Upon retirement from active service, I have had sufficient time to reflect on the state of the nation. Undoubtedly, all is not well with Nigeria. Cherished values of respect, hard work, integrity, honesty, generousity, tolerance, amongst others, are no longer demonstrated as worthy virtues. Many, instead, desire to always have their way, no matter what or who is affected in the process. Meanwhile, reminiscing with nostalgia on the article written by my friend, Simon Shango, (from Pika, Gboko Local Government Area of Benue State) in Daily Trust Newspaper of 14th November, 2019 (pages 42 & 43), I can confidently say that, all hope is not lost since there still exists noble northerners and others who have already passed on to the great beyond; whose lives and stewardship are worthy of emulation. Truly, they have set the pace and foundation for growth, unity and development of the region and country at large
As a beneficiary of good goodwill, I owe the north, my home, the duty to share my thoughts and experience about some of the northerners I consider noble. It is exciting to mention a former Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Alhaji Abdulkadir Ahmed, from Azare, Bauchi State, together with Mohammad Kollere from the present Yobe State, Alhaji Yerima Abdullahi, former Minister of Education and Alhaji Maiyaki of CBN, whom I knew in Jos in earlier days and others, whom I later came to regard as a “caucus” of northerners in Lagos. I later found out that this informal group played a pivotal role in my appointment in 1985 by Gen. Muhammadu Buhari (then Military Head of State), as Executive Director in charge of Procurement and Marketing in the Nigerian National Supply Company.
I believe that their collective input was key to that appointment. Owing to some certain developments which I did not like, I seriously contemplated returning to my position as Permanent Secretary in the Plateau State civil service, from where I had been seconded to the company for an initial period of two years in the first instance, as was the practice. It was Abdulkadir Ahmed and his friends, notably Kollere and Yerima Abdullahi, who dissuaded me from doing so.
Instead, they insisted that I must remain in Lagos and to this end, Alhaji Abdulkadir advised me to report to his office soonest to complete the form for appointment into the Central Bank. Even before then, I had earlier approached Malam Adamu Fika (Wazirin Fika), who hails from Fika Emirate of Yobe State. He was then Head of Civil Service of the Federation, who promptly effected my deployment to the Ministry of Petroleum Resources, pending my formal transfer to the Federal Civil Service. In the course of time, I have come to learn he mentored many northerners from virtually every part of the region without a scintilla of prejudice or discrimination. He remains an icon and father figure deserving utmost respect. I dare say he is the noblest of them all and it would not be out of place for the Arewa Consultative Forum to award to him the Grand Noble of the North (GNN), if such a title exists!
The Ministry of Petroleum Resources was created in 1986 and I was the first and only Director for some time under Dr. Rilwanu Lukman, as Minister – a quintessential gentleman and diplomat. Throughout the years I served under Dr. Lukman, he treated me as a brother, engaging me in nearly all aspects of the petroleum industry, especially the restructuring and subsidiarisation of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), as an international integrated oil company. He included me in his delegation to all OPEC Ministerial Conferences as well as that of African Petroleum Producers Association (APPA) as National Representative on the Committee of Experts. Interestingly, when Professor Jibril Aminu succeeded Dr. Lukman, the brotherly treatment was no different. He was instrumental to my appointment as Nigeria’s Governor to the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC).
It is noteworthy that I, a Northern minority and a Christian from Plateau State, could be so kindly treated by Dr. Lukman and Professor Aminu, both pious Muslims and Fulani from the ancient Fombina Kingdom (Adamawa) and Zazzau Emirate (Zaria), respectively. It will be recalled, Dr. Rilwanu Lukman was OPEC President for many unprecedented consecutive terms, predicated on the respect, confidence and admiration his colleagues had for him in view of his ability to achieve consensus particularly on the allocation of production quotas for member-states, a very difficult thing to achieve at that time given the market fundamentals. He was one of “The Three Wise Men” of OPEC, the other two being Dr. Subroto of Indonesia and Arturo Hernandez Grisanti of Venezuela. Dr. Lukman was a leader with immense ability who became the Secretary General of OPEC before his demise.
Another noble Northerner I know and served under, was Alhaji Jibrin Ahmed, at one time Commissioner for Trade and Industry, Plateau State, and former Chairman Bank of the North (now Unity Bank). He was from Nasarawa State of the Hausa/Fulani extraction. He was a friend to some of the personalities mentioned earlier and played a part in my movement to Lagos. Another amiable personality is Ahmed Adamu Mu’azu (Walin Bauchi). Despite being a Muslim from Bauchi State, he continues to provide assistance in some vital projects run by voluntary organizations in Plateau State; where he schooled and lived for a long time. He has not ceased to be easily accessible to Christians and Muslims alike.
Oh…! How can I forget a man with a large heart, former Governor of Plateau State (1979 – 1983) Chief Solomon Daushep Lar (Walin Langtang)? He was a father to all and generous to a fault. He demonstrated the spirit of a true Northerner by appointing a number of Nigerians, non-indigenes of Plateau State, into key positions in his administration. I recall, he appointed Mrs Janet Akirinade from Oyo State as Commissioner for Revenue and Dr. Chris Abashiya from Kaduna State as Adviser on Higher Education. Additionally, Dr. Haroun Adamu from Bauchi State and Chief Areoye Oyebola from Oyo State were appointed as Members of the Board of the Plateau Publishing Company. Chief “S.D. Lar”, as he was fondly called, appointed an Igbo man from the east, as Special Assistant and member of the Board of the aforementioned company. Solomon Lar was the undisputed leader of the Middle Belt, after Tarka, and a highly respected son of the North. He was a “complete Nigerian” as defined by one of Nigeria’s founding fathers, Chief Anthony Enahoro.
Alhaji Aliyu Mohammed (Aliyu Maijama’a), former Federal Permanent Secretary, highly detribalized, gregarious and engaging; was another Northern noble. His residence in Ikoyi, Lagos, could appropriately be described as “Peoples House”, similar to that of Solomon Lar’s in Jos. “Aliyu Maijama’a” welcomed everybody to his home – Yoruba, Igbo, Hausa, Muslim, Christian, etc. Malam Aminu Kano needs no introduction. Suffice to say, he belonged to the opposition, yet, was able to work with the government at different times. He was a great leader in his own right, who championed the cause of the masses (talakawa) throughout his life. May his soul rest in perfect peace.
I remember, Da Loh D. B. Zang (Danboyi Zang Gyel) who was a prominent miner, politician and father to all on the Plateau. I can say without any equivocation that, there has not been any like him after his demise. Also, His Royal Highness Da (Dr.) Fom Bot (late Gbong Gwom Jos), who promoted harmonious and peaceful coexistence amongst the various ethnic groups before his demise in 2002, was an exemplary Northern traditional ruler.
Mention must be made of Maitama Sule, a man of impressive oratorical skills and former Nigeria’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations and Minister, who throughout his life, demonstrated the virtues of honesty and integrity. There was also a one-time Secretary to the Federal Government, who hailed from Azare, Bauchi State, Alhaji Aminu Saleh. He was a highly principled public officer who treated civil servants strictly on merit. He recommended me for appointment as Federal Permanent Secretary even when he did not know me in person. It was only after the appointment that we got to meet each other when he told me he examined my records thoroughly before recommending me!
Alhaji Waziri Ibrahim was also in the constellation of Northern nobles from Borno State. The apostle of “politics without bitterness”, Waziri Ibrahim was the founder and financier of the Great Nigerian People’s Party (GNPP) and its candidate in the 1979 Presidential elections. In 1960, he was part of the Nigerian delegation to the United Nations when the country was accepted as the 99th member of the UN.
If mention is made of Ambassador Edwin Ogbu as Mr Shango did, one should not fail to mention his contemporary, Ambassador Sule Kolo, former Nigeria’s High Commissioner to the United Kingdom. He was the first President of the Nigerian-American Chamber of Commerce, under whose leadership the First Jos International Trade Fair was held in 1981, with yours sincerely, as one of his associates. Although Ambassador Sule Kolo and his siblings, Ambassador Dalhatu Kolo and Haruna Bako Kolo (Permanent Secretary in the old Plateau State) were of the Nupe extraction from Niger State, they lived and passed on in Jos, Plateau State, which was their real home.
I remember Malam Hamza Zayyad, former Managing Director, Northern Nigeria Development Corporation (NNDC), Kaduna, who first midwifed the privatization programme during the Babangida regime. Significantly too is Malam Musa Bello, father of the present Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, (Muhammad Musa Bello). The duo of Musa Bello and Hamza Zayyad nurtured the NNDC to a giant holding company with investments in commerce, industry, hospitality, etc. in all parts of the North.
What of Alhaji Abubakar Alhaji, from the Sokoto caliphate, popularly known and called “Triple A”? He was a legendary public sector financial manager. He demonstrated this during his times as Federal Permanent Secretary and Minister of Finance and National Planning. Also, I admire the amiable and self-effacing late Secretary to the Government and Head of Civil Service of the Federation, Gidado Idris, who hailed from Zaria.
Incidentally, Simon Shango in his article “Where are the noble Northerners?” mentioned Dr. R.A.B. Dikko as a Northern Muslim. Let it be on record that, Dr. R.A.B. Dikko was a Fulani Christian from Wusasa, Zaria. The history books mentioned him as the founder of Northern Peoples Congress and Minister of Health in the Northern Regional Government. He was the father of my late bosom friend, Engr. Buhari Dikko, one of the leading pioneers for the development of the FCT, Abuja. It is gratifying to note, Dr. Dikko has been immortalized by the naming of a street after him in Abuja.
Late Malam Yahaya Hamza, from Kaduna State, was a foremost educationist, who retired as a Federal Permanent Secretary. He was the father of the present Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Zainab Shamsuna Ahmed. He did a lot to promote secondary education in the country.
Malam Liman Ciroma, former Secretary to the Federal Government, should not be left out. Also, Alhaji Shehu Musa, Makaman Nupe, was a leading light in the North who left indelible marks in the sands of time. He was one-time Secretary to the Federal Government, Chairman of National Population Commission and National Commissioner INEC. Cardinal John Onaiyekan from Kogi State and His Eminence the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Sa’ad Abubakar III have been doing a lot in the promotion of interfaith dialogue and understanding across the country and should be on the high table.
Barrister Baba Adi-Byewi, of blessed memory, was a Jukun prince from Taraba State, whose friendship cut across all divides in the States of the North and beyond. Meanwhile, Ambassador Babagana Kingibe can be described as an archetypal diplomat, astute administrator, cerebral, cosmopolitan and consummate politician. He eminently qualifies to be counted amongst the Northern nobles.
Malam Mamman Daura is a man I have never met but I very much took delight in reading his editorials in the popular New Nigerian newspaper. Much encomiums have been showered on him by many. A few have criticized him. In any case, is there any mortal without blemish? Absolutely none! So, on a balance, he merits a front seat in the assemblage of Northern nobles.
A noble Northerner who needs no introduction is Aliko Dangote. So far, no son of the North has done the region proud, as he has, in the field of commerce and industry. Simple and humble, like the likes of Bill Gates, he is a shining example for Northern youths to emulate. Munzali Dantata, founder of All States Travels, is another unassuming noble!
It is a great pleasure to mention some Northern nationalists and Pan-Africanists such as the incorruptible Balarabe Musa, former Governor of Kaduna State and immediate past Chairman of the Peoples Redemption Party (PRP). Retired Colonel Dangiwa Umar and Brigadier General Ja’afaru Isa, both served as Governors of former Kaduna State. Dangiwa Umar is cast in the same mould as former Burkinabe leader, Thomas Sankara, while Ja’afaru Isa promoted peace and understanding between the diverse peoples of Kaduna State.
How can I forget some outstanding members of the Fourth Estate of the Realm? These include: Razaq Aremu from Kwara and first acting Editor of New Nigerian newspaper; Dan Agbese from Benue State; Yakubu Abdulazeez, from Kwara; Mohammed Haruna from Niger State, presently a National Commissioner, Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC); Dr Haroun Adamu; Simon Shango and George Ohemu, both from Benue State; Richard Umaru from Kaduna; Sam Nda Isaiah, from Niger State; Wada Maida; Hajiya Bilkisu Yusuf from Kano; Zainab Okino from Kogi; Mannir Dan Ali and Mahmud Jega, both of Daily Trust Newspapers; Rufai Ibrahim, from Nasarawa State; Sidi Ali and Farouk Muhammad, etc.
I would not hesitate to say that Gen. Yakubu Gowon is one of the noblest Northerners after the late Sir Ahmadu Bello, Sardauna of Sokoto and Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa. He remains a nationalist before anything else, who puts the unity of Nigeria far and above any other consideration.
In all sincerity, Governor Nasir el-Rufa’i ought to join the roll call. It was he, as FCT Minister, that diligently and assiduously implemented the city’s master plan, to bring it to the beautiful city it is today, despite obstacles placed on his way. I imagine that were it not for el-Rufa’i, Abuja could have been a big ghetto today!
Finally, in all honesty, I must not fail to mention President Muhammadu Buhari. When he was Head of State (1984 – 1985), he appointed me, a minority from the North, Executive Director in the Nigerian National Supply Company. Upon my retirement from the Federal Civil Service as Permanent Secretary, General Buhari, then Chairman, Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF) awarded a company, of which I was nominal Director, a contract of N70.4 million in 1995, again, even though he did not know me. This was by no means a small sum at that time. Meanwhile, when I was Chairman of the National Population Commission, it was my modus operandi to inform critical stakeholders periodically, in all the States of the federation of the activities of the Commission. This included former Heads of State. In 2010 or thereabout, President Buhari surprised me, when in acknowledging one of my reports, enclosed for me a gift of two thousand naira, in two minted notes of one thousand naira each, with the remarks: “here is one for the Christmas and the other for the season,” the latter presumably the New Year. I therefore often wonder why some people accuse him of being a religious zealot. If the adage that “action speaks louder than words” is true, then to me, President Buhari is a nationalist of the first order!
I am happy to have the opportunity to contribute this for the records, especially for the younger generation of northerners. This, nonetheless, comes with a loud call to all Nigerians to emulate the exemplary nobleness of the people mentioned in the article under reference and this rejoinder. In closing, I appreciate my friend, Simon Shango, for dutifully provoking this discourse.
Makama CON, Retired Federal Permanent Secretary & former Chairman, National Population Commission, Nyengu/Sarkin Yamma Quarters, Gindiri, Plateau State.