Alhaji Muhammad Inuwa Jibrin was born on September 10, 1940. He held many positions in broadcasting and administration. He retired from public service at the age of 46 and went into the private sector but has since retired and is living a quiet life in Kaduna. In this interview he shared important events that shaped his life, including how he walked out of a government job.
you are from Kano but schooled in Otukpo in the 1940s, how did you do it?
My grandfather migrated from Kano in the course of spreading Islam from the Madabo area in Dala Local Government Area of Kano before the British came. They travelled all the way through Keffi and across River Benue to Ankpa in the present Kogi State. My father was in Arabic school when the white men came as they were going round. They went to the school and picked him, saying they wanted him to work with them. So he took permission from the Malam. In those days they had a lot of respect for Europeans, so he could not say no to their request. That was how my father was picked from Ankpa to work with the district officer.
The West African Frontier Force Garrison was based in Ankpa and the headquarters of Idoma Division was at a place called Okpoga. The district officer picked him as a messenger because he found him a young and intelligent person who was already learned in writing letters in Arabic, popularly known as Ajami.
He was taken to Okpoga to join the service of the colonial government of Nigeria. From Okpoga, he moved to Otukpo; that was when he had his first wife. I had a sister by that marriage, but she was only alive for six months. He took another wife 20 years before I was born. My father told me that he was somewhere around Edumoga district when they called to inform him that he had a child. I grew up there.
His contemporaries were Malam Sule, the father of the late Abdul Sule; Itodo, Obeya, Okoliko, and the late Abu.
Otukpo town was set up because of the railway that passed through to Port-Harcourt. Okpoga was not on the railway line, and because of communication, the headquarters of Idoma Division was moved to Otukpo from Okpoga in 1923.
I was born almost at the beginning of the Second World War in 1940. In those days, there was absolute assimilation, no discrimination. My father was given due respect because he worked with Europeans and district officers. They were consulted on all issues, even on chieftaincy matters, to find out from the natives who were the suitable candidates. When he was still in service, he married from almost all parts of Idoma Division, including Igah in today’s Apa Local Government Area, Edumoga from Igumale, Igede; that is Oju. I can remember that the name of the one from Igumale was Enayi but he named her Hauwa; that of Igah was Ene, but he named her Umamatu, while that of Oju was named Hadiza. Another one from Akpa was named Hajara. My mother was also from Ankpa in a place called Angwa, Hausa settlement. Unfortunately, all the other wives did not have children; I was the only child.
Which language did you end up speaking?
Although my father’s wives were Idoma, I was speaking Hausa. I could also speak Idoma and pick some dialects from Agatu and Igede.
When you were in primary school at Otukpo, were you conscious of the fact that you were different from other boys?
Not at all. On Sundays we went to church. It was a Saint Mary Catholic School, which is no longer in existence. There was no Saint Francis. Perhaps the only discrimination was the one with Igbo teachers who called me ‘Ndi Allahkubar’ because of Muslim prayer, “Allahu Ahkbar.” We would go to churches and do whatever they were doing. When I came back to tell my father, he would say, “Go on, it is part of education.’’
Was there a mosque in Otukpo?
Yes. There was a central mosque, as well as Sarkin Hausawa, Attahiru, Madaki, Galadima and four or five local malams that taught children Islamic knowledge. We had Malam Madugu, Liman na Kasimu, Mallam Baba na Manu, Mallam Umaru. Baba na Manu was a Katsina man, Mallam Umaru who took me at the final stages was a Kanuri man. You could see people come from all over and live harmoniously with the people. Some of the district heads from the surrounding villages stayed with the mallams after attending the usual district heads’ meetings before going back to their respective villages. I remember that my late father had an area he carved out for district heads whenever they came. I remember that the chiefs of Igumale and Utonkon and others would come and stay there. They used to send us to buy things for them. So you can see that there was complete oneness, no discrimination.
You attended Government College, Keffi; how did you get admission?
It was an interesting scenario. In those days there was no discrimination. Everything was on merit. In the primary school I was a class monitor. Our headmaster was Mr. Uzor from Awka in eastern Nigeria. He was a very strict person. I used to top the class. I was a very tiny person among other boys, so he took note of that. One day, I came to school because as a monitor I had to sweep the classroom, go to the teacher’s office to pick the register, fetch water, and so on. When I came, I saw him standing and I wondered what was wrong with him as early as that? He said I should drop my bag and see him in the office.
I went to his office and he opened his drawer and gave me a ruler, pencil, cleaner and ink. There was no pen. He said I should report to the next school, Methodist School, across the road. One Mr. Onazi was the headmaster of the Methodist School; and I didn’t ask questions because I was scared. I went over to the school and asked of the headmaster’s office. I met other young boys there. He asked who was Jibrin and took me to a place and said I was going to write entrance exams into a middle school in Katsina-Ala. Few minutes later, somebody came and started distributing question papers to us. The papers were English, Nature Studies and Arithmetic. The headmaster in my school left a message that when I came back I should report to his office. I told him all that transpired.
When the result came, I was informed that I was going to Katsina-Ala, but I didn’t like it because I didn’t tell my parents. The information then was that the Tiv were very wicked, until one of the elders in the school came and told my father that there was no problem with the area. That was how I went to Katsina-Ala.
We attended an interview. The late Och’Idoma, Ogiri Oko, was the chairman; the headmaster, Mr. Onazi, was a member, and there were some district heads from Agatu. They interviewed us. Again, myself and one Abraham were the smallest. Mr. Onazi was asking that my name did not resemble the name of people from the area, then the Och’Agatu at that time said, “No, he is the son of our master, Malam Jibrin.’’ That was how I got to the Middle School with others. In the Middle School, the headmaster was the late Aku-Uka of Wukari, Malam Adibewu and two or three Idoma people, who were teachers in the school. I was there for two years.
Those of us from Idoma Division were already from mission school, so we had a good background in English. I was topping the class. We were picked for entrance into Government College, Zaria and Keffi. These were the only secondary schools owned by the regional government for boys. The third one, Queen Elizabeth, Ilorin, was for girls in the whole North. The government had only three full-fledged secondary schools, others were all middle schools owned by the native authorities.
We sat for the exams; at the end of it I was told that I was successful and that I was going to Keffi. So we left Katsina-Ala in December, and by January 1954, we reported to the district officer in Otukpo and were given a warrant to join the train to a station called Gudi, some 29 miles to Keffi, together with other boys. I remember Abraham Egwegwe, Alan Ajonye. That was how we went to Keffi and found ourselves with boys from other provinces in the North, especially what is called Middle Belt today – Adamawa, Kabba Province, Plateau, Ilorin, southern Zaria and few from the far North. All our teachers were Europeans, apart from two – Malam Adamu Gadu, and one Lagosian, Mr Onimole, who spent all his life in Zaria and was a very good teacher, while Mallam Adamu came from UK for training and was teaching us English.
How was life at Government College, Keffi?
Keffi was a small town, but famous. There was an incident in 1902 in which Magaji Dan Yamusa was alleged to have murdered a resident, one Captain Maloni. There was a misunderstanding, and as a result, Keffi was kept undeveloped for many years, until our arrival when three institutions were set up – Teachers’ Training College, Government College, and General Hospital, Keffi.
Government College, Keffi was the only secondary school established by an act of the parliament. The deputy director of education sent a memo to the House of Assembly for debate and approval, and in 1948 it passed through the House and House of Chiefs. That’s how the college was established. The building started immediately on a temporary site. It was in 1949 that they moved it from Kaduna. I remember the first students of the college, Alhaji Tanko Kuta, who became secretary to the government of North-West; Professor Shehu Bida; the late Abdu Abubakar; Dr. Aliyu, among others. The very year they completed their courses was the year we started Form One in 1954.
Who were your classmates?
I remember a renowned psychiatrist, Professor Ahmed Muhammad, Dr. Abraham Ogwube, Simon Ajiboye, Dr. Adamu Ogirma, among others. Brigadier-General Ogbeha was a year behind us, but we left at the same time. We were the last set to sit for school certificate in Keffi.
Former President Umaru Yar’adua was in Keffi too; did he meet you in school?
No, he was far our junior. He went to Keffi in 1964 while we left in 1959.
Why did you choose journalism for further studies?
I was a sportsman right from school. I played hockey throughout my secondary school; even in my testimonial, the principal, Mr. AP Walters, put it there. I was playing football and I got injured, and the only nearest hospital then was in Jos. I was there for a month or so; when I came back I switched to hockey.
The late Gbong Gwom Jos, Victor Pam, who retired as deputy inspector-general of police, was our head boy. He told us that whenever we were playing hockey it didn’t matter who was coming towards us, we shouldn’t be scared. One day, while playing inter-house in Keffi, we had four houses: Kaduna House, Katsina Ala House, Niger House and Benue House. He was very huge, so when he was coming I stood on his way and he jumped over me and said, “Kai Yaro, ya baka tsoro?’’ I told him that he was the one who said we should not be afraid of anyone in the field? He said I should continue to play like that.
I also developed interest in one Mr Folarin Ishola from the then Nigerian Broadcasting Cooperation (NBC). He was a commentator on athletics, football and other sporting activities. He made commentaries on games, especially football. I developed interest in listening to the radio, and there was a weekly magazine published on what was happening around the school. I was part of the writers who put them together. Gabriel Dare was our editor. That was how I developed interest. But I started work in the High Court as a third class clerk with a school certificate. Ours was the West African School Certified awarded by Cambridge University.
Did you work as a reporter after studies?
I went into broadcasting instead.
When did you start?
I was the only northerner in the whole of the judicial department of northern Nigeria, where I served as a clerk, the rest were either Igbo or Yoruba. I joined the service during Ramadan, and something happened that surprised me. When I went to the Public Service Commission, I saw one of the bosses, a Fulani man taking tea. I thought he was acting on doctor’s advice and I greeted him, but he did not respond. I went to the court and met someone and said, “Sir, I am looking for a job.’’ He said, “Don’t you know where you should go for job?’’ I said, “Yes, the Public Service Commission.’’ I told him there was one elderly person who always frowned whenever he saw me, and even if I greeted him he would not answer, but I would continue writing. He said that’s because of the kind of dress I was wearing. I was used to tucking-in. He asked which school I attended and I said Government College, Keffi. He asked if I passed and I said ‘yes.’ He asked for the evidence and I presented my testimonial. He pulled out his drawer and gave me a form and said I should go and fill it and bring it the following day. That’s how I started as clerk in the High Court.
When I reported, he sent me to open a registry as a dispatching clerk. Then news went round that Sardauna had sent somebody to the office, so the Igbo and Yoruba there would come and observe whatever I did. They were amazed that I could speak and write in English.
From there, I went on leave. As soon as I came back, there was an advertisement in the NBC, looking for a continuity announcer, so I applied and they called us for interview. The late Emir of Kano, Ado Bayero, was among the Board members. The late Dr Abubakar Imam and Alhaji Sani Kontagora were on leave. Inna Fati was acting for him. Alhaji Muhammadu King was also a member of the Board. They interviewed us. I was a key radio listener. They asked what radio stations I listened to and I said the NBC, BBC, VOA, Radio Pakistan and Radio Cairo. They asked for the frequency and time and I gave them. They looked at me and asked how I developed such interest; and I said right from school. That was how I made it to the NBC as a continuity announcer. I think I was there for a year. When Sardauna came back from his trip in the Middle East, something happened – the newscaster was not around and Ahmad Joda was the regional editor. The controller came down with the bulletin and asked who the continuity announcer was, and they said Jibrin. He came in with the bulletin and asked me to read the news. He went out and stood by. I was seeing him through the glass. You can imagine a junior officer reading the news and the controller standing on him. I was shivering. As soon as I said, ‘That is the end of the news,’ he left; and I said to myself that it was the end, thinking I would get my letter of termination the following morning because I had messed up
When I came the following morning, I was told that the controller wanted to see me. I thought he wanted to give me a sack letter. I went to him and he said, “Congratulations, you saved us from embarrassment from today. You will continue to cast news.’’ As faith would have it, within a year he called me one morning and said I and Patrick Ityohegh, Joseph Babatunj and others should go to Lafia road and meet one Mr Danny. He said we would be working for a new radio station the Sardauna opened – the Broadcasting Cooperation of Northern Nigeria (BCNN). That was how I moved from the NBC to BCNN. There was only verbal instruction, no letter of transfer.
The assembly hall of the Government College, Kaduna was made a temporary studio. It was in March 1962. I was the continuity announcer, with people like Martha Audu. That’s how we started when the station was completed. The Sarduana came with his cabinet to see what was happening. We joined the BBC at 3 o’clock for news and started our announcement after allowing it to beep six times.
Were you the pioneer announcer at the BCNN?
Yes, our seniors were Abba Zorro and Sani Katsina.
How was the reception of the BCNN?
We had powerful transmitters all over, such that we even broadcast into Niger and Cameroun.
You were more or less a celebrity?
Yes, but we didn’t take it that way. The only thing was that people used to point at us when wherever we went, saying, ‘we see them on television.’
You later switched to administration, how did that happen?
I was at the BCNN for nine years, then the Northern Nigeria Marketing Board was looking for public relations officers because there were attacks on their system and there was nobody to speak for them. So they advertised. I considered it a new venture since I had gone round in broadcasting. I became a producer. I was sent to the BBC in1963 for a course. After completing the training, I was preparing to come back, then I proceeded to Granada in Manchester for another two-month course on television production. That was where I developed interest in Manchester United Football team because I used to go there and watch the team.
When I saw the advert, I applied for the job, together with Madu Mailafiya. Again, there I met two gentlemen who were my senior at Keffi – Malllam Tanko Kuta and the late Audu Abubakar. The chairman was Mallam Yahaya Gusau. At the interview, one of the them asked, “You said you were from Government College, Keffi, can you recognise anybody here?’’ I said that Tanko Kuta was our head boy. I quoted his number on the register. I also mentioned Audu Abubakar. But they asked, “How come we don’t know you?’’ I said, “When you were in Form Six I was in Form One and you were in Kaduna. We know you because when you sat for final exam you came to Keffi and spent one month with us.’’ That was the end of it. A week later there was a letter that I should resume. That was how I went to the Marketing Board.
Again, as luck would have it, after spending a month or two, the secretary of the Board, the late Wazirin Jamaa, Aliyu Muhammed, who I knew in my schooldays when I was playing hockey and he was the goalkeeper of Barewa College, sent a memo that I should be converted to assistant secretary while I continued the public relations job. That was how I was moved to administration. From there, again after some years, when Aliyu was going back to the ministry, I was sent to Gusau area in charge of administration of North-West, comprising of Sokoto, Zamfara, Kebbi and Niger today. I was there for 18 months, then I applied for a postgraduate diploma in the Department of Administration, Ahmadu Bello University (ABU).
When I was offered the chance to go for an advanced postgraduate diploma, I came back to report in Kaduna and to tell the chairman that I was leaving for the ABU. And he asked: “On whose order?’’ Yahaya Gusau asked who gave me the authority to go, saying he sent me to his area to take care of the place and they wanted to remove me so that it would be business as usual. He pounced on the general manager and said so many things, such that tears started falling from my eyes because I couldn’t stand seeing my general manager treated like a kid. I said to myself that there was no need for me to stay. That was how I left the Marketing Board.
I met Lema Jibrilu, who was the programme manager in the Department of Livestock. Alhaji Hamisu Kano was the general manager, so I approached him and explained what happened. He took me straight to the chairman and said they were looking for an assistant secretary. He said they would place an advert in the newspaper and I should apply. I applied, and two weeks later, I was invited for an interview. Dr. Bukar Shuaibu, the permanent secretary, Federal Ministry of Agriculture and a member of the Board were passing and one of them from Kabba area saw me. I got up and greeted him and he looked at me and asked why I was there. I told him that the ministry was looking for an assistant secretary and I applied. I was later called for the interview. They said they knew me as a radio person. At the end, I was given the post of a principal public relations officer, which was two steps ahead of the former position. That was how I joined the livestock department, and after a year or so, I applied for a nine-month course and they gave me free hand to go.
You retired early from public service; why?
The New Nigerian Newspaper was looking for a deputy personnel manager on level 15 and I saw it as an opportunity to move to a federal organisation. It was an opportunity for me to meet with more people. Mohammed Haruna was the managing director, but I just didn’t go down well with him. I believed things should be done the proper way. I went to his office one day and said, “Sir, please allow us as your lieutenants to brief you on previous events and so on; maybe you should give us orders on what should be done for the day before your friends would come into the office. Give them time and let them come in after 10am after briefing you on the situation.’’ Perhaps he didn’t take it kindly; he thought I was telling him what to do. One morning, he called me and asked why I was interfering in his work. I was worried.
I removed my glasses and looked at him again and tears rolled out of my eyes. I cleaned my eyes and went back. I told him that his position was political, but I would be there till I retire, unless I committed any offence or something. I said that if I were looking for the post I would have gotten it, why should he always think I was after something? I said, “Please don’t say this to any other person because if I can forgive you, others will not.’’ And I left the office.
The following week, we were to attend a management meeting and he left us there, chatting with his friends and laughing. When he came and offered no apology and started the meeting, by Monday I wrote my retirement letter. It was October 6, but I said I would leave on December 31. I had had enough, and that was it. He asked why I wanted to go and I said it was time. In November, General Wushishi sent for me because somehow he got the news. I didn’t know how. He said I should come and set up the personnel to run his firm. He said they would give me whatever New Nigerian was giving me. He said they would give me a Range Rover, a driver and accommodation. He said they would give me whichever house I wanted. At end, I left New Nigerian on December 31.
Do you have any regret for some of the decisions you took?
I don’t think I have any regret in life. In all the places I left, whenever I visit them I always have people who admire me, saying I have helped them in one form or another. People give testimonies of how I helped them.
You are the only child of your parents, how many children do you have?
Those alive are 19. I had 21 but two died at infant stage. I have 10 boys and nine girls and they are taking good care of me.
Has any of them taken to journalism?
Yes, Babangida Jibrin is now in Lagos with the Voice of America, Hajiya Fatima is working in Radio China and Aisha is a producer at the Federal Redio Corporation of Nigeria (FRCN). Others are in architecture. We also have lawyers, among others; and I am very grateful to the Almighty Allah for all these.
How do you relax?
I stay at home and read the Holy Quran and other Islamic books, as well as newspapers. I don’t go anywhere at my age because I am 80 years old. When I wake up in the morning I read the Quran, when it is evening I retire to bed. My children have grown and all doing their respective jobs. I am left with my wives. I also watch news in the television almost every day and some documentary programmes. But I don’t have time for music and all sorts of entertainment programmes. This plaque is an award given to me during the 50th anniversary of a radio programme in Kaduna. I have nothing but to thank God for witnessing all these feats.
What is your favourite food?
My favourite food is tuwo da miyar kuka. Just yesterday, a medical doctor was advising me to stop eating red meat and I told him that it’s just one piece a day. We thank God.