Sardauna of Sokoto's Private Secretary Speaks
Can you share with us how you first came in contact with the late Premier of Northern region, Sir Ahmadu Bello, Sardauna of Sokoto?I was serving as an instructor in the Institute of Administration in 1954, Zaria when one administrator officer called E. K. Fedeston, who had severally served as Resident Officer in Zaria, Kano, Plateau and so on came to the institute. He discussed with our principal then, Mr Coren that they wanted somebody to go to London and join Mr Fedeston, who opened Nigeria Office in London. So, I was invited to join him. It was an 18 month duration for the first time.
My 18 months ended in 1956. Before I returned to Nigeria, I met the late premier in the United Kingdom during one of his several visits. It was then that he intimated me that on my return to Nigeria I would be his private secretary. That was my first contact with him. I was appointed private secretary to the late premier. You know the late premier was very anxious that young men like us should be appointed Assistant District Officers (ADOs). After spending a year with him I was appointed ADO and posted to Borno Province in 1957.Towards the end of that year, I was posted back to the premier’s office as private secretary. I was sent again to Borno. There was the late Alhaji Abdulmalik from Okene, and as part of the administrative reorganisation, the premier created a post for Abdulmalik to go to London to be Commissioner for Northern Nigeria in the United Kingdom. I was therefore posted to London to be Assistant Secretary to the Commissioner for Northern Nigeria.
While in London, I decided to attend what was called the Debenture Course in London University from 1958-59. At that time, officers were sent to the United Kingdom to attend some administrative courses. I came back to the premier’s office in I959. In 1962, I was sent again to Washington, United States of America for a training programme for a few months. When I came back, I was appointed as a permanent secretary in the Ministry of Justice, where Justice Mamman Nasir was appointed minister by the premier.After about six months, some senior European officers were leaving after independence and coupled with the late premier’s northernisation policy; I was again posted to Borno to be Senior Administrative Officer. I was in Borno from 1963 to 1964. In 1964, I was posted back to the Premier’s office as a principal private secretary. I was in that position up to 1966 when the coup took place. Thereafter, I was in the North West as permanent secretary in various ministries that included finance, works among others.
Having worked closely with the late Premier of Northern region, Sir Ahmadu Bello Sardauna of Sokoto, what did you think was his vision and aspirations for the North and the country in general?Well, I was very close to the late premier. Because first as a private secretary and subsequently principal private secretary, I had an assignment which was not an easy one I would say. This was because the late premier was a very hardworking person. We usually started work very early in the morning and closed at midnight. I used to leave my house after Subhi prayers, by the time I arrived in the office; I would find the premier in his table attending to files. On my arrival I would collect them and distribute to all ministries. I think, from my experience, I had gained tremendously. Because the hard work of the late premier was a sort of training which I think I very much had the opportunity of learning from.
What was the level of development at that time in Northern Nigeria?
Well, you know at that time there was regionalisation: Northern region, Western Region and Eastern Region. And the late Sardauna was very anxious about development. First, he did alot of touring to all parts of the North. We were together with him. I think he was trying to bring the North to keep abreast with other regions in terms of development. A lot had indeed been achieved by the late premier’s visit to the nook and cranny of the then Northern region because that helped a lot in mapping out the development strategies in the region during that period.
In a few days to come, Nigeria will be celebrating her 49th anniversary as a sovereign nation. How would you reflect on some of the events before independence?Well, I doubt if I am qualified to verify everything on that date but within my own area of activities, I can say that it was a different world entirely, quite different world. From 1960 to 1966 was different, from 1966 to the new era of democracy. Likewise. from then to date is another different world. This is how I look at Nigeria from independence to date, in three phases.
How was the civil service before independence?The civil service before independence was purely a European situation, but before the British left, they handed over to indigenes especially from northern Nigeria. They prepared everything diligently; they drilled people who were really eligible to rule, not only because of their educational qualifications but their traditional heritage, people that had been in the administration and knew how to rule people justly. They did not liked to handover Nigeria to thugs and so they selected from among the trusted ones, they trained them at Katsina College. Thus, their traditional background and what they had acquired from the British training qualified them to rule anywhere in the world as far as controlling people and taking care of their needs were concerned.
How can you describe the early leaders in terms of ability and accountability?
Their ability and accountability was obvious even from the history they left behind. Take, for example, Sardauna of Sokoto, Tafawa Balewa, Sir Kashim Ibrahim, despite their influence and the leadership positions they held, they did not amass wealth from public funds or even own a single house. If you tell any civil servant now that Sardauna died without having a house of his own, except the one his father gave to him during his first marriage, they wouldn’t believe you. Sadly, those attitudes of gentility and accountability in administration are not written in books for people to see. It was habitual for those leaders to live according to their own income and give what was due to talakawa (the masses). For example, if you are reading books written by thugs in military uniform who wiped out the northern leaders in order to rule the country by force, you will find out that their outward purpose is that they are corrupt. They are ten percenters, and this is what should be analyzed. It means that the budget of the country of their government was 100 percent allocation, money liquidity but they took ten percent out of it, for reasons they never explained and they gave 90 percent to the talakawa in terms of infrastructure, water supply, education, roads, agriculture and all other things while they take away the 10 percent. How will you compare that situation with what obtained in the early days. Come to think of it, you were accused of taking N10 out of a hundred naira for yourself and 90 left to the people and you are still killed because of that.
Why did the Europeans choose to hand over power to northerners?
Because they were the people who were groomed in administration for decades. They had been in administration before the British came, and when the British came they saw the organization of government, they compared their running of government with that of northern Nigeria and they found that the only difference was the integration or development of democracy and that was the only difference but all the rest were the same, the ability and everything.But southerners then saw themselves as the most educated ?
(Laughter) well, education is a big name. When you talk about education, people will look at you as an enlightened person but if you go through its meaning, especially its practical application, you will see the difference. Someone may go to school and get a certificate, he is educated but when it comes to test where he will apply what he has learnt, you will see the difference. That is why we have difference between the academics and intellectuals. The academic person is the person who, when taught, can even swallow, he may be able to memorize Shakespeare and when he is blowing English, one might think he was not only taught but he even knew Shakespeare practically, but he cannot use that knowledge to manage situations in terms of planning,execution and especially in ability to propose how to solve a problem, because he is not an intellectual and that is why these people (the northerners) have wide horizons because they learnt from their parents, heard from their ancestors and had a lot of lessons learnt from the tradition and travelled wide, unlike the southerners. So how can you measure the experience of such people that are widely travelled with the ones limited to their immediate environment? The northerners had about 1000 years administrative and political experience ahead of the southerners, so how can you even compare them?Where were you in 1960?
I was at the School for Arabic Studies here in Kano. I was learning to be a Grade Two teacher, studying Education. Then I had my first son, in 1956.Can you tell us when things started going wrong in the country?
Things started going wrong in this country the very day the military took over the mantle of leadership from civilians in 1966. That was the time Nigeria experienced something different because the British who ruled this country preferred the northerners to implement democratic process as a whole. They were not alone, the southerners had their leaders, too, people like Dr Azikwe and Chief Obafemi Awolowo. The British brought them together and handed over the administration to them so that they could promote democracy in the country. Only six years after, that experiment was extinguished.
So are you, in essence, blaming the military for making things go wrong in the country?
Of course! I have no apology whatsoever because administration, especially political and civil service, are different professions, soldiering or military is also a different profession. Each one had a different orientation and can hardly meet. They can only persuade themselves when the situation arise to do so. They can come together to solve a problem of the country but not for a military personnel to take over administration to say he is going to solve the problem of the country. It means he is going to kill everything because that is the way he was brought up, to destroy not to build.
What is the difference between our leaders during the First Republic and the present ones?The difference is so apparent; love for talakawa, integrity, pity for the common man, reliability, value of life, diligence and so many other characteristics were of the leaders of the First Republic. But nowadays, the leaders are only interested in amassing wealth from public funds and leave the common man to die. This might sound harsh but it is my honest opinion. I don’t go to offices today unless it becomes absolutely necessary because each time I go, I feel like weeping because of the things happening in public offices today. Things have really changed and for the worst. You only see people trooping in when it is time for allocation.
How will you compare the situation of the North from 1960 date?People whose lives were terminated from 1960 to 1966 were patriotic citizens. Almost 99%, if not all, who got involved in political activities and civil service were patriotic, doing it for the country and not for themselves and that is why they all died poor persons. Only very few left behind something which was from their own legitimate earnings, but today the northerners and people from other parts of the country are not patriotic because there is no sign of it among particularly the northerners. The southerners, in terms of patriotism are far better than the northerners because, when the southerners steal money from the public funds, they go back to their communities and invest it so that their people will benefit but here in the north, when they steal the money, the would buy cars, continue marrying, build houses, go to Mecca for Hajj and the lesser Hajj every year hoping that he will die there.
The typical northerner of today lacks patriotism and that is it.
And why do you think the northerners are behaving that way?
Are you saying that the southerners are more patriotic than the northerners?
Yes, and the reason is that a northerner has a limitation of stealing. He is controlled by his
From Daily Trust