If there is anyone who is not undaunted by difficult assignments—someone society can bank on to take on an existential problem and find a lasting solution to it—that must be Brig. Gen. Mohamed Buba Marwa (retd).
If you put the country’s biggest problem on the table and ask Nigerians for suggestions of trusted hands capable of solving it, he will be one of the obvious choices for many citizens across generations and ethnicities. It is not surprising that his name comes to mind quickly. In three cycles, he has proven his mettle by taking on gargantuan challenges and, each time, delivering spectacularly. The bigger the challenge, the bigger the results. That’s the Marwa way: his methodology, reflective of deep thinking; his feats, symbolic of his persona as a solution provider. Time and again, he leaves us with the impression that he is the kind that doesn’t come too often. A rare bread that is in short supply. The all-round leader.
Whatever this retired Army General touches turns to gold. Almost instantly. His imprint is more potent than the much-vaunted Midas’ touch. Everywhere he has been, he has left elaborate footprints. In and out of the military. In and out of government. In our society and beyond.
Yet Marwa is not unlike the rest of us. He has had his ups and downs. He has been through thick and thin. But wherever destiny takes him, and whatever fate drops on his laps, he takes it on wholeheartedly, with dedication and purpose, and leaves no room for half measures. He goes more than the proverbial extra mile to achieve good results. And that is why his exploits are unforgettable and immeasurable, and even legendary.
I mentioned three cycles earlier. The first was his sojourn in Lagos State, which has become a locus classicus for how to govern a state. Lagos is a state of giants. And Marwa’s records stand tall and are everlasting. He had a glorious moment as the Military Administrator of Lagos, where he was pragmatic, prudent and achieved a litany of feats with a strict budget of N14 billion, never borrowing a dime, and handing over a cash amount of N2 billion to his successor, which Wikipedia testifies is “the highest amount handed over from one state administrator to another.”
His Lagos ‘oeuvre,’ which we are all familiar with, was actually his Second Cycle of achievements. The first, relatively unsung, was when he was the Military Governor of the old Borno from 1990 to 1992. Old Borno is present day Borno and Yobe. Marwa left his mark on Borno in the areas of healthcare delivery, education, agriculture, and infrastructure. He created the first Ministry of Water Resources at the state level. Through direct labour, he constructed roads and completed the Maiduguri International Hotel. The highlight of his Borno years was how he reined in a brewing insurgency from across the border in the neighbouring Republic of Chad. The marauders were dislodged members of the Chadian Army who boldly crossed the border into Nigerian territory in Borno State to pillage border communities, Boko Haram style. Marwa quickly nipped the problem in the bud with a military taskforce that policed the border and responded with helicopters to confront the pillagers.
Presently, he is in his Third Cycle of achievements as Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA). We knew how deeply mired in the cesspool of drug trafficking Nigeria had been in the past. Our young men and women are serving time in various prisons across the world for drug trafficking. A few had gone to their deaths in countries with harsh posture towards illicit drugs. Within the country, we were teetering towards an illicit drug epidemic.
Marwa and the wonderful people at NDLEA have turned around the narrative. Like a general leading the battle, he leads the NDLEA workforce in a purpose-driven campaign against the drug underworld, a full spectrum offensive action that has seen 38 drug barons currently facing prosecution. Today, Nigeria is in a new epoch of drug law enforcement that has made the country the cynosure of the international community. Going by his precedents, we can be assured that the Marwa-led NDLEA will clean the Augean Stable.
To the ultimate question: What makes this man tick? The Marwa enigma has been well-assayed, no doubt. We have dissected his pedigree as the scion of a military family and how that may have been the factor for his audacity in taking on herculean tasks; we have x-rayed his management acumen and talked about how that may have been influenced by his education—yes, he has Master of Public and International Affairs, University of Pittsburgh (1985) and Master of Public Administration, Harvard (1986); and his scholarly disposition (as the author of three books) has been talked about, especially in unravelling his intellectual approach to issues.
There is, however, an aspect of him that adds colour and brings fresh perspective to his personality. His humanity. I have been privileged to study him at close quarters as we crisscrossed the country on the WADA advocacy campaign. In several interactions with military chiefs across the armed forces, I have had an earful of odes about the General. Many had given attestations of how they became who they are in the military as a result of the knowledge acquired from his books, which enabled them to pass exams in Defence Academy and War College. Once at a book launch, a citizen recalled how Marwa’s act of humanity some 30 years ago gave him a new lease on life. A multitude of people have versions of that story to tell. Marwa’s humanity is a never-ending story that flows from the fountain of his service to man, country, and God.
Born on September 9, 1953, Marwa is 70 today. He has remained as constant as the northern star. His life is defined by service. He is still serving this great nation. For him, life is about service. Instead of rolling out drums and marking the day with a fanfare befitting of the milestone, he’s miles away in the Holy Land to thank his creator.
For a man who has served Nigeria in every sense of the word ‘service’, his new age drives home a fact: The country still needs him. It is heartwarming to know that at 70, Marwa is able and willing to continue the service.
Babafemi is the director, media and advocacy, NDLEA.