February 26, 2024

ALHAJI AHMED MOHAMED: My guardian angel from the North

By Tony Nwankwo

I was at my desk in the Banking Hall of First Bank, Burma Road, Apapa, when this gentleman, Chief Young Onwuchekwa waved me to a counter at the Bank.

He was Legal Adviser and Company Secretary at Nigerian Technical Company Ltd. (NITECO), down the street at Warehouse Road, Apapa.

I walked to him and greeted. “If you have the time, can you call at my office at Warehouse Road?”. I knew little about him but I knew he was a Bank customer and was responsible for the Personal Home Remittances (PHR) for the expatriate staff, who were mostly Britons and Germans in NITECO. I accepted the invitation. We were their Bankers and the Company was doing well. Majority of their middle level staff had cars, and it was an attraction then.

In his office, he came straight with the issue. “I have always admired your sense of work, I want you to come work with us”. I was not prepared for this, at least not the way he presented it. He didn’t give me enough time to digest what he had said. Then he added; “How much is the Bank paying you?, because whatever it is, we will pay you three times. You have no car, we will give you a brand new car in three months”.

A young man just out from school, I was had. Though I had to think about the offer, I knew a good offer when I saw one. Back in the Bank, the reception was mixed. The banking environment is like family, however those in support carried the day. I took time to resign and serve out my notice. I must confess that Chief Onwuchekwa fulfilled all the promises he made to me.

Paid more than three times my remunerations and gave me a car immediately after my second month with them. ‘I was going to enjoy working in NITECO’, I told myself. Chief Onwuchekwa later went to become pioneer Legal Adviser and Company Secretary at Volkswagen of Nigeria (VON) along Badagry Expressway. Just like the Bank, NITECO staff also hang out in groups for lunch.

Then came this afternoon, I had gone with my colleagues for lunch as usual at Excelsior Hotel in Apapa. A couple had just launched an exquisite restaurant inside an anex in the hotel. Before the restaurant, there was a news stand where foreign magazines were always available. I loved to read America’s Newsweek magazine as against

The Time Magazine. So, after lunch, I picked up a copy of my favourite Newsweek. As we the little fries made to the entrance to leave, here was Alhaji Ahmed Mohamed and his circle of friends. He was Vice Chairman at NITECO and they were coming for lunch. And he picked on me. “What are you reading? He came for the magazine. “Can you get me a copy?” Of course, I was so happy he asked. My colleagues waited while I moved back to get another copy of the magazine.

Hours later, when I knew he had settled down, I walked to his office which was on another wing of the complex. I knocked, moved in and handed the magazine. He was pleased. As I made to leave, he summoned me back, he was looking around his table as to find the money for the magazine. I said there was no need searching because I would not like to be paid for this. He was so happy. Back at my desk, I thought, the man could be saying, this poor boy is buying me a magazine. Well, whatever he thought then, the contact brought me closer to him and brought me unimaginable benefits, some of which you will read in a moment.

A couple of years later, I was going to wed my wife, Caroline. Not only was I going to invite Alhaji Ahmed and his wife Hajiya, I was going to request that he provided me wih one of these luxurious aitomobiles.

And he had them aplenty. He accepted to come and asked which type of car I would love for the occasion. I wanted a Mercedez Benz. But he talked me out of that. “You people don’t know about cars, you take a Citreon Pallais and you enjoy a ride”. And Citreon Pallaise, it was: elegant, long and luxurious, and he provided me with his driver, who was just perfect for the role.

Alhaji was present at my wedding, accompanied by his beautiful and elegant wife at the Durbar Hotel at Mile 2, Lagos. The complex had originally been built for legislators before some security reports moved against lumping Nigerian parliamentarians in one complex for security reasons. That was how government decided for the 1004 Flats at Victoria Island, Lagos, before the movement to Abuja.

The occasion was so grand that my visiting mother chose we visited this man who had given me all this help. Accompanied by my new wife, my mother joined to say ‘Thank You’ to Alhaji and his wife. That was going to be among the minutest things Alhaji did for me.

For instance, when NITECO was going under, he offered me an appointment with his Nationwide Television at Tafawa Balewa Square, Race Course, Lagos. But I was still in touch with my colleagues from NITECO, including Mr. Anthony Edemayibo. However, among the greatesst achievements I derived from Alhaji Ahmed was my confidence in his ability to save me if I got into trouble anywhere. That enabled me to fight and retrieve some 536,604 hectares of my community’s prime land, which was deviously acquired by a retired military officer who had desired to cushion his retirement using the vast community land to plant palms for a plantation project. The retired military officer cajoled the chiefs and elders of the community to issue him a Power of Attorney with which he took over the land.

By the time the people realised the damage that was going to result in the acquisition, the man was half gone in the clearing and planting of palms. Back in Lagos, I consulted the late Chief T.O Shobowale Benson & Co. (Solicitors) at Broad Street, where the Chief gave out instructions on how we could retrieve the land without going through strenous litigations. It is with pride that my people got their land back and are farming the place as you read this. This achievement brought honour to me. As the king then, HRM Eze Atum Akwara and his cabinet honoured me for the purpose. I was going to return to the open arms of Alhaji Ahmed Mohamed.

Mr. Edema had found work as Circulation Manager at Vanguard Media Limited. Once in a while, I visited him, so I could update myself with newspapers.This day as I visited, Edema showed me a Vanguard House advertt for a vacant position in the company. I was delighted. I applied, was interviewed and eventually engaged. Then one of the days as I made my way to the ‘Canal’, here was Alhaji Ahmed as he alighted from his car. “Tony”, he called out. “What are you doing here?”, he asked. “I work here”, I replied. And he said, “Okay, that’s good”. I was later to know he was a Director in the company. And it felt so good.

While here, I have done some interviews with him for the paper and appreciated that his views were highly respected. And he was wise. Once I told him I wanted to join politics, and his advise was that I seek out wherever the majority are. Alhaji Ahmed was a good man and his people respected and adored him. Turaki Nupe, you couldn’t know how powerful he was until you were close. He related with the mighty and the lowly in equal measure. He died on Friday, January 12, 2024.

Adieu, great man. May your gentle soul rest in peace. Amen!