Major-General Mamman Kontagora (Rtd) nicknamed Doki (Hausa for horse) by his friends in apparent acknowledgment of his reputation for hard work, was a former army general, renowned Administrator, distinguished Abusite and major player during Nigeria’s decades of military rule.
A man also tagged “Dokin Karfe” a Hausa metaphor for integrity was among the first intake of officers when the Nigerian Defense Academy opened in 1964. Later holding several key positions in the country among which was the challenging job of Sole Administrator at Ahmadu Bello University (ABU) Zaria
Gen. Mamman Kontagora was born on April 20, 1944, in Kontagora Niger State. He was among the first intake of officers when the Nigerian Defense Academy opened in 1964 where he was commissioned in the Engineering corps of the Nigerian Army.
Gen. Mamman Kontagora grew in his military career and held several military positions. He was appointed Minister of Works and Housing in the Babangida government where he served between 1993 and 1995. In 1991 he issued regulations on pollution abatement and effluent limitations covering all industries, with heavy fines for non compliant and and announced plans to draw up guidelines by early 1992 to control oil pollution.
He also Chaired the Presidential Committee on the Development of National Stadia for the World Youth Soccer Championship in 1995.
In September 1995 he was offered the thankless job of auditing Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, his alma mater (Class of 1972), one of Nigeria’s oldest and Africa’s largest Universities, by the regime of General Sani Abacha. This followed a serious financial and administrative crisis in the university that disrupted studies in the premier institution.
In early November Abacha went on to assign him the job as sole administrator to clear the mess he had identified, a highly unusual job since universities are supposed to be the epitome of academic freedom and free speech.
Not surprisingly, mixed reactions trailed his appointment and his tenure. Yet not even his worst critics could question the integrity he brought to bear on his assignment which he completed in July 1998. At any rate those who took over from him were happy enough with his performance they named the ABU convocation square after him.
Shortly after leaving ABU Zaria, Gen. Mamman Kontagora was appointed Administrator of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) on 22 August 1998. The brief period when Kontagora was in charge of the FCT saw a boom in the construction of housing and infrastructure.
He ceded a strategic plot next to the International Conference center to the Abuja Horticultural Society to develop as a world standard park, now the Abuja International Peace Park, finally opened in 2003. In January 1999 Kontagora said that all structures had been put in place to ensure a smooth transition to democracy in May 1999.
Entrance into politics
Following the return of politics in 1999 and his retirement from the military, Maj-Gen. Mamman Kontagora, like several of his military compatriots, tried to transform into a politician. He was, it seemed, too perpendicular and too austere to make much of a success of his transformation in Nigeria’s shark-infested political waters where only the shark repelling rich and their godsons – and goddaughters – dared swim.
In his first stab at an elected high office in 2003 he lost the primaries for the senatorial candidature of his party, the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), for Abuja to an obscure candidate, Isa Maina, himself a military officer but even more junior.
Undeterred the general went on to seek the presidential ticket of his party in 2007. Few Nigerians thought he had the connections and the financial resources to be taken seriously. He was cleared as a candidate by the PDP but lost the primaries to Umaru Yar’Adua, who went on to be elected.
Following the event, Gen mamman kontagora retired to his modest farm in Kontagora even though he maintained his home in Abuja. It was from this retirement from politics and from public life that he was appointed the deputy chair of Subsidy Re-Investment and Empowerment Programme (SURE-P) Committee (SURE-P), an imitation of the Petroleum Task Force chaired by General Muhammadu Buhari under General Sani Abacha as head of state.
General Kontagora did not properly assume office after the inauguration of the committee before he succumbed to the illness that took his life in the late hours of May 29, 2013. He was 69. His death robbing the country of a great leader who is hardworking, competent and, above all, honest.
Reputation of Gen. Mamman Kontagoro
Anyone who had worked with Gen. Mamman Kontagora would agree that he was a personification of hard work. In all the high public offices he held, the most important of which were twice as a minister of the Federal Republic, he was almost always the first to arrive office and the last to leave. In between, he went about his duties with an attitude that detested eye-service and discouraged sloth and shoddiness.
However, great as his reputation for hard work was, his reputation for honesty was even greater. Two episodes, by no means apocryphal, bear testimony to this reputation. First, when former military head of state, General Abdulsalami Abubakar, pencilled him down as his minister of the “lucrative” Federal Capital Territory, a senior traditional ruler from his local government, Kontagora, objected.
Asked why he should object in spite of his subject’s reputation for hard work and honesty, the respected traditional ruler said he had no problem with either, only that the man was too inflexible to overlook the bending of rules necessary for the occasional patronage to kith and kin which greased governance all over the world. Needless to say, General Abubakar went ahead to offer the man the job.
His performance in the job was by no means stellar, but unlike many ministers before and after him, he did not leave it any richer than before he took it.
Second, in an earlier episode, his home state, Niger, gave him a job as an army engineer, to identify the proper boundary between his own local government and Bida in an area which had become volatile and even a source of altercations between the late Etsu Nupe, Alhaji Umaru Sanda Ndayako, and the Sarkin Sudan of Kontagora, Alhaji Sa’idu Namaska.
It was a reflection of the faith both sides had in the man’s integrity that neither objected to his choice. In the end, he did not disappoint, at least not from the Bida point of view; he ruled in her favor against his own local government.
Predictably some of his fellow Bakontagores who could not understand how anyone would find against his own people said he did so because his mother was Nupe! Apparently, it did not matter to these critics that he loved his paternal side so much he used the name of the local government it came from as his surname.