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Nigeria: Let’s part in peace, not in pieces – Alhaji Sani Zangon Daura

Alhaji Sani Zangon Daura’s career spanned from the days of the Northern Regional Service where he was an assistant district officer to the North Central…

Alhaji Sani Zangon Daura’s career spanned from the days of the Northern Regional Service where he was an assistant district officer to the North Central State, as a commissioner in the military administration of Brigadier-General Abba Kyari (1968-75). During the Second Republic, he was one of the founders of the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) and in the Third Republic, under the government of Olusegun Obasanjo, he was Minister of Agriculture and Environment. In this interview conducted by Trust TV, he takes us back to his youthful days, as a student in the university of Lagos, to the role he played as an unofficial adviser in the government of President Muhammadu Buhari.

 

We would like to start with your background?

First of all, I did my elementary school at Zango in Daura, from where I went to the Middle School in Katsina from 1948 to 1952. We obtained a School Leaving Certificate, but it was during our time that the school was upgraded to become a secondary school.

I was supposed to continue but my mind was to go and study Arabic, so I preferred to go to the Kano School for Arabic Studies; that was from 1953 to 1957. I graduated as a Grade 11 teacher but with a difference as we could teach anything that had to do with Arabic, as well as Arithmetic, English, Geography etc.

I was employed by the Daura Native Authority to teach. I think I taught there for two years and three of us were deployed to Katsina – myself, Abdul Zango and Yusuf Aliyu. I was taken to Dutsinma and Zango was taken to Mani, while Yusuf was taken to Katsina.

At Dutsinma, within a very short time, the people accepted me. We also prepared for general elections in 1959 because I was there in 1958. When I went there, we became very close with the district head and the people. Whenever a doctor came, I would go as an interpreter.

So, in no time I became very popular among the people and participated in Northern Peoples Congress (NPC) programmes, mass meetings etc. I became a spokesman at the time of the NPC.

So, as a teacher you were involved in politics?

Yes. Apart from the district head, the next set or level of power or whatever were teachers. The main party in Katsina at that time was headed by Alhaji Musa Yar’adua,  Tafidan Katsina, before he became Matawalli.

Our suggestion was that every constituency should be allowed to elect one of their members. There was no question of imposing candidates from the centre. And honestly, we succeeded, to a certain extent.

At what point did you leave teaching?

From Dutsinma I was also redeployed to the School for Arabic Studies as a teacher.

The same place you left?

Yes. I came to Kano from 1959 and was there up to 1961. During that time, I took GCE; and Arabic, Hausa, Islamic Studies or Islamic History were included.

So, I took Hausa, Arabic and Islamic History. I got Hausa at the advanced level. I went for an interview because I wanted to further my studies. At that time, Alhaji Isah Kaita was the minister of education.

Of the Northern Region?

Yes. When I went for the interview, there was the need for a testimonial. So, it happened that my testimonial had to be given by Alhaji Hassan Rafindadi, who was also my teacher. He was also in charge of education in Katsina. He sent the testimonial.

Luckily, his secretary, one Bello Malumfashi, was very fond of me. He showed me what was written. Alhaji Hassan Rafindadi said I was an intelligent young teacher but talked too much, as well as argumentative. And he said my intelligence in politics was dangerous.

He noted these things, but I got the scholarship anyway. From the interview venue in Kaduna, one of the members, a Kanuri man, followed me and said, “Congratulations, you are going to Sudan for further education”.

I came back to Kano to continue teaching. Again, Alhaji Isah Kaita happened to be in Kano on a sort of official visit. When I heard of it I went to him one evening in Central Hotel, introduced myself and told him that I wanted to change my scholarship from Sudan to the London School for Oriental and African Studies, University of London. He said I would hear from them within two weeks. And within two weeks, I got a letter approving my transfer from Sudan to London.

How did you find London? Was it what you expected?

The environment was conducive but very hostile to me. I stayed there from 1961 to 1963. Two episodes happened, which really made me hate the place. Annually, there was this independence anniversary; and at that time, we had about three regions and each region had an Agent General. The meeting(was) in Mayfair Hotel. At that time, if you stayed for one year in a British Council accommodation, you had to vacate and look for accommodation for yourself.

Where we were living, there was a (British) person. His daughter was working in the United States and she came and heard that we were going for a party and wanted to know what was going on. She asked if she could follow us and I said yes, but I had to take permission. I telephoned one Lawan, who was the personal assistant secretary to our Agent General and he said there was no problem.

As we were going, we met three boys along Lancaster road and they started abusing us because of that girl.

Because you were with the English girl?

Yes; even the English girl became very embarrassed. However, we were able to go through; and we boarded a bus to Mayfair. When we came back, almost at the same place, the same hooligans or another set did the same thing to us. From that time, I said that country was over for me.

alhaji sani zangon daura2
Alhaji Sani Zangon Daura

 

Because of racism?

Yes. The other one was when I was taking a train. I went into the tube and it was snowing. After getting out of the tube, I walked into the house of my tutorial teacher, and again, young English boys started rolling snowballs and started throwing at me until I disappeared. These two incidents made me feel that London was not for me.

So, in 1963, I came back to Nigeria because the rule was that after two years, you could come back, spend holidays and go back if you were single. And if you were married, if you liked, your family would join you.

So, when I came back I was lucky because civil servants were dedicated. I told Mohammad Daku, the then secretary of the scholarship board, that I didn’t like to go back to London; I would like to attend a university here.

He contacted Ahmadu Bello University, University of Lagos, University of Ibadan and University of Nigeria, Nsukka. And all of them gave me a place to read Economics, except ABU, which gave me an opportunity to read Law. But I didn’t want to be a lawyer because I didn’t like telling lies.

And I didn’t like to be influenced if ultimately I became a judge. My parents were still alive. I knew that if I became a judge or something like that, some people with dubious information could try to persuade my father or some of my relatives to talk to me. And if it’s something I knew was wrong, I would not do it.  So, rather than battle with them, I should keep away from it. That’s why I didn’t read Law.

So what did you chose the University of Lagos to study?

Economics. But at the end of the day, it became Business Administration because there was one subject we didn’t do. I graduated with a third class in that course. We continued with the politics of Nigeria.

You left London where you faced racism, but met another kind of discrimination in Lagos?

Immediately I came to Lagos, as I was going to Ikoyi , I encountered hooligans at Tinubu Square. They saw me in Hausa dress and started abusing us and even hitting me while I was in the car. I was with my classmate (from) the School for Arabic Studies, I was to lodge with him pending when I would go to the university campus.

I did not do anything to provoke them. I did not talk to them at all. That was in 1963. But all the same, we weathered the storm. So, while we were in Lagos, we became a thorn in their throats—two of us. We were not more than 14 from the North.

In the University of Lagos?

In University of Lagos, (the second person) was the late Dr M.T. Abdullahi Tukur, the medical doctor and director of Jinya Clinic. We gave them hell.

Did you form the student wing of the NPC?

We were the most active in Lagos. There was no week that we would not issue at least two political statements. We had a Suzuki motorcycle brought to us by Widi Dan Tijjani.

Was he a businessman?

He was a good businessman. I think he was a money changer. Myself and Tukur trained ourselves on how to type. We would be in our room for three hours, up to 3am making statements and reviewing and editing it until we got a very satisfactory copy.

Early in the morning, I would go to the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) and hand it over to them. They were unbiased. They would put it up.

What were you commenting on?

Well, we refused to be intimidated. We refused to accept insults from our counterparts in the South. We were protecting our leaders.

So, you were kind of reacting to political insults that northern leadership was getting then?

Yes. I can remember that Ali Ciroma, who later became Ali Al-Hakim, and was at one time the managing director of the Bank of the North.

Was he also in Lagos then?

Yes. They were the first set and we were the second. He was completely NEPU-minded, but when he came to Lagos, he joined the NPC.

Was that the same with you because there was this indication that your politics was quite radical? And yet you were in the NPC.

We remained radical because, according to my thinking, if there is opposition and there is the government party, it is better to be in the governing party and air your views.

That is my philosophy; and I did it. And quite a number of members knew that I was NEPU-minded because I spoke my mind.

Were you in touch with other leaders in Lagos? Were they supporting you?

Yes. I met Maitama Sule, and every week, on Sunday and Saturday I would go round and greet all our ministers. But I never asked anybody to give me a kobo. The only gentleman that was giving me money without me asking him was Tafidan Katsina, the then Minister of Lagos Affairs. Whenever I went to him, I would find him lying in front of his house.

I would greet him and take my leave after five to 10 minutes. And he would give me 5pounds. That was how we stayed in Lagos.

One incident happened in Lagos University during the time of Professor Eni Njoku, as vice chancellor, a very scholarly professor who was very conceited and arrogant. He flooded the university mostly with Igbo lecturers. They refused to give him a second term, so another governing council was set up, headed by a Yoruba man, Dr Shodeinde. They chose their own, so there was trouble.

At that time, I was living in Surulere. About four o’clock in the morning, Igbo people came to me, saying they were discriminated against and wanted my support because they wanted to shut down the university.

I told them that I was not there to embark on strike or close the university; we came to study. I told them that we were not with them. By the time we reached the campus, it was sealed and nobody was allowed to go in.

From there, I dashed straight to Lagos to see the acting minister of education, the late Waziri Ibrahim. I couldn’t find him, so I went straight to Maitama( Sule) and explained everything to him.

Maitama was the minister of mines and power. I told him that the university was closed down. He asked why and I explained to him. Coincidentally, Hama Maiduguri was the commissioner of police in Lagos, so he was told to reopen the university.  By the following day, it was reopened and we were back.

There is a story that you and Dr Tukur Abdullahi got hint of the 1966 coup; is that true?

I will come back to that, but I think it is important to know what resulted after the opening of the university. The Igbo were not happy, so they got a Yoruba man, Adam Adam, who was a radical student, to their side. As Biabaku was going into the office, Adam stabbed him on the back but he didn’t die. He didn’t hurt him very much. Adam was taken by the police and I think that was the end of him.

So, the Igbo lecturers flew to Kaduna to see the premier, Sir Ahmadu Bello. Mr Premier listened to them and said he had a son there, Sani Zango Daura and he would call him to hear the other side of the story. I was called and I went to see him.

He was a very simple person. When I arrived at his house in Kaduna, many of the ministers were there, but they disappeared quietly, leaving me and the premier. He asked about the problem and I explained everything to him.  He asked about my stand as a student from the North and I told him that I stood by the law. I was with Biabaku 100 per cent because he was appointed by the Governing Council like Njoku. He said, “Okay, we are with you?” He called them and said we were for Biabaku; and that was the end of the story.

In 1966, how did you get the wind that a coup was in the offing?

If you remember, in 1964 there was a boycott of elections. There were two alliances – APGA and NNA. The NNA was composed of the NPC, Niger Delta Congress and UMBC, headed by the Akintola faction of the Action Group. The combination of APGA was the NCNC and AG. For the first time, the Yoruba agreed to go with the Igbo, then there was NEPU. There was also the United Middle Belt Congress headed by Tarka.

About two weeks before the general elections, the APGA announced that they had 18 unopposed candidates, but on the following day, it was countered by the NNA. They produced 68 unopposed candidates.

So, you can see that the election was already won by the NNA. That angered the APGA and they declared publicly that they would not participate in the elections. It was very interesting.

But the election went ahead because we had a strong leadership.

So, the NPC and allies pushed on?

Yes; we went ahead. There was election in the whole of the North, but in the whole of the South, there was no election except in Ikorodu, the constituency of T.O.S Benson. I think he won by 120 votes. So, trouble started.

Zik was a ceremonial president so he didn’t have powers. In his own wisdom, although apparently a nationalist, he was possibly carried away by tribal sentiments and he refused to do anything. The country was not getting only hot, but there was the fear that anarchy would set in.

At that time, the judiciary was highly respected because they respected themselves. Sir Adetokunbo Ademola was the Chief Justice of the Federation. There was also one member of the Supreme Court named Dan Ibekwe. They went to see Zik and advised him to call Tafawa Balewa to form a government since he did not have powers under the constitution, if he didn’t want anarchy in the country.

Luckily for him, he accepted and called Balewa to form a government. That was the beginning of a broad-based government. He advised him to organise elections where there was none.

Where were you when the coup happened?

I was in the campus. It was during Ramadan and I was in my room.

Would you say that your experience in Lagos kind of defined your attitude to Nigerian politics up till now?

Yes. In fact, it made an indelible impact and completely changed my mind about Nigerian politics – that we do not like ourselves and don’t even believe in the country.  And I still believe that Allah who has put us together knows best. But my assessment from that time till date has not changed. We are just kidding ourselves but we are still together, rightly or wrongly.

Do you think the solution is to divide the country at some point?

Well, people like us feel very strongly that it is better for us to part in peace than in pieces so that they would develop in their own way and we also develop in our way. But the soldiers, particularly the officers who fought the civil war, don’t like to hear this sort of sentiment that Nigeria should break up because they sacrificed their lives. Hundreds of thousands or millions of lives were lost. Properties worth trillions were destroyed in order to keep this country together.

The sentiment on whether the country should continue as one is mostly dominant in the South. And the feeling is that in the North, it would be a disadvantage to us as there is no oil and economic power to pull out of a big country like Nigeria; what do you think?

All factors of socio-economic growth are in the North. The North has 80 per cent of the total landmass, and you know that land is a great resource. Secondly and the most important thing is that if a non-political census is conducted, honestly, even the South knows that more than two-third of the total population of the country are in the North. So, when you have got these two factors, land and population, you are there.

So, you don’t think we will miss the oil?

No. For anybody to tell you that we have no oil is bunkum. We have oil in Nasarawa more than what we have in the South. It is still the political ability or will to exploit it; go and check. We have gas in Bauchi in large commercial quantities. And today, the importance of gas is even more than that of oil.

Almost everywhere in the North, Allah has given us mineral resources. I don’t know their names, except gold.

I think Zamfara ranks one or two in terms of mineral resources in the world. The same thing applies to Niger, even Sokoto and Katsina. We have uranium. Every state in the North is endowed with mineral resources but political will is lacking.

Each state can be independent and generate more than enough to cater for their services and do whatever they want.

I believe sincerely that if we got the right leadership like we had during the First Republic, education would have been free from primary to university level. I am sure that each state can do that instead of squandering the money for nothing.

You have been a leader in the North for a long time. Some of us the younger generation will say it is the failure of your generation to give the needed leadership you saw with Sardauna that has led us to where we are?

Well, in a way we have participated.

You were a commissioner at a young age; you were also a minister.

When we came in as commissioners, I and Umaru Dikko represented the youth. We believed in good leadership and demonstrated it. We tried as much as possible to see that the right people were put in the right places. But subsequently, unfortunately it became money politics, such that good people will not be elected unless they have money. This is what has landed us into this problem today.

alhaji sani zangon daura
alhaji sani zangon daura

 

During the Second Republic you played a role in the formation of the National Party of Nigeria (NPN); and talking about money politics, why didn’t you play a role like your colleague, Umaru Dikko? He became a big factor (minister) in the NPN but you were edged out of the party. Why did that happen?

Well, they didn’t like our views.

Why didn’t you play any role in the government of the Second Republic like Umaru Dikko?

When we came to Lagos to inaugurate the formation of the NPN, people like us wanted Aminu Kano for president because of the role he played. After the assassination of our political and military leaders, he was at the forefront of bringing Arewa back together, with Tarka and others.

When the question of presidential candidates started coming up, Maitama Sule was still a chief complaints commissioner and I told him point blank that if Aminu (Kano) was coming, we were not for him. He said he believed in what I said.

Eventually, he left the post of a chief complaints commissioner and joined politics. When he joined we were for him but there were so many factions. The government wanted Adamu Ciroma.

The military government?

Yes. Mamman Daura was sent to me by the late Gen Shehu to support Adamu Ciroma, but I said I could not do that. Everybody knew me with Maitama; we were promoting him and I could not switch over. I told him that we could work as a team.

By then you had left Aminu Kano as he formed his party?

He had gone and refused to come back because somebody was telling us that he would not be taken as presidential candidate, so let him form his own.

Do you think he would have made it as the NPN presidential candidate if he had stayed?

I think so, but that was how Allah willed it. So he left

When we agreed on this partnership, we continued. We decided to support whoever was more acceptable between Adamu( Ciroma) and Maitama( Sule)

Why did Shagari beat all these people?

Delegates from Sokoto, headed by one Shehu, a businessman (I can’t remember the full name), didn’t like to take Shagari, but Isyaku Ibrahim, who fronted them and maneuvered them to go for him because he said Plateau had no candidate but Shagari. That rang a bell to the delegates and they had to change their minds. That was how Shagari got it.

So that was how your candidate lost out?

Yes.

And that was why you didn’t have any role in government throughout that period?

We were really hunted.

You played the role of a minister in the Obasanjo government. How would you assess that government? Why did you leave, just after two years?

There were quite a number of incidents, which quite a number of people know, but I don’t have to recount them all.

What is your assessment of Obasanjo as a leader?

Although Obasanjo is parochial and tribalistic, he is a leader who takes decisions. And to be frank, he was a very hardworking president.

While you did not formally take part in the Buhari government, you were a very strong member or adviser, informally; is that correct?

You could be right to a certain extent.

Some people say you were a member of the so-called cabal in government?

No. They said everything. It is speculation. General Buhari was a system person, so anything that would not go through the system he would not do that. In fact, many people took unfair advantage of him because he was a system person. No matter how close you were to him, he would not ask his minister to say, ‘Sani Zango is coming, please help him.’ So, they have different governance styles.

Why do you think it took him so long to appoint his ministers? That’s one question that keeps coming back.

As I said, he is a system person. He had held different posts in government before coming for a second time as the president of this country and had seen a lot, he felt betrayed.

By who?

His colleagues and appointees. I know that people have been complaining, but my personal assessment of the whole situation is that he was trying to make the best use of them. This is because any minister who comes to a ministry, particularly if it is a big ministry, it will take him two years before he gets to know what is there and what is even required of him.

By the time he starts getting familiar and knowledgeable with what is going on, if you take him to another ministry, you are not helping him and the system because you are also bringing a new person who will start all over again. So the question of going forward is not there; you will just be marking time.

Is the overall result justified by the policy of keeping people irrespective of level of performance?

It is a question of who you are talking to. But there is always a tendency to become a little bit complacent when you stay too long.

And I think the common opinion is that it happened in his government.

Well, that is the general perception. People also say he is not the Buhari of the military days. I think that at one time he said he had matured and could no longer take certain decisions as he did before.

Also, there is this complaint that even the Kano-Katsina road could not be completed in his eight years as president, what is your take on this?

I think that towards the end, he realised that the gentleman who was there as minister of works ( Fashola) had not been very helpful and useful to him.

There seems to be this difference between Katsina and Daura, which is an old problem. Why does it exist and how can it be dealt with?

I think it has been narrowed. When we were growing up, we didn’t have the manpower but Katsina had; even some heads of our works department were from Katsina.

You have been involved in many businesses, and now, increasingly, your attention is on the Maryam Foundation. Can we talk about your life in business? Why are you spending your money on this foundation?

Quite frankly, Allah willed it. After the 1975 coup, I lost my job as a commissioner and was supposed to go back to service because I was a civil servant when I was picked up, but I decided to go private.

The first company that approached me was Taylor Woodrow Nigeria, which was doing township roads. Till date, I don’t know who gave them my name.

They wanted to appoint me as one of their directors because they knew I had connections. I accepted.

Instantaneously, the managing director, Shepard said they would also give me a participation in the company to the tune of N150,000 shares. But I didn’t have the money and I told him. He said they would give me a loan. So they lent me the money and I paid them eventually.

Between that 1975 and around 1993, I had an accumulation of between 20 and 30 different directorship and chairmanship, both public and private. And for most of them, never asked them; they invited me.

I did it on a sort of commission basis as I was working for them. As an active director, I also secured jobs for them, but I never indulged in taking money to anybody.

I would do the fieldwork in the night and ask them to move in during the day. So, they too introduced me to quite a number of their rivals for assistance, which I did.

I bought my first house in London from the money I made from them. So, from all these, I have been trying as much as possible. I believe in landed properties, so I buy and put there. This is how I have been able to make it.

How big is your portfolio of properties?

When you say portfolio, what do you mean?

Apart from Abuja and Kaduna, how many cities and other places are you involved in property development?

Kano. I also built in my hometown.

What of abroad?

I have. I used to buy, re-do and sell. Even now, we have a block of nine flats for rent, in addition to my house in London. In fact, I had quite a number of houses I sold. I sold at least two and brought the money here. That’s how I started here.

We were also able to get a contract in 1984 for the supply of Kings vegetable oil. We also made some money.

We were also able to get Peak Milk and supply over two million cartons. But we are not greedy. Alhamdulillah, that’s how I was able to make some money. But I concentrate on property development with a company called Northern Property Development. In fact, this place in Kado was at one time owned by it, but it now belongs to our endowment fund.

Do you prefer Abuja to Kaduna?

We are trying to see that the whole thing has taken root and is running quite smoothly, so that if there is any problem we will come in and sort it out.

I think that when the chips are down, I have to go back to Kaduna, but I would have preferred to go to Daura to live.

But you don’t often go to Daura?

No.

Do you embark on foreign travels?

I used to do it frequently, but now, I do that once or twice a year.

Only in London?

London, Saudi Arabia or Dubai, and neighbouring African countries.

You are 86 but still look very strong; what is the secret?

Alhamdulillah.

Do you have any serious health challenges?

Well, not much really. I have been a very healthy person, but sometimes, after a very long time I get malaria. I was a victim of COVID, but luckily, I was out of it.

What other hobbies do you have besides walking, which helps to keep you fit?

Apart from that, I just go round to see how the buildings are carried out.

What about diet; any restrictions?

I try as much as possible to keep away from anything that is sugary.

What about other things like meat, protein etc?

I do, but not much; I don’t like too much protein. Even for meat now, I am very careful; I eat only very small.

Tell us a bit about your family life. You have lived a long life. Does it translate into a large family?

Yes. We are a large family.

You don’t count?

I think I have 43 to 45 grandchildren. I have three wives and we are getting old together.

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