Adieu, Abba Sayyadi Ruma, hero of agricultural digitisation


By Prof. MK Othman

The epoch, July to October 2021, was like a harvest season of death. The rate and places of occurrence, gender, age, and class differences of the affected people became very alarming. 

From known to an unknown number, reported to unreported, those killed by treatable diseases to untreatable, accidental deaths to cold-blooded murders; the statistics kept growing until the story of death became part of our daily news. Sadly, we are yet to get out of this ugly trend. 
Death is a perfect punctual event that neither adds, subtracts a fraction of a second nor fails to take place. Death must happen as at when due, irrespective of time, circumstances and individuals involved. 

Yes, every soul must taste death at its appointed time and no Jupiter can prevent them from happening. So, as mere mortals, why do we bother too much about worldly things? Despite this reality, we are always saddened by the death of loved ones, especially, when we least expect it to happen.

During this fearsome epoch, almost everyone of us lost someone very dear. For me, the counting includes Dr. Abba Sayyadi Ruma, Ba-ba Habi, Inna Halima, Inna Hauwa, and others who were lost to the cold hand of death. Some of these deaths were expected due to old age and ailments. For instance, Ba-ba Habi spent her last two years expecting to have her last breath at any moment because of being a centenarian with an ailing condition. She was the last born of Mallam Isa of blessed memory who was the head of the Saulawa family in Bindawa and had 29 children. All the 29 had answered the call of the Almighty Allah at different times over the last 50 years. Ba-ba Habi was the last to go. She was the first bridge that linked Saulawa family with the Lungu family, covering about a thousand family members and the tree is still growing with some of us as branches.  The most shocking and least expected death was that of Dr. Abba because he sounded healthy and hearty. A few days to his death, I spoke with him on phone and there was no inkling that something was amiss. “Prof. I am in London now and will be back in the country next week and I will arrange a meeting with you and others, Insha Allahu”, he concluded our phone conversation.

The next was a call from a friend to confirm Abba’s death. Inna Lillahi wa Inna ilaihin rajuun.  I first met Dr. Abba during a ministerial meeting with principal officers of the River Basin Development Authorities in 2009. I was then the national coordinator of the MDGs supported PIM project, which was implemented in seven RBDAs across the country. It was my first meeting with a cabinet minister, then, Abba was not only the minister of two powerful ministries combined as one but also among the most influential kitchen cabinet members and power brokers of the Yar’adua presidency.

He effectively managed a combination of Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, and the Ministry of Water Resources, which forced synergy and complementarity between the two. At that time, I had limited opportunity to learn much from Abba until the last five years when our paths crossed in our different efforts to digitise Nigeria’s agriculture. It was just a mere destiny; I was then CEO of a federal agency in charge of coordination and improvement of agricultural extension services. There was no better way of achieving our agency’s mandate than leverage on the use of ICT and we made a frantic effort in all directions to achieve this lofty objective. The effort paid off as Abba’s appearance changed the scene for the better. Several things came to play; some of our personnel were vigorously trained on applications of ICT to agriculture, the farmers’ helpline center began to function and several proposals were put in place, thanks to that robust mentorship of Abba.

He was an ideologue of digitisation of agriculture and support services, not only to boost productivity but also to completely remove the clutches of poverty from smallholder farmers. Some of the proposals were the development of Farmers Helpline Service, Community Security Service using shortcodes for farmers’ Value Added Services, creation of a new generation of farmers targeting unemployed youth and graduates, as well as Capacity Building and Certification with Access to Finance for Small Agricultural Business owners across the nation. Another area of focus was waste management and renewable energy project, production of bio-diesel, organic fertilizer, and cooking gel as well as the conversion of waster and energy, use of solar-powered generators for Markets, Rural Homes, Agro-Industrial Centers. Abba was an intelligent personality and full of ideas with a boundless capacity to address challenges. He believed in transforming the greatness of youth to be good leaders of tomorrow.

This he did through various outfits to build the capacity of youth such as Cherish College of Health Science and Technology with 11 accredited programs, about 1,000 students population, 300 graduates, Cherish College Information and Communication Technology with five accredited programs and 50 students and several others. In fact, in the last ten years, Abba had to his credit demonstrative evidence with built infrastructure on enterprise and vocational skills and eco-system complex in Katsina, Kaduna, and Abuja.  In the last five years, I occasionally met or contacted Abba as I found him to be a veritable inspirator. Each time we met, he had a way of firing the fire in me to find a one-stop solution to the challenges of agriculture in Nigeria. That was why till his demise, I used to share all my write-ups on agriculture with him, after reading, he would call me and say, “Prof, your piece was good, the points were well made. However, you forgot to mention…,”. That was Dr. Abba; he hardly gave negative criticism on ideas expressed by people.My last physical meeting with him was on 7th August 2021 when he invited me and my friends (Yusuf, Baba Jaho, and Dankwari).

We toured his Digital Complex, and extensively discussed on digitization of agricultural support services and improved rural livelihoods. After more than six hours of meeting, I went home ruminating over the issues, felt relieved, and looked forward to a bright and prosperous future for agricultural development in Nigeria. On 16th September 2021, I received a document and message from Dr. Abba and was followed by a telephone call. He informed me that his 5-7 years of cogitation, planning, and development resulted in producing a model called “AGR-tel” (telephony for agric), and the details are contained in the 26-page document sent to me. “As a consultant, Prof, you will lead in the implementation of AGR-tel, study the document and critique it, and please, reach out to important stakeholders like AFAN President, Arch Kabir Ibrahim”. At the time, death was the last thing I could ever think of for Abba.

AGR-tel is a lofty dream, robust idea that contains 9-point agenda with complete innovative answers to the question of Agriculture in Nigeria. With the concept of AGR-tel, making a successful farmer requires having a healthy adult with a willingness to farm, such personality will be provided with capital through a soft loan, skill, inputs, extension support services, market, and linkages electronically and physically. 
The cardinal principles of AGR-tel are networking, synergy, value-addition, demand-driven production, conversion of waste to wealth, and digitisation.  

Today, Dr. Abba is no more but his tall dream is still alive. Can some of us make Abba’s dream a reality for the benefit of a common farmer and the nation? In the AGR-tel document, key partners and Abba’s associates were mentioned, for his sake and the nation, we should congregate to transform his idea into reality.

Finally, Dr. Abba also lived his life as a politician from Katsina state, my discussion with him showed that Abba was the best governor Katsina state never had. May Allah forgive his shortcomings and grant Aljanna Fildausi, amen.