✕ CLOSE Online Special City News Entrepreneurship Environment Factcheck Everything Woman Home Front Islamic Forum Life Xtra Property Travel & Leisure Viewpoint Vox Pop Women In Business Art and Ideas Bookshelf Labour Law Letters
Click Here To Listen To Trust Radio Live

Reminiscences with Professor Jibril Aminu

At 77 you have come a long way in life; how were your early years? I can tell you that the early years (20-25) of…

At 77 you have come a long way in life; how were your early years?
I can tell you that the early years (20-25) of one’s life are the best; enjoy them and do what you like while you can. It is a time to celebrate and have fun.
You lost your father in 1943 when you were less than 5 years; how did you survive?
Primarily, my late mother looked after me. My uncle was like a big umbrella and I am very grateful to him. I am still very close to his children. Everybody knows that he is virtually my hero. He looked after me very well. He was very good to me and a lot of other people.
It is believed that as a young man you loved singing, how true is this?
It is not true. People said I loved singing because the name of my town is Song. Based on that, they would call me to sing for them. I won’t say I was noted for singing. I will rather say I was noted for bearing the name Song. It is not a Fulani name but the name of an ethnic group my ancestors displaced and called “Song,” which means “somebody else” in Baje language. That is why people think I love singing.
You attended the University of Ibadan. As a northerner, how was life in the midst of Yoruba people?
It was the only university in Nigeria at that time. Everybody knows that I am very fond of the Yoruba. Ibadan wasn’t a Yoruba university. As the only university in the country at that time, people from all parts of the country were there. I was in Ibadan for 9 years.
At the Song Elementary School in 1946 you were given the responsibility of monitoring the rain gauge; how would you describe that experience?
Yes, it was the first job I did. Every time it rained I would run and measure the rain. The shocking thing we were told in school was that there were about 40 inches of rain every year. Now, I don’t think you can get more than 25. In Calabar, it was raining all the time, but in Benin it was not raining that much. The weather has drastically changed. It is the same thing with vegetation. On the television they would show forests with trees, but we don’t see such things anymore. It is frightening that these days you don’t see anything but deserts.
You made your first trip to Yola in 1948; what was the experience like?
The experience was that when I entered a lorry for the first time, it seemed like I wasn’t moving. It seemed like houses and trees came and passed. It took quite some time to realise that I was the one moving. Some fell sick, but I didn’t. The boat wasn’t a bad experience because we had rivers in Song.
Were you not frightened?
It was frightening, but what else could I have done? There wasn’t a bridge across the River Benue. Sometimes we would leave Song for Yola in a lorry, only to arrive and find out that the ferries had closed. At midnight we would enter the boats and cross the river. We did this a few times, but I won’t be able to do it now. That’s the experience I got.
In 1950 you were admitted into the Yola Middle School. In that session you were the only one picked from your class in Tsong. How did it happen? 
They had to rationalise the process because in a place like Song we didn’t have much influence. The children of people with influence lived around Jimetta, Yola.
During your years in school you were always the best in class. How did you achieve that feat?
God did it for me.
What would you say about the Yola school, having come from Song to Yola for the first time?
The school is still there. They now call it General Murtala Mohammed College (GMMC). I never schooled under a tree, it was strange that when I was the minister of education, I found a lot of children who sat under trees to receive lessons. It was a very different thing.
You were in the same class with people like Hamman Peters and Ismaila Jailo. How would you describe them?
We didn’t know what we would become. In Barewa College I also had people like Murtala Mohammed, Aliyu Mohammed and Mohammed Uwais. I am proud of my classmates.
Can you still remember your numbers in school?
My number in Barewa was 929. I am proud of that number and I still use it, but not in my bank account. My number in Ibadan: 2222, is even more impressive. People don’t forget their school numbers.
While you were in school there was an argument involving names of all the students in the register. What happened?
They said I could not recite the names of students in the register and I said I could do it. They brought a register and I recited it from beginning to end, and they started calling me “Roll Call.’’
Tell us your experience in Barewa College.
Barewa was great. It was different from Yola. In Barewa, there was corporate punishment but there wasn’t fagging. The bigger boys weren’t allowed to exploit the younger ones. We banned fagging and corporate punishment when I was minister of education.
We travelled in a group when we were going to Barewa. We met some older people like the late Emir of Mubi, who looked after us. The security situation in the country was good at that time, so the best time to travel was at night. There were no robbers. There was nothing to fear.
In Barewa, all the teachers were British, either from Oxford or Cambridge. You can imagine what the standard would be.
You were called Aminu Song; why didn’t you retain the name as Aminu Kano did?
I didn’t like to be named after my town. But now, I wish I hadn’t changed it.
Did you gain admission into the university from Barewa College?
When I finished from Barewa in 1957 I wanted to read Medicine in the University of Ibadan, but they did not admit me because I didn’t have Biology. There was no Biology teacher in Barewa at that time. But they wanted to take me for Agriculture. I found it very funny that they were offering to take me for Agriculture, which is more Biology-related than Medicine. I refused to go and rather went to the Nigerian College in Zaria to do my A levels. The first time I had anything to do with Biology and Zoology was at the A levels. The first time I dissected a frog was at the A levels. It was horrible. The dead frog was cold because they brought it from a fridge.
In Barewa you were among the three students selected to go to England for further studies; what happened?
They didn’t take me although I was the first to be called for the interview. The Sardauna was the minister of works then. They selected somebody from Bauchi, where the prime minister came from, then Kano and Zaria. I am glad I didn’t go.
But we learned that you declined the offer.
It was politics. It doesn’t matter whether you are small, big or old, they would still play politics on you.
In other words, you would have loved to go to England.
No, I didn’t want to go; it was very cold there. Only white people were there and there was no telephone, so there was no way I could talk to my people, particularly my mother. I am glad I didn’t go because those who went didn’t do better than me eventually.
What was your favourite subject in Barewa College?
My favourite subject was Chemistry.
You read about 25 books per term; how did you achieve that feat?
It was a matter of competition among students.
You had a very small stature in school, were you bullied by other students?
They bullied me a lot in secondary school. As a result I was very scared of sending my children to boarding school because they tended to be small. The natural instinct of kids in boarding school is to bully people below them.
Can you remember some of the books you read?
I read some of the books by Charles Dickens: Great Expectations, David Copperfield and the likes. We kept on going to the library to look for other books. I also read Peter Cheney’s Endless.
Did the books influence you in any way?
Of course they did.
Tell us about your days in the University of Ibadan.
The place, buildings and food were similar to those in Zaria. There wasn’t much difference. The main thing was the academic, especially when we began dissecting corpses.
There were a lot of striking moments in Ibadan. We had our first demonstration against the defense pact in 1960. The pact was between Britain and Nigeria in independence. Some politicians didn’t like it, so they used students for demonstrations. Eventually, Nigeria abrogated the pact. We also demonstrated a lot when Patrick Zumumba died.
I was amazed when I won 100 pounds and books in a Kingsway-sponsored essay writing competition in 1963. I was already a clinical student at that time. I was amazed because the man next to me was doing his finals in English and he was number two. And I wasn’t even studying English. It’s an indelible memory. 
Why did you choose to read Medicine?
It was a dream. Everybody was impressed by a doctor. The entrance requirement was very high and many tried to prove themselves by getting admission to read Medicine.
You also specialised in Cardiology; Why?
It was a matter of decision. I specialised in Cardiology because I like it.
Why did you form the Northern People’s Club? 
When we went to the demonstration against the defense pact I found out that northern members were isolated and ridiculed. When Zik and Awolowo were together, they were praising them. We were very annoyed, so we went back to the campus, held a meeting and decided to form the club. 
Did the club make any impact?
It made a lot of impact. We were getting letters from Abubakar Tafawa Balewa. That was when I knew all these people. The Sardauna came and wanted to see us. We were able to issue releases attacking Dr. Okpara. We defended the North. That was when we knew Shagari too. We were well received by them because they had nobody to defend them in the South. That gave them a lot of steam to be able to stand by the opposition. That was in 1963.
We had an experience when the Igbo began leaving the North. Our president at that time wrote an open letter that they should do something about it. We didn’t like the idea of Nigerians being driven from any part of the country. Less than two days after, the Sardauna went to the House of Assembly and told people not to leave the North. Because of the control he had over them, they believed him and stayed. Nothing happened over that issue. Awolowo could do it in the West, Zik could do it in the East, and the Sardauna did it in the North. Where are we now?
You were hired to do some job during the 1963 census; can you share your experience? 
During the census they would write with pencil, but it wasn’t permanent enough. So they hired some of us to work with them and write with pen. There was a white man in charge of it. It was just to make the records more permanent.
Did you go back to school after that?
Yes, I went back to Ibadan in October 1962 to start the clinical course, which was three years. The first three years were in the university itself, after which we moved to the hospital, which was called “The Promised Land.” Three years later you would become a doctor.
You won a gold medal for the best medical student; you were also the best graduating student of the year. How did you feel about this feat?
I still have the gold medal somewhere in my home. I also had distinctions in Community Health and Pathology.
With this feat, it would have been easy to be retained in the university.
They actually retained me. I did my housemanship in Ibadan.
In 1967 you left for England, having obtained the Commonwealth scholarship. Tell us your experience in England.
The Commonwealth scholarship is very important. When I was minister of education there were so many applications for it. The money you spend on organising interviews was almost equal to the money spent on sending them to England. They arranged for me to go to Middlesex Medical School. Later on, the northern government was very wonderful. They extended my stay and I was able to do my PhD.
Let’s talk about when you were offered your first appointment as a lecturer.
That was in Ibadan. I was also offered an appointment in the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, but I took Ibadan. I took Ibadan because I became friendly with them, apart from the fact that I knew everybody there. You are always influenced by your immediate surroundings. I had so many people I knew because I schooled there. I felt completely at home.
Before then, I went to Maiduguri and worked with the government. It was a wonderful place. I was able to convince them to start the University of Maiduguri Teaching Hospital (UMTH). They gave everything to me and I coordinated it. But I later left for Ibadan but I continued working on the teaching hospital till it became what it became.
In 1975, I went to Lagos and was made a member of the Medical Council. When I drove back to Ibadan, I got a phone call from General Gowon, telling me that I should work for him in the National Universities Commission (NUC). I worked there, and after a few weeks, they announced the names of new universities, including the University of Calabar, University of Jos, University of Sokoto, and University of Maiduguri. Because of political pressure they added the University of Port-Harcourt and University of Ilorin. I worked at the NUC till 1979. I decided that I was too far away from universities and too far away from medicine and I wasn’t a professor yet. So I gave them notice that I wanted to go back to the university.
I went to Maiduguri as a professor of medicine. When they heard that I was coming, they started making efforts to make me the vice chancellor. I didn’t know anything about it. It took me six weeks to reply the letter of appointment they offered me. They told the then President Shagari and he was very angry. He said they should leave the post for me. In 1980 I assumed duty in the University of Maiduguri.
Why are you regarded as the father of Mass Communication in the University of Maiduguri? 
When the NUC asked me to list the number of departments in the faculties, I added Mass Communication. That’s how Maiduguri got the department. Yes, you can say that I am the father of Mass Communication in the University of Maiduguri.
Less than one year into your administration as the vice chancellor of the University of Maiduguri, the military government of Gen Babangida appointed you as minister of education. Did you lobby for that appointment? 
I was in Yola one morning when I got a message from the then inspector-general of police, Gambo, that Babangida wanted me to be the minister of education.  Other people also sent messages that day that I was made minister.
I feel happy when I see the list of boards we created in the education sector. However, because of pressure of people with various interests they have destroyed some of the boards like the Primary Education Commission. We set up the commission because Babangida agreed that education should be taken seriously at the primary level. It was fantastic.
From the Ministry of Education, you were transferred to the Ministry of Petroleum. How did you feel?
I had the best people to help me in doing a lot of things in the Ministry of Education. We worked sometimes until midnight. It is incredible that you can use a Nigerian for anything if you give him the trust.
Was it also during your time that the federal universities of technology were established?
No, that was during the time of Shehu Shagari and Alex Ekwueme. When we came on board we took responsibility according to their mission and vision. We didn’t change anything.
Did the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) embark on strikes during your time as minister?
There is always ASUU strike. But there was one we had to give them notice. Some professors just wanted to use the union to cause trouble. They didn’t want peace in the universities. They were not all that straightforward because we caught one in a N15 million scam. He abused me personally but I didn’t care.
How did they break the news of your transfer from the Ministry of Education to that of petroleum?
They told me to suggest a name for one ministry other than education and I did. I am glad that they took it. That was how I moved to the Ministry of Petroleum. It wasn’t easy for me to leave education for petroleum. One of the most urgent tasks was to learn the terminologies in the petroleum sector. For example, there is something called API, which is a measurement for the unit of the quality of petroleum. It was actually the American Petroleum Institute. I begged some of my senior colleagues in the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) and they wrote papers for me, telling me the terms and terminologies in the sector. I am still very grateful to them for that.
Your tenure there also heralded some of the revolutionary policies like the indigenisation of oil exploration and the initiation of the exploration in Benue. How would you react to that?
We moved into the deep offshore and allocated the blocks there. We moved to indigenise oil exploration because if you quarreled with the oil companies or their countries they would pack and leave you. That was some kind of paranoia, so I decided that we must train our people to be able to produce their own oil.
Adenuga was producing petroleum, MKO Abiola was also producing. They would all bring the oil to me. I left not too long after that. We told them that if one of them could produce petroleum and export it, our point would have been made, that Nigerians could produce petroleum and export it.
Was the Oil Minerals Producing and Development Commission (OMPADEC) established during your tenure at the Ministry of Petroleum?
No. It was owned by oil-producing countries. It was there but wasn’t really functioning. Even the Niger-Delta was peaceful at that time.
What was your experience as the president of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC)?
At that time, our job was to restore oil price to the OPEC level. That was because during the first Gulf War, the oil price slumped from 40 to 20. We had to raise it back a bit. The first meeting of ministers after the war had an atmosphere of quarrel. Kuwait said the rest of us were stealing from them and Iraq came back with a different mentality. It was a very rough meeting. We were able to return to about $25 per barrel. It was a challenging time. Saudi Arabia won’t let us fly from Saudi to Iran because there was war. It was very rough, but we were able to do it through the help of God.
You went to Paris to study French after the Abacha administration. Can you speak French?
Un pour, un pour. Je parle un pour. I wasn’t able to follow up, but it was important. I went to Paris frequently until I got other jobs. It wasn’t easy.
At 77, you still look strong and healthy. What is the secret?
It is God. We don’t do anything without him. He does everything and he decides on everything. When former President George W. Bush said, “I am the decider,” he was wrong because God is the only decider. You don’t know what kind of illnesses I am nursing right now, but God decides. It’s not even the sick people that die but those whose days are numbered.
What is your favourite food?
I like our own type of food like the ones made in Adamawa. I like yakuwa, dry okra. We make very good tuwo from guinea corn. They are all very nice. I also like fura da nono.  It is very nice with boiled rice. I also like chicken, kilishi, suya which is not a regular meal but a snack. I like fruits. I like a lot of food, but I can’t eat too much.
Do you still find time to read?
Yes, I still read. There are so many newspapers, magazines and journals right now and so much gossip that one doesn’t find time to read the textbooks and other books you want. If my work in public office cost me anything, it is my reading culture. One of my friends who was in public office used to read the Qur’an every time, but since he entered politics in 1978, he never got to read the Qur’an anymore until he got to Kiri–Kiri prison and began reading again.
You were in the Senate for eight years. Throughout that period, the Senate was peaceful under the leadership of Sen. David Mark. What was the secret behind the stability you enjoyed as lawmakers?
If I had known what is responsible for the changes I would have told you, but I don’t know. The first Senate had elderly people there. I was in the second. They had people like Ken Nnamani, who was the president under the crisis about third term. But we settled the issue. We need very senior and mature people, as well as seasoned politicians in the Senate.   We were very lucky as we didn’t have very serious problems.
I believe that a lot of internal factors came into play. Young people are very brash. I don’t see how you could push a man like Nnamani into trouble or crisis. He wouldn’t let it happen. What they need to do is retool themselves. David Mark was very good and solid. We were together in the cabinet. There is a limit to the tolerance that the leaders in the Senate can give to the executive. The executive is too demanding. At a certain point, the leaders of the Senate have to be tough in holding their stance. Many times, the Senate leaders were very nice and easygoing with the executive, but this cannot go on for too long without any problems because they take it for granted.
The executive should become more proactive. When the ship is going to sink, everybody will sink. Therefore, you cannot say, “This isn’t my area.” You have to move in. If anything happens to the National Assembly, this dispensation is finished. We have to make sure that the National Assembly is healthy. Every senator, regardless of the constituency or political party, is equal. Everyone has their preference. They would be able to keep the fire of crises going by a long time. They should take everybody’s interest.
Was there anything like “padding” in your time?
There was nothing like padding during our time. Padding isn’t a crime or an unusual thing. It is the extent to which they go that is bad. If I want people to build a polytechnic in my town, what is wrong with that? If we can do it decently, there wouldn’t be any problem. If I take so much money on the pretext that I would build something and I don’t, that is where problem begins. If I take so much money that it is shaking the budget and the country; that is not right. It is the extent to which these things are done that becomes a problem. The white people are sensible and moderate and they know when to stop. We should know when to stop. Our leaders used to be very afraid, courteous and careful. But now they aren’t.
I don’t see anything going on in the National Assembly that cannot be corrected. I personally feel that they can still control it by making peace among themselves. You should know that every senator has the capacity to do damage. Take everybody back and address what they are meant to do. When was the last time they passed a bill? They are meant to pass bills. The big people in the country should go back and reconcile with them, apologise to them and don’t do it again.
You were a founding member of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), but the party appears to be in a shambles; what is your take?
PDP’s problem is also the problem of other parties. The only thing is that they go to court. All these parties suffer from that. The Nigerian needs to learn to be democratic, to listen to the other person’s point of view. They have to learn to be less full of themselves. The PDP has lacked internal democracy and it’s lacking in other parties as well. Unless they change this attitude and decide to be good people, they can’t progress. People shouldn’t be so full of themselves. They shouldn’t think that it would be impossible for the system to work unless they have their way. That’s what is going on in the National Assembly. They should swallow their prides and hold a meeting. If somebody steals, ask him to return the money. The country is more important than individual pride.

Join Daily Trust WhatsApp Community For Quick Access To News and Happenings Around You.

UPDATE: Nigerians in Nigeria and those in diaspora can now be paid in US Dollars. Premium domains can earn you as much as $17,000 (₦27 million).

Click here to start earning.