The first time I set my eyes on the Borno-born billionaire, Alhaji Mohammed Indimi was at the Government House, Bauchi. He had come to see the military governor of the state, then Col. Abu Ali. And I was privileged to be around as the guest of the governor who requested me to see him so that he could express his appreciation for the way my newspaper, the defunct SUN based in Jos, was supporting his government during the Tafawa Balewa crisis that later engulfed the entire state in 1991.
While most newspapers were sensationalising the catastrophe, my paper of which I was the editor-in-chief and chief executive officer was dousing the fire through objective reportage and analyses. Col. Ali had asked his director of press affairs, Malam Bashir Bello Akko who passed on recently, what his relationship was with my paper to warrant such mature and responsible coverage of the upheaval. His response was “nothing”.
I was ushered into the governor’s office by Alhaji Mohammed Alkaleri who was the permanent secretary at the Government House, and warmly received by the governor who commended the paper’s sense of social responsibility.
He had wondered why we were so different in our coverage of the crisis. I told him that we had a duty to help put down the raging fire. He was impressed when I told him that when your neighbour’s beard is on fire, and you don’t help to put it out, your own beard is not safe. So, by helping to nip the Bauchi crisis in the bud, we were pouring water on the beard of the neighbouring Jos (where I operated from) so that it would not catch fire too.
We both shared a laugh.
I was ensconced in the waiting room when Alhaji Indimi, neatly clad in a sky blue flowing gown and a Dipcharima cap to match, emerged from the governor’s office, closely followed by his host. They both pumped hands and the august visitor departed. I had heard about Indimi long before that day. He was a multi-millionaire then and his humility and generosity fascinated me. He struck me as a philanthropist par excellence. I believed he had come to see the governor to explore the possibility of helping the embattled state in any way he could.
Last Friday, Alhaji Indimi, now a billionaire, received the Governor of Borno state, Alhaji Kashim Shettima, in his Maiduguri residence and it was the encomia he showered on him that informed this write-up. Shettima’s host was fascinated by his records of achievements and described them as unbelievable in spite of the meager resources and the management of the Boko Haram insurgency.
The governor’s visit was informed by the philanthropist’s pledge to make huge contributions to the state in the areas of infrastructure and agriculture to support the state government in its efforts to rebuild homes, rehabilitate and resettle millions of IDPs or internally displaced persons in their ancestral locations.
Alhaji Indimi’s words: “What you are doing in Borno state despite the small resources is unbelievable. I don’t know how you are doing it. You have completely changed the face of Maiduguri. I have been to many states and I can say that many leaders do not come close to what you are doing in Borno state.
“In the past, whenever I had foreign visitors coming to visit me in Maiduguri, I made sure they arrived at night so that they wouldn’t see horrible sights but today, I make sure my visitors come in the daytime because I am proud of what they would see on entering Maiduguri. If you arrive at Maiduguri today, you will know there is a government in place.”
The eye of Borno state which Maiduguri represents is becoming more and more beautiful, according to Alhaji Indimi and he is very proud of its “seductive” features. The governor must have done so much as to make the state capital look so beautiful more than ever before despite the destructive activities of the terrorists that once swore to overrun the ancient city after dragging virtually all the local government areas under their thumbs at the peak of the hostilities a couple of years back.
Like Alhaji Indimi, I have always wondered too about Shettima’s governance secret. How has he been able to run the state so effectively with the meager resources at his disposal, paying workers as at when due and untiringly carrying retirees along, catering for hundreds of thousands of displaced Boko Haram victims, supporting the military and even setting up a state university scheduled to take off soon among other challenges? Only God knows what he would have turned the state into if he had no insurgency to grapple with.
On one occasion that I had a close encounter with the former banker, I fell short of asking him if he had his own minting machine at the Government House! This was because with the disappearance of sources of revenue like the IGR or internally generated revenue which has hit ground zero, how could he rely solely on the (dwindling monthly) allocations from the federal government to run the affairs of the beleaguered state, admirably? These exploits which have thrown him up as a good manager of resources made me describe him in one of my write-ups as God’s gift to the state in its trying times. What an enigma he is, this Shettima!
Right now, Alhaji Indimi’s fascination has fired my appetite to visit Maiduguri. The last time I was in the state capital was in February, 2001… long before the manifestation of the Boko Haram infestation. My