Dr Samuel Danjuma Gani served in the government of northern Nigeria and the federal level before moving to Benue-Plateau, then Gongola and finally Taraba State. He retired as a permanent secretary and moved into politics, becoming the first deputy governor of his home state, Taraba, where he is a community leader. He is active in the Nigerian Christian Elders Forum. In this interview, the 88-year-old community leader shared his experiences.
Kabiru A. YusufYou started life in Wukari, where you also grew up. Can you tell us a bit about your early training?
I was born in Wukari 88 years ago. I started education at Wukari Elementary School. In those days, each Native Authority had an elementary school, and in each province there used to be a middle school. These middle schools were upgraded to secondary schools. After elementary school, I went to a senior primary school.
Still in Wukari?
At Takum in Wukari Division. From there, I went to a clerical training school in Zaria. It used to be Clerical Training College (CTC), but later, when the institute of research came into being, it was of course run in the Institute of Administration. I did the clerical course, and at the same time, I was doing A-level by correspondence. That was from 1952 to 1956.
After the CTC, I went back to do the advance course, a diploma in Accounting. It was the highest course at the entry into administration from 1958 to 1959. I did the clerical course from 1952 to 1957, the diploma course between 1958 and 1959. And in 1960, I did an administrative service training course, popularly known as ADO.
And after, that I was posted to the Ministry of Animal and Forest Resources in Kaduna. In 1962, I transferred my services to the federal civil service.
Why did you do that? Were you not happy in the northern service?
There was a request from the federal government to transfer some serving officers from the North to the federal civil service. I was actually invited for an interview to transfer my services to the federal civil service and that was why I applied.
Tell us about the northern service of those days? We have all heard stories about how civil servants were dedicated, united and the system worked; what made it so?
Well, in those days the civil service or the northern Nigeria civil service was governed by rules and regulations; and civil servants conducted themselves in accordance to the service rules and regulations.
And in those days, civil servants, particularly in the administrative service, which was the elite class of the civil service, were dedicated. They were men of integrity who set good examples for serving officers and others.
You see, because those top civil servants who were members of the administrative class assisted the government of the day in the formulation and implementation of government’s policies, they would show some character.
The civil service is still governed by rules, but they are not obeyed as obtained in those days, what do you think went wrong?
Well, in those days we adhered strictly to rules and regulations.
How were you able to do it?
We were acting according to dictate and good conscience. Most of us, if not all, came from backgrounds where we were trained by our parents to be of exemplary character.
So the home training helped you?
The home training helped us to maintain high standard of conducts, coupled with the fact that rules and regulations are meant to be observed and adhered to. And if you fail to observe or violate it you should be punished.
Was the role of people like the Sardauna and other senior servants to ensure that the system worked?
The Sardauna and Tafawa Balewa are men of exemplary character. They were trained teachers who both came from excellent backgrounds. They impacted their knowledge to others and demonstrated qualities of exemplary leadership.
Did you have any dealing with any of them?
I was very young. I was a very junior officer but we learnt a lot from them. We heard about what they were doing.
What was your experience in the federal service, having moved from Kaduna to Lagos?
From Kaduna to Lagos, I was posted to the Federal Ministry of Education as an assistant secretary. From there, I went to the Federal Ministry of Establishment, Ministry of Labour, then Ministry of Finance, before transferring my services to back to Benue-Plateau State at the request of the first military governor, Joseph Gomwalk.
How would you compare the northern service with that of the federal of those days?
Both services were excellent. In the northern region, the civil service was built by the colonial administration. And the standard was extremely high. And you know, when Nigeria attained independence, there were three regions: northern, western and eastern.
These regions were not directly under the control of the federal government, so they had their own services, which were established by the colonial administration. The standard was extremely high. So, when we got to the federal service there was no difference.
Did you cope very well?
We coped very well.
Was Lagos a strange experience for you, having come from the North? Did you fit into the cosmopolitan environment?
I was doing very well in the federal service, but I had to come back at the request of Governor Gomwalk because he needed some administrative officers to strengthen the service in Benue-Plateau State because when he came to the state there were not many administrative officers. So he had to bring some of us from the federal civil service to the state service to strengthen the administrative service.
And you came here and became a permanent secretary. So many states were created and few experienced people like you were distributed to their states of origin to help. Would you say the deterioration of the civil service started with state creation?
It was at the request of Governor Gomwalk that I came back to strengthen the service. The same people who went to the federal service were brought back to the new states to impact the knowledge we acquired to those who were just starting the service.
There are so many states now but few capable people like you; were you able to carry the tradition of excellence from the northern regional service and the federal service to the state service?
You see, after the creation of the first 12 states, there was another exercise that increased the number of states, and at that point, some of us had already left the service.
Those that started the new states were not as fortunate as we were. They did not acquire much experience before coming on board. Some of them were appointed permanent secretaries without adequate experiences. And they were the people to assist the government of the day in the formulation and implementation of policies. Their experiences were limited; and that is where the trouble started.
You would have a political head as commissioner, who had never been in service, and you who were supposed to advise him didn’t have adequate experience. So there would be a problem.
Did you have a problem being a permanent secretary in Benue-Plateau because of these kinds of issues?
No. We didn’t because actually, some of us that came to Benue-Plateau State were in service already. We were only transferred. They had acquired experience as officers in the defunct northern Nigeria, so they were continuing the service. They had the experience to help the administration.
What kind of leader was J.D Gomwalk?
He was a man of exemplary character. He was a very competent officer and indeed incorruptible. I worked with him as permanent secretary. As governor, he also held the portfolio of land and survey.
When I was a permanent secretary I was serving under two commissioners; and the governor was also my commissioner, so to say. He held the portfolio of land and survey because of the sensitivity of the ministry. Another person was my commissioner for works.
By virtue as my position as a permanent secretary responsible to the governor directly, I came very close to him and found him to be a trustworthy man.
Were you surprised by later developments, where he was associated with coup?
I have forgotten the amount found in his account when he left, but it was a very little sum of money considering what he did for the state. He made sure that development was spread in the 12 local administrations of Benue-Plateau State. He was not corrupt, so I cannot understand why a man like him would be involved in a coup. I don’t know why he would even lose his life for whatever reason. But to be honest with you, the man was of unquestionable integrity.
When Gongola State was created you moved there as a very senior permanent secretary; did you have the same experience there; was there a deterioration of service because the more states that were created, the less capable people to run it?
Actually, in Gongola the situation wasn’t bad. Although I was a permanent secretary before I went there, I was one of the new ones.
There, I was the first permanent secretary in the Ministry of Education. My colleague, Abubakar Girei, who also attended the administrative service training course, was also a permanent secretary. But before we met again, he was in Adamawa and I was in the Benue-Plateau Province. Following the creation of states, I belonged to Taraba. It was the creation of the 12 states that brought Adamawa and part of Benue-Plateau and Sardauna together as Gongola State.
When we moved to Gongola, there were people with experience that were able to keep the service going. So I would say he wasn’t bad; the standard was still high.
What happened at the point when Taraba was created out of Gongola?
At that point, many people had already left. The experienced ones and those who succeeded those who left did not have the advantage of the kind of experience gained by those before them. That was when we started having some problems.
You moved from the civil service into politics and became the first deputy governor of Taraba State under Jolly Nyame; was that a strange experience for a civil servant who was used to order and rules?
Well, it was a different kettle of fish.
Why did you choose that path?
First of all, I didn’t want to go into politics because I saw it as a dirty game. When we were in service we saw what some politicians were doing and we were not happy, but we came from the civil service background, which was guided by rules and regulations. We had the code of order and that improved me.
I went into politics, saw what was going on and I wasn’t quite happy because rules were not observed.
Even where there were rules and regulations, they were not adhered to, and that led to corruption. That was why, as deputy governor I was not happy.
What did you do?
I did my best to offer advice, but I wasn’t the head. There’s a difference between what the head who has the final say could do and what a man under him would do. That’s why we had this problem. But we thank God that in spite of all these, we were able to manage the affairs of the government.
So, how did you survive as a deputy governor?
In fact, I didn’t survive; we were removed by the Abacha regime.
And it was a short tenure.
I was in office as deputy governor for one year and 11 months. I remember that I went to Israel on a pilgrimage, and as we were descending Mount Olives, one of the sites in Jerusalem, I slipped and fell and had to go to London for treatment.
While I was there to be operated on, there was a change of government through a coup, which brought General Sani Abacha to power.
But Jolly Nyame later came back to power.
Why didn’t you also feel like going back?
Actually, at that time I was over 60. I became a deputy governor at the age of 57, I think, so I didn’t want to go into politics again. I had been a career civil servant where I built a reputation, so I didn’t want to mar it. That’s why I decided not to go.
You are now a community leader. There is also something about chairing the Governing Board of Kwararafa University, which was a community initiative; what does that mean to you? What else is your role as a community leader?
As a community leader, my people come to me from time to time to consult on issues that affect the welfare of our people. And using my experience in the affairs of men at the civil service, I am always available to offer them such advice.
But you are in Jos; how much of community involvement would you have at Wukari?
I go home from time to time. They also call me on telephone and I communicate with them.
The university is a very expensive venture; how was it set up?
It is a community-based university, the first of its kind in Nigeria. There is a difference between a community-based university and a private university. A private university is run by an individual or corporate body but a community university is run by a committee set up by that community to look into its affairs.
The chairman of the community is the Aku,the paramount ruler of the area. The university also has a Board of Trustees and I am a member.
Who is the chairman of the Board of Trustees?
I am the chairman; and this appointment is for life. Community appointments are for life. We depend on the goodness of people and organisations to help us run the university.
Indeed, the university is a very expensive venture, but by the grace of God, we are running it. It was established in 2005 and approved by the federal government the same year. We started operation in 2006 and have graduated about six sets of students. Despite the fact that it is expensive, the Lord has been helping us.
General Danjuma, who is probably the most prominent and richest person from your area, has a foundation; and he is a very generous donor. Do you get a lot from him to run the university?
He has been helping in many ways.
Does the community levy its indigenes to do some of the things that need to be done?
The community is doing its best. We are making contributions, but as you know, a community university is not an easy task. However, we are not doing badly.
What else do you do? Are you involved in the traditional system, the palace and all those things?
I come from one of the two ruling houses in Wukari. The present Aku is from my ruling house. He is my cousin. But I have not taken any title.
I am a Christian and I operate strictly according to the principles of Christianity. But that does not mean that Christians cannot become the Aku, it is a matter of choice. So it is my decision not to participate in what is purely traditional. But that does not mean that I am not involved.
But some of the rites look quite mysterious, especially to outsiders; to what extent is this correct, looking at the recent death of the Aku and the appointment of a new one?
That is the traditional way of installing the Aku.
Is that what you object to?
I do not object to that; it is purely traditional. And it has been there from time immemorial, so there is nothing wrong with it.
It is said that princes are always eyeing the Aku stool; in your younger days didn’t you aspire to occupy that position?
There were impressions that we would like to take the title.
Are your Christian principles behind your involvement in the Nigerian Christian Elders Forum?
What’s the aim of that group?
The group deals with issues affecting the church and the country. Its objectives are to see that things are done properly, such that even the government should be run on the bases of justice and fairness, and that the rules governing the conduct of the church are strictly adhered to. I am the chairman of the group. I became the chairman about a year.
But you don’t seem to say or do much as it is only occasionally that one hears about a statement from you, why?
When there is the need for a statement, we do it. We don’t just make a statement for the sake of making a statement. You come out to speak when the government or organisation is not doing something right.
You have been critical of the Buhari government, his appointments and all that; do you think your criticism has helped to change things?
We are not critical of everything Buhari does. But because we are running a federation, appointments to civil service and political positions should reflect the geographical spread and diversity of the country. That’s all we stand for, whether it is Buhari or any other person that is in power. We want people to run the government according to the provisions of the constitution.
Do you think this is being done?
I don’t think so. If you look at civil service appointments or even in ministries, appointments do not reflect the geographical spread and diversity of the country. Appointments seem to be lopsided in favour of some people.
People are surprised that General Danjuma, who is close to President Buhari, is also in your group rather than telling Buhari what should be done. Is he really part of the group or his name is being used?
I cannot say why Buhari is not taking advice from Danjuma, but I know that they are close. I am sure that as military officers they are interacting with each other. I cannot say more on this because I really don’t know how much advice he is offering the president.
If he had access to the government, why would he be in a group that would issue a statement that something is not going well? Is he actually in your group?
We are doing the same here. He is a member of the group but he has not been attending regularly.
We are in election period; do you think we would have something that suits your idea of a good government? Do you have hope in the present arrangement?
Well, as a Christian I have been praying that God would give us somebody after his own heart. We look at appearance but the Lord looks at the heart. So my prayer is that God would give us a man who is God-fearing, righteous, truthful and above corruption.
I know that the primary responsibility of any leader is the wellbeing of the people, so I want a leader that would be caring and who would see the running of government not as a means of amassing wealth and exercising political power but who would see the position as a tremendous responsibility.
Did your group take a position on the Muslim-Muslim ticket?
We are against that because Nigeria is a diverse country. It is neither an Islamic nor Christian country. We have Muslims and Christians, and they are brothers and sisters. And the constitution guarantees the rights of the citizens of the country.
I feel that the sharing political positions, particularly those of the president and vice president should reflect the religious, political and cultural diversity of this country. That is why I am not in favour of a Muslim-Muslim ticket.
Let’s look at your private life. You were moving from one position to another, at what point did you get married and start having a family?
I got married in 1957, so my wife and I are married for 65 years and blessed with six children. Two of them died, so we have two boys and two girls still alive. We also have grandchildren, and most of them have graduated.
You retired for more than 30 years now; what do you do?
We did business but not at this age because there is no more strength. But we are still doing some few things. We want to go into mining to keep going.
Do you travel a lot at this age?
I used to do that but not now because of strength.
But as the chairman of the Board of Trustees of Wukari community and that of the National Christian Elders Forum, you have to probably go to Lagos or Abuja; is there no probability that you would be required to travel always?
Yes, I do travel to Abuja and Lagos.
But not abroad anymore?
Not abroad; it is quite some time we travelled abroad. Before she retired, my wife and I used to travel because of the nature of her work as a tourism officer.
She retired before me, not on age but she had children to take care of. She decided to retire voluntarily. But I retired at the appropriate age.
As a retiree, what do you do on a daily basis? Is there anything you do to keep active?
I read a lot. I am also a member of the Board of Trustees of my old Christian organisation and I attend meetings from time to time. I also attend other meetings.
Which church is this?
The Christian Reformed Church, Nigeria.
When you wake up in the morning, do you do any exercise to keep fit?
I walk. I do drive, although I am careful not to drive out because if I hit somebody it would be the talk of the town.
Is there anything you think has contributed to keep you healthy and alert, even at this great age?
Well, my wife and I pray a lot. And we try to do what we feel is acceptable to the Lord. Maybe as a Muslim you would not understand. We want to operate in the spirit of the Lord and practise loving people. We don’t want to do anything to hurt people; we would rather want to interact with them in an atmosphere of peace and understanding. We don’t want any problem or to get involved in any violence. We want to live at peace with everybody.
Do you have Muslim friends?
Most of my friends are Muslims. I have brothers who are Muslims.
From the family?
Yes. My sisters are Muslims. So in the family we have Christians and Muslims, so I don’t discriminate. I brought up my sister’s children, and all are Muslims. I trained them up to university level.
I hear about kunu, acha and stuffs like that. Do types of food in your area help to keep you people busy?
We don’t grow acha in our area.
But you use it a lot.
Yes, we take it because it is healthy. Actually, I stopped taking soft drink a number of years ago. And I don’t take alcohol; in fact, I stopped drinking it at the age of 13.