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Remembering my benefactors

By Ambassador Alhaji SHEHU MALAMI, CON SARKIN SUDAN

I was privileged to be very close to both Sir Abubakar III the 17th  Sultan of Sokoto and     Sir Ahmadu Bello, the Sardauna of Sokoto and Premier of Northern Nigeria.

Sir Abubakar was elder brother to my own father, Mohammed Bello, at one time Head  of the Sokoto Native Authority Forestry Department, with the title of Sarkin Gandu before he became Sarkin Sudan, District Head of Wurno. I succeeded him in Wurno after his death in 1973.

But for Sir Abubakar’s  presence of mind to remember my school age and to get me into Primary School I  would not have gone to  school at all as my father would not have taken the initiative on his own to send me to school without the approval of his elder brother. From then on, from my age of seven, Sir Abubakar took charge of my life to make me what I have become. I  did not disappoint him as I  paid a lot of attention to my studies and always did well  in Primary School, in Sokoto Middle School and in Kano Provincial Secondary School  to which my class, including Alhaji Abubakar Alhaji, Sani Kangiwa  etc  etc, was transferred in 1954.

From Kano we were transferred to Katsina Provincial Secondary School where both General Mohammed Buhari and Shehu Yar’Adua were my junior boys and in Bida Provincial Secondary School where Ibrahim Babangida, Magoro, Wushishi and Abdulsalam were also my junior boys. During my holidays from all these schools, I used to accompany His Highness to various engagements to House of Chiefs meetings in Kaduna and other Royal functions all over the country. One such engagement was the annual meeting of Northern Region Provincial Residents held in Jos.

It was an all white affair attended by the British Residents. Sir Abubakar was the only observer at such meetings. On that occasion, Sir Abubakar bought for me and got it transported to Sokoto with us the new Rudge bicycle as  it made its maiden appearance in the market. From Bida Provincial Secondary School, His Eminence sent me off to the UK at his own expense. His personal cheque for 400pounds was  cleared by me from BBWA (Bank of British West Africa) Account in Zaria.

I took the money to Sir Ahmadu Bello in Kaduna from where his office concluded all arrangements for my trip to UK, for British Airways first class ticket, for school fees, accommodation, pocket money  etc, all from the 400 pounds. No wonder the British Bank manager thought that I  was too young to be trusted with such a big amount of money.

In the end I had to seek the assistance of the Iyan Zazzau, Alhaji Aminu, District head of Sabon Gari, who accompanied me to the Bank and got the money released. Alhaji Aminu was a great friend of Ahmadu Bello. He later became the Emir of Zaria. Before his movement to Kaduna to take up residence there initially as a Regional Minister Hon. Ahmadu Sardauna was the Sokoto Native Authority Councilor in charge of Education, Police and Prisons.

He thereby had reasons to know about my impressive educational performance in the Sokoto middle school which endeared me to him. Our class transfer from Sokoto in 1954, to the Provincial Secondary School in Kano did not dampen that feeling as he continued to send to me, quite regularly, one pound currency note through the post office. The pound had great purchasing power then and my friends and I  very much enjoyed riding around town on our bicycles with bulging pockets.

My visit home from the UK in 1960 coincided with the celebrations for Nigeria’s  Independence from British rule.  As Sir Abubakar’s official staff  were all  occupied on other assignments I had the rare opportunity of acting as his secretary and accompanied him to Lagos. I was with him every minute through courtesy call appointments by various dignitaries. I was with him at the Race Course where, at midnight, the British Union Jack was pulled down and replaced, amid cheers and applause, the Nigerian Flag. In 1964 I accompanied him with Sir Ahmadu Bello to Mecca for the Pilgrimage. Later in 1973 he travelled with me to Saudi Arabia for him to deliver special message to King Faisal from General Gowon, In the  entourage were Abubakar Gummi, Alhaji Ibrahim Dasuki,  Muhammad Maccido and from the Foreign Office, Mormoni Bazza. From Saudi Arabia we proceeded to Cairo on the invitation of the government of Egypt. In August 1905, I went with him to London for his  medical appointment at the London Clinic.

His trip to Lagos in 1966  to meet General Ironsi after the first Coup did not receive full support of some Northern Leaders as they thought it premature to  endorse Ironsi’s Government. There was still the feeling of terrible and irreparable loss of Sir Ahmadu Bello and Senior Military  officers from the North where Ironsi had been strongly suspected to be among the Coup plotters. Ironsi had sent indications of his wish to travel personally to Sokoto to condole the family of Sir Ahmadu Bello. As he later blamed state responsibilities for his inability to do so, he sent passionate appeal, through the Northern region military Governor, Hassan Usman Katsina, for the Sultan to visit him in Lagos.

Despite the reservations  in some quarters Sir Abubakar decided to go, making the point that Ironsi was put  there by God as the Head of State and that courtesy demanded serious consideration of his invitation.  Furthermore the Sultan thought that such a visit would give him the opportunity to speak about the North and find out what policies the Federal Government had in store for the nation. I went with him to Kaduna by road from where an executive jet was arranged to convey us to Lagos. The trip was considered to be very important and this was  reflected by the inclusion in the entourage of Sultan’s very important advisers led by the Waziri  of Sokoto, Alhaji Junaidu.

It was also thought that the Sultan should deliver a written speech at the  luncheon organized by General Ironsi and which would also be attended by representatives of the armed forces, army, navy and air force. Because of this Alhaji Akilu, the highly respected former Secretary of the Northern Regional Government jotted down some ideas which, after  clearance with the Sultan, was given to Alhaji Ibrahim Dasuki to type out on the aircraft  as we flew down to Lagos.


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