By Ogbuagu Bob Anikwe
Ogbuagu examines the life of Gambo-Jimeta who recently passed and reflects how history blows us away with our worldly achievements.
I am a bit sad to hear about a crack police detective who reached the top as Inspector-General (IGP). Muhammadu Gambo-Jimeta, according to Government spokesperson, Malam Garba Shehu, died on Thursday 21 January. I should however not be sad because Gambo-Jimeta didn’t die young. Born in Jimeta, Yola, 15 April 1937, he would have been 84 years exactly 84 days from his exit date!
I am sad for a different reason which will shortly become apparent.
Muhammadu Gambo, as he then was, was a courageous and committed crime fighter whose exploits against armed robbers in Lagos State dominated media headlines. The media din reached a crescendo from 1977 when he became Lagos State Commissioner of Police. It followed him to the headship of Force CID (the famous Alagbon Close) and on to when he assumed the top position in 1986.
He never missed a promotion, from the day he was commissioned until he became IGP at age 49. Professionalism and an eye on the top seat was his game. He thought he had arrived and was halfway to an 11-year reign as Chief of Police when it all went wrong. Due to an unfortunate lie, he was unceremoniously shoved aside after six years by the military’s Maradona, Gen. Ibrahim Babangida.
Gambo was not ready to retire when this happened and therefore took his ouster badly. Consequently, he went round complaining to anyone he thought had the ears of the wily General. One fine Sunday morning, out of the blues, a popular Personality Feature in The Guardian on Sunday literally came to his rescue. The character sketch it portrayed and the interrogation of the underlining injustice meted out to him reportedly moved IBB to restore Gambo to grace. He was reappointed as National Security Adviser.
He asked many people to seek out the reporter that bylined the feature and lead him to the new NSA office, a more powerful and, yes, very lucrative office. This was how Ben Okezie and I met the first time; he persisted and practically dragged me to go with him to see the NSA. Ben was asked to wait outside while I “interviewed” the police strongman.
It was a short meeting. Gambo thanked me and said he had spent an awful lot of money to get other journalists to understand the issue and report it the way I did. What thrilled him the most was that I wrote without ever interviewing him or his friends. He asked around before arriving at this conclusion, he said. Then, he reached by his side and pushed forward a big brown envelope filled with bundles of cash.
“Here, take this,” he said, smiling as someone who had met a valuable friend.
I was from The Guardian, the flagship of the Nigerian press where reporters were paid an additional “responsibility allowance” to reject inducements in any form.
I politely declined to take the bag and this threw him off-balance. He attempted – once – to get me to change my mind and then abruptly gave up and offered a prayer for me instead. His next words have continued to echo in my mind because they turned out to be prophetic: “If you’re truly a virgin as you have shown me now, then it’s safe to say you will surely reach the top of your profession.”
The Adamawa Spirit
I left the NSA office thinking I had understood the reason why he rapidly rose to the highest rank – and why he took his sack badly. As Tunde Thompson once said to me in an interview, “materialism is the enemy of professionalism.”
Up until that moment, I was not sure it was Gambo’s integrity, fused with his skills as a crime fighter, that propelled his steady, uninterrupted rise in the Force. All I knew was that he reflected what I had come to view as a peculiar Adamawa competitive spirit and striving for excellence among officers in the police, military and paramilitary forces. I eventually went to work for one of them, originally turbaned as Turaki but later upgraded to Waziri Adamawa. This is a reflection for another day.
The other thing with Adamawa achieving officers was their petty local rivalries, exclusively focused on struggles for social acceptance and palace rankings by the Lamido. Another story for another day.
After his victory and restoration to favour, Gambo wasted no time before being crowned as Dan Lawan Adamawa. He invited Ben and I as the only journalists from Lagos to witness the event. He asked us to come as his friends, not reporters. It was an all-expenses paid trip to Yola. And it gave me my first close encounter with the razzle-dazzle of Muslim chieftaincy title taking, aka turbaning. After that, we sort of drifted apart as I pushed forward in more professionally engaging pursuits.
Long after we drifted apart, I believe he took another title when he changed his name to Gambo-Jimeta.
I am sorry to hear about Gambo’s passing. He was a great man who deliberately dropped out of the limelight to enjoy a well-earned retirement. The danger of retiring to rest is that one misses the opportunity to serve the larger purpose from where sustainable legacies are cultivated and harvested. There is also the possibility that one leaves the world almost unmourned and unsung. Today, as I searched online for biographical sketches, the Mohammed Gambo name that dominate Google rankings is a footballer. I had to revise the name search by adding Jimeta before I saw a lone and limp Wikipedia entry under his subsequently assumed name, Muhammadu Gambo-Jimeta.
We ought to attempt to leave lasting footprints in the sands, outside personal achievements or professional accomplishments. These could be any number of things: Community service in whatever form, intentional mentoring of a target group or individuals, and knowledge and skill expansion through books, public speeches, etc. Imagine all the things he could have engaged in to benefit people with knowledge and skills derived from his personal achievements (and failures, if I may add) as well as his professional accomplishments.
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