Alhaji Usman Ayuba, popularly known as Usman Ayukka, is one of the oldest Nigerians alive. He is 102 years old. The alumni of the prestigious Rumfa College, Kano, formerly known as Kano Middle School, shared his memories as a student in the 1930s, among other things.
You were the 9th head boy of the then Kano Middle School, now Rumfa College; how would you describe your days as a student?
We were in elementary school in 1935, here at Gumel. At that time, Arabic teachers were the headmasters; people like Malam Dahiru, the late Sarkin Yaki Gumel, Malam Haruna and another Kachalla Sarkin Dinki and Malam Sale Kambari. There was one classroom for all of us, but when the supervisor, Mr Baldwin came, he said there should be another classroom. We were taken outside before the class was completed. After the class was painted, 24 of us were selected and moved into the classroom while the rest were asked to return home because they failed the test.
Then in 1939, Mr Baldwin came and spent 18 days at Gumel, during which we were tested. Four of us were qualified to go to the middle school. I was taken to Kano Middle School. What happened was that I was a bit grown up at that time, but because our parents wanted us to get western education, our dates of birth were changed, together with the late Galadima Usman of Gumel. We were the second set there.
Two teachers, Malam Usman Gwarzo and one Mr Baldwin came from Kano to select qualified students to the middle school. We sat for an examination and the late Galadima came first. I was second and one Adamu, who became a Vehicle Investigation Officer (VIO) in Kano finished third; and Sale Banaga was number 4. So our father, Waziri Ayuba, said I was going to the middle school, but for Galadima, he said he was not going, under the pretext that he had a plan to get him married, not knowing that the actual plan was to make him the chief clerk of the emirate council. At that time, Sani, who was to become the Emir of Gumel, was the chief clerk, so he was asked to hand over to Galadima Usman.
How was the journey from Gumel to Kano?
We were asked to go and greet the emir, not knowing that a vehicle was waiting to convey us to Kano. The car was that of Emir Muhammad Nakota. We were then taken to Malam Nahushi’s house, the messenger in the Kano resident’s house, where we ate before we were taken to the school. That was my first time of travelling to Kano.
I remember also that the day we were taken to the middle school, Galadima Usman was made the chief clerk while Sarki Sani was moved to the council.
What happened at the middle school?
At the middle school, Madaki Malam Shehu, who was the teacher of Middle B, said he was going to select first before Malam Muhammadu Dandago, the teacher of Middle A. So he selected me first, saying he was already informed of my coming. When we got to class one, our teacher was made a district head, so we were combined as class one instead of A and B.
There were three teachers at the time. After our teacher was made a district head, another one replaced him; Malam ShehuHadejia was also brought to make them three. So, Malam Haruna was classes 1 and 2 teacher, Malam Dahiru, Class 3 teacher while Malam Shehu Hadejia was teaching Class 4.
Among the students from Hadejia, there were Adamu Dawaki, the son of Madaki Sarkiji; Jafaru Hadejia and Baba Hadejia, the son of the district officer’s messenger, and one Babale Dan Jakada. Three of us were from Gumel and about five of them from Hadejia.
What motivated your parents to enrol you in school when it was detested at the time?
Our father was a man of foresight; he was not like us. He thought of what could happen in the future, and that was why he said we should be enrolled. Not only I, but also Alhaji Ali and Adamu Nasoro were asked to enrol in the evening school, known as “Kwarantica.” The emir said Chiroma Babandi should also be enrolled. Malam Dahiru and Malam Haruna were their teachers.
How did you become the head boy at the middle school?
Our father passed on in 1942, and at that time, Waziri Ibrahim was Wakilin Gona. He requested that I should replace him, but the emir said I was too young to be Wakilin Gona. When I heard about it, I felt I preferred to come back home. As a result of that, I began to abscond from classes, together with about 11 other students. That led to our demotion. So, we repeated Class 2. After that, I was made the head boy. One day, we went to Katsina for sports and I got injury during a high jump. Our headmaster said I should not worry, when my injury was healed I would be allowed to take my final exams for Middle 4.
Your education, unlike some others, did not terminate at the middle school; how did you end up at Bauchi Teachers College?
Malam Usman Gwarzo said I was one of those selected to go to Bauchi Teachers College. So, together with Shehu Kazaure, Usman Bebeji and one other student called Balarabe, I left for Bauchi. We met people like Shehu Gezawa and Ubayi Ringim there. At that time in Bauchi, the teachers were white men, but there was one Malam Zanna Dikwa, a Kanuri man from Borno and Malam Ali Jos, who was our Arabic teacher. The senior headmaster was also Malam Abdu Zaria. Apart from these three, all the other teachers were Europeans.
There were eight provinces, and in each province there was a middle school, but Adamawa and Bauchi were merged, so our school got its students from all the provinces.
We spent two years in Bauchi and it was time for our exams. But unfortunately, I had a problem with our acting principal, Mr Jeffernis over a girl called Yan Biyu. She said she loved me and Mr Jeffernis, who was in love with her, was angry with me. So he said one of us would not complete his school, and I replied that I prayed it was me so that I would not marry Yan Biyu. That got him even angrier. So, he drafted my dismissal letter, but he did not send it until the time we were about to return to school after holidays.
But you did not return to the school…
One day, the Sarki Sani Gumel, who was the Ciroma, said there should be a vehicle that would convey me back to school, together with my wife, but I told him that I had a dream that I would not return to the school. Not long after that, a messenger came with my dismissal letter and I was very happy with that because I already made up my mind against returning to the school because of the issue with Mr Jeffernis.
What happened afterwards?
I was given a job in the Department of Works as a storekeeper, but I rejected it. Subsequently, I was a made a clerk. That was how I got the nickname, Wakilin Ayyuka, up till today.
While I was in that department, one Malam Musa came and Waziri said I should hand over the office to him. That was how I left the department and began another job in Kano. While Malam Musa was there, he looked down on other members of staff and they revolted against him. Among those he was looking down on was the assistant divisional officer, Mr A.R Quad, who was a white man. When I came on leave, I told Malam Musa that if he was not careful, the white men would easily sack him, but he did not heed to my advice. And even before my leave was over, his sack letter was presented to him.
Mr A.R. Quad used to come to my house to collect some books, so he insisted I should leave Kano and return to the Department of Works, but I declined his offer.
Later on, I was made an adult education teacher, but I did not stay long there. I moved back to Kano and joined the United Africa Company (UAC). While I was at the UAC, the late Madaki Malam Shehu went on a visit and saw me there and asked, “Usman, what are you doing here?’’ I told him that was where worked and he said, “No, you are returning to the Native Authority (NA). But instead of the NA I was taken to Agric Department. That was the last place I worked in Kano.
Who was the ‘Yan Biyu’ that caused your dismissal from school?
She was the daughter of our school messenger, but the acting principal was in love with her and later married her. Because she said she loved me, he was not happy with me; he thought I would be a stumbling block for him. But I was already married. I spent only one year at Bauchi instead of two years because of that problem. Normally, I was supposed to spend two years there because we were taken from Middle 4. Those who were taken from Middle 2 normally spent four years.
Were you issued a certificate in Bauchi?
No. I did not complete the school. I did not sit for final examination. I was asked later to go and sit for the examination, but I refused to do that because I didn’t want to go back to Bauchi.
We took another examination with Mr A.R Quad and I was asked to work in a telecommunication company in Kano, but I declined.
Were you able to continue with your education after leaving Bauchi?
Yes, I went to Zaria Clerical Training College in 1951. I did well there that I got an award, together with one Garba Bakori and one other from person Jos. On hearing about my performance, the district head of Karaye asked for me to work with him. And I was taken to the treasury, where I became their chief accountant. I didn’t know that some people were not happy with me being there and they were plotting against me. One day, they poured beer in my drink. I was not used to drinking beer, so I became drunk and they reported to the police at the office of Wakilin Kudu that I drank beer. I was taken before the then Emir of Kano, Sanusi, who told me that he would not condone that habit; and I was whipped. After that, they asked me to go back to my office, but I said I would not work for them again.
After that, I met one Mr Parker, who was a labour officer and told him what happened. He asked me my position at the NA and I told him that I was the chief accountant, so he said they would employ me. I was taken to their account section. From there, I was taken to an out station. Suddenly, as if something was happening, I said I didn’t want to work again. I just returned home.
What happened after that? Did you take another job at home?
Yes, while at home I was asked to come and collect my gratuity. I went and collected 288.88pounds, with which I built this very house we are in now. Then, the emirate council made me a social welfare officer, but I declined and applied for a job in agric department. I was employed as an LPO officer. There also, as if something was happening, I wrote my resignation letter and tendered it to one Yoruba man who was our chief clerk.
After my resignation, I was sitting in the office when one Abba Dutse and Malam Ibrahim Kazaure came and told me that the senior assistant secretary wanted to see me in his office. When we got there, we met Malam Tukur Kazaure, who was the deputy permanent secretary. He asked why I decided to resign and I told him that I was tired; I just want to go back home. He told me that the district officer had rejected my resignation, but I said I had already tendered my letter and there was no going back. So the accountant gave me my salary and another one month salary as my pay-off. After that, I went to collect the money they were deducting from my salaries as retention. It was kept in case you lost or destroyed anything for them. That was my last formal job, others were based on appointment.
Were you into partisan politics?
Yes, I was a member of the Northern People’s Congress (NPC). We went to many places, such as Katsina, Sokoto, Bauchi, Misau, Jos, Kaduna and many other places.
I was also in the Great Nigeria Peoples Party (GNPP) with the late Ibrahim Waziri. We travelled a lot. But I did not contest for any elective office.
You were in Bauchi Teachers College; did that influence your membership of Tafawa Balewa’s NPC?
You mean Abubakar Tafawa Balewa? The younger sister to his wife said she loved me and I told her that I already had a wife, but she insisted that she loved me. From Bauchi to our school was about four miles, but she would always trek to see us, together with another lady called Barmusa, who was in love with Tanimu Zaria. I told her that I did not intend to take another wife.
At the time, Tafawa Balewa was the headmaster of the Bauchi Middle School. But I never had any personal encounter with him beyond this.
What motivated you to join politics?
I was just free as I was not doing anything. I usually travelled with my elder brother, Alhaji Ali Ayuba. But people always came to my house, even at night, and it was always political issues, so I decided to join, fulltime.
How would you compare politics of that time with what we have today?
They are quite different. In those days, it was between the NA, who were conservatives, and some radical politicians. It was politics of ideology. But now, it is just the young people who are in politics to make money, without any ideology. They are self-centred now.
We used to go to Zaria, Sokoto or Katsina on political tours, and we financed ourselves. Nobody gave us anything until we got something there and shared. But now, they are getting enough money.
Let’s look at education. How would you compare what obtained in those days with what we have now?
People were not that educated, they were only after patriotism. But now, there are many graduates. It wasn’t like this before. If you had the opportunity to attend elementary school, not even middle school, you would be employed. Things have generally become better in terms of access to education.
How did you feel when the former governor of Jigawa State, Sule Lamido, appointed you the chairman of the state’s scholarship board at 90?
I was even above 90 when he made me the chairman of the commission. Sule is a politician; he has tried for us so much.
It wasn’t that easy. I had so many misunderstandings with people, especially in the area of competence. I was lucky to be attached to a very good person then, the present Walin Kazaure, Babangida Hussein. We went to the same school with his father, Hussain Kazaure, and we were school friends.
How would you compare life when you were growing up with what is going on now?
During our childhood, children were very obedient to parents and elders. The way children were treated was different with that of elders. We were trained never to look down on elders; and when they sent you, you must go. Parents were very strict on us. However, things have changed dramatically as children are given more ‘freedom.’
How did you meet your wife?
That time, parents would just sit down and decide that their children were compatible and should, therefore, be married. At times a woman was even given out freely. That’s how our parents also decided for us and gave me the wife I married. She is late now, but two children I had with her are still alive today.
What significant decision did you ever take that brought fundamental change to you, or you just can’t forget?
We were in school one day in Bauchi when we were queried on why we did something, which I wasn’t part of. I told them I wasn’t part of it, but they insisted I was. I became angry and accepted that I did it, but the headmaster, Madaki Malam Bello, said “No it is not like that, if you don’t know it, don’t say you were part of it. Just go.’’ I can’t forget that.
I didn’t commit the offence, but I was punished for it. In fact, I was flogged six lashes. My colleagues came to Gumel to celebrate Sallah, but I was denied that opportunity.
Until I left that school, Madaki Malam Bello used to tell me to exercise patience as that was the nature of studentship.
It was documented that you were born in 1918 while another record stated that you were born in 1926. Which one is correct?
My father told me that I was born three years after Nakota became the Emir of Gumel, and according to records, Nakota was turbaned Emir in 1915, which means my real year of birth is 1918.
However, Waziri Ibrahim changed and said that Kaltume (my sister) and I were born in 1926, the year our father was turbaned as Waziri. Perhaps, he did that because I was quite old for Kano Model School when I was admitted.
Your father was once a Waziri in Gumel, have you ever held any position in the emirate?
Even before becoming Waziri, my father was Sarkin Shanu. But I never held any traditional position. I was only a civil servant.
Despite your age, you still look energetic, what’s the secret?
No, you can’t say I am still energetic, you can only say there is a kind of relief because sometimes I cannot wake myself up after lying down until someone assists me.
What kind of foods do you eat?
We never ate a leftover of tuwo when our father was alive. A new one was always prepared in the morning with meat and animal butter. It was tuwo in the afternoon with fura, then tuwo again in the evening.
That’s how we lived. It is not like now that people just eat to survive. The food used to be in akushi.
What kind of exercise were you doing before this age?
We used to have race, sometimes from Kofar Yamma to former central office. When I was in Kano, we used to have bicycle and even car race. We often drove to Fagge, via Koki quarters in the city. However, after returning to Gumel, I eventually stopped, due to old age.
Are you still in touch with any of those you grew up with?
Where are they? All of them are not here. They have all died. Wallahi, none of them is alive, except someone wants to lie.
What’s your daily routine?
I can only pray in my room without raising my voice. You can see my books; I no longer read them due to sight problem. So I can only recite what I have memorised.
I can’t even go to the mosque for prayers again. I used to pray five times in the mosque, but now, I pray in my room. To even walk is now difficult for me, though some may think that all is well.
Have you ever travelled abroad?
Yes, I went to Saudi Arabia for pilgrimage, and Sierra Leone. But here in Nigeria, I have been to almost all parts of the country.
When did you go for your first pilgrimage?
I first went there in 1958 and went back for the second time in 1962.
What was your experience during the first pilgrimage?
That time, before you travelled, Islamic scholars must train you on the rites of hajj operations, no matter how educated you were.
What took you to Sierra Leone?
We actually went there to explore. That was in 1963 or thereabouts.
When was the last time you visited Rumfa College?
I went back there several times, but the last one was when we went to celebrate the school. But I can’t really remember the year.
What impresses you the most?
Abundance of religious education. People are more educated now. Before now, you would see an adult who could not recite Iqamah (opening section of Muslim prayer) correctly. But now, you will see a small child reading and writing fluently. This is really something impressive.