Tijjani Borodo - An Excursion in Leadership and the Ties that Bind

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Friday 02, 2021 / 08:05 AM / by Teslim Shitta-Bey, Managing Editor, Proshare Research /Header Image Credit: WebTV


Autobiographies and biographies can be heavy slogs. The trouble is that readers must wade through tomes of random musings which provide very little insight into the character and nature of the author or provide guidance on how the author navigated critical periods of his or her life and the decision-making processes that resulted in the actions taken. Beyond the story a reader of the biography is interested in the cause and effects, the nuances that changed a losing position into a winning one and the subplots that brought about the polished individual everybody has come to know and respect. The word 'know' is a problem here, nobody really knows anybody as what we can at best see in another person is shades of his or her character, the scars and warts are usually well-hidden, and the strains and stresses covered brilliantly in a mask of easy confidence and competence.


However, that being said, the book 'A Journey in Leadership' by Alhaji Tijjani Borodo, the second vice president of the Institute of Directors (IoD) Nigeria is a great read. Perhaps more by accident than design Borodo's early childhood experience in a polygamous Muslim family with its push and pull of filial competition and struggles for survival amidst very fluid social circumstances paints a picture of the realities of middle-class Northern Nigerians and in some small way explains their attitude to power and governance in either private or public sector.


Borodo's grandfather, Alhaji Isa Jah, was a Sudanese trader whose cattle business brought him to Nigeria regularly until Jah (meaning 'red' because he was very fair-skinned) decided to settle in the country. He set down roots at the north's largest trading city, Kano. There he decided to nurture a large family with one of his children Muhammadu Borodo being one of his several children that acquired his business acumen. Mohammad became accomplished and after success in Kano, he decided to move with his family to Jos and then Burutu in present-day Plateau state.


Tijjani Borodo was one of Muhammadu Borodo's twenty- four children and he grew up in a traditional northern elite family where the men were permitted to acquire western education in addition to formal Arabic education, but the women were expected to be schooled in only Arabic education and trained in the art of homemaking. Borodo, however, had sisters that broke the mold and went on to acquire western education. Tijjani on his part went on to read law at the Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria.



Early Day Joys and Tragedy

Young Borodo had an initiation into higher education very similar to that of many middle-income families across the country, it was urbane, detribalized, and career-focused. The average boys' goals were to excel in class play one sport or the other and get a great job. Of course, the issue of marriage would come up a bit later, but the immediate priority was to leave school in a great fit-for-the-market condition.


According to the author on page 18 of the book "Secondary school offered much learning and fun until 6 July 1970 when tragedy struck. It was a Monday. My father died". On the death of his father, things took a slight turn for the worse, creditors swarmed in like a pack of Hyenas, trade creditors insisted on being paid and financial creditors were calling for the sale of assets to pay off the loans, the family was under siege. Thankfully, the family lawyer Mr. Fabai and Alhaji Gawmna a merchant in Gombe were able to negotiate the terms for an amicable settlement that would ensure the family would remain financially stable. The stability enabled Tijjani to continue his secondary school studies without major financial pressure.


The importance of this incidence demonstrates how social values have awkwardly shifted and become eroded. The death of Tijjani's father brought creditors queue at the door but non-family members rallied and resolved the matter in a way that ensured stability. This contrasts with contemporary narratives where family and non-family members tend to exploit temporary family weaknesses to their advantage (this happened to the Borodo family but with minimal material consequence), it equally underscored the importance of a reliable family lawyer and it is little wonder that the author caps the incident by saying on page 20 "these two men did so much to ensure that all the loans were gradually paid up and that the family was financially stable. We remain indebted to them". The lesson from this chapter titled 'No bed of Roses' was that tragedies will happen, but to handle them one must be prepared for them, rather than being treated as 'black swans' or unknown and unknowable events they should be treated as 'grey swans' or unknown but knowable events. Tragedies such as death are events whose timing is unknown but is known to be inevitable. Therefore, planning would require a will, a lawyer, and a set of trusted individuals to supervise activities on behalf of the family such as the settlement of personal liabilities of the deceased or his or her businesses.  The Borodo experience was a lesson in trusteeship and estate management.



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Tijjani; Beyond Trade; The Making of A Lawyer

The death of his father, Muhammadu Borodo, came with personal pain, and vignettes of an older, more pleasant, era but Tijjani rolled up the sleeves of his Jalabia (robe) and pushed past the emotional valley and used it as an inspirational crutch to continue his ambition to become a lawyer.


Tijjani's days at the Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria was eventful, enlightening but also character molding building on his secondary school antecedents and his disciplined Islamic grooming. Although the handsome author cleverly dodges his liaisons with young ladies in his early school days, it is safe to assume that he did have younger romantic interests tucked away in the recesses of his memories dodging the light of an older age.


However, ABU expanded Tijjani's social network and provided him with a broader cosmopolitan outlook on life. It also enabled him to sharpen his leadership acumen and try out his entrepreneurial animal spirits with the establishment of the Spirotex club with schoolmates. The Spirotex club was a social club that equally engaged in small enterprise businesses such as the renting and airing of films on campus.  Tijjani graduated with a law degree from ABU in 1979. His experience on campus, as was the case with many other students, was a mixture of joy, toil, and pain. An accident he had with his Vespa bike on the way to Bukuru from school in his final year pivoted his academic career along a path involving struggles to keep up his grades and fulfill his self-set academic goals. However, regardless of falling short of his academic expectations, his dogged will to push beyond ordinary boundaries led him to further his intellectual sojourn and pursue a Master's degree in law at the University of Essex, Colchester, United Kingdom (UK). This cross into Europe broke Tijjani into a new world of possibilities and a new culture of academic work ethic and experience.


Before leaving for Colchester and the University of Essex, however, Borodo attended the Nigerian Law School. In those days professionals (engineers, medical doctors, architects, accountants, and lawyers) that were indigenes of Kano state had jobs waiting for them but rumours had circulated that the Kano state government had reversed the policy and that there would be no automatic employment for professional Kano state graduates in that year. What was initially rumoured as a possibility came true as the government of then, military head of state, General Olusegun Obasanjo had placed a national embargo on recruitment to the civil service at both federal and state levels.


Borodu and colleagues, therefore, had to proceed to the Nigerian Law School without civil service employment letters and the accompanying salaries and entitlements. The expectation of cushy lifestyles at the Law School was dashed and the grind of university life continued, at least for a while.  


For those interested in the human side of the Nigerian Law school in the 1970s, the author's narrative gives an insight into how earlier learning as a lawyer differed from present-day realities. It also played up some of the similarities and differences of the eras shedding ominous light on how slowly Nigeria's human capital infrastructure has developed over five decades. A noticeable difference is that the Nigerian Law School now has two campuses, the old Victoria Island campus, and the newer Abuja campus. Admittedly, the dual campus system has relieved the pressure on the Lagos school but it has not markedly affected the upgrading of infrastructure and the integration of technology into the school's curriculum and academic programme research and management. Borodo left such consideration out of the book, but leaders like him who have passed through the Law School and observed its challenges over the years need to speak up and advocate for an upgrade to ensure that the future generation of Nigerian lawyers is amongst the finest on the planet. A biography is an opportunity for sober reflection but also a platform for social intervention, thoughts on making things better should be given wings to fly.

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Back to Base

After an eventful National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) where he worked at the Ministry of Justice in PortHartcourt, Borodu moved back to Kano as the embargo on public service employment had been lifted by the government and the twelve Law School applicants (including Borodo) who had earlier applied for employment with the State's Justice Ministry were now absorbed into the Kano state's judicial system as legal Ministry of Justice became junior legal officers. However, as a detour to his legal responsibilities Borodo was sent to the Bayero University Kano (BUK) as a part-time lecturer where he taught the Nigerian Legal System, a stint he (after some initial reluctance) found challenging but useful in deepening his knowledge of the local legal statutes and their relevance to contemporary case law. His stint at the Justice Ministry also introduced him to the fickle nature of Nigerian politics and the even more remarkably the fragile sincerity of public servants.  After pushing against the allegedly illegal removal of traditional rulers by the then Kano state government headed by Alhaji Abubakar Rimi, a radical politician of a leftist inclination like his mentor and party leader, Malam Aminu Kano, Borodo was often resigned to performing his duties in court with professional rigour but without intellectual or legal conviction. The author noted on page 50 of the autobiography "Notwithstanding I was still going to court to pursue the cases with them [his superiors], but I kept telling them that I didn't think we were doing the right thing. But with time, I was vindicated. I could perceive the hypocrisy of people in government, who often chose to shut their eyes to reality simply because they wanted to be in the good books of the government of the day". Things are no different today forty years after.


This part of the book was rich in anecdotes of actions and inactions by politicians that had adverse consequences for citizens of Kano state. It was a confirmation that as in the beginning so in the end. Nigerian politicians appear to consistently lack the grooming required for sophisticated administration and policy implementation, riding on the waves of their fantasies they come up short in performance, resulting in the monumental waste of public resources. For connoisseurs of political and administrative small talk, this section is caviar.


A Cold British Enlightenment

To strengthen his increasingly impressive resume as a lawyer and part-time lecturer Tijjani decided that it was time to take a second degree, a Master's. In 1984 Tijjani proceeded to the University of Essex, Colchester (UK) to study International Human Rights Law. His experience in Colchester particularly the broadening of his understanding of human rights in general and prisoner's rights in particular pivoted his attitude towards criminality and the criminal law process in Nigeria. The cold hard facts of human rights abuses in Africa's largest economy and its most populous nation took on several new shades of grey. The cold and harsh winters of the British climate were balanced by the warmth of legal enlightenment and thoughts of Larai waiting patiently for her husband's return. Tijjani's academic sojourn in Britain was brilliant, but his thirst for the familiarity of home was equally powerful.



From Public to Private Leadership;  Swivelling Direction

After returning to Nigeria and Kano Tijjani went back to work as a public counsel. After his return, he became the deputy director of public prosecutions in the state and later with a few complicated cases in his back pocket he was prevailed upon by family and friends to pick up an opening at First Bank of Nigeria (FBN). His FBN days were perhaps some of the most interesting parts of the book (the other parts of the book were enticing from a human angle but the FBN transition brought out nuggets of seasoned leadership and management lessons readers would find useful).


Maneuvering around the complex interaction of position, power, and personal egos at FBN was an engaging part of the author's narrative and readers would find this part of the book interesting and instructive. Tijjani's FBN days consolidated the journey to leadership and cemented his credentials as a managerial and governance giant.  

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Nevertheless, giant or titan Tijjani was still human and so despite his ploy to hide his female curiosity, he had to treat the big matter of his love interest, the handsome man understood that Vivre sans aimer n'est pas vraiment vivre that is why the next few paragraphs of the book were dedicated to l'amour de sa vie Larai. In simpler English (without the French) Tijjani understood that 'to live without loving is not really living' and so he introduces readers to the love of his life, Larai.



The Making of A Family Man

Something cryptic about the book was the fact that Borodo stepped outside the family norm of genteel polygamy to marry a very pretty and very well-educated Northern woman in a lifestyle that has been more western than eastern.


Tijjani's handsome features and his gentlemanly conduct were deliberately understated. It was several pages after the narrative of his early school years and official public service appointment in Kano that the author allows the reader a glimpse into his softer side, his attraction to the 'fairer gender'.


After several pictures of immediate family members and school friends, Tijjani introduces the picture of a brown-skinned beauty, a lady with an engaging smile and eyes that suggested confident intelligence. The legal counsel confirmed the existence of a romantic side by introducing the reader to his heartthrob Hadjia Larai Borodo (nee Gana ). The author virtually surprises the reader by popping her out of a magic hat after he described his British travel experience, where he mentioned only in passing the existence of a wife back home in Nigeria who at the time was pregnant. Nevertheless, what was central to the narration of the relationship between Tijjani and Larai was that both understood very early in their relationship that they were embarking on a journey and marriage was just an event. They understood that to make the best of the long trip that they had promised each other they had to forge an understanding and partnership with clear goals, they had to commit to a mental as well as emotional contract. 



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The End Play

First Bank honed Tijjani's leadership skills, as much as the Kano public service prepared him for frontline positions, FBN molded him into a formidable boardroom baron and a legal avatar. The backward glance at his days in FBN is part of the book's strengths and obvious weakness. Borodo engages in self-editing and pollical-correctness that leaves the reader with a sense of something missing. For instance, the internal squabbles at the bank when erstwhile managing director, Bernard Longe was shown the door allegedly for the botched International Investors London Limited's (IILL's) acquisition of the country's national telecommunications operator NITEL and the hiccups suffered in the bank's technology transition project. He also steered clear of the challenges, and perhaps controversies, of the bank's Century II project under former managing director, Mr. Bisi Onasanya. However, some insights into top management movements and implications do appear in teasingly short sections.


The book was a delightful read because of its clarity, simplicity, and frankness. However, the legal maven needs to follow up with a book that is less autobiographical and more centred on management and governance and the challenges and lessons that he experienced both in the public and private sector. As a leadership icon and second national Vice President of the Institute of Directors (IoD) Nigeria, Alhaji Tijjani Borodo has more than a care of duty to guide a younger generation of boardroom leaders in the best corporate governance practice and managerial oversight required for corporate sustainability. He also has the responsibility of mentoring upcoming directors in the difficult art of managing corporate change.



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Borodo's book 'A Journey in Leadership' is a good start but if 'TJ' thought he was done and dusted with writing books he has underestimated the impact of this book and the onerous burden it places upon him to put the next few masterpieces together to the glory of Allah and the benefit of corporate boards globally.


You can also read the Review of the Book - A Journey in Leadership by Tijjani Borodo Book Review by Professor Fabia Ajogwu, SAN HERE


To purchase a copy of the book, whose proceeds shall go to the Hajiya Safiya Borodo Foundation (HSBF) - an NGO dedicated to helping the needy and indigent children while empowering the less previlege in the society, kindly click on this link https://bit.ly/TJBorodoBookOrder


 Watch The Launch Video Here

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