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We Received N1m as Monthly Allocation when I was LG Chairman, says 80-Year-Old Prof Bida

He was also the dean of the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine at Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. Bida, who holds the Traditional title of Marafan Nupe,…

He was also the dean of the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine at Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. Bida, who holds the Traditional title of Marafan Nupe, in this exclusive interview, spoke about his early education from Kano to Muregi and Bida, and then Keffi. Also, as member of the National Political Reforms Conference he said, there was no need for the 2014 national conference. Excerpts.

You were the first veterinary doctor in northern Nigeria. How did you begin your education?
Buka Shuaib and Musa Gona, who were from Borno, were my seniors. In fact, Buka Shuaib interviewed me. The difference was that at that time, I was the only one who went to the United States. It was only in the US that you had to study for six or seven good years before you become a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM). And in that field, you didn’t have to study only animal science; you had to study medicine as well. But in the United Kingdom, you studied only animal science and possibly, how the animals can be put safely into consumption. And they studied for only three years. Can you compare three years and seven years? So that is the difference between a veterinary scientist and a veterinary doctor. Buka Shuaib and Musa Goni, who came from Maiduguri, were veterinary workers.

What informed your choice of that field of study, because then, not many people would find veterinary medicine an interesting course to study?
At that time our principals in the secondary schools were the only ones who could choose a course of study for us. In my case, my headmaster who was from Koton Karfe, was the only one that could speak our language, and advise us. We used to call him Isa Koto and right from primary school, he influenced the choice of course I would later make in life. I had wanted to go to College of Science and Technology, Zaria which was newly opened.

When was that?
It was in 1954. At that time the university had not existed in the northern part of the country. After my secondary education, which was at Keffi Middle School, Mrs Butler said I should go and see the head of animal services because she believed I could be good with animals and the north would need horse doctors. She asked me to go and meet Dr. Woodson, who, at that time, was the head of animal health and veterinary services, that was how they used to call the department. So I went to Kaduna to meet the white man because Kaduna was the headquarters of northern politics. Three of us went to see Dr. Woodson, Aliyu Agaie, Haliru Bida and myself Shehu Bida. It was three of us that came from Niger state, I don’t know if it was known then as Niger state but the three of us came from this part of the country.
Fortunately, the three of us went to Keffi Middle School and we were more or less inclined to sciences. Some of our teachers were military officers and at that time the military used to ride horses. Horses are animals and they need care, so maybe that was why they prompted some of us to go and read veterinary medicine.

If you had a choice would you have chosen a different course?
Well, after I had finished my primary school at Minna in 1947, I had wanted to be a doctor of human beings because then I didn’t know anything about doctor of animals. But during our time when your master said this is what you should do then who are you to say no? We used to listen to our elders and do whatever they wanted us to do. So it was not what we wanted but what our parents, teachers and guardians thought was best for us.

Can we go back to your growing up days, how you started primary school and what was it like then?
I started my primary school education in Kano in 1939. At that time we started with what we called aji sifili which literally means nursery class. We could play, we could sing and dance but to read and write, we used the sand not the board. My father was a teacher and he used to teach us what to do and what not to do. So the education we received was not just to read and write, it was also to mould our characters.

What is the difference between going to school then and now?
Our education, particularly in this house emanated from the Saudi, the Arabian people, not from the British people. The time the British people came with their education, the Arabian people were already on ground in this part of Nigeria. For the British, education was mild. And before they came in areas like Sokoto, Kano and Borno, the Arabians had established some form of civilization.
Basically, the education we had that time was broad based. We had at the Arabic education, western education and the local education; all put together for one human being to read and write and do Mathematics. If not God who are you to be equal to that task? That is why I believe in God and God alone, because it is only Him that can manipulate human beings in such a way.
It is unfortunate that these days parents take the sole responsibility of paying for the education of their children while government folds its arms and does nothing. It was not so during our time. Maybe, that explains the falling standard in education in the country. At our time there were no private schools, we only had public schools and government made sure that the schools maintained the standard. The problem is not so much with the private schools, the problem is government’s negligence of the educational sector. Even public schools have decaying standards so it is a major difference between what we had then and what our children are having now. I also have a private school, Jibril Memorial School, which I established in 1989 in honour of my late father, Jibril Bida, who was a teacher. I tried to maintain the standard and about 70 per cent of the students are on my scholarship because I feel education of our children should be our responsibility.

So it was more tasking to go to school then than now, even when education was free?
Yes, it was tasking to grasp something new that was just coming to our areas. The coming of the British and the Arabians was alien to us; but we thank God for their coming because left for us, black versus black, we would have conquered and destroyed ourselves. But the coming of these two was a blessing in disguise. In as much as the education process was tasking, the free education was a motivating factor for us to do well in school.

How did the combination of the Arabic and British education helped in making you who you are?
It was important that you had a very good background fatherly and motherly; and a very good background by leadership within the community. I was born at the time of Etsu Mohammed Ndaiko, who was fatherly and even motherly for that matter. He was a leader who was not biased and not selfish. He would move around talking to head of homes, whether men or women, bringing them good news in the community.
He also supported those of us going to school then morally and otherwise and we always looked up to him like the father he was.  We are yet to have a leader in this community to equal Etsu Mohammed Ndaiko, maybe before him yes, but after him, it is difficult to point at one. Before the Arabians and the British came we were basically pagans but their coming has changed us and it is now clear for you to know who is worshipping God and who is worshipping idols. That is why whatever you do always believe in God, always do the right thing and also love your neighbour. We think the world is small but the world is actually big. So do unto others what you would want others do unto you.

You also had a distinguished career in academics, rising to the post of a professor at the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, why did you choose this career path?
God in His infinite mercy said look for knowledge. He sent his angel and said take this book to Mohammed let him read about God and what the universe is about. Knowledge is education, to read and write is education, how to go into science, arts and how to sell and buy is education. How to manufacture something is equally education. Even going about in the wild is education because if you do not know how to go into the bush, hyenas and lions will eat you up. That is why Mohammed said go and acquire knowledge even if you have to go to China so that you can come back and share it with your people. Do we do that now? These days people value money more than knowledge.

So during your time money was not the motivation in choosing a career?
There was no money at that time. During our time, it was work before money. If you didn’t have a paid job, you go to the farm to get food. You go to the market and sell and get food. Who cared about money? We only cared about food to eat. But nowadays, we cherish money more than any other thing, which is very unfortunate. The craze for money is the cause of our problems in Nigeria today and we must go back to the way we started, when the desire and dedication to work and produce results was the motivating factor.

When did you join the Ahmadu Bello University?
It was after my graduation from the United States, having stayed there for six years, I went back for masters for one year, between 1962 and 1970. I also went to London for my academic fellowship before I started teaching at the ABU. But I was at Zaria long before it became a university. I was a field worker there, giving animals food and water without knowing what veterinary medicine was all about. I actually started teaching at the A.B.U. in 1971 as a Senior Lecturer, Department in Veterinary Pathology and Microbiology, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, where I rose to the head of department in 1973. I became the dean of the faculty in 1976, the same year I became a Professor of Veterinary Pathology and Microbiology.

You studied in the US when racism was an issue, how did you cope?
I think my background from home helped me in coping. At our time discipline was imbibed absolutely. If you were told to sit down here, you sit. If you were told don’t go there, you don’t go. Racism was rife then, even common toilets were separate for blacks and whites. Common restaurants, there were restaurants for blacks and restaurants for whites. Even for mundane issues like love, you were only to go for women of your own class. If you were looking for a wife, you looked for a wife of your own kind.
Yes, even on campuses the segregation was there. If it was a campus for the whites, it was a campus for the whites. If it was a campus for the negroes, it was a campus for the negroes. If it was a campus for both whites and negroes, then it was so. If you didn’t understand these issues and you put yourself in trouble, then you had yourself to blame.

Later in life you took a decision that up till now surprises a lot of people.  After distinguishing yourself as a renowned Professor of Veterinary Medicine you contested and won election to become chairman of your local government. Was it out of humility and a sense of community service or you were just desperate to hold a political office?
No, the fact is my primary education was backed up by my father and the Native Authority so who am I not to pay back, no matter how small. When I contested for chairmanship, there was zero party system and it was during IBB military administration. Although I contested on a zero party basis, a lot of candidates contested against me but I won because there was no room for the kind of manipulations you see these days. Basically, it was the choice of God that I win that election and ever since then people have been asking me the same question that why would I, a professor would decide to become a common chairman of a common local government.

What were your achievements as the local government chairman of Bida?
Local government is about development of the rural area. Local government is about education of the local people. Local government means let people live the way God wants them to live. Before I became chairman, there was a place in Bida called ‘hell fire’ and it was between the emir’s area and the mosque. Why should you have ‘hell fire’ in between where you worship God and where your leader lives?
Prostitutes were there plying their trade but they should have been way out of the town. Let them be out of town and if animals are going to eat them let it be so but our boys and girls must be educated. And they should not go to places where they shouldn’t be. So I chased the prostitutes out of town and the children who should be in school but where on the streets hawking were taken off the streets and put into school.
In terms of physical development, I constructed township roads and a stadium. During our time, we used to get direct allocation of N1 million from the military government at the federal level and I used that judiciously to do the little that I was able to do. I also forfeited my pay to the local government’s purse as a way of paying back to the community that had done so much for me. Most importantly, the experience gave me that sense of fulfilment in a way that nothing would have ever done. It was a rare opportunity to serve my community and I made the best out of it. For me, we should only live the way God wants us to live, and leave good examples behind.

Shortly after finishing your tenure as chairman, you also stood for election for the governorship of Niger state on the platform of the defunct National Republican Convention (NRC) but you did not win. What went wrong for you in that election?
I contested for governorship of Niger state and it was also during IBB time but things did not quite work out the way I had expected so I moved on with my life. It is not always the case that in every election you contest you must win, so that was the situation and I accepted it the way it was. Whatever happened God knows best and I give Him the glory.

You also went to the National Political Reforms Conference organized by the former President Olusegun Obasanjo in Abuja in 2005. What transpired there and do you think Nigeria needed the just concluded national conference after failing to implement the reforms you recommended at the 2005 conference?
The truth is the conference is not meant to better governance and improve the lives of Nigerians. It is a means of looking for money and money is the root of all evil. Money is the cause of all troubles.
Even the so-called Boko Haram they are talking about, there is nothing like Boko Haram. Whatever you do and you are not doing it just and godly, it is nonsensical. A drunkard can never be a leader. No drunkard can ever be a good leader. A womaniser can never be a good leader because he can even sell his mother to go and womanise. No matter what advice you give to a drunkard, he will go and drink and sleep off and forget about it.  We need an honest, just and trustworthy leader. He should also be mature. Education does not necessarily means maturity. So the question is what are we looking for? What was the essence of the 2014 national dialogue? Have we ever said our constitution is wrong? Even if it is wrong and we need modification, the National Assembly are there to do the job because they are representing all of us. So we need a leader that can lead us not to destruction but to safety.

Who was your role model when you were growing up?
My role model was my teacher, Isa Koto, who as a human being was honest and was fatherly. He was our headmaster at Minna Primary School and he set good examples for us to follow.

Looking back do you have any regrets about a decision you took in your life?
No. Not at all, whatever decision I have taken was taken in good faith and with total submission to the will of God. So whatever regret there might be, I leave it in the hands of God.