Alhaji Nuhu Yashe is the Bebejin Katsina and district head of Kusada. Born in 1933, Yashe started working in the Native Authority in 1949 and rose through the ranks to become its Head of Service by 1975. In this interview, the octogenarian spoke on his childhood, why President Buhari formed the War Against Indiscipline paramilitary outfit when he was military head of state, why northern financial institutions failed, among other interesting issues.
At 85, how would you describe the journey of life so far?
I think life has been quite fair to me. I am grateful to the Almighty Allah that I don’t have any health problem. Up till now, I am working as the district head of Kusada, and I am in my good senses; I don’t have any mental problem.
I was born in 1933 in Kankia Local Government Area. I am married with children.
You bagged a Higher National Diploma at the Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria. Which primary school did you attend?
There was no primary school at that time; the lowest was elementary school, which was later upgraded to primary level. I enrolled as a primary pupil in 1940. I can remember there were a number of prominent people who enrolled together with me. Hassan Usman Katsina was one of them. We lived in the same house and brought up by one of our grandfathers, Kankia Nuhu. We had elementary school together. When we finished in 1944, we went to Katsina Middle School. When we finished there was no problem of employment. Most of those who left middle school were given automatic employment because there were a number of opportunities, unlike what obtains now. I was employed as a clerical assistant in agriculture in April 1, 1949.
Who were your classmates in the middle school?
Some of them are Hassan, Maradi, Audu Musa, Isuhu at Dutsinma, another at Funtua; my neighbour here is Musa Mani. Quite a few of us are alive. About 40 of us started middle school education, but I think the remaining people are six, others have died.
You look younger than your age; what is the secret?
I don’t know. However, if you eat properly and take proper care of yourself, I don’t think you would have any problem. I hope to live another 85 years if it’s possible.
You were first appointed as an agricultural assistant; how did you get the job?
When appointed and you don’t know anything about office procedure, you will learn by experience. You will continue to learn and become a professional. At that time, the Native Authority (NA) was very keen to see that her staff members were well trained, so people were given opportunities to train.
You went to Zaria for clerical job but became an agricultural assistant; how much was your first salary?
My first salary was 30shillings (about N3). People were envious of us. From that salary we fed, basically one shilling a day. Labourers worked at 7kobo per day. You know the difference between shillings and kobo. The difference is five kobo. Shillings were 12kobo and labourers were paid 7kobo.
Why did you go to Lagos for another job?
Mr Trevor, an agricultural officer, could not speak Hausa and he needed to move to villages. As an accountant I was always with him, so I became an interpreter between him and farmers.
At that time, quite a few in the villages could speak English. So he took note of my services. In 1960, during independence, there was a policy that any white man who wanted to remain would be under the Nigerian government; and they didn’t want it. So most of them retired, including Mr Trevor. However, he was very familiar with our ministers, so he was offered a contract to continue his campaigns on fertilizer. Subsequently, he asked the Native Authority to allow me help him on secondment to Lagos for a year or two.
How would you describe your experience in Lagos?
I was very young at that time, so I didn’t have any problem. When you are young you can do everything you like.
Did you encounter any form of discrimination?
Yes, but not much. At that time you were free to work and mingle with people. In 1956 I stopped in Enugu when I was going for training. It was about 3am and I didn’t know where the centre was because I had never been there before, so I asked a taxi driver to take me to a police station. They attended to me very well, gave me a place to sleep and in the morning they prepared me and took me to the site.
Did you lose anything when you returned to the Native Authority?
I was there on secondment, so obviously, when I returned I continued my work in the same department.
In 1966, there was crisis in the North following the death of Sardauna; what was the situation in the Native Authority?
There was a lot of trouble all over the country. The Emir of Katsina had to go round to calm nerves because tension was very high. People were not happy because a lot of people were killed.
Did you ever meet him in person?
I was in Daudawa when he was the premier. Anytime he came to Katsina he would go to the emir’s palace. He didn’t know me personally, but I met him several times.
General Hassan Katsina was your childhood friend and classmate, what do you know about him?
I can remember that right from school he had the feeling of being a military personnel. When we were in elementary school there was World War and soldiers were going round and organising us to fight with toy guns. This continued for a long time. That was when he started commanding.
Why didn’t you join the army?
It is very tedious.
As a former agriculture officer, how would you compare that sector then and now?
I don’t know, precisely. However, I believe the fertility of land at that time was better than what we have now. Also, there were more farmlands in the country. It is only because of fertilizers that the country is sustaining half of its requirements. I hope you understand that without the use of fertilizers we can’t get half of what is being gotten now.
At a time you were the financial secretary of the Native Authority, would you say there was corruption then?
There was no corruption. Honestly, the Native Authority was the best example of administration. Nobody could build a house above his earnings. If you did anything to the contrary you would be arrested and imprisoned. Nobody was above the law.
Would you say that part of the problem nowadays is lack constitutional roles for traditional rulers?
You see, when traditional rulers had roles in the government of this country, there was no corruption, and the society was not as complex as it is now. When you give people education and they are able to secure money in any way, you cannot rule them comfortably. When we were in school in the 1940s you could hardly find 20 Igbo people in Katsina town; the society was not complex. But now, because of how complex the society is, it is very difficult to make things easy.
Do you think constitutional roles for traditional rulers would bring back the good old days?
In the era of Native Authority, each local authority had its own police force and there was peace. As long as you employ indigenes to take care of their own people there will be adequate security. As long as you have non-indigenes coming from elsewhere to police your communities, things will not work well because they won’t be sincere. They will be more interested in making money and won’t care who is being killed. If I ask you to protect your own house you will be more sincere because if somebody is hurt, it will either be your brother or somebody related to you. So you will do whatever you can to see that the house is protected well. But if asked to protect somebody’s house you don’t even know and possibly don’t even respect, you won’t care about what happens.
But people are afraid that state police might be hijacked by few for selfish interests; what is your take on that?
Everything has its rights and wrongs, good and bad; it depends on how you see it. We are talking about security. Even in the United Kingdom (UK) you find local government police. Your fear is not entertained there; isn’t it?
How did you feel when you were appointed the Bebejin Katsina?
My appointment as Bebeji came after my position as Head of Service; that was after my uncle retired. I was the secretary to the finance committee, so most government offices knew me very well. The district officers were white people who knew me; that’s why the emir recommended me to be appointed as Head of Service in the Native Authority. At that time, the government mostly considered appointing a person who was related to the emir’s house in one way or another. That’s why I was very pleased to get it.
In shouldering your responsibilities as Head of Service, did you have altercations with people? How many people did you discipline?
They were not directly under me. But whoever was reported for misconduct was disciplined accordingly. There were regulations they had to follow. There was no compromise at all. You know, once you start compromising you lose the essence of what you are doing.
You were a member of the War Against Indiscipline (WAI) outfit; why did you join them?
We were appointed by Muhammadu Buhari when he was military head of state. He was looking for a means to wipe out indiscipline. I knew him very well, having come from the same state, Katsina. When he paid a visit to Emir Kabir I was the secretary to the emir. I prepared the speech delivered by the emir. In the speech, I can remember that he asked Buhari to bring water to the North and there was uproar.
How would you describe the WAI?
We worked very well. Unfortunately, he didn’t stay long. We made a number of recommendations, but before he could implement them he was ousted.
Are you an advocate of its return?
I don’t know. But there was orderliness, and that’s what we need in this country.
You have travelled to many countries; which one was your first? Can you share your experience?
I first travelled to Saudi Arabia in 1967 during the civil war. I went there on my own, then to UK severally. My first trip was with the Emir of Katsina, Usman Nagogo. It was a very nice trip. We went there with Hassan, Ciroma, and one Aminu, a district head as well. We stayed in London for a month and half, from there to Germany, Italy.
How did you feel during your first trip?
Before you go to London, as an educated person you must have known their behaviours. I worked with them, so I was not surprised at what I saw. The only difference was how their cities looked like. We went by air; it was those before us that went by sea.
Agriculture was the mainstay of our economy in this country; at what point did we miss the point?
It is necessary to return to the days of groundnut pyramids. Nowadays, a lot of people farm but they can hardly account for their produce. That’s where we are missing the point. Many people only produce what they eat.
Also, at that time the country’s population was very low, so people could produce enough to eat and have surplus. During the time of pyramids, the population couldn’t be up to 60 million. Now, it is three times or more. That’s the difference. I mean, before you get the same balance you have to produce four times as well. Is it possible to do that now?
But we have an improved method of farming now.
I agree that there’s mechanised farming, fertiliser and so on, but don’t forget that the fertility of the land is always decreasing.
As a director in the Bank of the North, why did it collapse?
I was a director before it collapsed. I think Obasanjo wanted to discard all northern banks, so he said any bank that did not have a capital of N20billion should be wiped out. That was what made us to collapse. We were working very well. We made profits in millions. It was owned by northern people but we didn’t have money. We tried all we could to get the required capital but it wasn’t possible.
Why are collective investments in the North always going down? Is it that northerners don’t believe in their own?
The people of the North are not well advanced educationally, so they are not willing to invest on banking even if they have the money. They have the fear that they would lose. We may have bank accounts but not shares. The shares are highly affordable, but they don’t want to invest. This is the problem.
It behooves on elders to educate the younger generation on the importance of investing in financial institutions. Don’t you think that could make them to rethink?
If I educate them, will I pay the money for them? The answer is no.
Although you were not willing to be a soldier like your friend, General Hassan, you joined Man Obey; what happened?
It was an international movement. We went to Enugu, then to Victoria, a French- speaking place in Cameroon, which was our base. It was a full military training for a month or two, including visitation to forests, cross bridges etc. We were trained by English people.
How do you spend your day?
In the morning, after prayers I read my Quran for a while and by 11am I eat. In the evening I meet my people, like you. See them waiting. I have 22 children. Among them is a comptroller of immigration based in Lagos. Even the females are working.
You seem to have value for education. Were you forced to go to school? We understand that was what happened to some people during your time.
What happened was that most of the people close to the palace were mobilised to school. Later, when there were demands for more children in school, they started forcing some people.
Do you still engage in farming?
I was a very big farmer, but I can’t do that anymore. There was a time I could produce up to 2,000 bags of maize and cotton. There was a time I had 50 tonnes of it.
What went wrong with the cotton farming in the North?
It’s the same problem with other crops.
How can we bring them back?
We need more farmers.
The crises between herders and farmers across the country, especially in the North, have divided the people; what went wrong?
This is a very difficult question to answer. Politics is a dirty game, so when you play it you must prepare for whatever it brings.
In those days, when there was any misunderstanding between a farmer and cattle herder, they would go to the village head and settle the matter. They would send a team of persons to go to the particular place and see the damages, value it and report back to the village head in the presence of both the farmer and the herder. The village head would ask them to pay exactly what was damaged, so everybody would go without grumbling. Unfortunately, it came to a point when a farmer and herder would go to the police if they had a conflict. The cost of the damage is usually multiplied several times for the cattle herder to pay and that made them to start losing confidence on what is being done to them. They locked them up and overcharged them. There may be many other factors, but this contributed hugely.
In the past, the North spoke with one voice, but now it is no longer the same. What went wrong?
When people want a single thing that can’t be shared, definitely you have to fight for it. That’s why the people are fighting.
How do you feel when people refer to northerners as parasites?
They are calling us that name simply because of the oil. And now, I think President Buhari is fighting them through this. We had fed the country for a very long time, but most of the people who knew that we fed them are no more alive. Now, Buhari is doing two or three things that will make them keep quite – the dredging of the River Niger, the exploration of oil in the North – once we get it they won’t call us names anymore. They call us parasites on money; if we like we can call them parasites on food because we have been feeding them up till now. If the North stops the supply of food to the South, it will be very bad for them.
Is grazing reserves an option towards resolving these conflicts?
Yes, it can be an option, but mind you, even if cattle routes are provided, we are talking about animals. They are not like men. So it may reduce the conflicts, but it cannot wipe it out completely.