My first meeting with Malam Adamu Ciroma was on October 11th, 1956, in Kano. I had just returned to the country after a two year course of journalism studies in Britain. I had arrived without any arrangements for my reception in Kano or for my onward journey to Kaduna. I was with my wife and six month old baby and I needed someone to assist me. I knew only two people who could help if I ask for assistance. One was Waziri Ibrahim, then Staff and Labor Manager of the United African Company, UAC, in Kano, a very senior position and the highest for an African in that important post of the UAC in those days. The other was Dr. Abubakar Imam, both of whom were my seniors in the Secondary school. It was easier to find the UAC office than the hospital where Dr. Imam worked. So I found my way to the UAC.
Waziri Ibrahim was not in town, but a young man who had his table in the corridor, on noticing me came forward and asked if I was Ahmed Joda and whether I was in need of someone to assist me. He was smiling and looked quite friendly. I was glad to confirm that I was, indeed the person he was referring to. I explained my circumstances and he was very sympathetic. He helped locate Dr. Imam’s house where I went to settle my family and go about arranging for my train journey to Kaduna all with him taking me around. That helpful fellow was Adamu Ciroma and the incident left an indelible etch in my mind. I remember that day as if it was yesterday and remain grateful not just for his help but for his friendship.
In the brief period of our interaction, I learned that he was from Potiskum and is related to my secondary school classmate and lifelong friend, Liman Ciroma. That became the link. As we progressed from there he went to the University of Ibadan, and I joined that Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation we frequently met in Kaduna during his vacations stay with Liman and got to know each other well. After his university studies he came to work in the Premier’s office where as a junior officer he became quite noticeable and ruffled a few feathers in high places.
As was common policy in those days, young officers were expected to in the early part of their careers to gather wide experience and to know the Region very well, before coming to settle in Kaduna. Very few escaped this. Mallam Adamu found himself working as the District Officer on the Mambilla Plateau now in Taraba State. The only way to go up the Plateau until then, in 1964, was on foot and it needed more than ten days to make it by road from Yola and on foot to where the motor able road ended and then for nearly 200 kilometers on foot crossing numerous rivers and marshy terrain, not to talk of having to climb the escarpment from as low as 100 meters above sea level to a height of more than 2000 meters to new and different environment and climate not known in the rest of the country.
When the Premier, Alhaji Ahmadu Bello went to open the first road up the escarpment at the end of May, 1964, Malam Adamu was the Government man in charge. He had walked the more than 80 kilometers from his Headquarters in Gembu to Maisamari where the road had then reached. This was the first village on the mountain. For accommodations, Adamu had converted the village Primary School classroom into some kind of sleeping accommodation to host the Premier. Everything went well.
Everyone admired how he had adapted so well to the environment; had no complaints, did not make the usual request for an early reposting. It was obvious he was enjoying everything about the place and his work. Everyone on the plateau knew him and interacted with him.
As was the Northern Government policy then, he soon was identified as a good material from the North for transfer to the Federal Civil Service. Accordingly he was transferred to Lagos.
While all this was going on, the Northern Government, the only one of the three Regions without its own daily newspaper had decided to set up its own. Perhaps, because of my background as a Reporter/Sub Editor of a weekly newspaper and editor and senior editor in broadcast journalism, I was made the de facto Project Manager of the New Nigerian daily newspaper.
As we virtually had no known northern newspaper journalists in the North, we decided that we needed expatriate staff. After all some of the better Lagos papers were still managed and edited by expatriates. We, therefore recruited the former expatriate Editor of the Nigerian Citizen, the paper that was to be converted and printed in Kaduna instead of Zaria as a daily paper with the name New Nigerian under completely new company management and arrangement in Kaduna. The Editorial and technical staff were also expatriates.
The New Nigerian hit the ground running on the 1st of January, 1966. Two weeks later, on the 15th month, the Military overthrew the elected governments of the Federation. The spirit behind the New Nigerian Newspaper, Alhaji Ahmadu Bello was one of those assassinated.
In my capacity as the Permanent Secretary, I found myself discharging the duties of not only my formal position but assuming the duties of Minister. Not quite a comfortable situation to be in but quite challenging.
That Saturday afternoon, after the funeral of the Premier, Alhaji Ahmadu Bello, some of us gathered in my house to monitor the situation of the country and as it affected us in Kaduna and the North. As we sat in our somber moods, Mr. Charles Sharp, Managing Director of the New Nigerian walked in; stood in the center of the living room and addressed me thus; “The expatriate staff of the paper are deeply agitated; they want to be evacuated. I suggest you come with me and speak to them, reassure them of their safety. Thereafter, we await the situation and give them the chance to determine whether they would want to continue here.”
I was quite upset. I told Mr. Sharp that I was not in a position to give any assurances to anyone. The one person who could give such an assurance is dead. If any or all of them want to go they can go but that I was not at all certain whether we will want them back.
At that moment I also decided that there was no longer any place in the Newspaper for any foreigner, especially in policy and editorial areas of operations. The search for a Nigerian and a Northerner had begun. After a few days of consideration and consultations, it was agreed with the Secretary to the Government of the Northern Region, Alhaji Ali Akilu and Governor Hassan Katsina, that the post of Editor and all editorial staff be Northernized with the least possible delay.
Two names were short listed for consideration and selection: Adamu Ciroma and Yahya Abubakar, an Inspector of Education in the Northern Nigerian Ministry of Education. He was later to serve as a member of the Murtala/Obasanjo Think Tank Group. Yahya ruled himself out of consideration citing his undying love and interest in education and of his hope in contributing to the development of education in Northern Nigeria. If he had come, it was foreseen that his wife, also a graduate could add great value to the Paper.
After my talk with Yahya Abubakar I took a trip to Lagos to have a chat with Adamu. He was not at home when I called in his house but his house help directed me to a Block of Flat at 36 Glover Road, Ikoyi where there was a party going on in a Flat occupied by Edward Aleiyedeino, another bright young Northerner in Federal Service. I knew most of the guests and after a little chit chat, I cornered Adamu Ciroma into a bedroom and explained to him my mission. Without any pause or any hesitation he said he would accept any offer when made. As I made to leave to look for somewhere to spend the night, he followed me down the steps and said: “By the way, about the salary and conditions; it is the job I want, not the money. I will accept anything.” In our discussion it had not occurred to me to raise or to discuss salary and conditions of service. I must have assumed that he would continue to enjoy the same civil service conditions. He and I never ever discussed it
Thus assured I flew back to Kaduna early the next morning and summoned a meeting of the Committee which had been set up to oversee the affairs of the New Nigerian in the absence of the now dissolved Board of the company. It was made up of Dr. R.A.B Dikko, Malam Mohammed Lawal and myself: all of us civil servants and permanent Secretaries in the Government.
The Committee, having been fully briefed only expressed concern that Malam Adamu had no experience about newspaper editing, although in every respect he was very suitable. The appointment was formally approved.
Adamu’s appointment was not welcomed by either Mr. Sharp or the expatriate staff, but could not be resisted. Malam Adamu took over the office as full editor of the paper within a few weeks of the confirmation of his appointment and he hit the ground running. He virtually exploded into the field of journalism. Seemingly without any effort, the paper instantly became famous and an instant success.
The New Nigerian, without any goading or any kind of prompting hit the right chords so well that those not in the know concluded that Adamu was well positioned and well provided for in the highest quarters. Not so. Adamu, if he were alive would be the first to say no. In fact, the New Nigerian was treated quite the same way as all the other newspapers and very often we had more to quarrel with them than with the other papers; largely because very often, the New Nigerian did their homework better than the rest including us, the mouth piece of government, in reporting and in commenting on the Nigerian crisis, before, during and the immediate after effects of the civil war. His Editor after he became Managing Director, Mamman Daura, was one of the few journalists arrested during the Gowon era and during the Civil war. Adamu expressed his anger in clear terms and survived! The same way he survived few times in the Premier’s office in Kaduna years earlier.
Several times he faced and overcame many challenges; The New Nigerian survived and Adamu went on to serve creditably as the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, without having ever been a banker, never ever studied studied economics or finance and never ever become familiar with that industry and those who manipulate it. It was generally agreed that he regulated it well.
He vied for the office of President and narrowly missed it. If he did make it, who knows, Nigeria may be a better country now, more prosperous and much happier country. But he did hold some of the highest of public offices of the country; Agriculture, Industry and Finance. He managed his party affairs and took part in great debates that helped to shape and steady the country well into the future.
May the Almighty Allah grant him eternal rest in Aljannah Firdausi.
Joda is a retired Federal Permanent Secretary