Lebanese eyes Senate seat  
Thursday, January 18, 2007


Engr. Abbas Hajaig? That name may not ring an instant bell in the ears of many Nigerians. But in Jigawa State and environs, as well as the Nigerian business community, it is a household name. An engineer by profession, his company has a reputation of delivering jobs undertaken on schedule.

But this is not what stands Abbas out: he is Lebanese by birth, and Nigerian by naturalisation. And now, having made positive strides in the business world, Abbas has thrown his hat into the political fray.

He wants to be a senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. In fact, he is the PDP senatorial candidate for Jigawa Central Senatorial District. At the PDP retreat for all its candidates, Abbas was the cynosure: A Lebanese-Nigerian running for the nation's Upper Legislative House?

If Abbas clinches the prestigious seat, he will certainly be making history as the first immigrant Nigerian to be elected senator, a no mean achievement.

Nigeria would also be joining the enviable rank of advanced democracies, including the United States of America, which has produced immigrant leaders in all spheres of life including the governorship. For example, the talented actor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, the present governor of California, the largest state in America, is himself an immigrant from Austria. Senator Barrack Obama of Illinois is also an immigrant from Kenya. Carlos Saul Menem who ruled Argentina from 1989 to 1999 is the son of an Arab immigrant from Syria.

Abbas draws inspiration from the stories of these men in his dream of achieving his senatorial ambition. If it happened in other places, it should happen here, he says. "We must show to other parts of the world that Nigeria's democracy has come of age. I believe this (his election) will no doubt go a long way in showcasing our democracy to the world as having given the chance to our naturalised citizens to exercise their rights as bona fide Nigerians."

Born September 25, 1961 in Nigeria, Abbas attended BirninKudu Central Primary School, 1967-1972; Government Secondary School, (Now Government College) BirninKudu 1972-1977; Kaduna Polytechnic 1977-1980; Kaduna Polytechnic 1980-1982 (HND). He eventually went for his NYSC programme in Calabar, Cross River State in 1982/1983. He also holds computer certificate of the Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University, Bauchi.

Abbas, who speaks flawless Hausa, tells you that he has no other country but Nigeria. And at a time many Nigerians are giving up on their country, he rhapsodises about the goodness in our land.

"Whatever anybody says, this is a great country. I love Nigeria, everybody who knows me knows this. I believe in our country.

This is the only country I know. I was born here, I have always lived here amongst the people. I do my business here, I have my house here. I can count the number of times I have been to Lebanon. This is the home I know."

Tracing the family's sojourn in Nigeria, Abbas revealed that his forbears have always been part of the Jigawa community as far back as to the World War 11.

His words: "My late father, Abduljalil Hajaig, came to Nigeria soon after the World War II. This was after his decommissioning from the French Army having actively served as a Legionnaire. He sailed along the West African Coast and settled in Western Nigeria, namely Abeokuta and Ibadan in the old Western Region. He moved to Kano in 1954 and finally settled at Birnin Kudu (in present Jigawa State) in 1959. He applied and was duly naturalised as a citizen in 1975. Naturally, after attaining the age of 18, I applied for mine and got the approval in 1990."

There is something interesting about Abbas and the Hajaig family. Having been brought up at Birnin Kudu, the family have over the years been holding the traditional title of the Zanna of Birnin Kudu.

"This started with my late brother, Hassan Hajaig and after his death the title was transferred to me. This is no doubt in recognition of our contribution to the development of our community with which we fully identify at all times and on all occasions as true sons of the community.

Our late father was one of the closest persons to the late Sarkin Kudu Yakubu and was involved in the final movement of BirninKudu from the old town (Tsohon Gari) to the present location. This can be confirmed from the whole chapter dedicated to my family in the book Tarihin BirninKudu (The History of Birnin Kudu)."

On his motivation to seek electoral office, Abbas says his desire to give back to society what it has given him, is his major driving force.

"As to what motivated me to offer myself to serve despite the modest success I have recorded in business, it is the fact that having been a beneficiary of free primary, free secondary and even enjoyed scholarship award at college level, I am of the belief that the best way to pay back to the community that played a major role in making me what I am, is to come out and serve fully in the collective effort of improving our people's lot.

Secondly, the current reform programme of the government, the absolute war against corruption and the recognition accorded people with commitment to improve the welfare of the people is the driving force behind people like me and others with similar ideas to offer themselves to the service of the people. You see, there is no justification any more for people to sit on the fence and criticize those in leadership position. Anyone who has something to offer in the collective effort of reducing poverty in the land, to move the country forward, to help achieve the president's Vision 20-20 should please come out.

The vision 20-20 is a global target and should be seen as such. We have realised that other countries will not be waiting for us to be among the 20 most industrialised nations by 20-20. They also have their agenda."

You can't leave Abbas without asking him his view about the negative perception of the Lebanese in Nigeria. Are the Lebanese dishonest as generally believed? He says it won't be right to classify every Lebanese, Indian, Nigerian or any other country as bad. Just as there are bad Lebanese, there are equally good ones.

"You see, it is not fair to group any national of any country as dishonest," he argues. "If you look at Nigeria, there are so many foreign nationals who have been here for over a century and contributing meaningfully to the economy and by extension to the wellbeing of our people. Many of them have naturalised and have sincerely adopted Nigeria as their first home. Such people as Faysal Khalil, Mohammed Ali Fadlallah, the Moukarims, the Solomons, the Dayekhs, the Hajaigs, the Shours, the Lababidis, the Leventis, the Aswanis and more numerous to mention have impacted positively in their fields of businesses."

Asked to comment on the recent policy retreat by the PDP for its elected candidates, the senatorial candidate says: "It has afforded me the opportunity to know the country better. A lot of statistics were made available to participants in preparing them for leadership roles. But what I found interesting is the question of party loyalty and discipline that is desirable for any party to serve the mandate given it by the electorate. Political parties all over the world are established on philosophies as enshrined in their manifesto. So, it is mandatory to such a party to implement the programmes upon which it was elected. And the only way to achieve this is by getting all its elected representatives to ensure full compliance with the party leadership's directives."

Abbas is confident that at the April polls, he will coast home to victory, all things being equal. As one analyst of our national politics puts it: Engr. Abbas Hajaig has opened a new chapter in our politics and we should from this point look forward to people who have adopted our country as theirs to come out and contribute meaningfully to our development.

The candidate says: "It is my desire to eventually fly the PDP's flag for the Jigawa Central Senatorial District and subsequently win the seat for the party."


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