By Gambo Dori
IN the late-1970s when I was an admin officer in Chad Basin Development Authority, Maiduguri, I often sat at meetings as secretary, where the likes of Dr. Mohammet Lawan, Mal. Musa Daggash, Dr. Bukar Shuaib, Dr. Musa Goni, and AJKG Imam would be present and as discussions wore on, the name of “Mallam Liman” would always crop up in one anecdote or the other.
Of course, these were the pioneers who were nurtured by the colonial civil servants to take over the Northern Nigerian Civil Service at Independence.
Liman Ciroma was part of them. He had shared school life together with some of the mentioned but it was mostly in Kaduna during those exciting days of taking over an entire civil service that they all really bonded together.
I was to hear a lot about him but I never met him till much later. Even at that, it was at a distance, mainly at official meetings, conferences where he presided or when he took a solitary evening walk in the vicinity of Gobarau Road, Kaduna, where I used to sojourn in a friend’s guest house.
I have always been fascinated by the extraordinary career of Mallam Liman who began his public service in the Nigerian Antiquities Department and was at a time Curator of the Lagos Nigerian Museum, before moving into the administrative cadre of the Northern Nigerian Civil Service.
After a few years in the North-Eastern State, he went back to the Federal Service where he reached the peak of his career as Secretary to the Government and Head of Service of the Federation. But this is all laid out in the book, Testing the Grit of the Public Service, an autobiography of the distinguished civil servant that was released to the public on Saturday.
What the public might not realise is that this is a book that has long been in the making. When Mallam Liman officially retired from the Civil Service in 1979 after a career in the arena of some of the most turbulent happenings in the country, he came under pressure from friends and associates to put down something for posterity. They must have reasoned that Mallam Liman was a foundation senior staff of Northern Nigerian Civil Service, immediately after Independence. He had risen up the rungs to become a Permanent Secretary and was a witness to the events that culminated in the first military coup.
He was also there when the country was broken into 12 states by General Gowon and became part of the small group of Permanent Secretaries posted to assist the new Governor, Major Musa Usman to run the North-Eastern State.
He headed the Ministry of Education up to 1971 and was said to be the chief proponent of most of the rapid infrastructural development in the educational sector of the state particularly the creation of the North East College of Arts and Science (NECAS), which became the nucleus of University of Maiduguri. He left the state service in 1971 to return to the Federal Civil Service from whence he came.
He had a dizzying career in Lagos as Permanent Secretary in some of the most important ministries of the time. Mallam Liman first took over from Phillip Asiodu at the Federal Ministry of Industries at a time when government was boasting that money was not a problem and could be seen to be investing heavily in all the key sectors of the ecnomy. Then the plans for rapid industrialisation were going apace with massive investment in the Iron and Steel development in Ajaokuta, Automobile assemblies in Kaduna, Lagos and Kano, sugar in Bacita and Numan, paper production in Jebba and Oko-Iboku, cement production in Ashaka and Gboko, fertilizer projects at Port Harcourt and Kaduna. He remained in the ministry for so long to see the fruition of all those efforts.
Just a few months to another military coup in 1975, Mallam Lima was moved to the Ministry of Education, where he took over from his classmate and friend Ahmed Joda. He met a ministry already engaged in a frenetic activity to launch the massive Universal Primary Education, UPE, programme, which he assisted General Obasanjo to implement.
He also implemented the take-over of the regional universities of Ahmadu Bello University, the University of Nsukka, Benin and Ife and planned for the take-off of the seven new universities in Kano, Port Harcourt, Ilorin, Sokoto, Maiduguri, Jos and Calabar. He was at that when he was called to assume the office of Secretary to the Government of the Federation and Head of Service.
As the Wazirin Fika, Adamu Fika, the former Head of Service of the Federation and a close associate related in the preface of the book, Mallam Liman was reluctant to write an autobiography initially. When he was finally convinced in the 1990s, he set to work assiduously with the assistance for field research given by staff of ABU Zaria. The book was about to be completed when Mallam Liman died in 2004. A book of such importance could not be left unfinished. That’s why the efforts of the Wazirin Fika and Mal Liman’s friends and associates who rallied to fill up the gaps and produce a fine book, must be congratulated.
The book will not disappoint whoever would desire to read it as it is a compendium of our history, specifically from the viewpoint of one that was in the centre of events as they unfolded. As the blurb of the book says: ‘it is an observant-participant account of some of the memorable epochs in the history of Nigeria, particularly the years leading up to the tragic civil war and the restructuring that followed’. I find the title of the book, Testing the Grit of the Public Service, most apt because Mallam Liman spent the bulk of his career witnessing the vicissitudes that afflicted the Nigerian Civil Service, particularly during the years between 1961-79 when he was at the very peak and most involved.
It was a period when the grit of the public service was truly tested, whether it was from the excitement of taking over from the colonial civil servants or trying to put a brave face in that darkest period when the military literally went berserk and murdered their own commanders and political leaders of a section of the country in a bid to take over the reins of government. The top civil servants, of which Mallam Liman was one had to take on the additional roles of not only advising and implementing policies but also making them. They were really tested during the execution of the civil war and the efforts at reconciliation and reconstruction.
However, the greatest test of the grit occurred when another set of soldiers seized power in 1975 and under the leadership of the mercurial General Murtala Mohammed unleashed an onslaught on the Civil Service that swept a good proportion away in a gale of retirements and dismissals. This affected morale to no ends but it was the grit of Mallam Liman at the helm of affairs as Secretary to the Government and Head of Service of the Federation to restore the equilibrium and normalcy in the service thereafter.
He came to the office of Secretary to the Government at a time when the military government had announced a programme of return to the barracks and handing over to civilians. There were one thousand and one things to do. A new constitution had to be drafted, new electoral commission had to be created – all these coming after many years of military rule was quite a task for the bureaucracy. Mallam Liman as head of that bureaucracy acquitted himself with aplomb. The programme was successfully executed. The military handed over in 1979 and Mallam Liman retired to Kaduna.
On his return to Kaduna a new kind of life beckoned him. As one most senior public servants to have served many governments, his leadership was still sorely needed in other spheres of life. He never relented when asked.