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Friday, 10 November 2017

I miss MKO Abiola, he was generous to me -Dr. Faruk Umar (ex-Permanent Sec, Kano State)



In the wake of preparations for the 22nd Pearl Awards coming up later this month in Lagos, Dr. Faruk Umar a member of Board of Pearl Awards was in Lagos few days ago. Umar who has served in different capacities in the private and public sectors of the economy, is an ex Permanent Secretary, Special Duties of Kano State Government.  

Dr. Umar served as a Non-Executive Director of Nigerian Aviation Handling Company Plc, director of Union Homes Savings and Loans Plc, and was also a member on the Boards of Ashaka Cement Plc and 1004 Estates Limited. A former director of Cement Company of Northern Nigeria plc, Umar was a member of the Audit committees of the National Oil Chemical and Marketing Plc, Unipetrol Nigeria Plc, FSB Plc, Aso Savings and Loans Plc, Oceanic Bank International Plc, Vitafoam Plc and Stacomms Nigeria Plc. 

He was also a member of the Finance and Economy Committee, Presidential Policy Advisory Committee, Finance Committee, Vision 20:2020 and member, Review of Investment and Securities Act.  
An alumnus of the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria and University of Wisconsin, USA where he obtained a doctorate degree, Umar in this interview with Paul Ukpabio, gives us a peep into his early life in the northern part of Nigeria, and the virtues that took him to the top.

Few days ago, Pearl Awards of which you are a member of the board, announced their preparedness to host the 22nd award come November, how do you feel about this?

The Pearls Award Night taking place this month is historic as it is going to be chaired by a former Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon. He is a humble person and is respected by everybody. The companies and institutions selected for the award really deserved it. The Board has also done a thing good in selecting the companies.

The capital market seems to have weathered the storm of a near collapse few years ago and waking up to gain business momento, what can you say about this?

The volatility witnessed in the past was partly due to global economic recession. However, the Central Bank of Nigeria must be commended for the stability in the foreign exchange market which has encouraged foreign investors to return to the market. Also, the availability of foreign exchange has enabled some companies to post quarterly profits. The Securities and Exchange Commission and the Nigerian Stock Exchange have put numerous policies on ground that is impacting on investor confidence in the market. For example: the e-dividend policy has now helped shareholders to get their dividend within twenty-four hours after an Annual General Meeting.

According to Pearl Awards, last year, the board could not hold the award event due to the dampness on the economy then; would you say that indirectly, the nation has moved out of recession?

Yes, I think the economy has improved a lot compared to last year. The various positive quarterly results and the rapid capital appreciation of many stocks attest to that.

What new thing will you like to see happen to the growth of the Nigeria Stock Market?

What I would like to see in the capital market is an electronic Annual General Meeting (AGM )
where shareholders can join an AGM from their living room or office. Currently, this procedure is available in Turkey, and I think we should try to develop one in this country. Secondly, annual accounts should be sent electronically to save the companies a huge amount of money spent on printing and posting. A shareholder who holds a stock worth one hundred Naira, for example, has to get a report that costs the company three thousand naira in printing and posting.

Sir, would you say that your background contributed to the person that you are today?

I will say my background has helped in making me what I am today. I worked in an institution where people were given loan to buy shares in 1989. So I started buying shares with ten percent of my salary on a monthly basis, while obtaining a bridging loan of ninety percent. Also, because I grew up in the commercial city of Kano, when I was given loan to buy a car in 1977, I bought the car and sold few months later to invest the money in a commercial venture. But what really helped me was a loan from my uncle Alhaji Yusuf Garba Ali, which enabled me to start trading in cement. I also retired from teaching before the age of forty. Having read the book, "Rich Dad, Poor Dad," I realized that staying in a job that pays salary is not going to make one rich; rather, one will continue to be poor or just managing.

Let us go back memory lane sir, please tell us about your childhood sir, where did you grow up?

I grew up in Kano City. I went to Shahuci Primary School in Kano in January, 1960. It is the first primary school to be built in Kano in 1917. I attended Rumfa College in Kano in 1967. It was also the first secondary school built in Kano in 1927, and we are now preparing to celebrate the School's 90th Anniversary. Incidentally, I was the National President of Rumfa Old Boys Association (Rumfoba) from 2009-2011. I then went to Ahmadu Bello University for my first and master’s degrees in Education, after which I obtained my PhD in Educational Psychology in 1987 from University of Wisconsin in USA.
Dr. Faruk Umar welcoming Chief MKO Abiola to Kano


What do you miss about your childhood that you wish the children of today would have benefited from?

What I am missing from my childhood today is the culture of discipline and respect. In our childhood, we respect elders. A neighbour can discipline his neighbour's child without anyone complaining. Secondly, everybody keeps to his own profession. A politician does not trade, while businessmen do not go into politics.

Can you say something about the education of that period and the education of now?

Education in our days was excellent. Teachers were dedicated and there were no examination malpractices. To give you a feeling of how devoted teachers were then, I had a lecturer in the University, one Dr Hambali. He came and lectured between 8 and 9 in the morning. After the lecture, he informed us that his daughter passed on the previous night, and requested those who were free to go and arrange for his daughter's burial. Also, in the past, students were asked to evaluate the performance of their teachers. In fact, in some universities in USA, the promotion and retention of a lecturer depends on the outcome of the evaluation. 

Tell us about your journey to the top

My journey to the top was due to my association with responsible and successful people. Immediately after my graduation, I was very close to Mallam Aminu Kano. I learnt a lot from him. He taught me how to have contentment in life.  This is the secret of my life. Also I was very close to Alhaji Aminu Dantata and Mallam Isiyaku Rabiu, two of the richest people in Kano. Also, Mallam Aminu Kano made me a member of the Council for Mutual Understanding, an organization that included representatives of sectors in Kano and I was the youngest member of the organization. And later, I came to relate with Alhaji Aliko Dangote from whom I am still learning a lot. 

You have served in the private sector in different capacities, which office did you hold in the private sector that was most challenging?

The most challenging private sector assignment was serving on boards of publicly quoted companies (PLCs). My challenge was how to adjust my role as an activist and that of a board member. I have served on the boards of four plcs and each one had its own challenges.

You were once a director at Union Homes Savings and Loans, are you happy that today Nigerians have gained confidence in actually saving and getting loans to build their personal houses?

The mortgage business should be encouraged. People should own houses the moment they are employed and through a mortgage loan, they can pay in 20 or 30 years. Unfortunately, all the mortgage institutions are grossly undercapitalized.

You have also served on federal government advisory committees, which one was most challenging and why was it so?

The vision 20 20 20 was the most challenging. You can see up till now we do not generate and distribute enough electricity in the country. To me, a country will be economically independent if it generates enough electricity for its economy. The Government is doing a lot in tacking insurgency, and in stabilizing our currency. The fight against corruption is also succeeding. These are the three areas we envisaged would be critical to achieving the 20 20 20 vision.

You are actually one of those who have worked for the unity of Nigeria, what do you like about Nigeria and in what areas will you like to see growth in Nigeria?

I always support the unity of this country. That was I campaigned for Abiola in 1992, even though the other candidate was from Kano. I also supported the candidature of Kingibe as the running mate against Bafyau, because even though we had a Muslim -Muslim ticket, that was the ticket I knew would make Abiola win. Today, if we have two Christians as presidential and vice presidential candidates, and I believe they will be fair and just to all Nigerians regardless of religion or ethnicity, I will vote for them.

What kind of hobby have you kept over the years, that is, something different from what you are regularly known to do?

Since my childhood my parents had given freedom to choose what I want. The example I will give you is that I write with left hand. Since this was not acceptable in the Hausa Society, people tried to convince my parents to force me to write with my right hand but my parents refused.

This is a lifestyle interview sir so we ask you, what do you presently do these days for a living?

I have invested in real estate and the capital market. I have also invested in Far UK Bureau De Change, and with the coming of Buhari, I have started investing in Agriculture.

How do you recreate, do you have to time to enjoy and relax or are you still working energetically?

I exercise by walking one hour every day. I also have a tennis court and a swimming pool in my house as I take my exercise seriously. 

How about your social life? Do you have social clubs or associations where you play roles?

I am an active social life. I am a member of some social clubs. 

You are looking fresh and youthful, what is the secret and are you on a special diet that keeps you looking younger?

The secret of my looking younger are four: contentment, eight hour sleep every day, reading the holy Quran, and good dieting and taking food supplements. Whenever I am reading the Quran, I don't think of any problem until I finish.

Are you an outdoor person or an indoor person? 

I am an outdoor person, but I love watching tennis and football. I support Arsenal and Federer.

What does success mean to you?

Success to me means that I do not believe I should leave any wealth behind me. When I die, what I have spent in the way of God is what I will have left for me. I did not come to this world with anything and I will not take anything to my grave. I admire Alhaji Aliko Dangote as he has a large heart spending a lot of his wealth in helping the needy. I pray God will give me the ability to assist people rather than thinking of leaving my wealth to my children. My responsibility is to educate them and guide them.

Your fashion sense, what kind of clothes do you love wearing? 

I wear clothes to suit the occasion I am attending. If I am in Rome, I do as the Romans do.

How do you spend your holiday and your best holiday so far?

I like traveling. I spend my holidays nowadays mostly in Lagos, but I go to London once a year.

How about your memorable moments in life?

My memorable moments were from my secondary school. It was a boarding school and we enjoyed sports and music.

Do you miss Abiola? What memories of him do you have?

I miss Abiola a lot. He has been so generous to me as he was the person who paid for me to complete my doctorate degree in the United States. He was a very humorous and humble person. I am also missing the proverbs he used to say during the campaign period.
Dr Faruk with the Senate President, Sen. Bukola Saraki
How did you become his campaign director in Kano state?

I was in Lagos watching the NTA news when I heard that Abiola had collected forms to contest the Presidential election. I called him and offered to contribute financially to his campaign office in Kano whenever the office was opened. He asked me to immediately come to his house that night, which I did. He then told me that he had nobody he could trust in Kano more than me and he would appoint me as his Campaign Manager for Kano. 

I told him I was not a politician. He said he too was not a politician. So I opened the Kano Office and ran the campaign activities for six month with only two hundred and fifty thousand Naira. I organized fund raising dinner for him in Kano which was attended by Bola Tinubu, Osoba, Kingibe, Abubkar Rimi, with their families. I also made him to visit the Governor, Alhaji Kabiru Gsya, and the late Emir of Kano, Alhaji Ado Bayero, in addition to most of the politicians, business men, and prominent religious leaders in Kano. He was able to get 60 % of the votes from Kano.

It seems that after the Abiola era, you left politics what happened?

I was not a politician and I was only in politics when Abiola contested. I just joined his campaign because he was contesting. The last time I saw him was when he was arraigned in a court in Abuja. May Allah forgive and bless with Aljannah.


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