Whenever Seun Oluyemi came into Abuja, he picked me up to join his ‘waka-about’ around town. On every trip, I was always certain to meet a new person, chew on a new meal, or find a new location in the Federal Capital Territory. Seun is like the human heart, he never takes a pause, always in motion. Literally he is without a full stop. It was during one of these “let us go and see …” days that he asked me to escort him to see a friend who he wanted to invite to his show: Rubbin’ Minds on Channels TV. He is its producer and needed to woo a certain Ismaeel to be on the show in its next outing.
On a sunny afternoon, towards the end of October 2013, we hopped into a taxi and arrived at an office in Wuse 2. It was furnished elegantly. It nonetheless resembled a one room apartment that had been forced into a multitude of offices to accomodate boss, secretary, Oga’s PA and even a mini-reception – yet it was cozy.
Seun walked in and was greeted with the euphoria and noise that politicians use to welcome their long-time-no-see friends. I kept aloof – I was a lanky law student who knew little to nothing about what Seun and his friend were chatting about. I stayed in the reception and pulled out my Blackberry to keep busy.
The A/C faced me directly, I was taking in as much of it to prepare me for the next movement Seun had on his list under the Abuja sun. So, I had no worries about the length of time the chatter was taking.
It was almost about thirty minutes when I heard a loud voice from one of the offices saying: “Who is the young man there, tell him to come in, … Seun, introduce your friend to us.” We spoke at length and he showed so much enthusiasm at what I was doing, so much that he asked me to prepare a paper that would tell how better the APC can use the media in securing its victory in the 2015 elections. That was the beginning of what today has culminated into a friendship, a brotherhood and a mentorship between myself and Barrister Ismaeel Ahmed. He was only 33 then.
Seven years after I have become so endeared to Ismaeel that on his 40th birthday I have the honour of writing this tribute to him.
I would have ventured into writing about Ismaeel, the lawyer, the Kano-born son of Hausa-fulani parents, or tell of the stories of his childhood I have read or been told – but I do not know these items on a firsthand basis. I would end up venturing into the job of a historian, a feat this piece lazily seeks to elude.
But I can boast that I know Ismaeel the politician, the brother, the confidant, the friend, the adviser, the uncle, the philanthropist, the elocutionist and the leader.
To the many who know him, they would, like the proverbial elephant, describe him from the different perspectives that they have come in contact with him. He wears the cap for each with a perfect fit. Seamlessly.
Every friend and associate of Ismaeel has an interesting story to tell about him. Whether it is how he has come through at a time of need, or how he has guided in a difficult situation, or how he has inspired them in one way or the other. One thing is sure: He is literally, like Robert Bolt describes Thomas More in the title of his book, “A Man For All Seasons.”
Ismaeel is one of the most detribalised Nigerians I know. In a room where he sits with his friends you are sure to find at least one person from each geopolitical zone of the country. He does not discriminate, neither on religion nor on ethnic identity. He is color blind on identity. And this hallmark stands him out.
He is a go-getter. Impossible is not fashionable for him. Ismaeel carries the mindset of a favourite quote of mine, from the great Abraham Lincoln: “Be sure you put your feet in the right place, then stand firm.” His fervency does not allow him to capitulate when he is convinced that he is in the right.
Another easy description that crowns the Chairman is his God-given character of leadership. As one of the founding fathers of the All Progressives Youth Forum, he has led and mobilised thousands of youths for the All Progressives Congress directly, and millions indirectly. He has provided them direction at many times when the political milieu seemed bleak – he still remains a beacon of hope for many young people. He is a people’s man. Loved genuinely, and cherished jealously.
The character and kind of his friends go all ways: old and young; northerners and southerners; APC and PDP; wailers and hailers; cleaners and Ministers; politicians and civil servants; and what have you.
Ismaeel is kindhearted too. He is never reluctant to help. Even though there are times he may not come through when you reach out to him. But one thing I can vouch for is that he would do his best for everyone around him as long as he has the means to do so.
Indeed he is not perfect. No human is. There are many who will tell you Ismaeel is flawed and needs to improve in his character, in one way or the other. I am in fact one of them. But in the last 7 years of knowing Barrister Ismaeel Ahmed, I have seen a man who earnestly strives for better in all that he is and does. Let me cite an example to put this in perspective: in the build up to his birthday celebration, he had asked me to help him out with some concepts. At every time I submitted a piece to him, he would acknowledge it and commend it. Hours later Ismaeel would send me a message; he had found something that was not well couched or represented, and would suggest better ways that it could be done. This is how he operates: there is something better than what we have. For this, working with him may be tedious – not because he is difficult, but because of his sheer craving for perfection.
I have known Ismaeel well enough to catch his various moods; whether he is anxious, expectant, even confused or uncertain, but one mood I have not seen expressed with Ismaeel is anger. He carries a classic smiling mien wherever he goes. He is a light of pleasantness.
As Ismaeel turns 40 today, the 18th of March, 2020, the least I can say is thank you, for your gift of friendship, of leadership and of brotherhood. Thank you for believing in the young lanky dude who strolled into your office in the late 2013, who you gave the moniker “Tobias”. He wishes you nothing short of a life filled with fulfilment, love and happiness.
Johannes Tobi Wojuola is a lawyer, and Secretary of the Emerging Leaders Economic Forum, founded by Ismaeel Ahmed.