Born on November 19, 1967 in Buni Yadi, Yobe State, Mai Mala Buni’s life story traces an incredible journey from humble beginnings to the height of Nigerian politics.
As the current Governor of Yobe State and former caretaker chairman of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) party, Buni has made major strides, even as his career remains dotted by controversy.
Mai Mala Buni Early Life and Education
Mai Mala Buni was born in Northern Nigeria to merchant parents. As was the Muslim custom, he began Quranic education early, before progressing through primary and secondary school. He obtained his WAEC certificate from Government Secondary School Goniri in 1985.
Never one to rest on his laurels, Buni continued studying even while building his political career. He earned a B.Sc. in International Relations from Espan Formation University in Benin Republic in 2014, followed by a Master’s degree in International Relations from Leeds Beckett University in the UK.
Beyond academics, Buni was determined to build independent wealth. He drew from his family’s commercial background to launch several companies, including MBG Integrated Farms Ltd and MMB Petroleum and Chemical Company Ltd. By his mid-30s, he had established himself as a formidable businessman.
Early Political Career
Buni’s political activism began in 1992, when he contested and won a local councilor position under the National Republican Convention (NRC) party, aged just 24. Displaying maturity beyond his years, he was elected Council Speaker.
Over the next decade, Buni continued his political ascent, occupying various state-level roles under different parties as alliances shifted. From 2007-2010, he served as Chairman of the Action Congress (AC) party in Yobe State.
His capabilities came to the national spotlight after the 2013 merger of opposition parties formed the All Progressives Congress (APC). Buni was appointed the pro tem State Secretary of the new party in Yobe. He utilized his organizational talents to become the first-ever elected National Secretary of the now-ruling APC in 2014.
First Term as Yobe State Governor
As a master political strategist, it was only a matter of time before Buni sought executive office. Capitalizing on his popularity within the APC, he won the party’s ticket for the 2019 Yobe State gubernatorial elections in a landslide. He then defeated his closest rival by over 300,000 votes to emerge governor.
Buni moved swiftly upon assuming office, focusing on uplifting education and socioeconomic standards in the long-marginalized state. Some signature first-term achievements include:
- Constructing seven model primary schools across Yobe’s rural areas
- Earmarking funds to hire more teachers and improve teacher welfare
- Partnering with the federal Home Grown School Feeding program to boost enrollment
- Facilitating the return of thousands of internally displaced persons (IDPs) displaced by insurgent violence
- Building new homes and distributing livelihood packages to IDPs
- Upgrading rural health centers and facilities
Buni also prioritized completing previous administrations’ uncompleted projects like housing estates and irrigation schemes rather than initiating new potential white elephants. This earned him goodwill among citizens weary of abandonment.
Overall, Buni made commendable strides in his first term to rebuild Yobe’s long-battered education, health and housing sectors. If he continues at this pace over two terms, the state’s development outlook remains positive.
Return as APC Caretaker Chairman
In June 2020, the APC National Working Committee dissolved following internal crises after a protracted leadership tussle. With the party in turmoil, the National Executive Committee turned to Buni, appointing him Caretaker Chairman and head of the Extraordinary Convention Planning Committee.
As a former National Secretary, Buni understood the complex dynamics of managing competing factions. His tenure witnessed several victories:
- Overseeing membership revalidation that expanded party membership to over 44 million
- Reconciling aggrieved heavyweights like Bola Tinubu through constant engagement
- Attracting opposition governors like Dave Umahi (Ebonyi) and Ben Ayade (Cross River) to defect to the APC
However, Buni’s balancing act also attracted controversy regarding his refusal to call a party convention and seeming bid to extend his tenure indefinitely. This led the respected APC chieftain Bola Tinubu to publicly demand Buni’s resignation in the buildup to the 2023 elections.
Buni survived graciously, neither directly attacking Tinubu nor hurriedly convening any convention that could divide the party. However, the crisis showed Buni was not exempt from power games that plague Nigerian politics.
March 2022 saw Buni hand over as caretaker chairman to former Nasarawa governor Abdullahi Adamu in preparation for the APC presidential primaries. It remains to be seen how cordial the Tinubu and Buni relationship remains.
Second Term as Yobe Governor
Despite six months dividing his attention between Yobe and Abuja’s APC headquarters, Buni never completely neglected governing his home state. Since his re-election in 2023, Buni has focused firmly on delivery to Yobe’s citizens.
Some ongoing second-term projects include:
- Completing the construction of 178 primary healthcare centers with full amenities
- Ongoing building of 3,600 new public housing units across Yobe’s six major towns
- Rehabilitating irrigation infrastructure to boost Yobe’s agrarian economy
- Commissioning 38 completed rural electrification projects thus far
2023 is billed as a landmark year for Yobe’s transportation development, with Buni slated to launch construction of the state’s first flyover bridges in the capital Damaturu, the airport expressway and the new cargo airport project.
If seen through to timely completion, these second-term signature projects should leapfrog Yobe from economic backwater status towards more sustainable growth and development.
Mai Mala Buni Critics and Controversies
However, Buni’s otherwise admirable political achievements have not escaped controversy completely. Some oft-cited criticisms include:
Nepotism and Cronyism Allegations:
Buni has faced accusations of favoring close associates and family members when making certain appointments. For instance, his younger brother, Alhaji Buba Umar Mava, was appointed Secretary to the Yobe State Government. Buni has defended such appointments as based on competence, trust and shared state development visions.
Failure to Complete Predecessor’s Projects:
Critics also blame Buni for abandoning several projects awarded by previous Yobe governors after accruing significant costs. His counterargument is that he is merely evaluating the viability of such projects before completion based on rigorous governance criteria.
Security Deterioration in Yobe:
Rising cases of kidnappings, banditry and farmer-herder clashes in certain parts of Yobe state during Buni’s tenure have attracted citizens’ anger. However, Buni maintains security operations remain exclusively federal government business per constitutional stipulations.
Without a doubt, Buni must address these complaints sincerely if he is to leave a lasting, people-centered impact as Yobe governor until 2027. Nevertheless, his efforts at developing infrastructure and soliciting foreign investment signal good faith.
As the 2023 elections conclude, where does Buni go from here? Now just 55 years old, his best political days likely still lie ahead.
On the home front, delivering tangible outcomes in education, healthcare and jobs during his second gubernatorial term will determine if Buni can emerge as an authentic people’s champion or fade as another transactional politician. Investing in rural infrastructure and economic diversification appear areas he is actively pursuing per Yobe’s current development needs.
Nationally, with the APC likely to retain federal power after the 2023 presidential polls, intrigues will begin regarding the jostling of forces to manage the party post-Buhari.
Here, figures like Bola Tinubu, APC presidential candidate Bola Ahmed Tinubu, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo and indeed Buni himself will be among top contenders to shape the APC’s ideological vision and leadership in the next dispensation.
How Buni navigates his complex relationship with Tinubu will indicate whether his clout as a powerbroker is waxing or waning. Nevertheless, at just 55 years with vast executive experience, one senses the best is yet to come from this consummate politician’s career.
Mai Mala Buni’s eventful life story thus provides illuminating glimpses into the intriguing inner workings of Nigerian politics. It is also an inspiring account of humble origins transcending towards occupying the highest political office. However, a sense of unfinished business remains regarding his legacy as both statesman and party leader.
How Buni’s tale concludes will likely offer more vital insights into understanding the complex evolution of Africa’s largest democracy.
For now, his current chapter fittingly portrays a quintessential Nigerian politician navigating the fine line between pursuing development, delivering good governance and concealing vested interests – with all the contradictions therein.