Every bad thing has its good side. The take over of the Abuja/Kaduna road by armed robbers and kidnappers has now driven the V.I.P travellers to the Abuja/Kaduna railway line. All you need to do is to get on board the Abuja/Kaduna train and you can take a roll call of who is who in the north.
It was in this vein that I came across Architect Ibrahim Bunu, a second republic Minister of State, Housing and Environment in 1982 and Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) during the Obasanjo’s administration. We took our seats facing each other on the train and exchanged pleasantries.
As we began to discuss, I discovered that we were all going to Kaduna to attend the inauguration of the organizing committee of the Arewa Consultative Forum’s 20th anniversary. He was going as the Vice Chairman of the organizing committee, representing the North East, while I was going to represent, Senator George Akume, the Minister of Special Duties and Inter-governmental Affairs, who is the Vice Chairman, representing North Central Zone on the organizing committee.
Architect Ibrahim Bunu began discussions with me on issues of the second republic where he was Minister and I, the national publicity secretary of the then ruling National Party of Nigeria (NPN). The former Minister and I discussed a lot of issues and finally settled on my recent article on the “Mamman Daura I Know”. He spoke at length about the virtues and achievements of Mamman Daura, as an administrator and news paper editor. He wondered if it is possible that Mamman Daura could have easily changed as he was at the moment being painted by detractors.
He came to the conclusion that Mamman Daura may not have changed. But we all agreed that the number of the noble northerners was dwindling and the northern values were also fast changing. For instance, while ethnicity and religion did not matter in those days, they have become our greatest bane today.
We all wondered where the noble northerners have gone and began to outline some of the noble Northerners of the past and their virtues. We discussed Chief Sunday S.B Awoniyi, (a Christian from the Yoruba speaking then Kabba Province) who was one of the first Northerners to become District Officer, a position reserved for British Colonial Administrators. He later became an Administrative Secretary in the Premier’s office, rising to the position of permanent secretary at the federal level. We delved down to his life in the private sector and ended with his no-nonsense approach to politics, particularly his encounter with the then President Olusegun Obasanjo.
I talked about Alhaji Ali Akilu, a hardworking and honest Secretary to the Premier who later became secretary to the Government during Hassan Usman Katsina, first Military Governor of Northern Nigeria. We also talked about Chief Sunday Dankaro, a Jukum Christian, from the then Benue Province and a member of the Nigerian football team that toured Europe in 1949 playing football bare-footed. He later became Chairman, Nigeria Football Association from 1974-1980. A close friend and business partner of Ali Akilu, together they formed the Arewa United Stores.
I talked about Paul Erihii Wayo, Father of the wife of the present Governor of Taraba State, Anne Ishaku Darius, a master printer and management expert, who started his career at Gaskiya Corporation and became the General Manager of Nigeria Tobacco Company and ended his career as Managing Director Nigeria/America Shipping Line- the first private Nigerian shipping company owned by Northerners.
We also mentioned Malam Adamu Ciroma, a historian who became editor and Managing Director of the New Nigeria Newspapers in Kaduna, Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria and Minister in various regimes ending with Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo’s presidency.
We did not forget to mention Late Senator Joseph Sarwuan Tarka, who , though was opposition leader to the ruling Northern People’s Congress, headed by the Sadauna of Sokoto, Premier of the north, remained close friend of the great Sardauna. The best-known political feat of J. S. Tarka was that he brought Alhaji Ibrahim Imam who had earlier decamped from the ruling NPC to contest Northern House of Assembly position in his home constituency, Jemgbagh, where he had land slide victory on the platform of United Middle Belt Congress (UNBC).
We took particular interest in the first Vice Chancellor of Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Professor Ishaya Audu who put his life into molding the University into what it then was. It is believed that it will be difficult for A.B.U to produce another Vice Chancellor like late Professor Ishaya Audu. Something noteworthy about Ishaya Audu’s appointment was that there were other northerners with similar qualifications like Dr. Shaib, Dr. R. A. B. Dikko etc who were all Muslims. But the Great Sardauna decided to chose a Christian for a project that was utmost in his heart
Architect Ibrahim Bunu spoke fondly about his cabinet colleague in the 2nd republic and the first woman in the North to be appointed a Minister, Mrs. Elisabeth Ivase. He was shocked to hear from me that the great woman had passed away some months ago.
Although, there was no time for us to discuss every noble northerner, I recall other great and noble Northerners like Amb. Edwin Ogbu, the 3rd Ochi’idoma, one of the 1st graduate in the North and the longest serving Permanent Representative at the United Nations.
I also brought in Shettima Ali Munguno, an educationist and administrator who later became the deputy National Chairman (North) of the National Party of Nigeria (NPN). Chief O. B Lulu Briggs was the Deputy National Chairman (South). Shettima Ali’s duties included handling party finances. He was detained by General Muhammadu Buhari’s regime after the coup of 1983. It was later discovered that all the funds he handled were carefully accounted for and indeed of the 5 Million Naira that went through his hands, 1.5 Million Naira was still kept in the party’s account. He was released, I believe with apology from the regime.
You cannot discuss noble northerners without reference to the issue of Kaduna Mafia. Was there a Mafia group operating in Kaduna or was it a myth? I recall that when some lecturers from the University of Jos, Dr. Iorchia Ayu, who later became Senate President, Late Dr. Bala Takaya and Prof. Sunny Tyodem, now Deputy Governor of Plateau State, wrote a book on the Kaduna Mafia: “how they operate”.
I travelled to Jos to explain to particularly, Dr. Iorchia Ayu and Prof. Sunny Tyodem who were my close friends, about the non-existence of such a mafia. I told them that it was patriotism, honesty and purposefulness of the northern leaders that were perceived as a Mafia group. I explain to them that it was a collective decision of this leadership that moved people like Barr. Paul Belabo from Northern Nigerian Development Company (NNDC) to Central Bank of Nigeria as Executive Director. I mentioned other Christian Northerners who were so moved like Mr. Lot who became the Managing Director, Savannah Bank. Mr. Ambrose Feese who became the Managing Director, Icon Merchant Bank and Dr. Chiichi Ashwu who became the Managing Director of Intercontinental Marchant Bank.
I cannot conclude this discussion without mentioning Mr. Bernard Ver, a Tiv man and Christian who had moved from Benue Cement Company to become the first Executive Secretary of Bureau for Public Enterprises
The northern leadership at that time was interested in knowing the progress of northerners in
all spheres of endeavour; whether they were Christians or Muslims. This took place in all areas including the civil service, police, army and so on.
We talked about Alhaji Magaji Danbata, a journalist and statesman, Alhaji Sa’ad Zungur, political revolutionary, Alhaji Raji Abdallah, a Zikist, Hajiya Laila Dogonyaro, Hajiya Gambo Sawaba, Dr. Mahmud Tukur, Professor Suleiman Kumo, Alhaji Turi Muhammadu, Alhaji Suleiman Takuma and a host of others.
Do we still have noble northerners? Architect Ibrahim Bunu, was quick to argue that there were still noble northerners but noted that the environment they were operating under has changed and their nobility has diminished with the changing environment. I also said that the military interventions over the years have affected northern nobility and patriotism.
We all agree that it is apparent that the remaining noble northerners may not have control over the regimes within which they operate, thereby making it impossible for them to live up to the standards set by past noble northerners. We were however of the opinion that all hope is not lost.
We noted that the few noble northerners left can look back and work with others to initiate reforms that will bring back the good old days which made the North set the pace in areas of agriculture, crime-free society, education, medical services, revenue mobilisation and above all, patriotism.
Perhaps the commemoration of the 20th anniversary of Arewa Consultative Forum will bring all the remaining noble northerners to put their heads together and find the way forward for our great region. Unless this is done, the productive sector will continue to dwindle and crime will continue to rise as a result of rife unemployment in the region.
Simon Shango wrote from Pika, Gboko Local Government Area, Benue State.