Alhaji Ahmed Joda, in life, commanded the kind of respect that was reserved for the truly great. Soft spoken and austere, he lived a life that was worthy of emulation. An encounter with him cannot but leave one with a lasting impression of a man gifted in so many ways. His encyclopedic knowledge of the country and its rise to nationhood point to his monumental contributions to the building of the modern Nigerian nation.
As is wont with men of immense relevance, his reputation preceded him in such a manner that seem larger than his physical size. It also affirms the view that most men of history are not necessarily assessed by their physique but by the efforts they made to change the world they met.
At his passing, recently, the encomiums from those who knew him closely point to the inexorable fact that he, indeed, was a man richly endowed with the attributes usually ascribed to great men of achievement. Spartan and disciplined, he chose his career path carefully. He started as an agriculturist which was not a surprise considering his cultural milieu but later moved on to train as a journalist at a time when such callings are not very common in his part of the world- Northern Nigeria. It may also have helped in preparing him for the meteoric rise he experienced in the civil service. It was such that he became a permanent secretary in his 30’s and one of the best that earned him and a few others the sobriquet of super permanent secretary. He came into that position at a turbulent time in the history of the country soon after independence and throughout the period preceding the onset of the civil war.
As permanent secretary, he supervised the running of three strategic ministries, Information, Education and Industries. He was part of the policy think-tank that provided the intellectual and bureaucratic substance behind the rolling plans that expedited the infrastructural development of the country. One of his regrets was that, soon after, those policies were abandoned for ad hoc arrangements that led to the decay that is holding back the nation till date.
It was in that position that he was able to play his role creditably in shaping the history of Nigeria guiding and directing the military administrations that managed the affairs of Nigeria in those heady days. To some of his contemporaries, his lofty ideals about the country will continue to motivate and inspire generations to come. To others, he was not just a Nigerian but a great one committed to the unity, development and progress of the country. To more yet, his stature as an accomplished administrator was towering and colourful. In the civil service, he is regarded as one of those who wrote the rule book.
Alhaji Ahmed was born in Yola to a Fulani family of Sheik Modibbo Raji in 1930. His father was a 19th-century Islamic scholar. He attended Yola Elementary School and Yola Middle School before proceeding to the famous Barewa College from 1945 to 1948. He worked briefly at Moor Plantation in Ibadan, and later as an agricultural officer in Yola before entering the field of journalism at Gaskiya Corporation in Zaria. He then attended Pitman’s College, London from 1954 to 1956. On his return, he became a correspondent at the Nigerian Broadcasting Service from 1956 to 1960.
Ahmed left mainstream journalism to join the civil service of then Northern regional government as a Chief Information Officer, then later, Permanent Secretary from 1962 to 1967. In 1967, soon after the outbreak of the Nigerian Civil War, he was seconded to the Federal Civil Service as a Permanent Secretary serving in three Ministries: Information, Education, and Industries, where he retired in 1978. A nation he served so well bestowed on him Officer of the Federal Republic (OFR), Commander of the Order on the Niger (CON) and the third highest honour in the land, Commander of the Federal Republic (CFR). On retirement, he went into private business and to his beloved farming.
He acquired a large expanse of land in Adamawa, his home state, where he practiced crop cultivation and animal husbandry. He ate only what he was able to produce in his farm, natural, organic food that buoyed his longevity. In between, he was chairman and board member of various companies including the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), the Nigerian LNG and Pastoral Resolve, a foundation that seeks to address the challenges of cattle rearing in Nigeria. He also served on the board of multinationals like SCOA Nigeria, Chagoury Group and Flour Mills of Nigeria.
Alhaji Ahmed Joda was also a member of the 1988 Constituent Assembly which planned the constitutional transition of the Third Nigerian Republic. In 1999, he was appointed a member of the Committee to Advise the Presidency on Poverty Alleviation and in 2015, headed the Muhammadu Buhari presidential transition Committee. As he goes to be with his Maker at 91, we join his family, relations and friends in wishing him a peaceful repose.