Adamu Baikie became a professor at the age of 40. He is the first professor of education in northern Nigeria. The erudite educationist and seasoned administrator was one of the earliest lecturers in the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. He also served as vice chancellor, University of Benin, Nasarawa State University and the National University of Lesotho in Southern Africa. Prof Baikie, who will clock 90 years on October 2, 2021, is a recipient of several awards. In this interview he shared his life and academic experiences, passion and other interesting issues.
How would you describe your childhood in the 1930s?
I was born in Zaria on October 2, 1931. My father was a store keeper in the Nigerian Railways after he left the missionary in 1922. He worked briefly in Minna and was deployed to Zaria, where he met my mother; a Fulani woman from Yola. They got married in 1925 and by 1928 he got his first child, but she passed on; then I became the next.
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Somehow, he saw an advert in the papers and got a job in the Kano Providence Native Authority in the electricity sector of the Emirate Council, what they used to call Gidan Ruwa. He joined them between 1932 and1933, so we had to move to Kano and made it our permanent home.
Subsequently, he was posted to the Emirate Council where he worked in many positions. We had a small Church in Fagge, which Dr Miller started and I started my schooling there. But before then, the SIM church was built on the present Airport Road. I recall that I attended my first Sunday school there. The church is still standing in its original form, what they call ECWA now.
My primary school actually started at Fagge, where Dr Miller stayed. He got there in 1929 or so, and by 1934, he was able to build a church for Hausa-speaking adherents and my father was one of the new members.
When he left, the school was established and I was among the first pupils to attend between 1939 and 1940; I was eight years old. Shortly after that, I was taken to the Holy Trinity School in 1940 and I started from Infant 1, which was preprimary. I went to Infant 2, and from there, Standard 1. I later met my teacher who taught me at Infant 1 in Gusau. When I went there as a teacher in 1951 he showed me his records in Infant 1 and 2 and showed me my abysmal performance. I was scoring zeros all over the place (laughs). But I was not surprised because there were older children in the school than myself.
I subsequently went to Standard 1 and 2; and that was about the beginning of my primary school, which lasted till 1943 in Kano when I accompanied my father on leave to Lokoja where he had old school friends who attended missionary schools with him in Mokwa and Bida. He left us behind there with my younger brother.
Things didn’t go well for us. We were not going to school, we were hawking; and I lost my brother. I couldn’t find him and my guardian didn’t bother. It was not smooth sailing, but one Good Samarian who knew my parents simply took me back. After I returned to Kano, I went back to my old school, the Holy Trinity School, but it was too late, so I found my way to Zaria and attended the St Bartholomew Middle School in Wusasa.
Eventually, we found my brother about 12 years later. Somebody who recognised him got in touch with my father, and my sister travelled from Kano, spent some days and went to the market where he was found hawking and brought him back. One of the mysteries of that young man was how he ultimately developed himself, went to night school, took correspondent courses, passed his standard 6 exams and became someone in the IBB Breweries in Kaduna. He also worked at Fagge Dispensary in Kano and was in Beecham. He became something else, beyond human comprehension. And he did that on his own, with my father’s encouragement. At the time he got back home, he had nothing, he was just a young bush man, but at the time of his death some years ago, he had five children, all educated. So life has been up and down for us as a family but we were able to scale through the huddles.
Your father was abducted at an early age, how did he regain his freedom?
My father was a Shuwa Arab. He attended to his father’s farm at a young age to scare away birds. He narrated how he heard hooves hopping behind him, and before he knew it, he was swept away. But thank God that it didn’t end up in tragedy as British soldiers were freeing abductors.
They freed him from the Arabs. But he did not heard anything from his parents and three brothers.
As you know, when you go to North Africa you will see a lot of black people; they are mostly from Nigeria. They were taken there to be enslaved, but luckily, my father was freed.
To be sure of freedom, the British Army established what was known as Zunguru; what you call Zungeru today. It was the capital of Nigeria. You had to go to Zungeru to register your name. I have seen a file in the archives in Kaduna with very many names of people in this country today who you would never have recognised as coming from there.
My father joined a large group of people who travelled on foot from Dikwa to Ibbi, Ibbi to Lokoja, then to Zungeru.
It was at Zungeru that the missionaries came in and looked for boys they could educate. My father was among the first six boys that were taken from Zungeru to Mokwa. But before then, he was a milk boy. He also became a punker boy to one of the residents. When he went to school, he turned out to be among the brilliant ones, so he became the secretary of the Travelling Secretary of the Mission (TSM). Up to the time he passed on in 1983, there was nothing he forgot about his life.
Did he reunite with his family?
Yes and no. Yes, in the sense that when we lived in Kano, there were very many of them coming from home. My sister went home and we were able to link up. In fact, he was installed the head of the Bagarmis, the Shuwas in Kano, Sabon Gari, where we lived.
People were coming from home, but at that time, he was not in a position to make any arrangement for us to go there because we were very young and he was virtually indispensable in the Kano NEA. In Madaki’s office where he worked, he worked in Galadima’s office. He worked with the late Emir of Kano, Alhaji Abdullahi Bayero.
In spite of the fact that he maintained his religion as a Christian, he never went to work on Fridays, which was the rule, but he went to work on Sundays. And he didn’t bother. That was how he stayed there until he retired from the Native Authority in 1949.
I cannot tell you for sure that he travelled home himself personally, but people came from home to see him. There were others from his village who came to stay in Kano. He became their leader because he was the most literate of the lot.
One of the most interesting things about him was that he was the most reliable person who filled the forms for pilgrims going to Makkah for many years. He worked with Ibrahim Musa Gashash, who was the minister of lands and survey under Sardauna. He worked with Dantata, and for all intent and purposes, he was a Kano man and we have accepted that. But the person for which he adopted the name Baikie was a reverend minister who was also his teacher in Bida. When he was baptised as a Christian, the reverend minister offered to give him his name; Baikie and he accepted it. That Baikie also got his own name from the original Baikie, who explored Nigeria in 1854. So my father became Baikie by adoption, otherwise he had his own name, which I cannot pronounce. His actual name was Abdullah.
What were the early principles imparted in you that stayed till date?
The principles of discipline, respect, hard work and reading. Every Friday, whenever he was at home, we came back from school with our report cards. At that time, every Friday you must get a report card from your class teacher, which would indicate the subjects you had taken for that week and the position you took in the final week’s exams. It would also show whether you were late or absent. There was a column where parents would sign as having seen the report and you would take it back to school on Monday.
So, Fridays were usually not very happy days for us because my father never went to work and he would be waiting to see our cards. And he would drill us from one subject to another; and if he saw one lateness in a whole week, you would have it. Then he would scrutinise all our performances and even writings in the very simple but well-prepared card. So we had that discipline. We also respected all our elders. Every elder was baba and mama.
He wasn’t that extremely punitive but enough to scare you from doing that wrong thing in future. And then, there was the issue of endurance. We learnt a lot from him. There were times when he would not have food in the house and not bother much, but my mother would come to the rescue. She was not literate, but she was versatile.
You were one of the earliest lecturers in the Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), what was the experience in those days?
The ABU was like home away from home. It was fantastic! On your arrival you had a house ready for you, and within a week you could get a car loan. And there was a mixture of staff. There were lots of expatriates but few northerners because many of them were undergoing degree programmes. We had a lot of lecturers from different parts of the country, so it was a big family. You would go to the administration unit and get attended to on the spot if you had any claim or needed to make a submission report. And meetings were always attended on schedule.
Most of the students from the North were elderly because we didn’t have enough secondary schools from where to recruit them. Before the Nigerian College became ABU, it brought in people that had left school for many years. Sardauna brought them back to school and mixed them up with younger people like me. They took the A’ level and O’ level and many of them were able to go back to the university to do their degrees at that advanced age. They ended up becoming important people in Sardauna’s government. Those of us who came through teacher training or secondary schools were catching up with them.
Sardauna’s government was very generous in giving scholarships. There was no northern boy that did not have scholarship. And they paid us regularly.
I was the president of the Northern Students Association and responsible for making sure that scholarships were paid monthly from the sub-treasury. It was very good. There were good teachers and the classrooms were not overflowing with students. There was decorum, sense of orderliness; and we related with one another very well.
At what stage did it occur to you that you were going to be a teacher?
Incidentally, I didn’t go through Barewa College or Keffi College, I went to a teacher training college. I did not apply to go there, but I saw my name listed among those who were to go to this new missionary teacher training college. I resumed schooling there in January 14, 1949, straight from the middle school. I don’t know how that happened or whether my father influenced it, but I have seen documents to show that my principal in the middle school had written to my father to say that it was wrong for him to have taken me out of the place. But I am not sure it was the making of my father. I had a teacher who liked me very much, Usman, who teamed up with the lady who started the college. I think he worked my way out of the school through my father.
Out of the 22, we were four from the North—myself from Kano, Shehu Kakale from Sokoto, Jonathan Bamaiyi from Minna and Bata Mtshelia from Garkida—the rest were a mixture of Yoruba and Igbo. Some of them were experienced teachers while some were my age mates, but they had exposure through the pre-training school in Kano. I and Shehu Kakale were the only ones who didn’t know anything about teaching. But as time went on, we caught up and got a very good classroom tactician who came from the West and sold me to teaching. I passed all my exams, and when I finished Grade 3 he posted me to Gusau in 1951. And I was among the best teachers there; all the others were not trained, except the headmasters, who happened to be my teacher in the infant class in Kano. He became a father image as he was fairly elderly.
There were no teachers there, so I was given two classes to teach: Standards 3 and 4. I enjoyed teaching; that was the foundation of it. When I finished in 1952, I got a letter recalling me to the training college again in 1953. I got my Grade 2 in 1954. The principal posted me to the school that was attached to the college. It was not a mean achievement to be asked to head a school attached to a college because you just had to be good to be so recognised. I taught there and also administered the school.
At that time, the Nigerian College was being built and the ABU was in the making. Students who were doing teacher training programme in the college were coming to my school to do teaching practice. Little did I know that I would one day find myself there.
Through the British lecturer in the then Nigerian College, our school was linked to a school in Birmingham; and we had pen pals who sent gifts to us – papers, exercise books, pencils etc. I had my happiest experience teaching in that school; I enjoyed it. I played football with them and engaged in athletics. There was nothing I didn’t do. I lived in Samaru.
How old were you when you became a professor?
I was 40 years exactly. The ABU was established in 1962, so I was among the first recruited graduates-in-training. They sent me to the United States with the support of the USAID, where I did my master’s degree and came back in 1964. By the time I came back, I was made an assistant lecturer. I proceeded gradually and progressively up to 1971 when I was made a professor.
I became the first northern Nigerian dean of education. Then suddenly, my brother called me to say he heard my name on television, that I had been appointed the vice chancellor of the University of Benin. That was 1978, about seven years after I was made a professor. That was how the journey started.
You were sent to Benin at a time when the ABU also needed a vice chancellor, how did you feel?
Interesting. Professor Iya Abubakar suddenly left teaching and the ABU. He was the vice chancellor, so there was the need to fill the vacuum. At that time, you didn’t advertise. At the initial stage of the creation of the ABU, the chancellor had the singular right to appoint anybody as vice chancellor, but we didn’t have a chancellor as Sardauna had been killed. In any case, the regulations and rules changed and you had to go through the Senate. So, in the final analysis, three of us were shortlisted to be vice chancellors, subject to the selection of the president of Nigeria, who was General Olusegun Obasanjo. The three names were sent to him and it was customary to choose one, but he pulled a fast one and did not select anyone of us to remain in the ABU. He sent me to Benin, another to Lagos and the other to Nsukka, all form the North. He then moved somebody from Ilorin to the ABU, somebody from Benin to Jos and somebody from Nsukka to the Bayero University, Kano (BUK). Some of us survived, some didn’t; some accepted, some didn’t.
What impact has your decision made in your life?
Honestly, I am grateful, and delightfully so because I had very many points to prove, being from the North. Thank God and my wife, I was able to prove all the points because I took it as a challenge to be asked to go to Benin from the North, a place I had never been to. And the news about Benin was not very endearing. The initial reaction of my wife was “Sai ka dawo, ni ba zani ba” (Safe journey, I’m not going). Then I went to Kano to see my father and he said, “You are crazy, how many professors are there in Nigeria? Go, and if you think you are going to stay with me here and stop me from dying, you are wasting your time because when the Lord calls me, I go.”
That was the decision, so I went. But everything I wanted to prove in terms of my work, I was able to do so. And I feel proud of it. My name still rings bell in Benin. In fact, the old students of Benin put their heads together and wrote a book on me—what I meant to them.
I was received by everybody there. I got along with northerners there and became friendly with the Sarkin Hausawa. I was actively involved in my church work. One of the things that surprised them was that a Christian could come from the North. I built a chapel and a mosque in the university, which are still standing.
If you hadn’t gone into teaching, what other profession do you think you would have excelled in?
I did not settle on anything. But curiously, I can tell you that one of my passions is church music, so I could easily have decided to be an organist, playing music in the church.
You were part of the team that helped set up the Nasarawa State University. And you became the first vice chancellor of the institution; how can you rate the university at the moment?
After I left the university between 2009 and 2010, things slumped. During my stay there, the school was ranked the best state-owned university in the country because we were doing everything right.
About three years ago, the then governor of the state sensed that things were not going right, so he set up a high-powered committee made up of seasoned professors and asked them to investigate everything about the university so as to reposition it. Strangely, he appointed me the pro-chancellor and chairman of Council to implement the outcome of that investigation. So I am currently the pro- chancellor and chairman of the Council of the university, after leaving there for about 10 years. We have a very good vice chancellor. I can say without any contradiction that in the next one year or two, the university will regain its fame.
Generally, latest ratings of universities around the world show that not a single Nigerian university had made it to the top 1,000. Even in Africa, Nigerian universities seem to be lagging behind South Africa, Kenya, Morocco and Ghana. Why do you think we are getting it wrong in this sector?
This phenomenon has been going on for many years. My opinion on this is that the universities are not monitored. I mean you need a system where you can keep an eye on what you are spending your money on to make sure that the right thing gets done. So, most of the time, the leadership of universities do whatever they like, so the quality of work is not enhanced to the point of making a name.
The second aspect is that you don’t have committed teachers; they are all looking for greener pastures and money. Thirdly, you cannot guarantee the quality of students you take nowadays. Fourthly, your international connections: you don’t go for conferences outside again, so nobody hears about you. Even within the country, we don’t hold academic conferences, which was usually the case every year. Even if you don’t go out, you are expected to have conferences here. That is why the school calendar must end in June/July and you have July, August and September for seminars and workshops, where you call people from outside to see what you do. These are the people who will end up accessing you. In the past, immediately the year ended, you would find people going out for conferences.
The indices used in accessing universities leaves much to be desired in Nigerian universities—the classrooms, laboratories, libraries, accommodation for students—all these are the indices used in assessing schools, and of course, the quality of academic work that goes on. In nearly all cases, we are found wanting. And we keep opening new universities, so our scores are very low. That is why we find ourselves almost nearly always at the bottom of the ladder. But you see, nobody seems to care because even to become a vice chancellor in Nigerian universities now is about who you know, not what you can do. So leadership in our universities is tied down to the apron strings of the person who pushed you to become a vice chancellor.
It was not like this during our time. There was no advertisement. The Senate would sit and look at those who were qualified for the position. Everybody knew everyone who could lead. They would take a decision and collect three names and take to the Council to debate. Today, you would see 30 to 40 applications for a position of a vice chancellor, so why would there not be intensive lobbying. And you end up getting the wrong person. With such situation you can’t move an anthill, let alone a mountain. Also, a vice chancellor can appoint his brother or friend in a position he is not worthy of. And when he makes a mistake you don’t correct him because he is one of you. Accountability is very important.
What role do you think the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) can play to ensure that there is standard in Nigerian universities? This is because there are arguments that they focus more on remunerations and physical infrastructure, without checking the quality of their members.
The question I ask about this is: Should it be the ASUU who would do this or a higher authority that is keeping an eye on the progress of universities? What happens if we had no ASUU as a union? And I am not sure the National Universities Commission (NUC) is keeping an eye on the universities because, even if they are empowered to do so, the issue of autonomy comes in.
So, something is wrong with the structure. Why should we continue to do this every year? Somebody must have to be a respectable buffer, different from what the NUC is doing; or the commission should be given the power to do some of these things. There were years when we used to go to the NUC to defend our budgets. The vice chancellor would go there with his team to defend it. I don’t know what obtains now, but if it is still with the NUC, I am afraid it is being overloaded.
There has to be a structure that would concentrate more on the issues being raised by the ASUU for the past 30 years. Unfortunately, the government doesn’t listen to the union.
Politicking for the position of vice chancellors in federal universities has reached a point where candidates must be indigenes of the states where the institutions are located. Consequently, the vice chancellors ensure they appoint indigenous people as lecturers and other key offices, how is this affecting the tertiary education?
Very negatively. When I went to Benin, I met very senior professors and wondered how I was going to handle them. I operated an open system and made them know that I didn’t know anybody there, so I was not going to play any hanky-panky. I wasn’t asking for anything. I seldom signed cheques. And I made sure I did not forget northerners who were there, whether Christians or Muslims.
I scaled the first and second year, and before we got to the end of the fourth year, I asked my wife and children, who eventually followed me to Benin, to start parking. Then petitions went to Lagos from junior workers and some lecturers who wanted me to stay on. It was during the Shehu Shagari administration so I was invited by the minister for an interview for me to go to Ibadan because since the inception of the school, only a Yoruba man had been vice chancellor and they wanted to break the jinx. I had only one year to go in Benin, then the person who was acting as vice chancellor there started to send bad messages to me that I was going to take over his job, not knowing that I was not interested. So when my time to leave Benin came and petitions went to Lagos, the then capital sent for me and showed me all the petitions and I agreed to stay. They wrote to the president and recommended that my tenure be renewed.
When I went back to Benin, I changed my mind and said I was not going to stay, for reasons that were very personal to me. I was hearing some nasty rumours, particularly from the ASUU, so I wrote a letter and sent to the permanent secretary, Director of Higher Education and they sent for me again and enquired why I would change my mind after the president had already approved the renewal of my tenure. I said I didn’t want to stay, but we talked and I decided to withdraw the letter and continued with my work in Benin.
After Benin, you also became a vice chancellor in Lesotho; how can you compare the position in the two countries?
In terms of the work, they are not too different, but there is a cultural milieu that is different. The culture of Lesotho is quite different from that of Nigeria, so one had to adjust to understand the relationship between boys and girls, students and lecturers, as well as lecturers and vice chancellors. I made sure I didn’t get involved in financial matters. I tried to live the life of what you may call a hermit, not being too ostentatious.
What has been the greatest achievement of your career?
I did not know that I had achieved anything in my career until I began to receive unsolicited reactions from my former students. I will be very immodest to single out anything and say it is my achievement. But one thing I will say is that at all the levels and places I worked, I had maximum satisfaction and appreciation of my work.
Do you have any regret in life?
The only regret I have is that I am not able to play a musical instrument. I want to be able to play the organ, the saxophone, the guitar. The one that touches my heart, which I will not like to talk about, is the loss of my wife.
You will be 90 years next week, how do you feel?
Gratitude to God. Sometimes I wonder why I deserve this great honour. I also have few moments of sorrow when I remember my relatives who have gone.