Sunday, April 26, 2020

"Cantankerous": The Word that Got the Late Prof. Ayagi a Job

By Farooq A. Kperogi

When I worked in the Presidential Villa between the twilight of former President Olusegun Obasanjo's first term and the incipience of his second term, I was told the story, by a close Obasanjo aide, of how the late Professor Ibrahim Ayagi got appointed as chairman of the National Economic Intelligence Committee (NEIC) in 1999.

It was said that Obasanjo asked his close advisers to suggest suitable names for the position. They reeled out several names and mentioned their strong and weak points.

When they came to Ayagi, they said he was "brilliant but cantankerous." Obasanjo, who had never known or even heard about Ayagi, jumped up from his chair, interrupted the speaker, and asked, "Did you say he is cantankerous?"

The speaker answered in the affirmative and wondered why the president was particularly interested in that word. Then Obasanjo reportedly said, "I like cantankerous people! If he is brilliant and cantankerous, I want him. This meeting is over!"

Since I heard this story in 2002, I have always mentally associated the word "cantankerous" with Professor Ayagi whenever I encounter it. I don't know why.

When I read that Professor Ayagi died yesterday in Kano at the age of 80, I remembered the story again--and of, course, the word "cantankerous." Words do indeed matter.

May Professor Ayagi's soul rest in peace and in aljannah firdaus.