We all woke up on April 25, 2020 to the sad news of the demise of Professor Ibrahim Alkali Ayagi, who died in Kano after a protracted illness. We pray to Allah SWA to forgive him and wipe away all his sins, amin.
My first direct contact with Professor Ayagi started some time in 1986 when I was a TV Producer with NTA Kano, and was engaged in a 13-episode personality profile documentary series in Hausa – Tarihin Rayuwata. It was a program designed to encourage and guide students, at the time when the WAEC examinations results for the previous year turned out to be a near-disaster in Kano, and majority of them either failed woefully or could not meet the entry requirements to university. These young minds became disheartened and some started to engage in all kinds of addictions, as a way out of what they considered a hopeless future for them.
In the program, we aimed at sharing the struggles and repeated failures of our then successful leaders, so that the younger ones would be inspired to realize the ability to count failure as major ingredients for success, and also be able to focus and move on with life after failure or disappointment.
Some of the personalities I interviewed in the program include the late Gado Da Masu of Kano, Alhaji Habibu Muhammad; late Alhaji Balarabe Ismaila, former Minister of Aviation; the current Walin Kano, Alhaji Mahe Bashir Wali; then Commissioner of Police, Sokoto State, and many others. The top two bankers who agreed to feature in the program later changed their minds, and my search started afresh. By chance I came across a colleague, Ibrahim Alhasan, a banker working for then AfriBank. Typical of our profession and being a banker himself, I discussed my challenges of finding a senior banker for my program. Without hesitation, he told me Dr. Ibrahim Ayagi, the acting Managing Director of Continental Merchant Bank, was in town.
Within minutes of sending my business card, Dr. Ayagi emerged from his house. After the program was aired, we maintained a strong relationship. From that moment, I had not taken any personal or career decision without his input and guidance, always referring to him as my boss, but he always insisted we were colleagues, can you imagine? This was the extent of Dr. Ayagi’s humility, which he extended to all and sundry. He gave out the hands of one of my daughters in marriage, and was so grateful that I accorded him that much regard.
When I decided to quit my job as a Senior TV Producer in 1988, for a new position in then MAMSER, Prof Ayagi vehemently opposed and instead wanted me to take up a job in the Public Affairs Department of the Continental Merchant Bank, Lagos. But before completing the process, the Prof. was “fired for irreconcilable differences” with the IBB Government, which had earlier confirmed his appointment as substantive MD of the bank.
On his return home after retirement, the people of Kano unanimously agreed to appoint him the first Director General of the Kano State Foundation and I was appointed Assistant Manager of Public Affairs in the DG’s Office. Over a year into the job, Prof, who had become my mentor, called my attention to an observation that I should not restrict myself to PR job when he saw potentials for me in other areas, especially in analyzing and writing.
He recommended for me to take up an MBA degree to train for the skills and when I secured a sponsorship to Cardiff University in Wales, which I completed and returned to Nigeria in 1994, I decided to set up a Business Center in Kano, which was the vogue in UK then. And soon Bamsons Business Center (BBC) emerged and started off so well. Within a short time, it became one of the best in Kano and neighbouring states.
From time to time, Dr. Ayagi would visit me in my Business Center, and when the Petroleum Task Force (PTF) appointed him as one of its consultants to oversee the Revolving Fund Scheme for the entire Northwest Zone, Dr. Ayagi appointed me the Project Manager and his Special Assistant, to supervise the 7 states.
When General Olusegun Obasanjo was released from prison, Ayagi directed me to draft a personal letter from him to Obasanjo, inviting him to contest for the presidency of Nigeria. Before then in 1989, Gen Obasanjo had launched the book written by Prof Ayagi – The Trapped Economy – in Lagos and we were all in attendance.
At that time, I had taken a bold decision to resign from the PTF assignment, to take up a job as a Senior Manager with a commercial bank.
Prof Ayagi did not like my action, but he has always respected my decisions, so he let go, on the condition that we continue to keep our relationship and contacts.
One morning, Ayagi called me to announce his appointment as the Chairman National Economic Intelligence Committee (NEIC) and he offered me the position of his Special Assistant. But I was barely 5 months on my new job, which I enjoyed doing and did not want to leave. Sadly, I turned down the offer. This time Prof reasoned with me and we moved on.
Sometime in December 2014, I was in Kano for the end of year holiday, and I visited Prof at home, alongside two of my sons. He was so excited to see me, and our discussion leaned on politics, as it was campaign time and the parties were slugging it out.
However, in our frank discussion, we talked about his indecision on Gen Buhari’s presidential ambition. My words seemed too strong for him, and he kept looking at me. I reminded him that when Obasanjo was campaigning, he sent him a letter of support and donated towards his election, but so far, he had not done any for his good friend General Muhammadu Buhari.
Prof Ayagi was so pleased with my reminder and confessed that he had not thought about it till then. And then he rebuked me for staying too long away from him, resulting in him making errors like that one. He instantly insisted I must draft the letter of support to Gen Buhari before my trip to Kaduna the following day.
Sometime in 2016, Prof Ayagi told me that President Buhari had sent for him to visit him in the Villa and had treated him so well. He was so impressed by the way the president took part in assisting him to sit and stand and to see him off after their meeting, showing so much care and concern towards his ailments.
May the soul of Prof Ayagi continue to rest in peace, Amin.
Not only have I maintained my high respect for Prof Ayagi all these years, and will continue to admire him and all he believed in, I learnt so many values from him during the period of our relationship.
He came from a humble background and struggled hard to be what he was. He took himself to primary school, when no one was willing to take him. At Teachers’ College, he remained one of the best and most hard-working students, who eventually gained admission to further his studies in the university. He told me he was a mature student while at the university, already married at the time.
In his economics class, his expatriate lecturer assured the students that whoever graduated with a Second-Class Upper degree would become eligible for Rockefeller Foundation scholarship for PhD in the US, and Prof promised to get the award and he took it. When he returned to Nigeria with PhD in Economics, he was employed by the ABU Zaria as a lecturer.
In 1975, after the military coup of General Murtala Mohammed, Prof was appointed a commissioner of Finance and later he combined the Ministry of Education as well, where he introduced the Science Secondary Schools in Kano State, which has now produced outstanding and great scientists from the state. Prof resigned as a Commissioner to take up appointment as Assistant General Manager with UBA, from where he rose and in 1984 was appointed the Acting MD of a Merchant Bank. He accepted the position of Director General of Kano State Foundation in 1987, and set up educational institutions at all levels, which have produced graduates in all disciplines.
During my visit to him in December 2019, while in Kano, we spent over four hours in his private living room, covering virtually all issues of our lives and challenges and reviving our contacts. He recapped all the struggles of his life and continued to appreciate what God had done for him. After I left, he still called me on phone two days later to appreciate the visit and wished me well, as he always did. Alas, that was the last time I saw him or heard his voice.
I must confess I am yet to come across a courageous person like Prof Ayagi, who was ready to go on a lonely path, as long as he believed it was the right one.
May Allah SWA continue to bless him and reward him abundantly for all the good he has done in this world and to give him the highest place in paradise. And may God continue to guide and protect the family he left behind, Amin.
Nourah Bamalli, Assistant Vice President, Human Resources & Planning Department, American University of Nigeria, Yola