for my children, oh how they used to hate going to the farm! I remember they once told me that I was embarrassing them by insisting they go to the farm with me as none of their friends’ parents was into this archaic thing. I had to work hard to break the walls of resistance they had built in themselves. Right now, anytime they are home, they are looking forward to when they will go to the farm.
The challenge we have as a nation is recruiting the next generation of farmers. We have to make farming attractive to millennials, otherwise we face a very frightening and insecure future. I don’t know how we can achieve this, but it’s a task that must be accomplished.
DT: When you’re not at work, how do you relax?
Dogara: I read a lot. Anytime I retire for the day, I have to invest some time in reading. I love sports also. I watch football, basketball and athletics anytime I am free.
DT: What’s your favourite meal, and how often do you indulge yourself?
Dogara: As a young man, Accha was my staple. I love Tuwon Accha, with any draw soup or Miyar Taushe. You know Accha has no sugar. Except I am not home, I eat a derivative of Accha at least once a day. My colleagues say I am ‘local’ in my selection of dishes, but I must tell you that Accha is one of, if not the healthiest food, in Nigeria.