Alhaji Ibrahim Muhammad Remawa retired as the accountant-general of Kaduna State in 1983. Born in April 1, 1933, Remawa joined the Native Authority as a clerk in 1955, but moved to Kaduna civil service in 1963. He later joined Bank of the North, where he rose to become an assistant general manager. Not satisfied with the way things were done in the bank, he resigned and took to private life. He was also a chairman of the Caretaker Committee of Rimi Local Government Area (1994-1996). In this interview, the 85-year-old Remawa spoke on his experiences as a civil servant and banker, as well as other interesting issues.
You come from a family of soldiers and accountants; did that influence your choice of career?
The soldiers were forced into the profession. We have two Generals in our family – General Rimi and General Remawa. The Emir of Katsina asked General Remawa to join the army. General Rimi was a medical doctor, but the late premier, Sir Ahmadu Bello, found out that there were no northern doctors in the army, so he asked them to join. That’s how they started. He rose to become the head of the medical corps. General Remawa was a combatant soldier who fought in the Nigeria-Biafra war.
Did you try to join the army?
Not at all; I never thought of that.
You studied Agricultural Science, but ended up taking your first job in the Nigerian Broadcasting Service (NBS); what happened?
I went to the School of Agriculture, Samaru, with the intention of becoming an agric assistant and later, a proper personnel. But while I was there, I discovered that it wasn’t my line, so I left. I became interested in what my friend, Abba Zoro, was doing. He started his career in the broadcasting service and later became an ambassador. He was my friend in Kano. I became interested in what he was doing, so I went and joined the NBS,
What were your duties and challenges in the job?
There were not many challenges because I was just an announcer. I would come in the morning, start the radio and commence whatever programme we had on the roaster. That was my job for about four years. I later left and joined the Native Authority. In those days, things were so easy that if I left a job today, I would get another one tomorrow without any difficulty. Things were so easy that even before you left school, many organisations would come looking for you. Those interested would just apply and go. There was no challenge.
Why did you leave broadcasting for the Native Authority in 1955?
Honestly, as I told you, if I lost interest in something I would just leave it. I was attracted by members of staff of the Native Authority who lived here in Katsina, so I joined as a clerk.
Between then and now, what would you say has changed in broadcasting?
So many things, such as modern techniques. During our time, everything was manual, unlike now when computers have taken over everything.
What was the mood in the civil service when the late premier was killed in 1966?
It was terrible. Everybody was confused. We didn’t know what to do because we woke up in the morning to see Sardauna’s body in front of his house, covered by mat. Everybody was afraid to see his corpse. Nobody knew what exactly happened. There was no premonition that something was going to happen. The premier of Western Region and some army officers were also killed. People later found out that it was a one-sided coup by one section of the country. We didn’t know what to do because Sardauna was everything.
As a civil servant, how were you and your colleagues able to come out of that condition and continue to work with the coup plotters?
As civil servants, we had to follow whoever came to lead the government. We could not revolt because they were soldiers, not civilians. So we followed them as they came.
What was the atmosphere in Kaduna, the capital of Northern Region?
There was total confusion.
There was a countercoup that brought Yakubu Gowon to power; what was the reaction?
Everybody was happy. There was a popular saying that all southerners should go while northerners remained. Suddenly, our northern soldiers staged a coup and brought Gowon to power. When he came, he gradually made everybody happy and things became simple.
So Gowon was more acceptable?
He was a northerner, so everyone was happy.
Those who staged the first coup said they were fighting corruption; as an accountant, would you say there was much corruption in government then?
Believe me, there was no corruption as such. There was no money, so what would anybody steal? The budget for the whole of northern Nigeria was about 33,000 pounds. At that time, everybody was afraid to steal because an auditor would expose you and you would be arrested. So everybody was cautious about his job. In my life as an accountant in government I did not go to court, not even to witness somebody that stole money because there was nothing. So, you see, corruption was not there. Even if there was corruption, it was so little that you could not even notice it. Somebody could be jailed for looting as little as 20 pounds. Auditors were always checking the accounts. There was supervision, which is lacking now. There was caution and everybody was afraid to be caught defrauding the government of anything. Fraud was minimal, unlike now when people are boldly stealing.
Some of your colleagues transferred their services to the federal civil service, but you remained where you were until you retired in 1983, what was the motivation?
I didn’t like going across the Niger; that’s why I remained in the North. Before 1976, everybody was a Federal Government officer. But in 1976, some people chose to go while others remained in their states. So you can see, I receive federal and state pensions
You worked with two governors between 1979 and 1983, what was your experience?
I worked with Balarabe Musa, but he was impeached and Abba Rimi took over. Musa was very strict, but he didn’t care about you; everybody was doing his job. Civil servants were well protected and we were enjoying it. He was impeached because of politics. That was possible because he was from the Peoples Redemption Party (PRP) with only 11 members in the House, while the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) had about 16.
I can remember when he was going to England officially, from where he wanted to go to Saudi Arabia. The government paid everything, but he called me and said I should calculate the cost from London to Saudi. We calculated it and he paid back in cash and instructed me to put it back into government treasury because, according to him, the trip to Saudi was personal and did not attract allowances. I paid it back into the government treasury. Do you think this can happen now? Unfortunately, such leaders are not wanted these days because they prevent people from doing what they want. People are now doing whatever they like because they want to make money by all means, and nobody cares.
During our time, a civil servant could not build a house without taking a loan from the bank.
What was your biggest challenge as the accountant-general of Kaduna State?
My biggest challenge was when the PRP formed the government but the legislature was filled by the opposition. Believe me, I suffered. They would call me or send a letter, asking to see me to answer some questions; but I could not go without permission from the governor. I would go to him and he would start shouting, saying it was him they wanted, not me. He would not allow me to go. So they made a law which stipulated that if the accountant-general refused to obey their orders he would be jailed for six months. The law was approved by the House of Assembly. One day, they called again and the governor said I should go and meet them to see what they wanted to do. When I went, the speaker, Danmusa, said he wanted us to talk. One member from Zaria (I can’t recall his name) said, “Do you know we made laws for you?’’ I said no, because they didn’t affect me. So he started raising his voice. I told him I was just an accountant-general working under somebody. He said, “We approved a budget but you are doing a different thing.’’ I told him he was not my boss; the governor was, so I would do whatever he asked me to do. I told him the governor could dismiss me but they could not. The speaker intervened and called them to order, saying that I was right. That’s how I was released. Fortunately for me, he was impeached and life went on.
You said the civilian governors you worked with were prudent in managing the finances of the state; how did you feel when the military struck, saying corruption was their major reason?
Honestly, there was no corruption until the military came. However, they allowed you to do your job without interference or intimidation and made sure the schedules of duty were followed. Each person had a level of contract he could award without referring to anybody, be him permanent secretary or director. This is unlike now when politicians like to hold everything to themselves and will not allow people to do their jobs. That’s why things are not moving well. These days, it takes a governor several months to sign a file. These are things that cause delay in governance. It is better to delegate authorities, but they don’t do that. I don’t know why they do this.
Did you retire because of the coup?
Not at all; there was no coup in 1983. I retired during the Shagari regime. Abba Rimi was the governor. I just resigned on my own. When I joined the government in 1963, honestly speaking, I said I would only work for 20 years. And when it came, I felt I won’t work with them anymore. By then I was 50 years old and the retirement age was 55. I retired with five years left and joined Bank of the North,
Why Bank of the North?
I was tired with government job; so, as an accountant, I decided to give it a try. I stayed there for about 10 years and retired as an assistant general manager in charge of staff. I retired because the late Mansur Sodangi, who was the managing director, annoyed me. When he was in government in 1975 I was the chief accountant in the Ministry of Works. He finished his service and stayed under me. He went to overseas for further studies and I didn’t know how he became the managing director of the bank.
When I was there, things moved normally. One day, as they were holding a top management executive meeting at 6pm, he called me and said I was causing a lot of expenditure in the bank by making transfers and employing people as if it were my house. I was highly annoyed at the accusation, so there and then I wrote my resignation letter and left. Since then I stopped working, except during the Abacha regime when he appointed civilian caretakers for local governments. I was lucky to be appointed for Rimi Local Government Area. I was there for two years.
Did you give targets to bank employees during your time?
They did that, but it was not as sad as what obtains nowadays. At that time, people were not making a lot of money. These days, when you don’t meet your target they will ask you to go, but during our time, you would just be warned. If you met the target you would be promoted every year. The banking sector is like that; the difference is that money is hard to get nowadays.
Why do you think bank employees engage in sharp practices despite being well remunerated?
It was not like that during our time. Some members of staff sometimes engaged in sharp practices, but it was not as much as what happens today. Nowadays, people are in a hurry to make money. They want to become rich, buy big cars and houses and travel round the world. People with dubious characters will come and meet you, and if your heart is not strong enough, you will collaborate and allow it to happen. At the end you would be jailed
How do you think this could be tackled?
The Federal Government is trying on such things. However, the only way out is for us to change our attitudes. People should be honest and know that one day we will die and account for our deeds. The government is doing the needful.
As a former chairman of Rimi Community Bank, why do you think community banks failed, especially in the northern part of the country?
Those who contributed monies to establish the banks had the notion that it belonged to them, so when they borrowed money they won’t return it. And some people borrowed large sums of money. That’s why the banks failed.
What were your findings when you chaired the Revenue Generation Committee in Katsina?
Our responsibility was to make ways of getting revenue into government coffers. But really, some people went round other states to find out how it was done, so there were a lot of contributions through memoranda. We tried our best; and honestly speaking, none of our recommendations was disapproved. They were all accepted. But you know, in government approval is different from implementation. They didn’t take actions, but nobody queried what we did. It is there in one of the files, dumped there.
How do you think revenue generation could be improved?
A lot of people are not paying their taxes. They collaborate with revenue staff to avoid it. People must be honest; we have to change our attitude towards everything. Majority of Nigerians are not honest. When I was the chairman of Rimi Local Government, believe me, some big members of staff, especially the big ones like the treasurer and director of administration and finance would came to me and say, “Rankai dade, the way you are working is not our way sir, please change your attitude.’’ I would tell them that’s the way I knew how to work. And they would say they were dying of hunger. I told them that they were civil servants, but I may be sacked anytime; it was their problem, not mine. I reminded them that I was only appointed as the chairman of a caretaker committee and could be sacked anytime. However, one cannot say there were no honest people; there were, but very few. Now, majority of the people are bad. When you came, if you had not shown me your identity card I wouldn’t have talked to you. There are many dubious people all over, including journalists. A lot of people come to us for interview, but they are dubious. So everybody should change their attitude. If we all change, believe me, things will be better. Perhaps, if the present government stays for eight years or more, people will learn by enduring hardship. They won’t want to go back to past bad habits. That’s what I’m thinking,
You have interacted with so many politicians, how come you didn’t join them?
I like politics, but I don’t want to come out and contest for anything. I am a member of the All Progressives Congress (APC). I am just a card-carrying member. I used to follow them for campaigns and every meeting, but I am now old. At 85 what can you do? I am even lucky that I can do things by myself; most of my colleagues cannot even walk. Anyone that wants to see me should come here.
Are your colleagues still alive?
All my elementary schoolmates have died, except one woman in Rimi Local Government, a daughter of the district head. Only two of us are remaining. For the Middle School, there is Sule Kurfi, an engineer who was at the Shell company for many years. He is retired and based in Kaduna. Lawal Musawa, a permanent secretary is alive. Others are Malumfashi, Alhaji Sule Kafur, but many have died, such as Abba Siriri (my classmate), Mamman Da Bawan Allah, Ragargaza Guga. Hajiya Hafso Iro was a onetime commissioner for education here. She even runs one school. Those who are still alive are few.
Do you communicate with those who are still alive?
I communicate with some of them on telephone while few visit. It’s been a long time. We started Middle School in 1946, so many have gone; we are only lucky to be alive today.
You visited London in 1972; was that your first trip overseas?
It was my first trip overseas. I was anxious to see how London was. I was there for six months and I was very happy to have been selected to go there. I even took my children to school there, so I frequented London. But now, I no longer go there.
Were you sponsored by the government?
It was the Kaduna State Government. At that time, you were sent for training and retraining to either London or America from time to time to add more knowledge. Unfortunately, it is no longer like that today.
How do you spend your day?
After my prayers in the morning I return to bed and sleep till 10am. After that I eat and sit in the living room until sunset. I don’t go anywhere unless I am invited for a ceremony. Sometimes it takes me a whole week before I step to the main gate of this house. Did I tell you that my wife died some four months ago? I’m alone in this house because all my children are married; none of them is with me. I don’t have many needs.
How many are they?
They are eight, 25 grandchildren and seven great grandchildren. They are all on their own. Last Christmas they visited and life was returned to the house. It was noisy and busy with kids all over. The small ones would run and fall on me. When they left, the house became quiet again.
What’s your favourite food?
My favourite food is tuwo; that’s all. Believe me, I don’t enjoy so many things, such as rice and meat. I eat them but I don’t like them. I feel they are not nice. This is life.
We were 12 brothers when our father died, but only two are alive now. Our youngest sister is there.
Do you still engage in farming?
Honestly, I do. I have some farms in my village. I got another recently because government wants all to return to farming. I send my people to work on the farms. During the rainy season I go there to interact with workers and villagers around. That makes me happy.
Do you think agriculture is the only way out, especially for northerners?
We have to return to our farms because oil will dry one day. Farming is the only way out. Before oil, we were producing groundnuts, cotton, hides and skin, cocoa, rubber etc. If everybody returns to farm we will get a lot of food, foreign exchange etc. We heard that yam is being exported. From there people will be empowered. The only problem is inheritance and farmland issues. When a family head dies, the farmland gets divided and more people take ownership. So the farms are becoming smaller with little outputs. Farming is good, but very expensive. For example, without fertilizers you won’t get good yield.
The government keeps saying that fertilizers are available, but farmers like you think otherwise. What’s the problem?
If I were the government I would be the sole distributor of fertilizers to farmers. This is because farmers cannot buy sufficient fertilizers. They only give one bag to 10 people. What will that do for them? At the end of the day, they sell the commodity and share the money. Only strong people with a lot of money will buy the fertilizers and resell to farmers. If I were the government I would not allow people to sell fertilizers in the market. Government should give sufficient fertilizers to farmers. It is impossible. They can also deregulate and allow people to import the commodity. Before, it was N2,500 per bag, but now, it is N7,000, even from the government. When somebody buys at that amount he goes to sell at N10,000. How can a small farmer get it when even the big farmers are complaining? If you have a big farm and needs a ton of fertilizer, it is over N200,000. How many farmers can afford that? This is the problem. We have a lot of problems in Nigeria.