Alhaji Inuwa Jibrin, a veteran journalist, was one of the pioneer members of staff of the Broadcasting Company of Northern Nigeria ( BCNN) in the early 1960s. He also played leading roles in administration and other fields, including the private sector. In this interview, he spoke of his childhood days, how his parents settled in Benue from Kano, and other interesting issues.
Looking at your early life, it appears that though a Kano man you had a special experience of growing up in another part of the country, specifically in Benue State; how did this come about?
It is quite correct. From Madabo in Kano, our grandparents went out to spread Islam through Keffi, then across River Benue to Ankpa in the present day Kogi State. From there, after his Quranic education, my father was picked by Europeans, who told him that they would like him to work with them. In those days it was difficult for the Zaki (or “Lion”, as we called the Whiteman) to say something and somebody would say no. That was in 1920.
He served as a messenger to the district officer, then he was taken to a place called Okpoga in Benue State today, which used to be Idoma Division. I think it is now under Okpokwu.
As he told me, he was in the Quranic school when the late Emir of Zazzau, Aliyu Dansidi was deported to Ankpa, then Lokoja in September 1920.
A railway was constructed from Kano to Port Harcourt, so the headquarters was moved from Okpoga to Otukpo, which is today one of the headquarters of a local government.
My parents established Otukpo town in the 1920s. My father served there up to 1950 and was transferred to Makurdi. He retired in 1950. So I was born in Benue and I went to St. Mary’s School there. It was a Catholic school. From there, I proceeded to Benue Middle School in Katsina-Ala.
Do you think that growing up in Benue among the Idoma and attending a Christian school sort of defined you later in life?
Yes. But it did not affect my religion in any way because my father kept saying that all he wanted was for me to get the education but I would remain a Muslim.
We used to go to church, sing in the church choir and so on. And during examinations I was usually top in Christian Religious Studies and they would be wondering how a Muslim would do that.
In fact, in those days, most of the teachers in primary school, which was a Catholic school, were Igbo. I remember that the headmaster, Mr Uzo, was from Awka in Anambra State.
I was the class monitor throughout, so I would come early in the morning, fetch water, go to the teacher and bring the register, sweep the class and so on.
So, one morning when I was in Standard Four, he called me to his office and just drew his table, gave me a ruler, pen and paper and asked me to report at the Methodist School across the road. He didn’t tell me what was happening, so I was very scared. I went and asked for the headmaster, one Mr Onazi, who later became commissioner in Benue-Plateau before his death.
Was he doing you a favour?
I wouldn’t know, but I think so. I asked for the headmaster’s office, where I met a man who asked if I was Jibrin. I said yes and he said I should come along. He took me to a class and said we were going to sit for examination to Middle School, Katsina-Ala. We were six or five of us. That was it.
Didn’t you like to go to Katsina-Ala?
I didn’t like to go.
I didn’t like to go because I was told that Tiv chaps were cruel. We used to call them Munci. They used to beat people.
What was your experience?
Because I could speak Idoma and understand Igbo, I blended.
From Katsina-Ala you went to Government College, Keffi, which was one of the top secondary schools in the North; how was your experience there?
We opened Government College, Keffi in 1954. We were the first students, but the first set started in Kaduna, including the late Audu Abubakar; former vice chancellor of the Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Prof Naiyya Yahaya. They finished in Kaduna.
We went to Keffi with people like Paul Unongu, Abdullahi Ibrahim( SAN) and Professor Gor. I think he is a medical doctor. He is in Benue today.
We mixed with others from Ilorin, Kabba Province then, Plateau, and one or two from Zaria Province, Southern Zaria as it used to be. We had Bulus Kagoro; I remember he was from there.
From Keffi, did you go straight into broadcasting?
No, we sat for the Cambridge examination, not the West African School Certificate examination. I decided to take care of my father who had already retired in 1950.
Did he retire in Otukpo?
Yes, he retired and settled there after staying 30 years. He had a house there, so he decided to stay. I came over to Kaduna and I said the best thing was to get something doing to help him, at least as a reward because he was about 70 or so.
So I joined the judicial department. H.O. Mohammed recruited me. At that time the northernisation policy was just starting. As I was passing through the corridor, I saw him and knocked at the door, went into the office, greeted him and said I was looking for a job. He looked at me and asked if I didn’t know where people were being recruited. I said I knew the Public Service Commission and he asked why I would not go there. I said there was an elderly gentleman there who would hardly answer my greetings; whenever he saw me he would start writing. He looked at me again, burst into laughter and said it was because of the way I dressed.
How were you dressed?
I tucked in right from school because the only time we used our kaftans and shirts was when going to the Friday mosque in Keffi. Even when going for games you would tuck in, so I was used to that.
But the impression is that in those days it was easy to get jobs for somebody with secondary school education; is that true?
Yes, it was easy but depends on where you go and when you go. This is because before we finished, there were so many organisations coming to propagate their services.
I had wanted to go to forestry department because I was interested in scouting and so on. I was a troop leader in the school. When the late Kali Imam, who was the conservator of forest, came and gave us a lecture, I approached him. He looked at my results and said I was weak in mathematics. He graduated from the University of Aberdeen and was employed.
He suggested I change to either veterinary course or something else and I said I would do that. So I applied for veterinary and was called for interview in Makurdi. But the veterinary officer said I did not sit for Chemistry and Physics, so there would be some difficulty in the future. He advised that I seek something in administration and I said okay.
So you went to the judiciary just to look for a job, not because you were really interested in that sector?
No. When I went there he asked which school I attended and I said Government College, Keffi. He asked if I passed the exam. I said yes and he asked for evidence. I had a photocopy of the statement of result, so I showed it to him. He just drew his drawer and gave me a form to fill and bring the following day. That was how I started.
When I went, he just called one Mr Eno, the assistant chief clerk and said he should make me a dispatch clerk. That was how I started.
You moved quickly from that place, why didn’t you stay?
I was there for a year, then went on leave. My father asked where I was working and I said the judiciary. When he asked if it was the sharia or western judiciary and I said it was western, so he said I would change, adding that if it was sharia he would agree.
Luckily, the NBC advertised for a programme assistant and I was staying in an area where the late Sani Kontagora used to stay. He developed interest in me and we used to follow him to the Rigachukun area. In those days there were bushy areas and he was interested in hunting birds. Guinea fowl and other birds could be found there.
Alhaji Sani was in the NBC?
He was the acting controller of the NBC, who was in charge of the whole Northern Region. He asked for my qualification and I said Cambridge School Certificate.
I was called for interview, together with the late Adamu Augi, Mahammadu Yakasai and others. I remember that the late Emir of Kano, Alhaji Ado Bayero, was a member of the board. The secretary of the NBC came for the interview from Lagos.
I remember that Muhammadu King asked why I wanted to work in a radio station. He asked if I worked in a radio station and I said no. On why I wanted to work there, I said I was interested, adding that I used to listen to radio stations, especially BBC, Voice of America, Radio Alkahira in Cairo, Radio Pakistan etc.
Were they broadcasting in Hausa or English?
Hausa and English. I told him the various times and frequencies of those stations. He wanted to know the leader of Pakistan and I said Marshal Ayub Khan. That was the end of it. A week later, I received a letter that I was successful in the interview as a programme assistant.
I think the highlight of your broadcasting career was when you became one of the pioneer staff of the Broadcasting Company of Northern Nigeria.
It also appears that you spent the longest span of your career there; can you talk to us about it?
Yes. It was interesting. I was the continuity announcer at the NBC when one day, the premier, Ahmadu Bello returned from one of his Middle East tours and there was a news bulletin and the news reader was not around. The news bulletin was taken to the controller. The acting controller was Alhaji El-Nafati from Gombe State, which was Bauchi at that time. Since the news reader was not around, he took the bulletin to see the continuity announcer. When I started reading the news I was shivering.
But you were not supposed to read news, why did you accept it?
I was not supposed to read it but since he gave me there was nothing I could do; so I started reading it the way I thought I should do it. A whole controller was standing on me, so I was shivering. At the end of it, I said perhaps I would just get a sack letter the following morning.
The following morning when I reported in the office, they said the controller wanted to see me and I said that was the end of the news as I would be sacked. To my surprise, when I went to the office that was not the case.
Did you enjoy working in the BCNN; why did you leave?
I enjoyed working there. It was a powerful radio station heard all over, right up to Cameroon in Garuwa, Yaoundé, Benin Republic, Niger; in fact, up to Agadez. In fact, we used to receive letters from the Mediterranean areas that they heard the news. It was the only station with a powerful transmitter; we were heard all over the North.
And whenever there was any ceremony, such as installation of new emirs, or the governor touring, we used to follow in a Land Rover to cover the event; and as a result we were able to go round; in fact, virtually all over the northern region and that was a fantastic experience.
After staying for about two years or so, I was sent to the BBC for more training in broadcasting. This was in 1963. In BBC, I had training in radio broadcasting. I was in the training when President John Kennedy was assassinated.
At the end of it, when I was preparing to come back, there was a letter that I should proceed to Granada Television in Manchester, so I was flown to that place. I was there for another three months studying television production and so on before coming back finally in May or so in 1964.
I seized the opportunity to enroll in the London School of Journalism by correspondent.
When I came back I continued, and in 1965 I got my diploma in journalism. So I really enjoyed it. In fact, it was my best time.
Why did you leave the BCNN?
I left because I got some sort of frustration from a man who later became my in-law, Dahiru Modibo. Others were being promoted over and above me because I used to challenge him that he should not move with some kids. He was the head of sound broadcasting while the general manager was Abba Zoro. He was brought in as an administrative officer or senior admin officer in Sokoto Province, then stationed in Gusau.
Abba Zoro became a famous broadcaster, his training not withstanding; is that not surprising?
He was a very straightforward and real broadcaster because right from the time he was at the University College, Ibadan, he used to do part time broadcasting during holidays.
He was very honest and dedicated. Being under him, I would call him to the studio and talk to him. And after office hours I didn’t move about but others socialised. At that time, anything could happen, and I told him.
Abba Zoro also did his own, but everything was in his house. I used to say that being a head of department you should not take yourself to be on the same level with everybody and mix with them socially. That was my understanding; and that was my issue with the boss( Dahiru Modibbo).
Later on, God being what he is, I got married to his niece and felt that in our tradition, it would not be a good idea to start arguing with your in-law in the open.
One morning, Martha Audu just came and asked if I could look for something else. I asked what was wrong as I was doing my job and she said they were not happy the way things were happening. In fact, she pressurized me and said the marketing board was looking for a public relations officer and I should apply. I told her that in northern Nigeria I knew they would have already made up their minds on who should be there.
She kept on pressurizing. In fact, she forced me to apply in the last day. Reluctantly, I wrote and she personally took it to whoever. Surprisingly, a week later I was invited for interview.
When I went for the interview, luckily, I met two gentlemen who were old boys of Government College, Keffi – the late Audu Abubakar and Tanko Kuta. Kuta was our head boy while Abubakar was number one in the register.
They looked at my certificate and so on. I think Abubakar asked: “If you said you went to Keffi, can you recognise anybody around who attended the school? I identified the head boy and the number one in the register. I also mentioned other things.
And the interview was over?
That was the end of it. When I left the job was already mine.
From what I read, I think this marked a period in your life when you moved from broadcasting to administration. You also moved from the marketing board to Livestock Department, Mining Corporation and back; why all these movements?
You see, with the marketing board, changes were coming up as there was reorganisation. I was posted to Gusau as area manager in administration because somebody, the late Alhaji Nahuce, was to be appointed from the North West but he said no, explaining that he was getting old. He wanted to retire in the civil service. So Yahaya Gusau said I should be posted there because he knew me. I was once a caretaker of one of his houses in Sardauna Crescent and I looked after the house properly. So he believed I would take a very good care of the area. That was how I was posted there.
I think I was in grade level 12 but I was sent to act on grade level 15. I was there for two years. I, therefore, said that since I was posted to administration, the best thing was to do something and go back to the university and study administration and get something to properly back me up.
Subsequently, I applied to the ABU and they called us for interview. It was a written and oral examination. A professor from Pittsburgh University, United States, looked at me and my curriculum vitae and said that with my experience I should go straight for master’s, not a diploma. But there was no master’s at that time, so he said I could go for a diploma.
When a letter was written to me to go for a diploma, I came back to Kaduna. Accidentally, I went to the late Yahaya Gusau to report that I was going back to school, and he asked: “On whose authority?” I said the general manager had approved it. So he picked the phone and called Usman.
When Usman came, he pounced on him and I burst into tears and left the office. I said if that was the case I was no longer interested. That was how I changed.
So you changed to Livestock ?
I changed and I came to Kaduna, where I met Lema Jibril. I think he was the director, development office. A few weeks later, they advertised and I applied. He called me for interview, and again, luck being on my side, the late Dr Bukar Shuaib, the permanent secretary, was the chairman of the board for the interview.
When he came, we all stood up and greeted him. I knew him as a friend to Yahaya Gusau, Ambassador Sani Kontagora and Mohammed King. He looked at me, kept quiet for some time and went in. Later on, I was called in. That was how I moved to Livestock.
Why did you go to Mining in Jos?
Again, I went to ABU from Livestock. After a year service, Alhaji Hamisu Kano allowed me to do advanced diploma in Public Administration. I wrote on dairy production in northern Nigeria as my project and gave him a copy. He took it home, studied it and the following morning, he called me.
A week later, the secretary called me and gave me a letter. I looked at it and saw that I was sent to Vom to take care of Madara Limited because the general manager there, Mr Davies, was proceeding on leave. They said I should take over from him and look after the place for three months.
They said everything would be taken care of. So I proceeded to Vom, but it took me a whole year as they would not let me go come back until Plateau politics started. They did not want Hausa man.
When I came back to Kaduna, a month later, I was told that Rilwanu Lukman was looking for me. I spoke to him on phone and he said he wanted to see me in Zaria. He said they were looking for experienced people like me, so I should come over. But I said I was alright with what I was doing. He said they would advertise.
Reluctantly, I applied and went for interview. Holdson Wright was the permanent secretary and chairman of the Mining Corporation. For the first time I was seeing that type of interview. They assembled about eight of us and would ask one question for all of us to answer. Everybody was to answer in his own way. The final question Mr Wright asked was what we thought about the legacy of the military as they were leaving. They all gave their answers, and when it came to my turn I said they would be remembered for transportation, road development, bridges and airports. He asked where those legacies were and I mentioned Lokoja, Katsina-Ala, Cross Rivers and Makurdi bridges, adding that they would open up transportation.
You also went to New Nigerian Newspapers; why?
I was the secretary, and later on, director of administration in the Kaduna State Broadcasting Corporation. After two years, I took a study leave and went back to the university for a master’s degree in Public Administration. When I came back, I served for another year or two. And I discovered that I started marking time, having I reached the limit.
Was it because of age?
Not age; the salary came to the bar and there was no other thing. The only thing was to be the general manager, and the position was political.
New Nigerian was looking for a personnel manager on a higher grade, I think grade level 15 or thereabouts, so I applied and was interviewed and taken.
So, all along I was moving on transfer of service from one organisation to another, not resignation. It was a continuous service.
You seem to have left the New Nigeria abruptly; was your stay there not a happy one?
I left after two years. Again, it was Mohammed Haruna; we were not in good terms, not that we were quarreling, but there was one thing I advised him on.
As the managing director of the company?
Yes. I advised him to allow his subordinates to brief him on situations whenever he came to the office, especially before friends. I said it was not suitable for us to be talking about the organisation before outsiders, and that didn’t go well with him.
So, one morning, I came to the office and he pounced on me, saying I was trying to look down on him. I was shocked. In fact, I removed my glasses and tears were coming out from my eyes because I never thought of doing anything of that nature.
Was that really a factor or you felt you were older and maybe didn’t fit in?
I was much older and I didn’t fit in and he didn’t quite understand what administration meant.
How was your experience in the private sector? Did you make money there better than the civil service?
The money was not much, but at least you would have peace of mind and respect. They would listen to you when you give advice.
At what point did you stop working?
That was in 1994. I went to Owerri for a meeting, I think it was the Institute of Personnel Management or something like that. We stayed at Mode Hotel, owned by the late vice president, Alex Ekwueme.
You stopped working since 1994; how do you survive?
I survive on goodwill. I also got my gratuity. And my children are all working.
How many wives and children do you have?
I had three, but I am now left with two, and we have been together. My senior wife, Modibo’s niece, has been with me for 53 years while the second one, from Saulawa Katsina, also a niece to the late Isa Katsina, has been with me for 48 years.
How many children do you have?
They are many: 19 alive – 10 young men and 9 females.
What do you do with your time? Do you have hobbies?
I farmed for some time but discovered that it was for others; they cheat you. In fact, I will continue reading and writing. Right now, my old school, Government College, Keffi, has commissioned me to write its history. I did the first batch some 20 years ago, so I have been asked to bring it up-to-date. I am on it right now. So, I read at least three papers every day.
How do you keep fit? Are there particular things you don’t eat?
No. I just walk around in the early morning after prayers. I remembered that during the early hours of my retirement, I used to play hockey. In fact, right from Form Two, I played up to Form Six.
We joined Kaduna Plakers with the late Sani Katsina and others. We were going round and playing hockey. Now, just walking keeps me fit.
Any dietary restrictions?
No. I don’t have diabetes, I eat normally. I like tuwo and miyar kuka so much. I also take yoghurt from time to time. I take oranges and banana, However, I don’t take sugary drinks.