By Ali M.Ali
Vice Admiral Awwal Zubair Gambo, the 16th and current Chief of Naval turned a year older recently. He is a peer in whom all of us peers from Gwagwarwa primary school, through transit school at Kawaji and the prestigious, Rumfa College all in Kano, are well pleased.
Looking at his towering profile as the number one sailor in the land, one wouldn’t have thought that “Rizi”, would take on a career in soldering and attaining the mountain peak as a service chief.
He was reticent and unobtrusive and loved to “mind his business”. I was among the “noisy’’ ones making fun of teachers, poking others. Physically, Awwal was almost diminutive, fair skinned and slightly plump. He cut the image of “Dan gata” (Ajeboh) these attributes didn’t mark him out for soldering. They marked him out for leadership. He used to listen more than he talked. This discreet demeanor and ‘harmless’ appearance helped him navigate dangerous waters, literally and figuratively and berthed his ship at the dockyard of success.
He manifested that leadership trait early from being class monitor in primary school, a feat he replicated in Secondary School. We were always in different arms of same class. For example, he was in form one I while I was in 1D.
By the third year, we moved to Rumfa College. Only the brightest got into that prestigious school. Tough exams were set going into the third year. In modern times, sitting for that kind of tough exams is the equivalent of heading into senior secondary school. The idea was to select young bright minds regardless of social and economic background and blend them into future leaders. It worked because at Rumfa were princes and sons of paupers. Scions of the merchant class and wards of top civil servants. Children of Islamic scholars and jurists all dissolved into unidentifiable powder of scholarship.
You are only recognizing by your brainpower not the power of your surname.
Most of our tutors were Brits, Canadian and Asians with a no nonsense Principal, Ado Gwaram of blessed memory.
Established in 1927,Rumfa College was second only to Barewa College established in 1921.Late General Abacha was a product of Rumfa College.
Again, I was in 3H,Awwal was 3F. In my class were the likes of AVM Ali Bello Gaya. We finally passed out with me in 5D and “Rizi” in 5F.
As teen, Awwal was a shoulder above in the “swag’ department. He was a guy man. His sparkly white school uniform attested to that. He was neat all the time. That was the time he fell in love with the Navy. He had a fascination for white color.
At Rumfa College, his love for the military received a major boost when he joined the schools’ long standing Cadet. He, again, excelled. He was a mix of grit and tenacity. We had a stern unsmiling Cadet “NCO”. He took no prisoners. He had a mirthless pate. Rizi survived him. That prepared him eventually into becoming a member of the 36 regular course of the Defense Academy.
At the time, the dream was to proceed to SBS, ABU Zaria to study medicine. Rumfa was largely a science college. The likes of Professor Abba Sheshe, currently the CMD of Aminu Kano Teaching Hospital (AKTH), Sammani Ali Muhammad became outstanding in Medicine. Others studied engineering like Awwal Sarki who headed the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR).
There are others in other sectors. There is Dr Yakubu Kofar Mata, a federal Permanent Secretary and foremost, banker Rabiu Tata. Without prejudice to the others not listed here who have taken the Rumfa college flag to great heig
Only Ali Baba Inuwa of News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) and myself chose Journalism.
Awwal was commissioned a sub-lieutenant in 1989. That marked his steady rise in the Navy culminating in his appointment as the 16th indigenous Chief of the Naval Staff in January 2021.
As a young officer, he was often “at sea” literally leaving family and friends “onshore”. He therefore, missed most class annual re-unions. But then, he always kept in touch with peers. He holds this dear. Rizi is sentimental. He has the memory of an elephant. He remembers names of teachers from primary school. The kind ones and the mean ones. He doesn’t forget a good turn. He rarely remembers the bad ones like the rough deal from our Cadet master. He is the sort that would swim the sea the save a peer from distress. He would break his back for this.
And the icing on the cake? He never forgot where he came from. All his alma mater can bear testimony.
Gentle as dove but tough as nails, I often wonder how he reconciles his jocular private persona and the stony persona of a military chief. ‘Eze” for AZ Gambo is funny once is comfortable with the company. He is sublimely witty. He has some funny sailors jokes he shares. He is a dotting father and a loving husband. Military husbands are unusual spouses. His tough guy stance melts at the sight of Nana, his wife and three children.
Expectedly, his dawn at the Naval change has changed the narrative. His leadership improved greatly maritime security. He dared to tread where angels falter. Under his watch, vessels stealing Nigeria’s crude in Niger Delta were arrested and destroyed; illegal pipelines dotting that landscape were similarly discovered.
He similarly focus his attention fleet renewal Thanks to his tenacity the NNS acquired NNN Kada, a multi purpose warship. She is the biggest frigate in West Africa and one of the biggest on the Continent.
He emphasized training. Today, the Naval elite FORCE, the SBS, (Special Boat Service) is helping change the tide of insurgency and maritime insecurity.
Not done yet, infrastructural development in all facets have been frenetic. It didn’t come as a surprise therefore; our peer is recipient of global accolades.]
In 2022, the Africa Security Watch Initiative nominated him. This was not lost on the federal government back home as he was also given the national honour of Commander of the Order of the federal Republic (CFR).
In our circle, AZ assumes no airs. He remains down to earth. He is buoyed by the belief that Allah gives, Allah takes. And that ultimately to HIM, we shall return and account.
Happy birthday Admiral. Our class chapter is proud of you!
Ali M.Ali is the former Deputy President of the Nigeria Guild of Editors