Mahmud Jega wrote a tribute on the late premier of the Northern Region, Sir Ahmadu Bello. It is full of anecdotes and not without his usual subtle humours.
I wrote articles on this page in recent years to mark 20 years without Yusuf Dantsoho , 10 years without Malam Liman Ciroma , 30 years without my grandfather Magatakarda Abdullahi Kakale Jega  as well as 20 years without General Hassan Usman Katsina . This week it has been 50 years without the biggest of them all, Sir Ahmadu Bello, KCMG, KBE, CBE, Sardaunan Sokoto, first and last Premier of the Northern Region, which comprised 19 states and the FCT of today.
As I sat down to write this article yesterday, I was reminded of how much time has elapsed because numerous newspaper adverts reminded me that the current Governor of Sokoto State, Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, was 50 years old yesterday. The governor was born five days before Sardauna was killed; I can only imagine the confusion in Tambuwal on the day of his naming ceremony which took place two days after the Premier’s death. Not only the Governor of Sokoto; the Chairman of the Northern States Governors’ Forum is still many months shy of 50, so it is not too early to remind ourselves who the Sardauna was.
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I was not old enough to know Sardauna but since 1991, I have in the course of reporting for several newspapers collected many stories about Sardauna from those who knew and worked with him. Let’s recall a few of them today in order to remind ourselves what political leadership used to be like around here. Before Northern Nigeria was serially split into 6, 10, 11, 16 and then 19 states plus FCT, it was one political entity and Sir Ahmadu Bello was its Premier. Sardauna did not draw up Northern Nigeria’s borders but he was the one who moulded it into a political entity, according to the eminent historian Professor Afigbo who wrote that “the transformation of the North from a colonial administrative convenience into one political unit was due to the personality and activities of Ahmadu Bello from 1954 to 1966.” You can’t be greater than that.
Sardauna’s vision of rule had the focus of a laser beam. His biographer Professor John Paden summarised it this way: “Sardauna saw the North as a federation of communities within a federation. He saw it as disadvantaged within the Nigerian federation and he therefore desired for it to catch up. He saw this as essential to national stability, and he saw no contradiction between this and nation-building.”
The key element of this vision was the Northernisation policy. Sardauna’s speeches were always brutally frank, and he said nothing in private that he could not say publicly. Thus he explained this policy in a speech in Parliament in April 1960: “To Northernise the Northern Region Public Service as soon as possible; to ensure for Northerners a reasonable proportion of posts in the Federal Public Service [and] in all statutory corporations; to increase the number of Northerners in commercial, industrial, banking and trading concerns in the Region and to expand the educational, training and scholarship schemes of the Region in order to provide the qualified personnel for the Northernisation policy.”
Within the North itself, the Premier saw no need for further division. The late Alhaji Yusuf Dantsoho told me a story of what happened when the Northern Scholarships Board chaired by the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Education Malam Ahmadu Coomassie was worried that students from Ilorin and Kabba Provinces took 90% of all the regional government’s scholarships. It proposed a quota system for the North’s 24 provinces. When they presented the idea to him Sardauna overruled them, saying “it is the policy of my government to give a scholarship to every qualified Northerner irrespective of where he or she comes from.”
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Sardauna intervened forcefully to get Northerners into positions. The late Alhaji Isa Kaita, Wazirin Katsina told us the story of how, in 1954, Sardauna proposed to the colonial Governor Sir Bryan Sherwood-Smith that Malam Ahmed Talib and Malam Yahaya Gusau should be the first Northerners to be appointed into the Senior Service. Sir Bryan refused so Sardauna stood up, told Isa Kaita to follow him, walked out and banged the door very hard. That evening, the Governor reversed himself and appointed the two men.
The great Premier had the touch of albarka. He created all the great institutions of the North including the Northern Nigeria Development Corporation [NNDC], Northern Nigeria Investment Limited [NNIL], Ahmadu Bello University [ABU], Zaria; ABU Teaching Hospital, Kaduna; Kaduna Polytechnic; Bank of the North, Hamdala Hotel, Ahmadu Bello Stadium, Broadcasting Corporation of Northern Nigeria [BCNN], Government Girls Colleges, Women Teachers Colleges, the demonstration farm at Bakura and several textile factories and oil mills.
Sardauna’s leadership of his party, Northern Peoples Congress [NPC] was benign but resolute. Alhaji Yusuf Maitama Sule told us the story of how he plotted an intra-party rebellion when Sardauna proposed to renew the NPC-NCNC Alliance after the 1964 federal elections. He said though Sardauna knew of the plot, he did nothing about it. On the day of the party meeting, Sardauna arrived, asked Defence Minister Alhaji Mahmudu Ribadu to explain why the alliance should be renewed, then promptly said the closing prayer and closed the meeting. On his way out Sardauna stopped to greet Maitama Sule and wished him success with his plot.
My late father Alhaji Muhammadu Jega, who was Sardauna’s private secretary in 1963-64, once told me what the Premier’s daily schedule was like. Sardauna woke up at 4.30am, read a prayer called Munajatin Shehu until 5am, when he prayed and did the tasbih. At 7am he went round his three wives’ rooms. At 7.30am he presided over a daily Cabinet meeting at home, then went to the office at 8am and worked until 1pm. He then went home to pray and eat; presided over another Cabinet meeting at 4pm, then went to play fives or visit friends until sunset. He then prayed, had dinner and received visitors till 10pm, after which he stayed with the PPS and PS, working on files until midnight. The two aides then departed and he continued to work on memos till 2am, then went to bed and woke up again at 4.30am.
Sardauna’s time consciousness was legendary. He cancelled appointments if a visitor turned up a few minutes late. His memory was also phenomenal. The late Alhaji Abubakar Koko told me that he used to retrieve fives balls for Sardauna at the Sokoto Middle School in 1948. He did not see him again until 1961 when he was the DO at Dikwa but Sardauna recognised him instantly.
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Sardauna dominated the North not only politically but socially too; he often arranged pan-Northern marriages during Cabinet meetings in order to end local quarrels. Sardauna also had an uncommon common touch. The late Turakin Zazzau Alhaji Aminu Tijjani told me that every week, a lorry brought students from Barewa College, Zaria to sit and eat with Sardauna, and the Premier personally prodded each student to pursue a career beneficial to the North.
Sardauna’s system of granting favours will perplex today’s rulers. Justice Mamman Nasir said Sardauna did him much favour by including him in his tours of the North, which they undertook in old Land Rovers along mostly unpaved roads. Despite his awesome political standing, Sardauna was very forgiving, according to Alhaji Yusuf Dantsoho who, as NEPU Secretary in 1951, used to stand up and urinate whenever Sardauna was approaching. However, when he crossed over to NPC in 1954 Sardauna forcefully protected him from other party men who alleged that Dantsoho was a NEPU mole in NPC.
Sardauna’s entourage was rigorously pan-Northern. Among the men closest to him were Michael Audu Buba, Pastor David Lot, Jolly Tanko Yusuf, Sunday Awoniyi and George Olu Ohikere. Despite his awesome power, when Sardauna died in 1966 after 12 years as Premier, he had no personal house in Kaduna. His driver Malam Nuhu Direba told me that Sardauna had only one personal car, a Pontiac, and the PPS Alhaji Hassan Lemu had to borrow another car in order to take the late Premier’s family to Sokoto. Happy birthday, Governor Aminu Tambuwal; this is the legacy you inherited.