Hajiya Indo Muhammed is also known as Indo Bakori because one of the highlights of her career was as a principal of Federal Government Girls’ College, Bakori, her hometown. She was also the principal of Federal Government Girls’ College, Zaria and commissioner in two ministries in Katsina. She retired as a director in the Federal Ministry of Education in 2015. In this interview, the chairperson of the Hassan Usman Katsina Polytechnic speaks on her experiences.
In those days, getting western education was a bit challenging for a girl-child; how did you overcome that?
Talking about girl-child education, I would always say that I am a living proof of God’s destiny or miracle, if you like. When God has destined something for you, nothing and nobody can take it from you.
I was willingly enrolled in primary school by my father in 1961. But in those days, to go beyond primary school level was very rare. So, from the beginning, my father was satisfied that I could have primary education but not more than that.
I was enrolled in a primary school very close to my house. It is still there. Fortunately for me, with all sense of modesty, I was relatively brilliant. I was doing well, but my father had set his eyes only on completion of primary education and no more.
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Do you have sisters who went through the same thing?
That is the problem. My father had a lot of children, but they were largely males. The sister I followed or the one before me was nine years older than me, but she wasn’t enrolled, even in the primary school.
In those days, if the white men or the authorities wanted the influential people in the society to give children, I think some of them opted to give children that were not biologically theirs. Somehow, everybody had some of those in their household.
So, when it was time to enroll and my father was probably asked to pledge one, he gave out my aunt, who was then living with my mum and she attended primary school. My sister, the privileged one, wasn’t enrolled, so nine years after, I was the only one around and I think that was why I was given out.
So, during my primary education, I think those people must have been inspectors, they used to come around the school. They were keeping a record, some kind of continuous assessment. I don’t really know where they were coming from, maybe Kaduna or wherever the headquarters was.
Were they white people?
They were white people, I remember. They would come, look around the school and check on the records of students. I had a headmaster who was very interested in me going beyond primary school.
I remember that he came while we were in primary five. Alhaji Abdulkadir Funtua is still alive. I owe much of the enthusiasm and encouragement to go beyond primary school to him.
He was very keen on getting me to move because of his assessment that I was relatively brilliant. Unfortunately for me, at the end of primary six, he was transferred.
In primary seven when we were to take the common entrance, the schools were only the WTC in Katsina and Government Girls’ College in Dala, Kano.
My father summoned the headmaster and ordered him to make sure that I failed the exam. I would always tell people that some of what we complained about now had always been in place, even in those years.
On the day of the exam, we were all in one hall and for some reason the headmaster was able to get into the exam room. I don’t know, maybe the inspectors, the people conducting the exam gave him some little latitude and he came in.
And while he went round some of the students, probably helping them, his duty when he stood before me was to make sure that my answers were wrong. So for the period he stood, I made sure that the answers I was shading were wrong. Fortunately for me, he wasn’t allowed to stay too long, he had to leave.
It still surprises me because I wasn’t a rebellious child; I was not too keen on going to school; and I know I didn’t set out to deliberately defy my father.
There was the feeling of how I could allow this paper to go out with wrong answers. So very unlike me, I took my cleaner, cleaned off the wrong answers because it was pencil and shaded the right ones. The scripts went and results came and I had passed.
I think it took the headmaster some time to be able to tell my father that I was on the list of those that were supposed to attend an interview. Finally, he summoned the courage and probably convinced him that I would probably fail at the interview level, so my father accepted that.
We went to Funtua for the interview. We spent a couple of days waiting for the interview to take place. I don’t know what miracle the headmaster thought he could work with the interview because it was oral; some of those white people were there. So, we did the interview, I supposed I did very well.
There was this school that I had never heard of, that was the Queen Elizabeth School in Ilorin; they were the initial unity colleges. The one in Ilorin was for northern states, then there was the Kings College in Lagos for the boys and the Queens for the girls; but the one in Ilorin was supposed to carter for the girls in the northern states.
I think the criteria was to pick the best around; and then, of course some had the privilege of being cabinet members’ (ministers) children, so I was selected and my admission letter came.
So, you were to go to Ilorin from Bakori?
And the headmaster did not know how to approach my father. Meanwhile, there was somebody whose child was one year behind me in primary school and he wanted his child to go to school because he was educated, so he was set for the girl to go.
I think the headmaster wanted to play a fast one now. He felt if my father didn’t want it and somebody else wanted it, no harm; maybe it would be juggled because the letter was lying around for some days.
I remember visiting this particular family and this young girl was one year behind me. As I was leaving, she led me to the doorstep and asked: Did you hear something? I asked what and she said that somebody in the town was admitted to Ilorin.
Didn’t you know, up to that point?
We didn’t know; my father didn’t know, but I recall that the girl saw me off because I had been sent to her mum.
Meanwhile, a cousin of my mother had seen the headmaster coming to the office where he was, negotiating for this swap as it were, and he got angry. Why should I earn something and my father was there and somebody was trying to trade it off?
The next morning, when he was going to work, he stopped over at our house and I reminded him of this. He said he wanted to see my dad, and when he saw him he said, “Why should you allow this? Your child is brilliant; how can she get admission to such a good school and somebody is trying to negotiate it off to someone else? He is still alive.
If the person who had the letter had come up front and told my father, there was nothing I could have done. I was positive my father would have accepted.
But my mum’s cousin used this notion of somebody going behind him to trade it off to incite him. He said, “Okay, no problem, let her go.”
In those days I couldn’t leave my mum for days. Anywhere I went, even to my favourite aunt, by the second day, I would start imagining all sorts of things that had happened to my mum and I would cry and come back home.
How old were you when you finished school?
I was 12 when I finished primary school. I went in at five or six, but at 10/11, I couldn’t leave my mum for a week. There was a day I went to visit my aunty who was in a remote place, Danmusa and there were no motorable roads and I cried for two or three days. Her father-in-law had to raise his truck because in those days there were no cars, only trucks used to come to Funtua on Mondays and Thursdays during market days. He had to ask the driver to bring the truck out and take me home. When they brought me, my aunty started crying, so she too had to be brought the next day.
My father recalled this incident and said, “Come and go to the school, that serves you right.” That was the motivation to send me off to school. If anything, to let me get away from my mum.
How did you go to Ilorin and how did you adapt?
That is another interesting thing because as soon as that person left, my father sent for the headmaster and told him that he learnt Indo had been given admission, so he should produce the letter. The man brought out the letter.
We went to the only shop in town to buy the provisions listed in the letter, but between our family house and the shop, the letter was said to have gotten lost. We had provisions lined up, but no letter. My father said “no problem, you take her, deliver her to the school and tell them that you lost the letter.” Believe me, that was how it happened.
So, the headmaster had to take you to Ilorin himself?
He had to do that because my father was authoritative.
Did he take you to Ilorin and left you there?
Yes. We were on a trailer for two days, travelling from Funtua. It took two days from Funtua to Ilorin. We left in the evening of a Monday, I think, and spent the whole of Tuesday and the morning of Wednesday before we arrived in Ilorin. The school was manned by white people. And when we arrived, he told them that the letter was lost. He introduced me and they accepted.
Was that possible because the record would show that you were the same person offered admission?
You can imagine if it were these days. I was accepted and sent to the boarding house. That was how my life in Queen Elizabeth School actually started. Somehow, I think it turned out better, mixing with children of our age and classmates. I think I didn’t cry much; I soon settled. The environment was good, the atmosphere was conducive.
Were your family members visiting you during your stay there?
Not at all. Those of us from the North didn’t bank on visitors because nobody would travel to Ilorin to visit. I didn’t know the pleasure of having visitors on visiting days, but we didn’t seem to care.
Returning home for holidays was another adventure altogether. There were two trains – one coming to Kano and the other going to Jos – so those of us who were heading towards the North from Minna, up to Kaduna, Kano and Zaria, a coach would be reserved for us from Lagos. It would be labeled specifically for QES girls, so nobody was allowed to enter the coach.
On getting to Ilorin, only our students would board that coach. At different points people came off and went home for holidays. The same arrangement was made for those going towards Jos because we used to have Kano Limited and Plateau Limited.
And from Kano you would go home?
No; I used to drop at Zaria and my father would send somebody to the train station to pick me. On return, arrangements were made by our parents and we all boarded the train back to Ilorin. Very soon we got used to getting down at Ilorin and taking a taxi to school. It was that smooth.
You made Grade 1 in school, which suggested that you had more potentials; was it difficult for you to be allowed to go to the university?
That was another hassle. One thing I still thank God for and I have a firm belief in is that environment counts a lot. If people are given the opportunity, there is no limit to anyone.
When I left Bakori and got to Ilorin, my classmates were largely from rural backgrounds like mine. That was the justice of those days – you had a chance once you were good. I wish we could bring that back. Some of the students were from the premier’s environment.
Children of ministers and top officials?
Yes. These were the kinds of people we were friends with. I recall that during the first exams we had a Higher School Certificate (HSC) teacher who was teaching Mathematics, which was not a very good subject for girls. There was no exam in the first term, but in the second term they gave us test. Some of the girls from Kaduna finished from Capital School.
The elite girls?
Very good. In the second term I took the 8th position, even coming from where I was coming. But believe me, that was the lowest position I ever took, we soon levelled up. In the third term I think I took the third position, and thereafter, it became like that.
So the only thing I can attribute it to was the levelling environment. If you have the potential, if it is exposed and if you are given the opportunity, there is no limit to you. I just pray and hope we can bring back that culture.
What happened when you finished with Grade 1; how did your father take it?
Before then, my father had already worked out who I was going to marry. Before we finished, the school of basic studies had come on stream, the first intakes had gone in and we were supposed to be the second.
I saw some of my classmates applying. I don’t know what led me and I decided to apply. So I applied and we were called for interview. We left Ilorin to attend the interview in Zaria. I think I did well; we did well, we all passed.
But for whatever reason, this time my mother was very staunchly against the person I was supposed to marry. You know what it is like when a mother doesn’t support a marriage. Somehow, for whatever reason, my father could not have his way.
Was the person a relative?
Not really; he wasn’t a relative but my mother would just not hear of it. That kind of liberated me, so my father decided to just let me be. I started the school of basic studies along with some of my mates.
So, after that it became another transition through the university. We finished and virtually all of us transited into the degree programme.
At what point did you fulfill your family’s wish to marry; were you still a student?
Yes, I was still a student in my second year in the university. I now met the person, and by then, my father had given up.
Was that your choice; was he somebody from home?
Not at all; we are not even from the same town or environment. I got married in my second year in the university. My husband was in the United Kingdom for his master’s. It was when he eventually came back in my final year that I got properly settled as a fulltime housewife, as it were.
Fortunately, I had virtually finished the three level courses in my final year. I went for the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) programme, during which I had my first daughter, Zainab. After the NYSC, it was all smooth and a job was waiting for you.
I think the more curious thing was that at the university, I don’t know if it ever occurred to us that you could do something other than teaching. In fact, my brother used to mock me, saying I should have taken something else, but I chose to be a teacher.
When I registered initially, we were to take courses in French, English, then Education by the side. I was to major in French; and I was very good in it.
In those days, if you were the best, at 200-level you would be required to go abroad and spend an extra year on French attachment.
By the time we came back, your mates would be in 300-level and you would be required to go back to 200-level for other courses you missed. The French degree programme was essentially for four years.
That additional year was something I didn’t fancy. I was the best candidate, so I went to France. The next best would go to a francophone country; I remember that it was Dakar. I was billed to go to France, but I didn’t want to go.
Was the fact that you were married and your husband was there an issue?
It was supposed to be after the first year, and in the second year I ought not to be around. I would have been in France, in which case maybe I wouldn’t have met my husband. But I just didn’t like the idea of another year.
Were you not tempted by Paris?
I wasn’t. I decided to switch over to make education my main teaching course and not French. I was ready to make English my main subject; my French teacher was very disappointed.
I noticed that in your career path you had to follow where your husband was moving, from Kauran Namoda to Lagos and Warri?
That is it; but it wasn’t much of a career as such. This is where the choice came. If you had a family and job you would just try to adapt.
You couldn’t have both?
That is it. I was at the Kaduna Polytechnic.
Because your husband was there?
My husband was there, then he left and went to Lagos. He got a job and left the polytechnic and went to African Petroleum (AP).
Yes. It was a natural assumption that I too should leave. That was what necessitated my transfer to the Federal Ministry of Education, so I had to apply to move my service from the polytechnic to the ministry.
I went there. I was initially posted to the Bureau for External Aid. I must again put on record, my deep appreciation of the assistance and support of people like the late Alhaji Yahaya Hamza. He was a great man.
Who was in the federal ministry in Lagos?
He was in the Federal Ministry of Education. He understood the need to allow those of us who were coming into the service from the North the chance to at least contribute our quota and at the same time take care of the family.
He posted me to the Bureau for External Aid, which handled the scholarship offers we were receiving from countries like Russia, China and so on.
It was a very interesting job, but within a year of my being in Lagos, my husband was posted to the Warri office of the African Petroleum, so the need to move again came up.
You had to move to Warri?
I had to move to Warri; and even though I was enjoying my job at the BEA, I had to leave it. And the only Federal Ministry of Education establishment in Warri was the Federal Government College, so I had to become a teacher again.
How was it adjusting to Warri?
It was one of the most difficult periods of my life. The year we moved to Warri, I lost my father and that affected me tremendously. Then for whatever reason, I was not as comfortable with Warri as I was with Lagos.
It was far and there were not many people from the North; and somehow, it wasn’t too good an experience.
Fortunately, after a year in Warri, my husband was moved to the Kano office of African Petroleum, so happily, this time I transferred again and moved to Federal Government College in Kano in 1986..
I liked Kano; I still like the place. I always say that if I were a man, probably I should be settled in Kano. It was home. I had lots of relatives and the school itself it was good, there were lots of activities and so on..
I was there for about three years. Then again, I would emphasize that in all the critical moments of my life, it is only God that has come with whatever good I have received..
I was on maternity leave when my husband had to go to Yola from Kano on assignment and I said that since I had never been to that place I should go with him, just to see what it was like.
While there, I would call the children back home to find out how they were doing. One of the mornings when I called, they told me that someone had come from Katsina and said I was required to send my curriculum vitae. He mentioned the place I was to send it.
It was in the days of landline, there was no cellular phone. My husband was standing as I was holding the phone. I had never written a CV before then.
About two days later, we came back to Kano and another messenger came. That was when it was clearly stated that I was required to submit my CV in Katsina.
At that time, I had been to Katsina only twice. I always told people that I knew Warri, Port Harcourt and Lagos but not Katsina my state capital.
I quickly prepared the CV. I didn’t know what it was meant for, but took my baby and took a drive to Katsina. The person had given direction to his house. When we got there, we waited for him to come from office. When he came he said, “Hajiya, come let’s go, the governor asked me to call you, I don’t know what it is for.”
Was that a military governor, Yahaya Madaki?
No; Lawrence Onoja. We got to the Government House and the governor came in. Apparently, he had been playing lawn tennis. He just engaged me in a conversation but nobody said anything about job. He said, “Hajiya I am just meeting the indigenes of the state and it is good to meet you”. I got up and I came out perplexed. Even the person who took me did not say anything.
You thought there would be a definitive discussion?
There was nothing like that.
So the next thing was for you to hear your name being announced?
Yes. We drove back to Kano and got back in the night of a Wednesday. On Friday my niece who was living with me had a friend who was in Katsina. The friend called her and said, “They are announcing mama’s name as one of the commissioners in Katsina.”
I did not lobby for anything. Every good thing that has come my way has literarily fallen from nowhere.
Was your position as a commissioner in Katsina challenging for you and your family?
My husband said I should leave the children behind; he was supportive. I took up the job and the family was still there.
But about three months after that, he was recalled to Lagos to the head office. That was when he accepted that the children and everyone could move to me in Katsina. That was how we operated between Lagos and Katsina.
How was it being a commissioner at a fairly young age?
This is why I said that the experience and knowledge of the civil service is truly important. I had no idea of how a file was treated because I was just a classroom teacher. If you were a teacher, you didn’t even know what a minute was. I didn’t have a faintest idea of these things, so it was not easy.
Why do you think you were appointed?
Honestly, this is what I don’t know. I was told later that there was a classmate of mine who was in the cabinet and he was close to the governor. He and the other person who called me had known my husband. I learnt the governor said he had two female members of cabinet, one from the Daura zone, the other from Katsina and both of them were exiting the cabinet. So the governor said he wished he had someone from the southern part of Katsina, a woman he could appoint. That was when my classmate mentioned my name. I think my basic qualification was the geographical location I came from.
You spent three years or so in two different ministries, so you must have adapted rather quickly?
Health was something else. There was a doctor with me on the cabinet. I think he had intended to send me to education and send her to health, but I don’t know what was brewing; at the last minute he decided to swap portfolios for us, perhaps in his belief that once you were a commissioner you could man any ministry.
That was how the doctor went to education and I, the educationist, went to health; it was not easy. A few months after, Onoja was redeployed and Colonel Madaki came in.
There was reshuflement here and there until finally, he felt I should move to the Ministry of Social Development.
Youths and sports?
Were you more comfortable there?
Maybe the social development aspect of it
But the governor, being a military person, was naturally interested in sports, so that unit tended to dominate the activities of the ministry. We did what we could.
People say that political appointments bring pressure as relatives, friends as everybody want contracts and jobs, is that true?
These are part of the things we have come to load ourselves with. At that time, people were not really bothered; it is now that everybody sees a political office or any office as a means to get something.
Everybody assumes that commissionership means money.
I don’t think it was that bad in those days.
After the commissionership, you went for other assignments back to Kaduna Polytechnic and another college in Kauran Namoda, were you following in the footsteps of your husband?
After the commissionership I had to report back to the ministry, by then I was posted to the Office of the Director-General, Alhaji Yahaya Hamza.
This was in Lagos?
I went back to Lagos. My husband applied and was appointed as the rector of the Federal Polytechnic, Kauran Namoda. It was going to be unthinkable. Again, the children had been settled in Zaria and my husband had to go to Kauran Namoda, while I was in Lagos.
During the tenure of Alhaji Wada Nas as the minister for education, a policy came to encourage some of the people from the North to get into the mainstream service of the Ministry of Education.
I was sent to the Federal Government Girls’ College, Kazaure. Then this family issue came up. Was I to go to Kazaure and my husband in Kauran Namoda? He had insisted that the children should be stabilised in a good school in Zaria, which we could not guarantee in either Kauran Namoda or Kazuare, so I felt it was like tearing the family into many fragments.
I had to honourably apologise and turn down the appointment to Kazaure. I chose to go to Kauran Namoda so that at least we would settle the children in Zaria. I was there for like three years. I came to have a baby and the pressure of taking a baby to Kauran Namoda made me think I could run a second degree.
I got interested in international relations. If I were a man, I would have wanted to be in the Foreign Service.
Why Foreign Service, you like travelling?
Yes, I like travelling and I really felt it was something I would have loved to do. I decided to undergo that course even though I had already gotten a master’s in education some seven or eight years back.
I enrolled for master’s in International Relations at the Ahmadu Bello University. Before its expiration, the Federal Government Girls’ College (FGGC), Bakori position of a principal became vacant.
By then, the policy was established that states would nominate whoever would head their institutions. So I was contacted from the state government. Somebody was sent to ask if I was interested, but I really wasn’t. I turned down the request and said another person should be sourced. Some other person again came from the ministry and tried to convince me to apply to go to Bakori, and again, I told him no.
It was now a delegation that met my eldest brother because we had lost our father and he was the head of the family. They told him they learnt that contact had been made to me to take up the Bakori job and I said no. They felt it was something I could do for the community. This was a group of people from Funtua, Bakori axis.
My brother came over to discuss with my husband and I. That was when we felt it would be disrespectful to continue to say no. I emphasize this notion of not really having to go and lobby for something. Whatever is destined to be yours is likely to be yours.
So,at this point your husband was the rector in Kauran Namoda and you were the principal in Bakori?
That was what it came to be.
So, the separation happened?
At least I could keep in touch with the children in Zaria, unlike going far away to Kazaure or Lagos while they were in Zaria and he was in Kauran Namoda. It was better, at least Zaria was close to Bakori.
Would you say that your tenure in Federal Government Girls’ College, Bakori was the highlight of your career because a lot has been written about it?
I believe some even exaggerate whatever they think I have done. In all honesty, I accepted to go simply to fulfill the need people felt I could help fill.
And at the back of my mind was my experience at Queen Elizabeth School in Ilorin. Up till today, it remains the best picture of a good girls’ secondary school.
There was no corporal punishment; nobody would beat you up, not even teachers, not to talk of students. But you could be asked to kneel down, made to sweep the floor or asked to wash the toilet as punishment if you did wrong.
If you did anything that would warrant you to stand out to be canned, it was a whole ceremony for you, and the canes would go at the back of the legs. So beating was out of it.
Yet I discovered, with all sense of modesty, that people from that school are relatively disciplined. Those of us who graduated from there have this sense of wanting to do the right thing. We are humans, but at least we want to do the right thing. So I owe a lot in my life to my experience in that school.
What would you say you did for Bakori?
It was an opportunity to test and see whether we could also implant those things. It is up to the students of Bakori to say what I did, but I would say we probably succeeded in doing some things.
It was a pleasant experience. It has taught me that there is really nothing like tribalism or religious divide. These feelings are engendered or encouraged by the attitudes of those who hold the reins of power. Every human being knows what justice is, everyone knows what relative equity is. I have found that some of the most hard working people, some of the people who loved me most, were southerners.
I have someone; I think she is a deaconess by now, who was my vice principal in Bakori. She is from Ogun State, but I will recommend her to anyone for any job.
If I had assignments to give I would be sensitive and would not ask my Christian teachers to come around for something on a Sunday morning. That is just fairness, but other than that, these things did not count. We lived as brothers and sisters. I loved them but they loved me more.
I get worried over all these things – tribalism, religious divide. They are all manmade, honestly.
How do you compare your experience in the girls’ college in Bakori with the one in Zaria, where you also became a principal later on?
I will say home because all my female children were students of FGGC, Zaria. Even when I was in Bakori, none of them enrolled there. When the transition came to Zaria, the people were waiting for me to come. We picked up and tried to inject the same kind of attitude.
I met my former colleague from Cross River in Zaria just last Saturday at speech and prize giving day because the school is now headed by one of my former staff, Mr Magaji. I had an academic affairs committee and he was chairing it.
He is at the Federal Government Boys’ College in Garki here. Last Saturday, they held their annual speech and prize giving day and he requested and I came around. He stands up everywhere to say he still recalls those days we worked together. This is our approach to work. That is how it is with all of them.
You retired in 2015; do you think it was too early? Are you happy to have retired at that point?
I retired, having attained my mandatory age of 60 years. We often say retired but not tired. Alhamdulillah, I retired in good health but I still have a few things that engage me.
A former governor of Katsina State, Aminu Bello Masari, immediately after my exit from the service, co-opted me into one thing or another. Finally, I was like back home.
You are the chairperson of the Hassan Usman Katsina Polytechnic?
Do you go to Katsina often?
We have quarterly meetings; and fortunately, there are other means of communication, such as emails, WhatsApp and so on.
The job is not a day to day management kind of thing. We maintain supervisory roles and let the management do what they need to do. The desire is to raise the standard higher.
You lost your husband; so how is family life for you now?
All the kids are grown. My youngest son is already working. Unfortunately, I have nobody around me as four of them are in Abuja, the other two in Kaduna.
Alhamdulillah, God has been kind to me. My first daughter, Zainab is an accountant. I have an engineer son, I have a medical doctor; she is the one in Kaduna. I have an administrator, someone who took after me and read English. I have a lawyer, the one that had the baby; then my youngest son is a builder.
How is your daily life now that you are all by yourself?
The thing is that I try to maintain an open house wherever I am, so I am never short of visitors.
I wake up in the morning, do my normal prayers, recitation; and there is always one thing or another to attend to. I socialise with visitors, visit sick people, attend weddings etc. I also read for an hour or two. I read Islamic books and so on.
Do you have hobbies; anything you do for pleasure?
I should learn to exercise, that is one thing I haven’t done much of. But I knit. I do crochet, handcraft. I haven’t had the time, but I can do them. Now, with the relative abundance of time, I take lessons from the Mallam that comes around. I am thinking of enrolling in a formal Islamic school, but my worry is if I enroll in a school that requires me to come from Monday to Friday or Monday to Wednesday, then Saturday till Sunday, because of my frequent travels I will break the chain. I have a Mallam that comes to the house, so I take lessons from him.
You wanted to be an ambassador; do you have the chance to travel abroad?
Yes, I had the hobby of my annual leave, umrah trips; it is just that things have become very expensive now. I engage in occasional trips to the United Kingdom because that is where I lived at a point in time for my master’s programme. I was out in Britain for two years, so it is always a good place to go back to, it is like going back home.
The umrah trips were regular until things became difficult; we used to observe those last 10 days of Ramadan, but accommodation became more expensive. The whole place became more congested and umrah gradually became like hajj, so we switched to the off peak period of umrah.
So, I try to go to Saudi Arabia every year. Occasionally, I do London trips. But I have not been able to visit African countries. I promised someone that I would go to Niger. I promised that I would take my grandchildren and visit, but ironically, we can see what is happening. I pray that the crisis in Niger is resolved very quickly.
You alluded to how things have changed in the country – no justice, no equity, no merit; where do you place the blame?
It is just unfortunate that somehow, things have gone this way. You have got to know someone before you get something. I wish we could devise a way of saying that things should go on merit so that those that are lower down the ladder, economically and socially can actually access those places.
You can reserve a percentage of whatever is available and say because we are all Africans, we are all Nigerians and there is always this desire to help, but it should not go beyond this percentage. I wish we could do that.
We now discover that before people get jobs they should know the person who is there, so you wonder when the average village person who has no one would get this chance.
So, inevitably, the only people they will now cling on to are their political representatives. In fact, if they say there are vacancies in an establishment, a member of the House or senator will get so many slots and dash them out. What if within his town or village there are people who are not of his political persuasion who are qualified, can they get? That is the question.
So, truly I will pray for a day when we will able to set the limit we can go. For everything that is available, please let us draw a line. A certain percentage of it can go on this contact thing, but let some of it be purely on merit.
I think this is what happened in my days. I would never have gotten the chance to go to Queen Elizabeth School, but I went there.
My father was relatively important in my small community, but on the national scene he wasn’t anybody. Yet I went and rubbed shoulders with the children of those who were everything in the North, people in the premier’s cabinet; their children were our friends. One of my best friends is the daughter of an ex-minister. We are still the best of friends, that environment brought us together.
Does the child of somebody in my village now have such a chance? Does she have that hope that a situation would arise where she would sit in class with the daughter of a minister and even become friends for life? That’s the tragedy.