Mai Mala Buni: Ball boy who dreamed big
It is not possible that incumbent Governor of Yobe State, Mai Mala Buni, who became the chairman of the Caretaker/Extraordinary Convention Planning Committee (CECPC) of governing All Progressives Congress (APC), would weigh more than 90 kilogrammes on the weighing scale.
With his slight frame and taciturn demeanour, the Yobe State governor comes out as a nice man, an epitome of humility and a kind of utility resource person. Those qualities may explain why, for the greater part of the nearly two years he superintended over APC’s interim management committee, what he did not say weighed heavily on the party and Nigeria’s polity.
If the former CECPC chairman was sports inclined, he would have been so good at snooker, chess or any such less vigorous play that require more mental agility than vigorous physical exertion. Buni brought those qualities, deficiencies and all, to bear on his interim assignment as APC chairman.
Perhaps, on account of his slender bearing, Buni is always seen as a veritable envoy. At age 54, the Yobe State governor had had great opportunities thrust on him by those who trust in his selflessness and humility. Around 2018, when Chief John Odigie-Oyegun was stopped from seeking a second term as APC national chairman, Buni enjoyed the grace of a return as national Secretary by virtue of President Muhammadu Buhari’s endorsement.
While he was handed a return ticket unopposed to the office of APC National Secretary in Abuja, back home in Damaturu, the powers that be in Yobe politics, particularly his godfather, Bukar Abba Ibrahim, was resolute that the young man from Buniyadi should succeed Governor Ibrahim Gaidam in 2019.
Despite Gaidam’s reservations about the competence and capacity of Mai Mala to be governor, the oracle of Yobe politics had spoken and his word was law. By March 16, 2019 when the governorship election held, Buni was coasting home with 444,013 votes to defeat Alhaji Bello Iliya of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), who trailed with 95, 703 ballot.
It was a measure of his humility and somewhat aloofness that 27 years after serving as a councillor for Buni ward of Gujba Local Government Council, Yobe State that Buni became the state chief executive.
Buni had been around the circles of political power and influence in the Northeast State of Yobe. Right from the days he was elected as state chairman of Advanced Congress of Democrats (ACD), which later fused into Action Congress (AC) in 2007, to when he joined the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) and became Special Adviser to Governor Gaidam, it had been always one political office or another.
It was from serving as an aide to Governor Gaidam that Buni went on the emerge as the first national secretary of APC and from their became governor, before being moved back to Blantyre Street national secretariat of the party to serve the dual offices of CECPC chairman and Yobe State governor.
Having worked behind the scenes and closely with big time players in the nation’s polity, Mai Mala could be said to have seen through the make-believe, duplicity and shibboleths that define party politics.
With that background, therefore, the young man from Buniyadi, who had played behind the scene, albeit low-keyed, as national secretary of APC under the mercurial Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, knew how much power and influence is warehoused in the office of national chairman.
Not that alone, with his cover of constitutional immunity as state governor in one hand, Buni must have seen his additional assignment in CECPC as a colossal opportunity to climb further up in the political ladder of Nigeria’s democracy.
One of the few legal maxims sophomores in law get accustomed to is that illegal business has no legal background. Consequently, having been invested with the full powers of party chairman, albeit in an interim mandate, Governor Buni started dreaming big. “If Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, a lowly university teacher without sandals from Otuoke, could climb to the Presidency from deputy governor, through governor and Vice President,” why cannot a little boy from Buniyadi, he must have thought.
As the so-called National Executive Council (NEC) meeting held at the Presidential Villa that fateful June 25, 2020, Buni was not bothered by the legality or enormity of the challenges being placed on his shoulders. Rather, as a former chairman of Nigeria Shippers Council, he must have been wondering how desperate and overzealous politicians would be shipping their allegiance, tithes and tributes to the chairman in their fawning and cringing best.
As CECPC chairman, Buni guided the party through the unsuccessful Edo State governorship and the Ondo and Kogi outings. These electoral competitions provided ample alibi for the Yobe governor to instigate shifts in the six months’ timeline given his committee to organise a national convention and raise a substantive National Working Committee (NWC) of the party.
Although the mandate of the CECPC included “directing the affairs of the party and conducting the party’s extraordinary national convention for six months,” the mandate kept being reviewed ending in renewal of six months’ deadline.
There was nothing to show that the Yobe State governor was not enjoying the party office more that the mandate of Yobe voters. The CECPC job must have expanded his horizon and also given him a plausible excuse to relinquish the Damaturu Government House to the godfather who has never slept since 1999.
Apart from the unrelenting Boko Haram attacks on the state and the planned construction of an airport in the state, the only policy statement that could be associated with Buni was his inauguration address, in which he assured of prompt payment of counterpart funds for the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC) programmes.
He noted that, “the payment of examination fees by the government to students in public schools would be sustained. Parents and guardians in the state would be free from the burden of paying school and examination fees for their wards. In order to improve and encourage pupil’s enrolment in our schools, this administration will partner with the Federal Government for the implementation of the Home Grown Feeding Programme.”
Despite those prodigious promises about education, it happened that one of the attacks Buni received as he grappled with managing diverse political interests in APC was the claim that his educational background has a lot of holes.
At the height of the Zamfara State imbroglio, Senator Kabiru Marafara said why Buni was breaking every known law was because he did not go to school, stressing that he was clinging to the chairmanship of CECPC to serve his personal interest.
Marafa, who, alongside Governor Nasir el Rufai, supported Buni to become the APC national secretary in 2014, did not fail to point out the illegality of Buni’s chairmanship of CECPC.
The Zamfara Senator remarked that Buni was running APC as an amalanke (makeshift children’s car), adding, “Mai Mala Buni was breaking every known laws due to his lack of basic primary or secondary education. I have looked up the governor’s profile and could not find evidence of his primary or secondary education.”
While harping on Section 17(4) of the APC constitution, Marafa said Buni knows that he was occupying an illegal office, stressing that, “APC constitution says no officer in any organ of the party shall hold an executive position in government concurrently with the party position.”
The Senator disclosed that he wanted to tell Buni that Zamfara was not Yobe, since according to him, “it appears APC national headquarters is at loggerheads with rules and procedures. They want to prove at every point that they are lawbreakers and uneducated.”
It was Marafa that alerted Nigerians that the Buni-led APC was on a mission to destroy the APC. But, in a swift pushback, Buni described Marafa’s “vituperations as nothing but an empty ranting of an ant.”
In a statement through Mamman Mohammed, his Director of Press, Buni asserted: “Marafa is a sinking politician, who lost out and holding everyone responsible for his self-inflicted political misfortune. As a responsible politician, he should just approach the court and stop being the complainant and juror.”
Recent developments within APC show that while most of the party bigwigs believe that Buni was pliable and available to do their bidding, the Yobe helmsman was busy doing his own thing.
From experience, especially in management, Buni seems assured that no two wrongs can make one right. If therefore APC could flout its constitution and saddle him with the chairmanship of the controversial CECPC, nothing stops him from turning the committee into a tank of selfish political gambles.
Devoid of any constitutional or institutional restraints, the CECPC chairman exercised his freedom to pick and choose which party, be it Presidential, directives to implement.
Those double channels became evident in the case of Anambra State governorship primary, where in spite of stakeholder reservations about the process and President Buhari’s demand for a review, the status quo was sustained leading to the woeful outing of the party in the November 6 and 9 gubernatorial elections.
Having gotten away with those infractions, the CECPC chairman had his plate full when some of his colleagues noticed obvious lack of enthusiasm to conduct the national convention and pave the way for the emergence of a substantive NWC.
Even Buni’s allies, who believed that they were the ones goading him into certain decisions, were surprised that the boy from Buniyadi had a design of his own and was busy plotting his political progression.
Perhaps, having mastered how the powers-that-be used judicial ambush by way of a court order to escort Oshiomhole out of office, the former national secretary wanted to ply the same apian way.
It took his former ally, Governor El Rufai to discover that the CECPC had already procured a legal instrument to surprise the party and abort the March 26 national convention and possibly ensure that he conducts the Presidential primary that could reward him (Buni) with a Vice Presidential ticket.
Speaking on a Channels Television programme, the Kaduna State governor disclosed how APC governors “discovered a grand conspiracy between the lawyers of the ousted CECPC chairman and some fifth columnists to postpone the national convention of the party through a court injunction.”
Stunned by the expose and, following the bedlam occasioned by recriminations of stakeholders, Buni beat a quick retreat through medical tourism to the United Arab Emirates.
Although the storms are yet to settle, whenever Buni returns, he would reflect on the hausa saying, Idon kayi shege ntaka sai antaka ka (when you walk stupidly, they swoop on you).
For Buni, APC and CECPC, the following weeks, leading to the contentious national convention would show that when it rains it pours. The truth that travelled on June 25, 2020 seems to be coming back to bother them.