Walking The Talk

The inspiring life and career of Shuaibu Idris, a worthy leader and an illustrious son of Dogon Dawa, Birnin Gwari Local Government Area of Kaduna State, could best be articulated in the words of Douglas MacArthur, the late American General and Field Marshal of the Philippine Army, who said: “A true leader has the confidence to stand alone, the courage to make tough decisions, and the compassion to listen to the needs of others. He does not set out to be a leader, but becomes one by the equality of his actions and the integrity of his intent.”

Better known as ‘Mikati’ by his political supporters, Shuaibu Idris, a former governorship aspirant in Kaduna State under the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), is one of the few dedicated servant-leaders Nigeria is blessed with who really practice what they preach. While his followers are optimistic that God will sooner than expected provide him a bigger platform to positively touch more lives, the humble businessman and amicable board member of Mainstreet Bank, who easily ascribes his success in life to God, donated a 30 room housing estate for staff of a Secondary School in his hometown, Dogon Dawa, some months ago, at an estimated cost of ₦25 million. He also equipped the Biology, Chemistry, and Physics Laboratories of the same school at a cost of over ₦1 million. Knowing the importance of education to national development, Shuaibu Idris, who is also a council member of the Kaduna State University, has sponsored a number of less privileged children to schools, both within and outside the country.
In an exclusive interview with FinIntell, the Chairman, Advisory Board of Time-Line Consult Limited, who was one time Deputy Managing Director, and acting Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer of Dangote Flour Mills Plc, shares some of his life experiences in business and politics.

We observed that in some of your profiles, you simply bear Shuaibu Idris, while in some others you use Alhaji Idris Mikati Shuaibu. Why the difference in name?
In all my official documents, you will not see my name being addressed as Alhaji or Mallam. I like to be simply called Shuaibu Idris. But occasionally, mostly in public gatherings, I normally use Shuaibu Idris, popularly known as Mikati. The name Mikati is just less than 10 years old, while Shuaibu Idris himself is 49 years.

That means Mikati is your political name?
Well, I will say that is my political name. And if I tell you how it came about, you will be surprised.

(Interjects) We definitely want to know sir
In Islam, when you go to Mecca for the holy pilgrimage, there is a location in every of the four cardinal points of Mecca where you take a ritual bath to enter the state of holiness. That location is called Mikati. You are expected to remove your native dress at that location and wear only two garments after your bath. One of the garments will be tied around your waist, while the other, which looks like a shroud, will be used to cover your chest. So, Mikati, which is about 20 kilometres to the city of Mecca, is the point where you make your intention to enter the state of holiness. Every angle in Mecca has a particular position called Mikati so that people coming in from the east, west, north and south can take this ritual bath. That was where I got the name from. But how I came to be associated with the name was another matter entirely.

I have a farm in Birnin Gwari, my local government headquarters. The farm location is about 21 kilometres to the city of Birnin Gwari, and covers about 1,000 hectares of land. On the farm, I planted mango trees, guava, passion fruit, etc. And since Mikati is just about 20 kilometres to the city of Mecca, similar distance with my farm to the city of Birnin Gwari, I then thought it wise that my farm should be the Mikati of anybody entering Birnin Gwari; so I named it Mikati Farm Limited.

It was when I now started politics that the younger generation in Birnin Gwari wanted something to identify with me. And they started saying, “We want the owner of Mikati Farm.” Then gradually, everybody in the State started calling me Mikati, and the name just stuck with me. If you go to Kaduna today and you ask who Shuaibu Idris is, some people may not know who you are talking about. But once you mention Mikati, you won’t even have to go too far before you start getting answers. However, like I said, in my official document you will never see Mikati. But whenever I am making any official correspondence to the government of Kaduna State or my political party, I usually use Shuaibu Idris (Mikati).

What was growing up like for you, including your educational background?
I was born in a small village called Dogon Dawa on April 23, 1964. The village is some 75 kilometres from Zaria and about 60 kilometres from Kaduna. As at the time I was born, there was no tarred road to that village, no electricity supply, and pipe borne water. My father was significantly a well-to-do person. He was a trader who was commuting different cities including Lagos, Shagamu, and Accra to buy kolanuts, pineapples, and oranges. He transports the goods by road to Zaria and the environs of Dogon Dawa. Also, because our ancestors were Fulanis, sometimes he joins other traders to take cows to Lagos, Ibadan, Shagamu, and Abeokuta to sell.

I started my early education in Arabic school. I was about finishing the memorisation of the entire Holy Quran, when my father asked me if I would like to have western education. I said why not. So he registered me into a primary school in Dogon Dawa. In 1975 when I was supposed to graduate from primary school, my father died. Then life took a different dimension because I was very close to my father. Whenever he was going to the coastal city of Lagos or going to Ghana, the keys to his shops were always left in my care. At that age, I handled many things for him. I document and keep his money until he comes back from business trip. When he died, the whole one-man business with so many children automatically stopped. I was left to wander under the care of my uncle and my older siblings.

When I finished primary school in 1975, I couldn’t go to secondary school immediately because of the death of my father. I went to secondary school in September, 1976. I got admission into Government Secondary School, Birnin Gwari. I spent the normal five years and graduated in June, 1981. I was lucky to have the relevant qualification for the GCE ‘O’ Level. I got admission from three universities –Bayero University, Kano, to do preliminary class so I can study accountancy; University of Sokoto (now Usmanu Danfodiyo University, Sokoto) to study law; and Ahmadu Bello University. My mind was to study accounting. So I went to Bayero University. I did the preliminary study for four terms. I finished that and started the degree programme immediately. I left Bayero University in 1985 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Accounting. I later got a Master of Arts degree in Banking and Finance at the University of Wales, United Kingdom in December, 1993.

You had the option of studying law or accounting, but you opted for accounting. What motivated the choice?
It wasn’t difficult to choose because when I was young I had developed interest in book keeping while assisting my father. However, unfortunately for many during our time, there was no system where someone could be guided. Nothing like guidance and counseling or career advisers; you were left wandering.

I also chose accounting because I never liked law. I was a little bit scared of the quantum of studies that you will have to continue to read till you die. Once you are a lawyer, you have to study every now and then. I was also a little bit scared of becoming a judge to dispense justice. What is the probability that I will be able to maintain fairness, equity and justice? An Islamic law says it is better for you to let go hundreds of criminals than to convict one innocent person wrongly. The civil law says everything must be done ‘beyond iota of doubt’; but Islamic law says it must be done ‘beyond shadow doubt.’ And shadow is higher in testing than iota. Coming from the background of Islamic knowledge I had before going for western education, obviously, I had that fear of becoming a lawyer. I think I was more inclined to calculation than to theory and long English.

You’ve worked and assisted several companies in achieving organisational growth. Tell us about your career experience.
Immediately after graduation, I went for the usual one year National Youth Service Corp programme in Port Harcourt. I was posted to National Oil and Chemical Marketing Company. After the compulsory service, I went back to Kaduna and immediately got employed in Kaduna State’s Board of Internal Revenue. I served as an Inspector of Taxes for about six months. There I saw the way things were going wrong, even back then. The powerful and the mighty were not paying taxes. Some were collecting one form of incentive or another so that instead of paying, say ₦500 as annual tax, the person pays ₦150 and bride officials with about ₦100. I wasn’t so comfortable with that kind of a lifestyle, so I started looking for another job. I was lucky I got employed into a bank called Chase Merchant Bank of Nigeria, which later became Continental Merchant Bank in Lagos.

I started working for the bank from January 1987 up until June 1996. I started as an analyst in the Corporate Finance department, and I was lucky I rose to the rank of full manager and departmental head before I left the bank. I later joined a small team that was set up by the then African International Bank (AIB) to midwife the take up of a small financial company called Lakeside Investments Limited. I was a deputy chief executive of the company. I served for about two years before leaving to setup my own firm, Time-Line Consult Limited. I was with Time-Line Consult for about two to three years before a friend of mine, who became the managing director of Liberty Bank, invited me to be part of the turnaround team. I was with Liberty Bank for about two years as the Assistant General Manager in charge of their public sector and northern branches. I then resigned to come back to Time-Line Consult to continue financial advisory, which is what I know best.

However, shortly after I returned to Time-Line Consult, I got a job with Dangote Group as Group Head of Human Resources, with about 15,000 employees’ files, enumerations, welfare, trainings, career patterns and developments to manage. After about three years in that position, I became the Group Treasurer of Dangote Company. Two years after as Group Treasurer, I was transferred to executive office under the vice president of Dangote Company as a special adviser. In that position, I helped midwife new projects. I spent about a year in that capacity before I was elevated to the rank of an executive director in charge of sales and marketing, and was posted to Dangote Flour Mills. When the then managing director of the Dangote Flour left the company, I was made the acting managing director. I served there for about nine months before a substantive managing director was appointed, and I was promoted to deputy managing director; a position I served until I left the services of Dangote in December 2010.

After I left Dangote Group, I went into politics for about one year –I would say I went on a sabbatical leave. I then decided to come back to Time-Line to continue consultancy. This has been my career profile.

While you were working with other companies, was Time-Line Consult operational?
Yes, Time-Line Consult operation was not interrupted. What I did was to hire capable staff and leave the office for them. The business we do is financial advisory which is knowledge based driven. Anybody can sit down and take over, once the knowledge is there. We are basically into capacity building, research and advisory services. These days, what you need is synergy. Get a consortium of consultants. When you get a job, even if you don’t have the capacity to do it, you can invite other like-minds to come into your fold and deliver without necessarily having any challenge.

As an investor, what you probably need is quality materials to help you manage your operations. For instance, I am based in Lagos while my farm business is based in Kaduna. What I did was to get a young guy with an M.Sc degree in Agriculture through the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) and offer him employment. I made him the farm manager with a house and a car, and he manages the farm fairly well. There is another guy that was recommended to me by Chi Group, he used to be a staff of their Ajanla Farm. Monthly, the guy goes to Birnin Gwari from Abeokuta to inspect and guide the farm operation. He spends one to two weeks monthly. I also ensure I visit the farm every two weeks. Although I am largely an absentee farmer, but I always monitor the development of the farm. And with technology these days, I communicate with those on the farm and manage the operations effectively.

How productive is Mikati Farm today?
The farm is doing well. It is quite gigantic now with about 15,000 to 20,000 planted mango trees, another 10,000 to 15,000 jumbo white guava, passion fruit, cashew nut and a number of other products. However, I can’t say the farm is very productive, and this is largely because of the nature of the Nigerian soil. First and foremost, the fruits we produce here in Nigeria have very high fibre content. The higher the level of fibre content the less valuable the fruits are for commercial purposes. Therefore, if the fibre content is too high, you cannot package the fruit for real sales. Even when you produce these fruits, and you want to sell to companies such as Chivita, Fumman, or Dansa, they may not be able to buy because of the fibre content. And till now, the government has not come to the aid of farmers to import the seed that will be good enough to produce fruits that can be preserved or processed into concentrate.

Although, under the transformation agenda of President Goodluck Jonathan, the agriculture minister, Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, has set out the process to get quality seed. He is partnering with a number of organisations to produce seeds. I see the possibility of light at the end of the tunnel now that Adesina is taking steps to address this.

The farm has also not fully performed to expectation because it is difficult to police about 1,000 hectares of farmland. Most of the time when I drive down to Birnin Gwari, I see people selling mangoes which were probably harvested from my farm. At times, I buy my own mangoes since I have no way of knowing the people who stole from my farm (general laughter). If you are lucky, you can get about 75% of your produce, while 25% is lost to thievery.

Another reason why the farm is not yielding expected profits is lack of appropriate subsidy from the government. Globally, agriculture is largely subsidised. The subsidy we are talking about here is not the way and manner we apply ours in Nigeria. The subsidy should come with a kind of benchmark prices. For example, annually, the American government markup a particular percentage of the produce of farmers to guarantee them market, price and return. In Nigeria, when you want to subsidise the cost of fertilizer for example, the big guys corner it up. You want to sell fertilizer at cheap price; someone with moneybag or those in authority buys it and resells to make higher returns. Subsidy in Nigeria generally creates a kind of a lacuna or untold attitude. Subsidy seldom gets through to the targeted individuals.

Minimum and guaranteed prices are what will help farmers; not farm subsidy in form of low price fertilizer or chemical. When we had the Commodity Boards in Nigeria, and the country was depending on groundnut, cotton, palm kernel, and cocoa for its foreign currency attention. It was largely because the commodity boards were functional and guaranteeing prices. Farmers were sure of returns when they produce a particular amount of goods.

Through Mikati Farm, how many people have you taken out of the labour market?
I have to be careful in assessing the number of workers we employ because the number varies based on the job on ground. In the early part of farm operation, I had more than a hundred casual workers that worked for two months because, then, I was clearing and planting seedlings. Presently, on the average I have a minimum of 15 employees on my pay role monthly. There were times when the employees were up to 57 before it came down to this level.

We are located in a small settlement that springs up because of the farm; so the economic activity of that small village is tied to the farm. When we pay salaries you see vibrant activities, and when things are down you see a kind of lacuna. But the village is a prosperous settlement.

Was any part of the farm affected by the flood that destroyed some farmlands in the country?
We were lucky the farm was not affected. However, some perpetrators of evil sometimes cause havoc on our farm. In the last six years, every year on the average, we witness fire disaster and lose our trees to bush fire. During the dry season, it seems some Fulani cattle rearers smoke cigarettes and forget to extinguish the fire of their cigarette sticks before throwing them on the ground. This causes dry grass to catch fire. And sometimes, I believe mischief-makers intentionally go into the farm to set a certain potion ablaze. Some Fulanis act this way because the moment grasses are burnt new ones spring up over time; and it is these fresh grasses that their cattle feed on. Some of the Fulanis are so wicked; they just set the farm on fire so that their cattle can have new grass to eat. One would have gone for the option of fencing the farm, but fencing about 1,000 hectares of land will cost a lot.

How much is the security situation in some parts of the country impacting on your business operations and financial targets?
I think Kaduna state, and Birnin Gwari in particular where the farm is located, is relatively stable. This season for example, somebody came from Kano and we gave him a portion of the farm to harvest. He will sell and give us our share of the money.

In terms of return, I haven’t seen the effect of the insecurity situation affecting the farm business. What we have seen however is that, from one year to another, there were times when the mango trees will have enormous amount of flowers, resulting in plenty fruiting; while in some years the mango trees may not be that productive. Some years also you get insects eating into the flowers, thereby affecting the maximization of return.

Today, Mikati Farm does a little bit of cat fish farming. We have two hectares of dam that we constructed for that purpose. We also do a little bit of bee keeping and honey production. Currently, we produce some of the best honey you can ever come across. We have a number of senior citizens that we supply the honey to because it is pure –no added water or any adulteration whatsoever.

It is also good to note that in our small ways, we have supplied seedlings to people to encourage them to start farming. The idea of one candle lighting 200 candles without affecting its own brightness is what we believe in. We have assisted a quite number of firms that are even bigger than Mikati Farm today. And we are happy to say we have contributed our own quota.

What is your advice for those who would like to go into farming business?
Generally, whatever one wants to do, the first thing is to plan. You need to think out what you want to do. The thought process should first be a function of location. If you go to Birnin Gwari today, and you want to plant apple, it will not grow. You need to know where to grow a particular seed.

Secondly, you need to look at the capital at hand and how much you can access either through the banks or from other sources. Thirdly, the timing of planting and how to manage the farm are essential. The last point is to know your market and understand the logistic involved in the supply chain, both input and output. Know where to get your seedlings, fertilizer, chemical or the insecticide required.

I was one of the first people in Nigeria to produce a fruit called passion. When I started producing passion, a stand could give as much as 250 pieces of passion fruit, and I had close to about 20,000 stands. The fruits were falling on the ground and I didn’t know where to sell them. I experienced this because I did not think out the process from beginning to the end. I ended up losing some money before I could identify the market. And when I eventually did identify the market, logistic was a challenge.

I also went into an agreement with a company called Niyya Farms, which due to lack of proper planned lopsided against me. The company had the machinery to process mango, guava and passion fruits into juice. Since I didn’t have the equipment but I needed to do juice, I went into this arrangement to produce Mikati Passion Fruit Juice. The product was very good and people were buying because it has the highest concentration of vitamin C. However, the production process was too expensive to sustain. I realised I was paying so much for the fruit processing. Packaging was also an issue. Juice can only last long when it is in tetra pack; and because I couldn’t also afford tetra packing then –I was packing in PET (plastic) bottles – the juice business had to stop after over ₦100 million had been spent. I can go back to plant more fruits today and do proper juice processing, but I need to be sure that I have an outlet.

Of all the challenges you have encountered doing business, which has been the most challenging for you and how were you able to conquer it?
I think the challenge of getting finance. When you start a business and you have the idea, vision and the wherewithal to expand your dream, and you look for funding without any positive outcome, you may be discouraged. Funding is one fundamental challenge that Nigeria till today does not have. The bank seldom comes to your aid when you need it most. This is rather sad and unfortunate because it is an industry where I practise. An Indian man who comes to this country with nothing will get a bank loan when he speaks English because of the colour of his skin. But a Nigerian, who even blows grammar, will approach the same bank and get nothing. To some extent, I conquered the issue of funding using my other sources of income.

Why did you decide to go into politics?
Before giving you a direct answer, I believe we have about four categories of politicians. There are politicians contesting for offices because they want position. They are contesting because their mates are in politics –I call them the egocentric politicians. Then, there is another category of those looking at the system as being porous and they see that as a shortcut to wealth. Another set are those looking for executive powers to deal with their enemies. But there is a last category that thinks fairly reasonable. They know the system is bad but they believe it can work better. They have an idea on how to add value and make the system function better. People like that offer themselves for service because, historically, politics should be all about service. Once you are not there to offer selfless service, then there is going to be a major issue.

The electorates are supposed to deduce with their senses to know which of the four categories a candidate belong. Unfortunately, because we are hungry and so poor we can’t deduce well. I always say that poverty has so many dimensions –there is poverty of no money in your pocket; and there is poverty of the mind that even though you are rich, you are just like an animal because you don’t know when it is enough to draw the line. Electorates just close their eyes nowadays to vote for any candidate. We don’t discern to look at those who are offering themselves for service. Quite a number of times, you come across those offering themselves for service. They don’t usually come out to say I want this position therefore vote for me. Most of the time, a group of people study them and say this guy can do this. You can be hoodwinked into accepting to serve.

The history is endless of these types of people. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo did not come out to say he wanted to contest the presidency. It took some time before a number of well meaning Nigerians could convince him to agree to contest. Shehu Shagari never offered himself to say he wanted to contest for presidency. His interest was to become a senator. Awwal Ibrahim, the former governor of Niger State who is now the Emir of Suleja, didn’t know when his name was submitted to the electoral commission.

In the same manner, I personally never offered money to say I want to become governor. Really, contesting for governorship was the last thing on my mind. A number of people felt I was fair, reasonable and transparent. They said I have been helping people irrespective of their tribe and religion. The truth is that the driving force of how I relate with you is how good you are. So people said: why don’t you contest for the governorship position? I told them I wasn’t interested. And till today, I don’t know who first printed or pasted my posters in Kaduna.

When eventually the pressure was so much, my parents back home called me to a meeting and asked me to confirm where I was standing on this. I told them the way they saw the posters was the way I also saw them. At the end of the day, the wisdom of the elders in the village prevailed and they said since I claimed to be a firm believer in God, it could be that God wanted to use those supporters to push me into serving the people of the state. The elders said God could make me to succeed and see to what extent, given a larger office or portfolio, would I continue to be just and equitable. Again, they added that God could make me spend my money and time, and still lose the election and see to what extent will I ascribe the loss to Him instead of ascribing it to those who failed to make contribution for the success of the election.

That was how I ended up contesting. Otherwise, it would have died a natural death because I was not interested. And till now, I can tell you that the last thing on my mind is to say that I want to become a political leader. Political leadership in Nigeria is something that, even, if given to you on a platter of gold you should pick race and run because there is no way you can go in there and come out unscratched. You will certainly offend people because you have the power. You must definitely have some shortcomings, just as you may be able to add value. I use the word ‘may be able’ because the system is so terrible that one gets to be scared that he might not be able to add value if he gets in there.

But you are consoled when you see people like Governor Rotimi Amaechi with what he is doing in Rivers State; when you see a Raji Fashola with what he is doing in Lagos; or when you see a Musa Kwankwaso with what he is doing in Kano. Even when you look at what the late President Musa Yar'Adua did in Kastina, or former Governor Ahmed Makarfi what he did in Kaduna, you get inspired that God in His infinite mercy can be with you, guide and give you the strength to continue the straight and narrow part that you have chosen for yourself. Other than that, any right thinking person, who only knows how to work hard, if they give you leadership position, within the context of Nigerian politics, you should just run away.

As a good Muslim that you are, if God eventually makes you become the governor of Kaduna State, what agenda do you have for the state to improve its economy?
When the pressure was so much for me to contest, I sat down and said should this become a reality, what will be my developmental agenda for the state? So, I sat down with a group of advisers and we study and x-rayed Kaduna as at 2007. We wanted to know where the developmental agenda of Kaduna was –where we were and what we should build on based on what Ahmed Makarfi has done. And I introduced a document called, WIPER. WIPER is an acronym that stands for Wealth creation, Infrastructure development, Peace based on equity and justice, Empowerment of the youth, and Revenue generation.

The first four parts of WIPER which is ‘WIPE’ requires the last ‘R’ to succeed. Unless we maximize revenue, we cannot encourage or be able to have a policy on wealth creation, infrastructure, peace, and youth empowerment.

Those were my thoughts process, and they still remain because, till now, a lot of the issue that that document raised and provided solutions to are still germane. They are still there waiting to be exploited. I believe a number of state governors have similar idea. For example, Ibrahim Dankwambo, the governor of Gombe State has done enormous things along the line of my document. The same thing Governor Ibrahim Shehu Shema of Katsina is doing. He has done certain things along the line of that document. So, if given the opportunity, one has a roadmap of what and how he intends to use the power. Probably because I schooled partly in the United Kingdom, the kind of politics that we do is slightly different. It’s not the moneybag politics. We look at what I call the three ‘Is’ –the Issues, Ideas behind these issues, and the Ideal situation. It is not that I want this at all cost. Unfortunately, this country is so blessed with educated, talented, and people of high degree of wisdom and experience. But what we have here are round pegs in square holes, and they never get to fit.

What do you think Nigeria is not getting right with party politics?
I personally believe what we have are associations, not political parties. Political parties should have principles, allegiance, rules and regulations; and members must abide by those rules and regulations.

For instance, if you take two states that are being run by a political party in this country, you will realise that the programmes of these two states differ. I was matured enough when NPN, GNPP, UPN, NPP, and PRP were political parties in this country. If you look at the old Kaduna State and the old Kano State under PRP, you will realise that because it was a political party, the agenda and the policies of the then Kaduna State under Balarabe Musa were similar, if not equivalent to the ideas and the policies of Abubakar Rimi who was running Kano. Also, governors under NPN in Rivers State (Melford Okilo) and NPN in Benue State (late Aper Aku) had the same ideas and policies.

Then, political parties had agenda, so there was fusion of ideas as apposed fragmentation. Today, what we have are not solid political parties. There is no idea and principle. Virtually all the parties are a little to the right; and this is an issue. You see party today members not paying party dues. You see a serving senator or counsellor under a political party that is not even a registered member of the party. That is why the whip of the party is not there and cannot be there. Unless we begin to change from that, anybody can just come out to say he or she is a card-carrying member of the PDP without registering. These are some of the issues we have to correct in Nigeria if we want decent elections.

Also, this issue of ‘god-fatherism’ is not helping us. Most of the time, somebody, somewhere, just sits in the background and funds someone that will be loyal to him. Integrity and competence are then jettisoned. The major deciding factor of who gets what or who becomes what is loyalty. Are you loyal? Yes. Can he do the job? This is immaterial. After all, they look for a stooge, instead of going for the smartest and the intelligent. Virtually in all the parties, with no exception, smart and intelligent people are not always welcome because they know their rights from their lefts, and they will do the right thing. But party leaders want people that will tiptoe behind them.

I believe we all made the mistake when the Army were about to leave in 1998, there was a vacuum and the discerning individuals refused to get into politics.

With your busy schedule, how do you unwind?
I am happily married and I have two children. When I want to take my meal or have family time, I switch off my phones to get quality attention. And quite a number of times, I go on holiday; sometimes up north or south-south, or even any quiet area where nobody knows me. There you can relax well. Occasionally, when the economy warrants, one is able to go out of the country to relax.