Abdullahi Hassan receiving an award

How a mother stopped corruption

I bragged to my foreign visitors that when we arrive Sokoto, I will show them my friend, an ideal leader that Nigerians need.

In Sokoto as the guests of the state government, we were properly accommodated. In the guest house, I asked our guide, the protocol officer, if he knew the friend about whom I bragged. He said he did. He should. Everybody does – from the Sultan of Sokoto to the man on the streets of Sokoto North local government area. But still I asked the question so that I could dramatise and he would validate, in the presence of our visitors, what I told them earlier. But I myself was about to learn something about my friend which I didn’t know before – and which gave me a new perspective regarding the role of parents, especially mothers, in obliterating corruption. Corruption, which President Buhari said will kill us, if we don’t kill it.

After government business, we changed into more casual wears and gathered around the park (Happy Island) which my friend owns.

While telling his story to our guests, he answered the question that I’d never thought to ask him before. “My mother told me,” Abdullahi Hassan said, “that she would never forgive me if I stole one kobo of government’s money.”

To give you a clear context, Abdullahi Hassan was the chairman of Sokoto North local government for three years. In those three years, with the meagre resources of the council, he accomplished what many people thought was impossible before he came. A feat none could match before or since. Unbelievable? Hear my count: Abdullahi either tarred or concretised all the roads in his local government to protect the health of his citizens from dust and to ease transportation. He swept and incinerated all the ghost workers (planted by the administrations before his) from a perch once their own. He built two hospitals (96-bed each), purchased 44 transformers to improve electricity, he built more than 80 homes for the destitutes, etc.

Abdullahi Hassan with the President of Niger Republic
Abdullahi Hassan with the President of Niger Republic

I was told the story of a grateful university lecturer, who, in the past, parked his car a long distance from his house, because the road wouldn’t allow his car to pass. Around this area, there was an incident where a pregnant woman couldn’t be moved to the hospital because no car could come there. “Abdullahi built that road,” a friend, Mohammed Sokoto told me, “now the people there don’t face such life-threatening incidents.”

We have all taken leadership advice from our parents. When he realised that my mingling with politicians would linger, my father reminded me: “Don’t lie to anybody.” Because my father didn’t want you to lie, as a child, whenever I wanted to get out of trouble, I simply told the truth. Instead of a reprimand, I received praises. My mom on the other hand, simply told me to be ‘patient.’

Yet, my parents’ advice was not as poignant as Abdullahi’s mother’s for two reasons. One, hers is measurable. Everybody knows what one kobo is. The second reason why this admonition is trenchant is that it comes with a consequence: ‘I’ll never forgive you.’

I’d love that my parents’ advice had the two attributes. But of course I can’t go back to my father and say, ‘Baba, please add a consequence to your counsel.’

But salient in all this is the fact that the mother knew his son would not disobey her. If her son were a bad person, she wouldn’t have put him in such a position.

“Our mum was stricter than our dad,” Abdullahi Hassan said, “she was more exacting and allowed no deviation. My mother was also religious. She and my father spent the night praying.”

But did his mother say this to all her children? “No. All my brothers are businessmen. I was the one who chose politics and therefore public office.”

I’m drawn to recall that once in Sokoto, when we were having lunch with some professors from Uthman Dan Fodio University, Abdullahi Hassan said he had never illegally taken a kobo from government. In Nigeria, that’s a bold statement to make. But now you know why he had the confidence to say that, or why he could be so accurate. “Even though she’s no longer alive,” Abdullahi said, “still, I can’t betray her. Doing so would have broken me. It would have killed me.”

I take my political leadership inspiration from him. I no longer have to travel to the First Republic to take guidance from Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, the Sardauna, Ribadu and Aminu Kano. We now have our own contemporaries who have demonstrated the same patriotism and who also balk at corrupt tendencies. The first time I realised that there was no need to travel to the 1960s was when I discovered Isah Kawu, a former speaker of Niger State House of Assembly. I wrote about him twice here. Uncle Mohammed Haruna also wrote about him. He was the one who, even as a PDP member, rejected an SUV provided from the state governor, arguing that he had already been paid his car allowance. When I interviewed him in 2010, he said: “My rejection of the jeep is a tip of the iceberg. There are worse things that happened here.”

But I’m closer to Abdullahi Hassan. For some reasons, he likes me and I like him. On two occasions I sought his advice on how to run my office. First, how did he cope with politicians making constant cash demands? “I ignored them,” he said, “of course they insulted me for some time, until they started seeing the work we were doing and realised that we had a higher goal for them.”

How did he respond to gifts from grateful contractors? I asked him this after I had rejected an ‘appreciation’ from a contractor. So I only called him for his validation. “You know I don’t take gifts from contractors,” Abdullahi said.

When he was a local government chairman, he took me to see his projects. He told me that for each day of inspection, he was entitled to N25, 000. “I do inspection every day, so that’s N750, 000 per month. But I don’t take any of it because I feel the allowance was created for leaders to legally steal from the people.”

Abdullahi is an example for his contemporaries to follow. And we owe some of the gratitude to his mother. Hajiya, people pray for your son. They wish him well and chant ‘sai ka yi gomna.’ All this happens because you invested in him by praying for him and giving him good advice. As a result, you also receive prayers by Abdullahi’s grateful beneficiaries and followers. Hajiya, I also want to report to you that I know of only two politicians in Nigeria who people pay from their own pockets to campaign for. The first one is President Buhari and the second one is your son, Abdullahi Mu’azu Hassan. It’s no wonder they call him the ‘Buhari of Sokoto.’ Even though he said he’s no longer interested in politics, he remains among the few that I like; among even the fewer that I respect.

Mistakes are good, make one now

The science of mistakes: Why you should get your child to make one now

When my cousin was learning driving, we were the ride-along squad.  We sat at the back while he struggled with the gears. My uncle, his father, was the one teaching.  And he snapped at his son for what he thought were very silly mistakes.  Now I recall that at that time my uncle had what the Heath brothers, authors of Made to Stick, called the Curse of Knowledge.  Which means knowing so much about something that you forget the history of your own ignorance about the subject and expect everyone to understand at your level of expertise. “Once we know something,” Chip and Dan Heath wrote, “we find it hard to imagine what it was like not to know it. Our knowledge has “cursed” us. And it becomes difficult for us to share our knowledge with others, because we can’t readily recreate our listeners’ state of mind.”

But there was something more fundamental that I observed during the driving classes.  Whenever my uncle left the car to observe his son’s performance from a distance, the son’s driving improved.  He stopped hesitating, became decisive and drove smoothly – encouraged by the fact that we (left in the car with him) were not there to judge or shout at him.  My cousin’s driving improved because he was given (however momentary) autonomy.

Later, Daniel H. Pink wrote a book about it and titled it Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us.  He wrote the book to stress the point that human beings – in many situations – are no longer motivated by punishment and rewards, but by Motivation 3.0 which sits on the three pillars of autonomy, mastery and purpose. But one of the most important lessons I learned from that book was on autonomy, how allowing individuals to make their own decisions, make their own mistakes and self-correct improves performance.

There is more scientific evidence that encourages us to make mistakes. “Every time a student makes a mistake in math, they grow a synapse,” said Carol Dweck who has made significant contribution to the field of psychology on how mindsets affect our performance. By this, she means, mistakes make the brain to spark and grow.  Jo Boaler, in her book, Mathematical Mindsets, commented on the significance of Dweck’s statement: “Many good teachers have told students for years that mistakes are useful and they show that we are learning, but the new evidence on the brain and mistakes says something much more significant.”   But where is the evidence?

A psychologist, Jason Moser, reported the results of an interesting study in 2011 of what happens in our heads when we make mistakes.   Moser and his colleagues found that when we make mistakes, the brain can react in two ways.  The first one is called the ERN response, which means an increase of electrical activity in the brain when it experiences some conflicts between the right response and an error. This happens whether you know that you’ve made a mistake or not.  The second response is called Pe; this happens when the brain signals conscious attention to the mistake.

What does this mean?  “First, the researchers found that the students’ brains reacted with greater ERN and Pe responses—electrical activity—when they made mistakes than when their answers were correct,” Jo Boaler wrote.  What does that mean?  The more your brain spark, the better you become at what you’re learning.  And what is the point of that?  Since researchers have found that the brain sparks and grows better when we make mistakes than when we get correct answers, we shouldn’t be terrified when we or our children make mistake when learning.  It’s actually good.  It’s a tonic for the brain.

Personally, when I was in school, there was a programming language that I found difficult to learn.  I persisted and got all the books I could find from the library and from Amazon on the subject – the dummies’ guide, the idiot’s guide, the primers, etc.  At a point, I left it for a while.  When I came back to it, everything clicked.  I reckoned my brain was sparking and growing during the earlier struggles.

However, encouraging mistakes is not only useful for learning in schools, but even businesses and governments are taking benefits from it.  A good example is the city of Dubai.  Sheikh Al Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai mentioned this in his book, Flashes of Thought: “I might go easy on people who make mistakes, but never on people who make no effort.  It is by making mistakes that a person learns.  If a person falls down, he does not get up where he has fallen, but rather a few steps ahead.  Similarly, a person who errs will gain knowledge and experience as a result of his error.”

Mistakes are good, make one nowOpenClipart-Vectors / Pixabay

Some teachers called me to speak to a group of primary school children recently.  And I told the children that they should get double marks for every question they didn’t get right and one mark for correct answers.  Of course the teachers didn’t agree with me.  But we will get there. At least, Muslims understand that if you struggle to read the Qurán and make mistakes, you would get double reward.  One for trying and one for the mistake.  So if God encourages us this way in spiritual matters, why can’t we implement that strategy in the classroom to encourage students to learn and get better?

Therefore, go into the world and make mistakes – a great deal of mistakes.  Let your brain spark and grow!

Gov Abubakar Sani Bello remains dedicated.

Even angels ask: A gentle introduction to criticizing PMB

When I was the chief press secretary to the governor of Niger State (CPS), there was a time that electricity improved and my family gave President Muhammadu Buhari (PMB) the entire credit. Change has come, they said. Baba this, Baba that, they chorused.

Muhammadu Buhari, President of Nigeria
Muhammadu Buhari, President of Nigeria

Few days later, electricity supply dropped and they started blaming the governor. “Talk to your boss,” my cousin said, “he should fix this light problem!”

“If the governor wasn’t responsible for the improvement,” I replied, “why should he be blamed for the lack of it?”

Even though we all know that everyone is suffering, nobody wants to blame Buhari. But we (Buhari’s supporters) blame everyone else. We find fault with the ministers, governors, our brothers and even our wives.

But dare to even clear your throat against Buhari and you would be shouted down. Every week, we find someone to blame for our economic troubles. Last week, it appeared to be the turn of the president’s wife. We trained our guns on her, supposedly because she wore a suit to America. I wonder who’s going to be our next victim.

But if you look closely, it’s probably because we’ve not eaten dinner. Or lunch. Or breakfast.

Muhammadu Buhari, President of Nigeria
Muhammadu Buhari, President of Nigeria

It’s like not knowing you’re shouting at your children because your boss shouted at you in the office.

It’s called displacement in psychology: satisfying an impulse (in this case, anger) with a substitute, less powerful object.  Example, an employee frustrated by his boss at work, could go home and kick the cat.

I recall the humorous story of a Bida based Muslim preacher who decided to criticize the APC government during the first Eid prayers of the new government.  The government was just a couple of months old. People were still basking in the afterglow of their victory at the polls.  First, the preacher attacked the state government. This got the worshippers’ attention.  “Where is he going with this,” they thought. Then he attacked the APC.  However, when he began to attack President Muhammadu Buhari, the people resolved that they had heard enough.  “Beat up the bastard,” they said.  At which point the worshippers abandoned the worship and set upon the preacher. “He’s a PDP malam,” I was later told.

This preacher was obviously mischievous.  Yet, there are some people who supported PMB, spent their money to elect him (and are still supporting him) who would like to ask some questions of the government or suggest something.  How would they do this without being called  yam eaters?  Well, there are some steps to follow.  You may call it Benign Buhari Criticism Technique.

The first step is to handle the religious corner. Mention that you pray for our leaders to succeed, then acknowledge what Prophet Muhammad (SAW): “Whoever wants to advise a sultan (leader or ruler) with a matter, do not do it outwardly but let him take him by the hand and go into seclusion with him. If he accepts it from him then that (is good) and if not then he (the adviser) has fulfilled that which was upon him (to do).”

Step two is to frame your concern not as a criticism or even advice, but as a question. Prophet Muhammad (SAW) himself was asked many times by his companions about questions which they didn’t understand. Even the angels asked God when He  wanted to create “generations after generations” of mankind:

 “Will You place therein those who will make mischief therein and shed blood?” Sheikh ibn Kathir explained that the angels did this to learn; they meant: “What is the wisdom of creating such creatures since they will cause trouble [on] the earth and spill blood?”

Then Allah told them: “I know that which you do not know.” [Qur’an 2:30]

Based on this conversation between God and the angels, Jeffrey Lang, a former atheist and a professor of Mathematics at the University of Kansas and an author of several memoirs on converting to Islam, wrote an instructive book in 1997 entitled Even Angels Ask to stress the importance of questions in Islam and the search for the truth.

The third step is to acknowledge the fact that PMB is probably the best president for us now.  Personally, I feel that were it another person as president, Nigerians would have revolted, considering the hardship we face now.

If you do this,  that is, arguing from the logical, moral and religious perspectives, PMB supporters would accept that your concerns are harmless and they would listen to you.  However, there are two other options.

Say whatever you want to say and tell whoever is not happy to go and jump from Kufena Mountain.  You may think you think it is their problem, not yours.  But that is not a wise attitude to carry.  Because they can make their problems yours.  They may come to you (not to the president) when they need money for food or want to take a new wife.

Finally, the option that works best, the tried and true method, is to just blame others.  Yes, anyone but Buhari.