Even in death, he got what he wished: to be buried where he died. In getting his way, he breached a strong tradition, one that preferred particularly outstanding citizens to be buried at ancestral origins where forebears laid. This departure from tradition capped a life that was a fascinating study in tensions between undiluted commitment to the establishment, and an unrepentant pursuit of the personal. His grave in Abuja will be listed among the few graves of people from Zaria, in a city whose name was snatched by the military from the former Abuja (now Suleja), a town founded by Alhaji Gidado's forebears from Zaria more than 200 years ago.
For a man with intimate links with Zazzau royalty and privilege, Alhaji Gidado was buried without the almost mandatory traditional title worn by Nigerians who lived with distinction. He had won many battles to stay without a title, deflecting unceasing pressure to wear the turban towards uncles, cousings and offspring. It was neither arrogance nor conceit: he had deep respect for traditional institutions, and the uncle that brought him up, Turaki Ali had moulded his attitude to a system that had provided the foundations for controlled change in the context of preserving the status-quo, which was the substance of northern Nigerian political framework from early colonial times to the late 1960s.
Alhaji Gidado died without a single trace of the temptation to harvest the political terrain, another of the many traditional channels into which people of his privilege, status and experience veered, with mixed results. He was organically linked by history, shared values and experiences with members of the northern elite who provided the myth of the Kaduna Mafia, and the half dozen clusters of influence such as Arewa Consultative Forum, Northern Elders Forum, Northern Union, Jamaatu Nasril Islam etc, but the only membership register you found him on was the IBB Golf Club, Abuja, that exclusive resort it took a lot of effort to get him to join, but once he joined, it became his second skin. He kept his children and relations on a short, disciplined leash, insisting that everyone earned his stripes the hard and proper way. He was a one-wife Hausa man through his life, leaving behind a record of devotion to a woman he married from the distant community of Samaru Kataf, a pillar whose commitment to him was only surpassed by her devotion to the Islamic faith she embraced on marrying him. He was fiercely loyal to friendships and relationships, and he was possibly the only person of substance I knew who did not tolerate or encourage the unending retinue of seekers and courtiers that followed power and wealth everywhere. His incredible generousity with his personal time and resources was defined strictly by his personal perceptions over what was important: a major standard-setting gesture at his old school, Alhudahuda College, Zaria, or a hefty push in a marriage of a relation who had not expected it.
Alhaji Gidado Idris himself would not contest being described as different. He would treat that characterization as neither a slight nor a compliment. Over four decades of public service may have reinforced a character trait to resist unwarranted visibility, but it was a trait he cultivated and jealously guarded. It allowed him the luxury to choose his manner of engagement, and at his most comfortable moments, you saw a man endowed with a towering intellect and a gifted sense of humour. He had strong opinions about politics and society. His life had spanned a huge chunk of the nation's history, and bits of it combined to make him a walking history. His incredible recollection of events was helped by his being either a small, yet intimate part, or a major player in them. In fact he was never entirely outside public service, which explained why he would insist on joining dotted lines between events and phenomena that occurred forty years apart. He was not a witness to history. He was every inch a part of the history of a nation that saw the brightest glimpses of greatness, even when it plunges into the deepest valleys of despair and infamy on occasions.
His rise from a humble clerk to the pinnacle of Secretary to Government of the Federation(SGF) was fueled by a combination of hardwork, an uncanny ability to learn quickly and adapt, and some luck at working under superiors who tolerated competence from officers that defied conventions. Early in his career,he learnt the imperatives of meeting meet challenges and difficulties when he and a handful of clerical and admin officers had to retrieve files from outside the bedroom doors of the Sardauna in the very early hours of the morning, or pay the price with the telling displeasure of the Premier if he finds them there at 5.30 am. The Sardauna was a hardworking task-master,yet tolerant and compassionate towards youth and impetousness.The young Gidado's awe at the massive powers of political leaders was tampered by privileged proximity to their weaknesses, humanness and the frailty of their hold on power. He had tremendous respect for leadership, but had many scars to show for his insistence that rules are capable of being enforced even at the highest levels. He would remove shoes and kneel while engaging Presidents and Heads of State, but in the same position he would successfully argue for an option different from that of the leader. He earned respect by being humble, and at trying moments, his ability to remain calm, his experience at managing acute challenges and his disciplined practice of letting the leadership claim the credit for his contributions made him a lot less of a threat, and a lot more as an asset.
Alhaji Gidado was no superman. His life was a series of skirmishes around propriety and rules. He won some and lost many. He offended superior powers when he proved stubborn in defence of what was right, and he paid the price with unpopular or punishment postings. Sometimes his seeming effrontery offended powers, such as when he provoked the anger of the late Abacha two days to the latter's death by asking him to clarify if the decree on his self-succession should state whether he will continue as a civilian or military head of state. Such was the anger of Abacha at the question,that the late SGF left in such a hurry without his shoes, and on getting home, instructed his wife to pack up as he was sure he had lost his job.His pivotal role in the transition from Abacha to Abdulsalami will be registered as the triumph of maturity and experience, but the day it all happened could very well have had a tragic end. His legendary reticence at being public with his views and experiences meant that he died without the record of his life in a book that we all pressed hard to get. He had mellowed down somehow, or the Daily Trust had succeeded in a coup of sorts when they got him to speak on some aspects of his life a few years ago. This was a fair compensation for his refusal to grant an interview as SGF on key policy issues under the Abacha administration, in spite of the best efforts of his loyal and competent Director of Press, Eric Teniola, Special Assistant, Dr Muazu Babangida Aliyu and I. He agreed to an internal compromise: we would draw up our own questions and provide answers to them and convince crack Daily Trust interviewers to accept and publish them as conducted interview. Naturally, the journalists balked at the idea, and although we gave them decent distance to decide their response, we knew there were some tough arguments over appropriate response. So, 20 years after that incident, here is an apology to Mahmud Jega and his colleagues over our assault on their professional integrity. We genuinely thought we were providing a bridge between an SGF who needed to speak on important issues but will not, and a media organization that had knocked on the door loudly enough for some response.
When he left public service as SGF, Alhaji Gidado insisted on retaining his National Honour of GCON which was awarded to him by the General Abdulsalami Abubakar, but revoked by the President Obasanjo who took over from General Abubakar. His insistence that one leader had no right to take away what another leader had properly and legally given was typical of the thread that held together his most basic values about public service and politics. There was always a right way and a wrong way of doing things, and while he would make allowances for mediocrity, he was passionate against tolerating impunity and high-handedness. Needless to say, he had been pained by the spectacular collapse of the foundational role of the public service in governance, and the quality of political leadership that has been responsible for it. He held strong views about the intimate linkages between corruption and the near-total collapse of security of citizens and the Nigerian state. Sadly he would not live to see if the nation he served for his entire life will recreate itself and emerge stronger from many of its current challenges. He ran his race well, and it will be fitting to hope that there are Nigerians who will live like he did, with total conviction that this is a nation deserving of respect and service.
May Allah grant him Aljanna.
May Allah grant him Aljanna.