Lieutenant-Colonel Adamu Girbo Muhammad (rtd) was a truck driver before he enrolled into the military in 1967. He later rose through the ranks after fighting in the Nigerian Civil War. In this interview, he talks about his time as a driver, military career, and more. Excerpts:
Daily Trust: How did you make the switch from being a driver to a soldier?
Adamu Girbo Muhammad: I worked for the military for 35 years. While I was receiving Islamic education, the Nigerian Civil War started and there was a search for those who had a skill to serve in the army. At that time, I was a licensed truck driver. That was how I was enlisted as a driver in 1967. My work was flexible and involved carrying hefty weapons and ammunitions from Lagos and back. Sometimes we don’t travel for two or three months. This was what gave me the opportunity to study the Qur’an all through under the tutelage of a man in Zaria called Malam Muhammadu.
During my period of study, I met Alhaji Abubakar Mahmud Gumi and later Isma’ila Idris Zakariyya Jos who was also learning under him. When Gumi realised I was a soldier, he advised me to go for formal education. I told him that my employer, the army, would not let me go. He wrote and begged them to send me to the army Imam. That was how, after the war, I went to Katsina Teachers College in 1976 for higher Islamic education. I spent four years there before I returned to Kaduna.
When I returned, the army realised that I had joined the Izala movement. I and head of the army’s Imams, who was a member of Tijjaniya, were not in good terms for this reason. It was at that time I came in contact with a man from Gombe, called Bappah Muhammad Umar, who got permission for me to enter a Shari’a college in Misau, Bauchi State. I got a diploma in three years and was posted to 41 Battalion in a town in Calabar called Abak and began to work as an Imam. It became an issue and I was sent to 31 Batallion in Takum, Taraba State. Still, when members saw that I had returned to the north, wherever Izala were preaching, they got me involved.
I was later called to Lagos for a promotion interview to the rank of corporal. Out of 72 of us, I alone was a soldier, the rest were civilians from different schools. Eight of us passed the interview and we were sent to Jaji. Four of us who did not have degrees were promoted to Lance Corporal, while others were elevated to the rank of Corporal. This made me seek ways to further my education. Meanwhile, I was being posted from one place to the other until I landed in Maiduguri where I was able to bag a degree in Islamic Studies. It gave me the desired push that propelled me to the rank of lieutenant-colonel.
I was about to become a colonel, but I reached 35 in my years of service. I wrote that I was ready to retire but I was told to wait until I became a colonel. I declined. Some people call me ‘Colonel’, but I am actually a lieutenant-colonel.
DT: How did Isma’il Idris also end up becoming a soldier?
Muhammad: I was the one who influenced Isma’ila Idris Zakariyya decision to enter the military. Amongst us he was the fastest learner, so I took him to the Director of Muslim Affairs in Kaduna who said he should be enlisted into the military because he would be valuable. This was how, among eight others, of which he was the youngest he was taken as a sergeant and they were given the rank of Staff Sergeant. He also became an Imam. In the end, the others were Warrant Officer II and he was a Staff Sergeant. He retained this rank until he died.
DT: After the Civil War, did you go for another war elsewhere?
Muhammad: We went to Lebanon, but we were mediators. When I returned, the fight in Liberia started and we went there to bring peace. Unfortunately, we were swallowed up by the fight there and we had quite an encounter with Charles Taylor, who was later captured. After a year, I returned.
DT: You say Charles Taylor was captured; didn’t he surrender?
Muhammad: Yes, but the Nigerian military cornered his army so much that he feared we were everywhere. This forced him to surrender.
DT: In your capacity as one who has experienced battle, what do you think about the fight against Boko Haram?
Muhammad: People like us are surprised that Boko Haram is proving difficult for four big African countries for ten years. Niger, Cameroon, and Chad are countries with military might, not to talk of Nigeria which has strong armed forces.
DT: If you are requested to join in the war against insurgency, will you be willing to?
Muhammad: If old folks like us are needed, we’ll give advice that will enable this country to, by the grace of God, defeat Boko Haram in three months.
During my time, I went to war six months after enlisting. I became dogged and could drive off thirty enemy soldiers, a whole platoon of thirty, alone.
DT: Some may be of the opinion that you were a uniformed clergyman, and so you may not know what it takes to defeat an enemy. What do you have to say to this?
Muhammad: It was towards the end of my career that I became an imam. I enlisted as an infantryman. It was after 15 years that I became an imam. There is nothing I haven’t experienced in the army. I have spent days in a trench, in the pouring rain. I’ve transported weapons from Owerri to Enugu, and I’ve evaded the enemy many, many times.