A. T. AHMED
BY ADEWOLE GERALD
The scorching afternoon sun gradually gives way to faintly glimmering reddish rays. The time is steadily trickling towards 5.30 p.m. The cab comes to a halt in front of the Gambia Airline Office at No. 40, Oduduwa Road, G.R.A., Ikeja. It is here Alhaji Ahmed Tijani Ahmed holds fort.
Steadily, the visitor feverishly advances towards a group of charismatic figures engrossed in a political dialogue at the centre of the spacious expanse, unsure of his reception. Determination forces out an involuntary greeting that is spontaneously acknowledged with awesome humility which cures the visitor’s scepticism. There is neither protocol nor ceremony here. Almost immediately, you are ushered politely before the presence of a horde of favour-seeking guests in the waiting room.
Five minutes. He rounds off his political dialogue, rushes to the waiting room, attends to the courtiers, clearing the way for the visitor’s interview
The reporter humbly requests for a change of base to Ahmed’s residential house. This is endorsed without questioning, resulting in a two minutes’ trek to his house.
Here is a deliberate display of human desire for aesthetic ingenuity, a conspicuous presence of hygienic perfection. The widely spread palm fronds embracing the bungalow building rival the luxuriantly outstretched evergreen leaves of the willow tree.
Then, a little distance beyond, children are lost in a transcendental world, some deep in their scholarly homework, others attentively seated in muted response to Islamic teaching. As one moves through the courtyard via the passage to the rugged lounge tastefully furnished with comfortable cushion settee, an array of artistic garnishment unfolds itself.
There is an amplified imitation of an arts gallery here: For these garlands of artistic works, the life-size portraits of Senator Ahmed and his lawyer wife in her professional robe, all combine with a cluster of glazed photographs to give this place a rich ornamental presence.
Eventually, the reporter is seated in a close encounter with this huge muscular man, the 49-year-old son of Sheikh Ahmed Ruffai, the late leader of Tijaniyya Islamic Movement in Ebiraland. He is unhurried, careful, elaborate, deliberately slow and steady in speech which he reinforces with pronounced gesticulation. He speaks with authoritative confidence, spurred on by his profound innate royalty.
A seasoned administrator whose managerial prowess has forever rooted the Nigerian Airport Authority (NAA) in the solid soil of immense viability, Ahmed was the pioneer chief executive of the NAA. A builder whose weighty intellectual might and unswerving persistence engineered the genealogy of the organization, he moved the establishment from a humble take-off staff capacity of seven personnel in 1978 to a crowdy work force of 7,000 at his exit in 1985.
At 35 years, he flawlessly handled a N37 billion project, resisting fraudulent temptations, building an untribalistic NAA manpower with genuine national outlook.
Today, the professional engineer has taken his administrative skills to the tempestuous terrain of partisan politics. He is a senator-elect actively involved in his business ventures. He is up at 4.30 a.m. to commune with Allah according to Islamic injunctions. There is rich spiritual presence here for Ahmed, his wife, children, drivers, gardeners and a host of other dependents who respond to the reverential supplication to merciful Allah.
This done, Ahmed braces for some study, listens to foreign and local network news, followed up by a clean up which prepares him for a light breakfast at 7:30 a.m. He moves to the office, gives instructions and leaves for outside engagements by nine o’clock. By 1:30 p.m., he is back for afternoon prayers. Then, an army of visitors storm his office at 3.30 p.m.
He opens his heart to reveal the proverbial milk of human kindness to the gratitudeof his favour-seeking guests. Office closes at six o’clock. He goes home, takes some rest, takes his dinner, listens to news, visits friends or attends meetings and retires to bed at 11.00 .p.m.
Such is the life of the administrator, politician and philanthropist, the generous financier of A.T. Ahmed’s scholarship for the under-privileged Nigerians.
First published Saturday, November 7, 1992.