Former Commissioner of Agriculture in Kano State during the first military administration in Nigeria, Alhaji Inuwa Dutse, passed on last week at the age of 88 after a brief illness. About a year ago, he reflected on his life, service, retirement and family in an exclusive interview with Daily Trust on Sunday. We are reproducing the interview about his life, as the late elder statesman reminisced it.
You retired from active public service several years ago, how would you describe your career?
After we were pushed out of power in 1975, I found myself in a very difficult position. My farms in Kafin Maiyaki and Dan Hassan were confiscated for no reason. My houses, which I built with a loan from the government, were also confiscated. In short, I was left with nothing, except my life. From my little investigation, they wanted to know how much I had in my bank accounts. I had two accounts, one was personal and the other was my farm’s account. In my personal account I had only N2,000, while in my farm’s account I had N9,000. That was mainly because I sold some quantities of wheat to the late Alhaji Uba Ringim. That was in 1975. Apart from that N11,000, I had no other money, and I had no other account elsewhere.
Why were your farms and houses confiscated?
That’s what I didn’t know. It was after the investigation that I discovered the security detectives were directed by the government to look into our activities. They found out that a dam was built at a cost of N22,540. That was the main reasons my farms and houses were confiscated.
You said you were pushed out of power as a commissioner; did you not expect that?
You know, when you are healthy you will not expect to be ill. Also, we don’t expect to die. But we must all die, and we don’t know when. It is the same thing when you are in power. So, that time, we didn’t expect to be pushed out of power.
How long were you in government under the Audu Bako regime?
I was a commissioner in 1967, but the 1975 coup ousted our regime. We were in government for eight years.
What were you doing before you were appointed a commissioner?
I was a radiographer in the state government. I was trained in the United Kingdom (UK) in the late 1950s. When I returned to Kano, I was posted to City General Hospital. It was while I was working there that I was included in the government of Audu Bako. I did not know him before the appointment; maybe he got to know me through other people. It was after we were pushed out that I asked Alhaji Tanko Yakasai whether he knew how I became a commissioner. He laughed and said it was Malam Aminu Kano that nominated me and Alhaji Aminu Dantata.
Was radiography the only job you did before you were appointed a commissioner?
When I left Kano Middle School in 1956 at the age of 17, I worked in the Native Authority (NA) treasury up to 1943.
I was posted to Zaria to work in a training college. We were the second batch, 1947-1948. So I stayed there as a clerk, and when I returned to Kano, I was posted to City Hospital as senior chief clerk. It was when I was working as clerk that I was sent to UK to study Radiography.
I was sent to Lagos for training in 1949-1950. Then I came back to Kano to work in the NA until 1955 when I got a scholarship to go to the UK and study Radiography. I was there from 1955 to 1957. When I came back to Nigeria I transferred by service from the Native Authority to regional government in February 1958. I was sent back to the UK for six months. When I came back I was taken to Kaduna as a radiographer in charge of southern part of northern Nigeria. I was there until 1963 when I was sent to Kano again. It was during that period in 1967 that my name was included in the list of people to be appointed commissioners in Kano State.
You were in the UK as a young black man, what was your experience?
It was very interesting. First of all, when I went to the UK in 1955, I was not impressed with the country because there wasn’t much difference between us and them. All the houses were built in one style, and so on. So I was not impressed. However, at that time, the people of UK were really gentlemen. They were entirely different from what we have nowadays.
Were you discriminated against?
Well, I happened to live in a house with other people from the Commonwealth. They comprised white people, people from Ghana, Malaya and other countries. I met people from different places and we became friends. I really enjoyed my stay with them. We were well fed; we lived and thought alike for a common goal.
Did you miss anything while in the UK?
Not at all; I enjoyed living there.
Do you still remember your classmates?
Well, there was one Malam Shahada from Hadejia. His seat was directly behind mine. We happened to live in the same house in the UK, doing the same study and in the same hospital. There were other people from Ghana and Malaya as well.
Did you get along with your colleagues during the Audu Bako regime?
I really found myself in an odd working position. Among the commissioners I was the only person with no identity. Most of the people I worked with had traditional titles and identities like Madakin Hadejia, Magajin Garin Kazaure, Aminu Dantata being a rich man, and Alhaji Tanko Yakasai a renowned politician. I didn’t have any title or identity. Although I was a senior civil servant, I was not in a position to represent the civil servants because there were more qualified people, others more advanced in age than I was. But it happened that I was selected to do the job.
You seem to have a lot of passion for agriculture, is there anything special in that sector?
Maybe it’s because agriculture is my hobby. I was a farmer for seven years before I became a commissioner. Maybe that was the main reason I was appointed commissioner for agriculture. Secondly, I was probably assigned to take care of agriculture because I was not popular.
As a commissioner for agriculture, what did you achieve?
Although I wondered why I was appointed a commissioner, I resolved not to disappoint the man who recommended me for the job.
My first duty was to convert the agricultural system, which was emirate-based, to a state venture. That meant converting Hadejia, Gumel, Kazaure and Kano into an agriculture regional unit. That was one of our achievements. Secondly, we looked at the population of Kano and the landmass we had. We said to ourselves that with a huge population and reduced land mass, there would be a problem in the future; therefore, we must have a plan. So we introduced the irrigation farming system in the state.
We were lucky that the premier of the Northern Region had directed that untapped agricultural opportunities around the Lake Chad basin (the bulk of the basin was in Kano) must the explored. The whole report was submitted to the Kano State Government. When we looked into that report we discovered that it indicated where suitable dams that would contain a lot of water, either for agricultural purpose or drinking, were to be sited. That was our lead. I, therefore, convinced Audu Bako to do something about our population and the land. I also told him that though we could not expand our land or reduce our population, we could cultivate our land once, twice and or thrice in a year. And we could only do that by constructing dams. He agreed. We divided the scheme into two. Kano river dams included Bunkure, Kura, Rano, Kibiya and the rest. That’s about 50,000 acres. We started with that one after Tiga dam, which could irrigate over 100,000 acres. It was completed in 1974. Could you believe that years after we left office, not up to 50,000 acres have been cultivated?
There was another 50,000 acres from Dawakin Kudu, up to Gaya Local Government Area. If you add that it would give you 100,000 acres. We built a pilot farm pumping water from Wudil. Again, after we left, nothing has been done. In fact, they don’t even talk about it despite the increase in population from 6 million to 10 million. The present Kano State has a population of over 10 million people.
Also, I took 60,000 acres in the present Jigawa State for the Hadejia valley irrigation project. We called an American firm and paid it N400,000 for a feasibility study, and it completed and submitted its report to me as commissioner for agriculture in 1975. But up till today, nothing has been done about the project despite the fact that the report is still there. I submitted all these reports to the former Jigawa State governor, Alhaji Ibrahim Saminu Turaki, but nothing was done.
Why do you think government was more responsible in those days when compared to what we have presently?
In those days, all the people in government came from traditional power bases, except three of us: Aminu Dantata, who was a businessman, Tanko Yakasai, a politician and I, an ordinary man.
Audu Bako served Kano people very well and honestly. It is all lies that Audu Bako accumulated so much money from government.
Until we develop agriculture we will continue to waste our money and energy on projects that will never be completed. We have to go into commercial agriculture to build a better future for this country. We have to get people to invest in agriculture. We cannot do subsistence agriculture and expect to progress.
Are you still in touch with your colleagues in government?
I am very lucky to be among the few people who are still alive, healthy and strong. I am about 86 years now, but I am still healthy and strong. I don’t have diabetes, no high blood pressure. So people like me are not many. At my age, I still do some physical work.
Some people believe that agriculture doesn’t pay. Do you share the same opinion?
People hold such opinion because agriculture doesn’t have support from the government. Unless you have support from the government or the private sector in terms of getting heavy equipment like tractors and other implements, you won’t go anywhere as far as agriculture is concerned. If we really want to excel in agriculture we need a strong policy. And we must have companies that will provide the necessary equipment for agriculture. That is the only way out.
Are you into commercial farming?
No. it is not worth it. People are no longer ready to work for others nowadays. And even if you can afford to buy tractors, for instance, the operator may be a careless person who cannot manage it well, and in the end, it is to your detriment. So the farm is more like a hobby to me. I don’t make any income from it. I only farm to feed my family.
If farming doesn’t really pay, why are you still doing it?
For lucrative commercial farming you need a lot of capital, and that capital cannot be provided by ordinary people. People are made to take loans from the banks; and we need security to get such loans. No farmer has access to loans in Nigeria today. Anywhere in the world, faming cannot succeed without the help of government. Unfortunately, in Nigeria, farming is not a subject of concern. Everybody relies on imported commodities like rice, sugar and honey – many things we can produce in our country. And government is not prepared to help. The truth is that it is not enough to provide farmers with fertilizers. They need more than that.
Farming is actually necessary in every country because there’s the need for food security, so government should make provisions for commercial farming in Nigeria.
What do you grow in your farm?
I grow rice, maize, millet, guinea corn and vegetables. I also prepare seedlings as a hobby, not for commercial purpose. I used to grow strawberry worth 30 to 50 pounds and sold at the end of the harvest period. But unfortunately, there is no market for it nowadays. Some years back, there was a buyer who used to come from Kano. He bought as much as he required, but he has stopped coming.
I have another house in Kano city, apart from this house in Kafin Maiyaki. I come here as a second home whenever I want to have a change of environment. And when I come here I normally spend some days before I go back to the city. I have another farm in Bagauda, another in Dawakin Kudu, with a house. I also have another farm in Danhassan village. The biggest one is in Dutse, the capital of Jigawa State. To be honest with you, I am very ambitious in farming.
As a farmer, how do you spend your day?
Anytime I am in the farm, after my morning prayers I will take breakfast and walk around to see things for myself. Sometimes I go to the river bank to see nature or to the top of the hill and do some readings. I spend much of my time in my garden to look after my strawberry and other vegetables. At night I sleep for few hours and wake up to do some aspects of worship and sometimes go back to bed. Sometimes I remain awake till morning.
When I am in the city, nobody comes to me and I dare not go to anybody. What I normally do is to keep on reading, writing or doing some petty work in the house. I am always busy, I don’t believe in doing nothing.
Despite your age, you are still active. What do you do to keep yourself so healthy?
I lost my father in 1944 when I was 15 years old. I was in Class Four at Middle School. My father was a judge in Dutse. He was appointed judge in 1917 by the first emir of Kano. Since that time I became independent of everybody. However, before he died, my father told his brother to take me to the then Ciroman Kano, Mahammadu Sunusi as a guardian. When my uncle told me what my father said about me, I said I was not going to anybody. He asked why and I told him that I didn’t want to cry twice. I had cried for my father, so I didn’t want to cry for another person as my guardian. So I grew up as an independent person. I never went to anybody for anything; I have always depended on myself; that is why I keep on getting strong. Even in the house, I don’t believe in relying on anybody for anything in my life. I think that is one aspect that keeps me getting strong in my life.
Is there any special diet that contributes to your health status?
I eat everything. I have no choice in diet. But what I eat most is cornflakes and milk. In fact, I can spend the whole day eating cornflakes. I am used to that. So try to be an independent person in your life because if you rely on somebody or the government of Nigeria you will be disappointed.
Can we talk about your family?
I have four wives. The reason is that I am the only child of my father.
What about your mother?
She lived with me for a very long time, but she died in 1984.
With four wives, would you say you have peace of mind?
There will be no trouble if you are honest with your wives. Let them know you. You can do justice in sharing what you have with your wives, but there is one thing you cannot do justice to; that is love. You can never do justice to love. You can only do your best. So don’t make a choice on love.
Is it advisable to marry four wives?
It depends on how one is brought up. I grew up to see four wives in our house, so I made up my mind to have four. If you have children, make sure you give them proper education.
Is it not a burden to shoulder the responsibilities of a large family?
Of course, it is, but try and do your best. Even now, I am paying about N400,000 every four months to educate my children.
If you were to start life afresh, what would you change?
I would entirely depend on agriculture. It is in my blood; it is my pride. It is the only thing that can keep you independent. When you rely on it you entirely depend on God, not on anybody. If you rely on somebody you would be disappointed, no matter how close that person is to you.
There are several problems bedeviling the society nowadays, how are you coping?
Well, the problems are there, but always be honest with yourself, whoever comes near you and even your enemies. This is because you can only perceive someone as your enemy for two reasons – your personal relationship with him and feelings towards Allah. If he is a sinner you would hate him for the sake of Allah. You can also perceive someone as your enemy because of a bad relationship between you, and that is for your own interest. But if you want to be honest with yourself, don’t do anything you don’t want other people to do to you.
What kind of leadership do you think would make Nigeria a better place?
It is very difficult for me to answer this question because we are entirely in a different situation. When I was a child and I was either in Arabic or Middle school, the situation was different from what it is now. There are lots of changes and exposure. Therefore, it is very difficult to compare what we have now and what we experienced in the past. The environment is entirely different from what we were used to. In those days, money was not something that would make somebody very important in the society. There was always love among the people, there was respect between elders and the younger ones. That is different from what we have in our society today. These days, people will respect you simply because you have money. People can do whatever you want them to do for you because you have money, but in those days, it was love that counted, not money. I think it would not be fair to judge people on what obtained in the past.
Are you disappointed by the failure of leadership in this country?
Well, there is reason for the failure. When I was a commissioner, the money meant for the ministry was not with me. The money was in the custody of the permanent secretary, who was the accounting officer of the ministry. Mine was only to take care of the policies of government. All issues relating to money were handled by the permanent secretary, who was a liaison officer to the Ministry of Finance. During our days, the commissioner had nothing to say about money. As a commissioner, if you gave me the power to award contracts, naturally I would give some to my friends and relatives. There would be corruption tendencies. Such duties should be given to independent persons, not the commissioners or ministers.
In our time, if there was any work to be done, you would tell the Ministry of Works to prepare its cost and other necessary things before it would get to the contractors. For example, Tiga dam was done by the Ministry of Works through direct labour not contract. I always remember that the contract of Tiga dam was done by the authority of the permanent secretary, Ministry of Works, the late Salihi Iliyasu. It was his decision. He refused to allow the government to award the contract. Malam Shu’aibu Kazaure, who was the chairman of the Public Service Commission allowed him to recruit anybody from anywhere to do the construction of Tiga dam. It was constructed at the cost of 15 million pounds through direct labour. I was a commissioner, but I had nothing to do with the contract. All I did was to give the specification of the dam, but how it was constructed was not our own business.
Who were your role models during your active days in public service?
First among them was the late Salihi Iliyasu. He was among the few people I trusted in my life. He was a wonderful person. His brother, Musa Iliyasu, was my friend, but I met Salihi in London, and I knew him as a gentleman of the highest order. He was somebody you could rely on.
All the works done by Audu Bako in Kano State were the initiatives of Salihi Iliyasu; but unfortunately, nobody remembers him. He was a great man. He was such a great man that Kano State should not forget. He minded his own business. He used to come to my house in Kano and we would chat till the middle of the night and he would sleep in my living room. May Allah forgive him and grant him aljannah. When I was commissioner I tried him on several occasions and he never disappointed me.
The other person I also respect is Alhaji Shu’aibu Kazaure. I knew him right from our school days. He was my prefect and we were very close. He was the chairman of the Public Service Commission during the administration of Audu Bako. When Bako wanted to replace him with someone else he told me about his decision. When I asked why he wanted to remove him, he said he told me that Kazaure was working against our government. I invited both of them to my house and left them to discuss for one and half hours. When I came back, Kazaure said to Bako in my presence that if he gave him another job he would not accept it. So he left Kano and ended up becoming the chairman the Public Service Commission at the federal level. He’s not one of the people you can influence with money.
The late Muhammad Isma was also an honest person. He was the first permanent secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture in Kano. There was a plan to get rid him, Sani Dambatta, Dr. Imam and the late Magaji Dambatta. So they were transferred to Kano as permanent secretaries. They were sent to finance, agriculture, works and one other ministry. Isma was given a note taking him back to his former rank. He showed me the letter and I told him to do as directed. He accepted it and later turned out to be the managing director of the Northern States Marketing Board until he died. He is one of the people I respected for accepting my advice.
Also, the life of Malam Aminu Kano as the chairman of the Northern Elements Progressive Union (NEPU) impressed me. I respected him for being the chairman of an opposition party against the ruling party. One other reason is that I was able to find out that it was Malam Aminu that recommended me as commissioner; that is why I personally like him. It is in my nature to hate injustice, even to my enemy. So I always sympathise with anybody suffering for the people, and Malam was one of such persons. I respected Aminu Kano for that.
Were you a member of the NEPU?
No, but I had sympathy for him. I was the chairman of the finance committee of the Peoples Redemption Party (PRP), appointed by Aminu Kano. But in the end, we parted ways because of the way Sabo (Bakin Zuwo) came to power. We disagreed with Malam strongly.
Although I am not in active politics, I always have sympathy for a party. I am a strong believer in Buharism. He wants power to make this country better. We used to meet him and he knows me very well.
Looking back, are there things you would have preferred to have?
I have whatever I want in life. I have a farm with a dam and four wives at home. I also have children. These are what I need in my life.