Wednesday, October 10, 2018 2:54 pm
By Ademola Adegbamigbe
Former Vice President Atiku Abubakar who just clinched the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) presidential ticket for the 2019 general elections, had a rough background. But he was determined to fly! As the only child of his parents, he almost did not go to school. In fact, his father was suspicious of Western education that he tried to stop the lad from going to school.
In January 1954, however, Kawa Ali, his mother’s elder brother who had received a little education through adult literacy classes, registered Atiku at Jada Primary School as Atiku Kojoli. Atiku’s father would have none of that. He put his foot down.
For trying to stop him from going to school, his father was arrested, charged to an Alkali court and fined 10 shillings. He refused to pay the fine. He said he had no money. He spent a few days in jail until Atiku’s maternal grandmother, who made local soap for sale in the community, raised the money to pay the fine and Atiku’s father was released to her.
Atiku himself makes this revelation in his mini autobiography, My Life.
In his own words: “My father did not want me to go to school. He tried to hide me from the prying eyes of Native Authority officials who had embarked on compulsory mass literacy campaign in the region. My father soon discovered that he could not resist the wind of change that was blowing through the area at the time.
“My mother’s elder brother, Kawa Ali, who had received a little education through adult literacy classes, registered me at Jada Primary School in January 1954 as Atiku Kojoli.
“For trying to stop me from going to school, my father was arrested, charged to an Alkali court and fined 10 shillings. He refused to pay the fine. He said he had no money. He spent a few days in jail until my maternal grandmother, who made local soap for sale in the community, raised the money to pay the fine and father was released to her.
“But my father was not a happy man. He was sad and angry that his only child had been taken away from him to a strange world. He saw Western education as a threat to their cherished values and way of life.
“Father was responding typically with fear and anxiety to the onslaught of change in Nigeria. People often feel sale in the world they know. They see change as a harbinger of evil and as being disruptive to the normal order of things.”
Read his narrative in MY LIFE, the early chapters
My name is Atiku Abubakar. I was born on November 25, 1946 in Jada, Adamawa State, Nigeria. I was named after my paternal grandfather, Atiku Abdulkadir. It was the practice among the Fulani people name their first son after their paternal grandfathers.
My grandfather, Atiku came originally from Wurno in Sokoto state. There, he had met and befriended Ando Usman, a Fulani nobleman from what is now known as Adamawa State. My grandfather decided to accompany his new friend back to his hometown of Adamawa.
They settled in Kojoli, a small village in Jada Local government Council of Adamawa State. My grandfather farmed, kept livestock and raised his family. He married a local girl in Kojoli and gave birth to my father, Garba Atiku Abdulkadir. He was their only child.
My father was an itinerant trader who travelled from one market to another selling imitation jewelry, caps, needles, potash, kola nuts and other nick-knacks which he ferried around on the back of his donkey. He also kept some livestock and cultivated guinea corn, maize and groundnuts.
When it was time for him to marry, my father chose a young girl from nearby Jada town whose parents had migrated from Dutse, now the capital of Jigawa State. My mother, Aisha Kande, was born in Jada. Her father was also an itinerant trader who was known in Jada as Adamu Dutse, using his town as his last name – a common practice in Northern Nigeria.
My father was not rich, but he was able to build his own house and took care of his immediate family. He was well known in Kojoli and the surrounding villages and towns as a tall, well built man who was generous to a fault. People remembered him as someone who could part with his past possession.
Both my father and paternal grandfather were learned men. They gave free Islamic classes to adults and young people in Kojoli during their spare time.
As a young boy growing up in Kojoli, my parents doted on me. They tried their best to provide for me and to ensure that I grew up in a wholesome environment of love and spirituality. My father saw me as a rare gift, a child of destiny. He always prayed to Allah to protect me, guide me and to make me successful in life. I honestly believe that I owe my modest achievements in life to him. There is power in prayer, no doubt about it.
My parents tried unsuccessfully to have more children. My father even took another wife but she too did not have a child.
I was said to have been quiet, sensitive boy while growing up. I assisted my father on the farm and with the livestock. When I was old enough, I would take the cows and sheep to the fields to graze and bring them back home at sunset. I also fetched firewood for cooking and for night-time illumination. Kojoli, like most Nigerian villages then, had no electricity or running water.
Sometimes, it was my duty to feed the animals with hay or to give them water to drink or potash to lick. I enjoyed these chores and considered them real fun. I learned to ride horses and donkeys which my father used to transport goods to the various markets.
I spent my free time playing soccer on improvised fields with neighbourhood boys. Sometimes we made bows and arrows with which we shot down birds.
My parents were devout Muslims. Every night after dinner, we had Koranic studies around a bonfire. My father or any other learned person in the village would teach us. My parents – just like other parents in Kojoli – tried to build a strong spiritual foundation for their young ones through these nightly Koranic lessons.
People say that I look like my father, but that he was even more generous than me. I took my mother’s dark complexion. I am also quiet and reserved like her.
Going to School
My father, Garba Atiku Abdulkadir, was fond of me. He wanted me to become an Islamic scholar, herdsman, farmer and trader – just like him. He was a deeply religious man who was suspicious of Western education which he believed could corrupt the impressionable minds of young people.
My father did not want me to go to school. He tried to hide me from the prying eyes of Native Authority officials who had embarked on compulsory mass literacy campaign in the region. My father soon discovered that he could not resist the wind of change that was blowing through the area at the time.
My mother’s elder brother, Kawa Ali, who had received a little education through adult literacy classes, registered me at Jada Primary School in January 1954 as Atiku Kojoli.
For trying to stop me from going to school, my father was arrested, charged to an Alkali court and fined 10 shillings. He refused to pay the fine. He said he had no money. He spent a few days in jail until my maternal grandmother, who made local soap for sale in the community, raised the money to pay the fine and father was released to her.
But my father was not a happy man. He was sad and angry that his only child had been taken away from him to a strange world. He saw Western education as a threat to their cherished values and way of life.
Father was responding typically with fear and anxiety to the onslaught of change in Nigeria. People often feel sale in the world they know. They see change as a harbinger of evil and as being disruptive to the normal order of things.
Jada Primary School was bare and rudimentary. The school consisted of small round huts with thatched roofs. Classes were sometimes taught under the tree. Some school buildings had no doors or windows. There were class rooms without chairs or desks. We spent the first two years writing on the floor. No wooden slates or exercise books. It was only in Primary Three that exercise books were given to us.
The school was made up of junior and senior primary schools. Pupils spent five years in junior primary school and two years in senior primary school. Junior primary school closed every day at noon, giving the pupils time to assist their parents in taking the animals out for grazing or to join in weeding, planting or harvesting in the farms.
A boarding facility was provided at the senior level. We slept on wooden beds covered with locally made straw or palm fibre mats. Meals included rice, guinea corn, beans cake (kose in Hausa), yam and a custard like drink known as kunu which is made from guinea corn flour. The food was prepared by cooks employed by the school and served to the pupils in small bowls in the dining hall.
It was an all make school built and run by the Native Authority . no tuition was charged and other school materials were provided free. The teachers too were men and they come from the community.
We begin each day with early morning chores, such as cutting the grass, sweeping the school compound and watering the garden. Through these chores, the values of hard work and of the dignity in labour were inculcated in us.
After about half an hour of work, the bell would ring for the commencement of the morning exercises to prepare us physically and mentally for the days tasks. We would then go for breakfast. Breakfast was followed by ‘fall-in’, a lingo the assembly of all pupils. The teachers would inspect us, looking out for sloppy appearance and listening to complaints about those who did not do their chores or participate in the physical exercises. The offending pupils would be brought out, tried and punished. Canes were liberally used to correct such offenders.
Lessons resumed soon after in Arithmetic, English Language, Literature, Geography, Science, Religious Studies and Handcraft. The rest of the day was taken up by lunch, siesta, dinner, private studies (using kerosene lanterns for illumination) and bed time.
I started learning to read and speak Hausa in that school, it was taught at the school to the predominantly Fulfulde-speaking pupils. Like other pupils in the school, I grew up speaking only Fulfulde. I realized later that Hausa is the lingua franca in most parts of Northern Nigeria. It was both the language of commerce, administration and every day interactions in many parts of the region.
Three years after I started school, tragedy struck in December 1957. I was then 11 years old. I was just about to begin the Senior Primary School in Jada as a boarding pupil. My father drowned while trying to cross a small river known as Moyo Choncha on the outskirts of Toungo, a neighbouring town. The river was in high tide following a heavy rainfall.
Father’s body was recovered the following day and buried in Toungo according to Islamic rites. He was less than 40 years old when he died. I built an Islamic primary school at his burial site years later to immortalize him. He was a simple, hard working, kind, honest and God fearing man. I will forever miss him.
After my father’s death, the task of raising me fell on my mother, Kande and her childless sister, Azumi, as well as my father’s extended family members in Kojoli. Although people were generally kind and caring towards me, it was difficult for relatives to fill the vacuum left by my father. As such I was often sad and lonely. Father’s death pained me greatly.
I resolved to work hard, remains focused and be successful in life to make my father proud. I was sure that he was somewhere watching over me. I did not want to disappoint him. I wish father had lived long enough to see the benefits of Western education in my life.
After completing my primary school in Jada in 1960, I was admitted into Adamawa Provincial Secondary School in Yola. I joined 59 other young boys from Adamawa and beyond in January 1961 to begin a five year school journey. The school’s motto is Tidda Yo Daddo, a Fulani aphorism for “Endurance is Success”. It reminded us daily that success in life would only come to those who worked hard and persevered.
Adamawa Provincial Secondary School like others in the region, belonged in the second category of post primary institutions in Northern Nigeria. The most prestigious schools were the Government Colleges in Zaria and Keffi. Pupils who excelled in the entrance examinations went to the Government Colleges, those who did reasonably well went to the Provincial Secondary Schools, average students were sent to the Craft Schools in the various Divisions and those who failed the examination were sent to Farm Centres which were established in all the Districts. It was a good system which took care of everyone irrespective of his or her level of intelligence. The system left out out no one.
The Native Authorities ran the schools as a social service. Students received free uniforms (white shorts and shirts for classes, khaki overall for manual work and white caftans over white trousers for visits to the town on Fridays and Sundays). Free books, free boarding facilities, a weekly allowance of three to six pence and transport fares for those travelling outside Yola and Jimeta at the end of every term. Some district councils would charter a commercial lorry to pick up their holiday bound students from the school.
The school authorities mostly British were firm and strict, commending good conduct and academic excellence and sanctioning bad behavior, sloppiness and poor academic performance. Refused to do one’s homework, rudeness to a teacher or senior student, dirty uniforms and slipshod appearance attracted light punishment (caning or manual work) while serious offences such as stealing, drinking, smoking, insulting or fighting a teacher could lead to dismissal or ‘detentions’. “Detention” means that such a student would not be allowed to visit the town on Fridays and Sundays with other students. Since we all looked forward to going into town, everyone tried to avoid committing offences that could lead to ‘detention’.
I belonged to Wazirawa House. I was not quite six months in the school when the school principal Mr David West, warned me that I would be expelled from the school if I did not stop fighting with people. I was queit, but I would never run away from trouble. As a keen hockey player, I was always with my hockey sticks and did not hesistate to use them against any student who tried to bully me. In addition to hockey, I played soccer and did well in athletics too.
One important tradition at Adamawa Provincial School in the 1960s was the Friday visit to the Lamido of Adamawa. On the first and last Friday of every term, all the students would march in their white kaftan-on-white trousers from the school campus in Jimeta to the Lamido’s palace in Yola, a distance of about five kilometers to pay homage to the traditional ruler and spiritual head of Adamawa Emirate.
Lamido Aliyu Musathfa, a former student of the school had been installed in 1953 as the 11th ruler of the emirate which was founded by Modibbo Adama in the 19th century. The eponymous Adamawa Emirate and later Adamawa State are named after him. In 1841, Modibbo Adama had selected Yola, located on a swampy plain near the Benue River as his headquarters.
As soon as we were ushered into his presence, Lamido Musdafa would receive us, pray for us and counsel us to embrace the good old values of hard work, honesty and the fear of Allah.
In school, I had friends from everywhere. Some of my friends were non Fulani and non Muslims. As I grew older and more independent towards the end of my stay at Adamawa Provincial Secondary School, I used to spend part of my school holidays with my friends in different parts of Adamawa Emirate. I wanted to be exposed to other cultures and experiences.
I have always worked for peace and harmony among the Fulani and the dozens of other groups in our area. When fellow students wanted to set up Jada Students Association only for the Fulani students and the Chamba Students Association for non Fulani students. I addressed members of the two associations to form a central body devoid of ethnic labels. They booed and shouted me down. I was not deterred. I simply refused to join either of them. They later accepted my proposal and set up Ganye Students Associations for all the students from the area. I gladly identified with the new all encompassing association.
When I was 15, I spent my school holiday at home, working as a clerk in Ganye Native Authority. My boss was Adamu Ciroma, the then District Officer. From my holiday job earnings, I bought a house for my mother in Ganye, the headquarters of the local government council. The thatched mud bungalow had two rooms plus a kitchen and bathroom. It cost me about nine pounds sterling. My mother was very happy and proud of me. I had saved her from homelessness after her older brother sold the family house in Jada without her knowledge.
Kaduna, Kano and Zaria: I graduated from Adamawa Provincial Secondary School in 1966 and moved to Kaduna. I arrived on the eve of the first military coup of January 15, 1966.
I spent two weeks at the Nigerian Police Academy and left to work as a clerk in the Revenue Division of the Northern Regional Ministry of Finance. I stayed at the residence of Abdullahi Dan Buram Jada, then a member of the Northern Regional House of Assembly and Minister of Animal Health and Northern Cameroons.
I was restless, I was not satisfied with my work as a clerk. I wanted to acquire more education. I realized quite early in life that a secondary school education would not be enough to get me far in life. I was ambitious. I wanted to be a businessman or a lawyer. When I was a child some doctors and surgeons had visited our village. I admired them and wanted also to be like them.
I applied to various institutions of learning. In May 1966. I was offered admission to the School of Hygiene (now called the School of Health Technology) in Kano.
I found the city of Kano much bigger and congested than Kaduna. Kano was for me a sort of
home coming. My maternal family had migrated from nearby Dutse in Jada many years before I was born.
It was at the School of Hygiene that I was initiated into politics. I was unanimously elected President Emeritus of the students union. I spent my tenure working quietly with the school authorities to make sure that the student’s welfare was not compromised.
My experience as a student’s union leader taught me my first lessons in politics never take your core constituency for granted that power is transient, that Allah bestows power, that power should be used to make a difference in people’s lives, that a leader must have courage to stand up for what is right at all times, that a leader must have the foresight to anticipate problems and that a leader must be credible and sincere.
At the school of Hygiene, I studied for a Diploma of the Royal Society of Health. I also enrolled for Advanced level GCE in Economics, British Economic History and Hausa but did not sit for the examinations.
In October 1967 I applied and was offered admission to the Institute of Administration, Ahmadu Bello University,, Zaria, for a Diploma in Law. I wanted to go to court and argue cases. I wanted an opportunity to defend the less fortunate in our society. I like to fight for people’s right.
I received a scholarship from the North-eastern Regional Scholarship Board. It paid for tuition as well as my living expenses.
I was given a room at Kongo Campus students’ hostel. It was the first time in my life I would have a room of my own. My classroom included Suleiman Galadima, Bako Abdullahi, Abba Alkali, Sabo Suleiman Darazo, and Barkindo Musdafa, the future Lamido of Adamawa.
Having caught the bug of student unionism at the School of Hygiene in Kano, I contested the students’ union election in 1968 and was elected Assistant General Secretary and Deputy Speaker of the Students’ Union Parliament in Zaria.