By Simon Imobo-Tswam
I met Prof. Sani Abubakar Mashi only on the 9th of February i.e. exactly a month after his appointment as head of the nation’s whether agency. I don’t know the man: before then, I had only heard of him. Even that is not quite correct. So, let me put it correctly: Before then, I had only read about him in newspapers. That was when he was appointed the Director-General of the Nigerian Meteorological Agency (NIMET); and the newspapers, in giving his bio-data, said he was professing Geography at the University of Abuja (prior to his appointment), and that he hails from Katsina state.
For me, that was enough. He might be a professor, and he might be a damned good one, as the Americans would say, but his Katsina roots raised my sentimental antenna. Against the backdrop of the charges that President Muhammadu Buhari is generally running a “Northern but specifically Katsina Government,” I too exclaimed, questioningly: Katsina again?
And not too long after this, specifically on the 9th of February, I had occasion to interview him for a publication in which I am marginally involved. It is not the kind of interview I jump at these days, but the thought of meeting Prof. Mashi, another of Buhari’s “nepotic appointees” overwhelmed every restraining consideration. And I joined the train to the Airport!
And let me confess: even when I saw him, I still held on to my stereotype of someone who was somewhere high up there strictly because his “uncle” or “state-man” was in some place higher up there, doing some not-so-high-up-there things! For one, he looked so young (as if I have things against young people). And two, as we made to enter his office, we saw the portrait of his successor, Dr. Anthony Anuforom – looking very mature, grave and distinguished. But it was not all – the name suggested that he was a Southerner, possibly an Igboman. In other words, the “mature Igboman” had to go so that the “young Fulaniman” could take over!
But all that was to change in an instant. For one, Prof. Mashi is so charmingly handsome that when you meet him, he charms you automatically. And on top of this, he is very humble – and that again in a disarming way. When we entered his office, he welcomed us very warmly and enthusiastically: no bourgeois consciousness, no patronizing airs, no social distance and no intellectual arrogance (we all know how some professors are!).
But Mashi’s real strength lay, neither in his boyish handsomeness nor, for that matter, in his humility – his real strength, as I found out, was (and is) in his upstairs. And I must say he is as intellectual as they come: for his intellect is, at once sharp, vivid, fecund and cosmopolitan.
As soon as we began interacting, it became evident why he was appointed the director-general of NIMET. Given that he had just taken over the agency, and was (is) still settling down, his understanding of NIMET’s mandate, history, triumphs and challenges was amazing. But this was not all – his grasp of its mandate-focused activities and partnerships, the panoramic sweep of his vision, the infectiousness of his zeal and his overall confidence in taking a battery of questions from a relentless press crew was, to state the obvious, extraordinary.
The director-general’s office is a big, spacious affair, really, and Mashi is not blessed with an imposing stature, but what he lacks in size, God has over-compensated him with in intelligence. And so, as Prof. Mashi began to speak with magisterial confidence; to meet questions with professorial answers; to talk about his mission at NIMET as well as elucidate on his global vision for the agency, the “small man” began to fill the “big office” until it came to a point where it started to appear as though the big office was rather too small for Mashi’s big ideas.
Even though he has just come into office, his eyes are already fixed on history. Hear him: “I want to be remembered for transforming NIMET; as the transformer who transformed NIMET, not just into the best agency in the country, but one of the world’s very best. This way, whenever any country, especially those in the Developing World – whether African, American or Asian – wants to develop their own meteorological agency, they will look at NIMET as their role model.”
He adds: “I want to emphasize this: My vision for NIMET is clear: it is to make NIMET a world-class outfit. This is because the services we offer are not just for Nigerians but for the benefit of everybody anywhere in the rest of the world. When foreign airlines are coming into the country, they rely on us. So, we want to keep up the service and better it so that whenever they go up, or they enter the Nigeria’s territorial airspace, they get the best type of information that any meteorological agency can give anywhere in the world.”
Not many people know about the core-mandate of NIMET, but a few people know about its many-sided activities and multi-dimensional partnerships with sister organizations, among these: the National Space Research and Development Agency (NSRDA), the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), the National Hydrological Development Services Agency (NHDSA) as well as River Basins Authorities and Agricultural Development Projects (ADPs) scattered across the country. However, even these few do not know that NIMET has strategic cooperations with the military-cum-intelligence bodies.
Hear Mashi on this strategic partnership: “Some of our inter-agency activities have security implications as security agencies normally come to us and tell us, in specific terms, the type of information they need to carry out a particular operation in a particular location at a particular point in time so as to enable them launch successful operations – which could be intelligence-gathering, reconnaissance or engagement.”
“For instance, when the Nigeria Air Force (NAF) was planning the great campaign that led to the liberation of Sambisa Forest from Boko Haram last year, they relied heavily on the information we provided to them. In fact, after the campaign was successful, NAF wrote us a letter of commendation, showing their appreciation for what we did towards the success of the operation. In fact, they even sent a high-powered delegation that came to the office here and to express their immense gratitude to the agency for the strategic assistance,” he added.
Because there is a new government in town, and under a different political party, some successors to public office have chosen to treat predecessors with suspicion and disdain or even outright opprobrium. But not Mashi: for even on the day of the interview, he was there, holding a meeting with Dr. Anuforom, his predecessor! (And, by the way, the Atmospheric Physicist is not an Igboman or from the South-East)!
The professor of Geography, this Sani Abubakar Mashi, is solid evidence that if you cannot judge a book by its size, it would likewise be unwise to judge a man by his stature, faith or geography, for that matter.
When we left the place, I gave myself the task of doing a little check on him. And I discovered that Mashi has not just go to NIMET with his academic knowledge – he has combined that knowledge with the requisite experience. Indeed, besides being a one-time deputy vice chancellor as well as deputy director, Centre for Distance Learning and director, Academic Planning, Mashi is a specialist in the environmental application of remote sensing. With this requisite preparation in academics, administration, socialization, planning, long-distance projections and remote (far-off/ distant) sensing, Mashi is, doubtless a square peg in a square hole.
So, he does not suffer the handicap of many academics, who come into public office with only text-book theories and abstract philosophies, which, often times, prove serious liabilities on the job.
He looks set to take NIMET to higher heights, and we can only pray for him and wish him the best.
Imobo-Tswam, a public affairs analyst and retired newspaper man, writes from Abuja.
He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org