Prof. Adamu Baikie CON, is a Zaria born, distinguished educationist, academician and university administrator who is a former Vice Chancellor of different Nigerian and foreign universities. He is the first Professor of Education in northern Nigeria and one of the first two Nigerians employed by Ahmadu Bello University Zaria.
In this chat with dailytrust, he talks about his time at ABU, growing up, family and many more..
You are the first Professor of Education in northern Nigeria, how did the journey begin?
Let me start by saying that I was born in Zaria, approximately 86 years ago. My father was working in the Nigerian Railway Corporation as a storekeeper after he left the missions in 1921. He settled in Zaria after working for sometime in Minna, the present capital of Niger State. My father was originally from Gabas in the present day Borno, Yobe and the precincts of Chad Republic. He was with the missionaries from 1908 to 1921.
After our stay in Zaria, we resettled in Kano, which we made our home. It was there that I grew up. I started primary school there in the late 1930s. I was about nine years old. At that time, primary classes were known as Infant One and Two. After that, I started what was then known as Standard One, up to Standard Five. So at that time, primary education was up to eight years.
When I finished primary school, I came to the Middle School in Wusasa, Zaria and finished in 1948. In 1949, I moved to the newly established Anglican Teacher Training College. Needless to say that Wusasa was a Christian community, so I belong to the Anglican Communion, where my father was. After my Grade III in 1950, I was posted to Gusau (Zamfara State). I taught there between 1951 and 1952.
In 1953, I came back to Zaria where I had my Grade II. In 1954, after my Grade II, I was posted to a school that was attached to the teacher training college. I taught for three years there as the headmaster.
I was given a scholarship by the northern Nigerian government in 1957 to study in the Nigerian College, which was the only tertiary institution we had in the North then. I was there for five years and finished my diploma in June 1962 because the college was not running degree programmes.
When I finished my diploma programme, I was immediately recruited by the Ahmadu Bello University (ABU) Zaria, which was founded in April 1962. Through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the ABU, I was recruited as a graduate-in-training and sent to America. I think, without exaggeration, that I was the very first graduate in training from the North, at least attached to the ABU.
In the US, I did my master’s degree and came back in June 1964 as an assistant lecturer. I taught for another three years and left for the US again and finished my doctorate degree in December 1969. I came back to the ABU and became the head of Education Department in 1970. In 1971, I was made a professor. The ABU was the only university in the North.
Therefore, I think I was the first Professor of Education in the whole North, but not the first professor from the North. We had people like Professors Iya Abubakar, Audu and Shehu. I think we were the only ones. I continued with my work and occupied many positions in the university. By 1978 I was appointed the vice chancellor of the University of Benin.
That was a very emotional situation for me. I didn’t know Benin and I didn’t want to go to Benin. At that time, Professor Iya Abubakar left the ABU and his position was to be filled. Three of us were shortlisted and I happened to be one of them. Instead of Obasanjo, who was the head of state to select one of us, he posted all us out of ABU.
I spent two terms in Benin – from October 1978 to October 1986. I came back to ABU because that is my home. I started working as a lecturer, and at that time one of my students was the Dean of Education. Sometimes they didn’t know how to handle me because I was their teacher. Anyhow, I remained calm.
In 1988, I was again appointed as the vice chancellor of a university in Lesotho. I didn’t apply for the job and didn’t know anybody there. Lesotho was surrounded by South Africa, which was under apartheid. It was, therefore, very tough for me to accept the appointment because I was being looked for all over. But I think the government of Nigeria shortlisted me and Lesotho accepted, so I had to go there. I served as vice chancellor for eight years and came back in 1996.
I was approached by the ABU again and appointed as the director, Institute of Education. By the year 2000, I was approached to serve in the Planning Committee for the Establishment of the Nasarawa State University. I was travelling from here to Keffi all the time for the meetings. After the conclusion of the work, the then Governor Abdullahi Adamu asked me to serve as vice chancellor in 2001. So I remained there until 2009. I retired in December 2009 and came back home.
Since then, I have been involved in little things here and there, serving in different committees and giving lectures. My actual retirement started in January 2010. But I retired formally from my academic activity in the ABU in 1991 because I had attained the age of 60. I wanted to protect my name and integrity, so I retired formally when I was going to Lesotho. I was in the ABU from 1962 to 1991.
You said you were offered scholarship by the Government of Northern Region to study in America; did you encounter any challenge, especially as the Premier was a Muslim and you are a Christian?
We didn’t know any other person than Sardauna Ahmadu Bello, the then Premier of the Northern Region. There was absolutely no issue of religion, tribe or any other sentiment. When we were in the Nigerian College, all the northern students, irrespective of where they came from, were on the northern Nigerian scholarship. I was the president, Northern Students Association, so I was responsible for ensuring that the allowances were paid.
I was the one who checked the list, and if I certified the list, the payment would be effected. So there was no discrimination at all. I can remember that when there was a strike at the Nigerian College, Sardauna came down to Zaria with his top ministers like Isa Kaita, Makaman Bidda, Ibrahim Gashash, Abba Habeeb, among others and asked for the leader of the northern students. And I was the one.
We sat together and he asked us about our welfare and other things. He also advised us not to isolate ourselves from other students from other parts of the country. The leaders then were after the unity of the country. When he was going, he gave us three pounds. That was how simple the leaders were. Nobody knew he was coming. We met him when some of us were in our sport wears.
How was life as a Christian growing up a Muslim-dominated society?
When my father joined the Kano Native Authority in the late 1920s he was known to be a Christian. He had his tribal marks, and as such the people he was working with knew his tribe. Despite that, he turned out to be one of the best workers the then emir had. He spoke Hausa and English fluently. My father worked with Galadiman Kano and Emir Abdullahi Bayero. He was very well known and liked at the same time. Because my father worked under the Galadiman Kano who was in charge of the city administration, he encouraged children to go to school.
My father lived in Sabon Gari, but there was no nook and cranny of Kano he didn’t know. Besides, he walked the long distance every day to his office in the emir’s palace. He did that trekking every day until he was able to get a bicycle. They knew his religion but never discriminated against him. My father didn’t go to work on Fridays, but he would go on Sundays, and he never complained. Friday was a holiday in the Kano Native Authority. He would go to work in the morning on Sunday and go to Church in the evening.
Whenever we went to see our father in the office, nobody discriminated against us. Because of our visits to the palace, we knew some of the Hakimai (district heads). In fact, we even visited the emir himself because our father usually sent us with Christmas cake to him. So he did not have any problem at all as a Christian working in the palace.
There was a time my father was ill and he couldn’t go to work, the Galadiman Kano drove from the palace to Sabon Gari to see him. The Galadima knew that he was a Christian. My father knew the culture of the Hausa from top to bottom. Therefore, he gave his bosses all the necessary respect in accordance to their culture.
Not only that, my father had juniors under him and they respected him. I remember when we were to have the first commemoration of the death of Alhaji Ado Bayero and I was one of the guest speakers. The present emir was there, among other personalities. Sarki Sanusi II spoke, Maitama Sule spoke, and when I spoke, one of the Hakimai, Alhaji Muktari Adnan, stood up and spoke about my father. He said he was my father’s clerk.
I was shocked because the Sarkin Bai was one of the fire-brand politicians in those days. He was tough in the legislative council. I never knew he was my father’s clerk until that day. On that day, Sarkin Bai declared that despite the fact that my father was from Gabas, he was seen as Bakano (indigene of Kano); therefore, all his children are now Kanawa.
Can we say that this type of non-discriminatory relationship was the reason behind the crisis-free lives the people enjoyed in those days?
Well, at that time we had people who feared God, respected human beings and were very honest and straightforward. They were people who knew where they came from and were not looking down on others. There were sincerity and appreciation of merit and skills. Some of the founding fathers of the states we have now were non-indigenes. At that time we had people who respected your contribution to the society.
When the trains started going to Kano and there was influx of people from the South to the city, the then emir did not send them away. He carved a place for them; that is why we have Sabon Gari, Kano, largely dominated by southerners. Interestingly, most of the Yoruba that went to Kano were Muslims and were also given another area. This is why we have Unguwan Ayagi in Kano today. So you can see how these people were accommodative without religious or ethnic discrimination.
In fact, the first deputy Wakilin Waje Kano was an Igbo man. His name was Mr. Egbe. He was turbaned by the emir at the palace.
How do you feel when you see people fighting over religious or tribal matters?
I always ask myself which side I am supposed to be. This is because about 50 per cent of my family members are Muslims. My wife came from a Muslim family. Her parents and all other members of her family were Muslims but she became a Christian through her aunt. We always talk about this as a family. Every ceremony I have here, they come. When they have theirs we go.
I think people are behaving out of ignorance. People are becoming too worldly and selfish. Some make up these differences because at the end of the day there would be fighting and their target was usually to get worldly materials from this fighting and nothing more. When the Igbo left Sabon Gari in Kano during the civil war, my sister was in charge of one Igbo man’s property. When he came back, she gave him all the rent paid when he was not around, and that was how he recovered.
For me, what is happening now is a result of religious misinterpretation. And you have idlers who listen to all these things. Why is it so now when it was not like this before? It means there is pollution somewhere along the line that entered into the minds of young people. Everybody wants to be a religious leader, whether he is a good Muslim/Christian or not. These people preach hard lines, and these things are getting out of control.
We don’t have Dattawa (people of integrity) now. Nobody can create these types of crises when we had people like Nagoggo (Usman) in Katsina, Abubakar in Sokoto, Shehu in Borno, Jafaru in Zaria, among others. They were leaders who would talk and people would listen. But you don’t have them now.
How do you wish to see Nigeria in the next decade or century?
To be honest with you, except something happens, I don’t see Nigeria moving beyond the level we are today. Note that we became an independent country since 1960. When we became independent, we got along well. But things are deteriorating. As far as I am concerned, we are struggling to be what we were in 1960 in every facet of our national life – electricity, railway, roads etc.
This means that we have not moved forward. Until something is done to change the minds of people, I don’t think we have hope. Maybe I am saying so because of my age – I am an ‘Old School.’ The question is: Who are those that would get us there? Is it the youth of today? I don’t think we have elders now. Those you call elders are after their selfish goals.
We are increasingly separating ourselves. All northern students now go to school in the North; they don’t know about the South. Northern universities are now refusing admission to people from the South, and vice versa. There are, therefore, no channels to use in building the unity of this country. This is the question that people don’t ask.
However, I think the ordinary people are still mixing together in markets and other places. We should capitalise on grassroots interaction and build from there. A situation where Nigerians live in enmity is not good for this country, and this informed my pessimism. The Hausa man says that the Friday that would be good begins its signs from Wednesday; but I have not seen the signs, even on Thursday.
You said about 50 per cent of your family members were Muslims, do you have a cordial relationship?
In my house, there are rooms for them to pray when they visit. We have kettles for them to perform ablution. When my wife passed on, there were more Muslims than Christians who came for the burial. One leader of the Jama’atu Nasril Islam was passing and saw the crowd; he drove to confirm what was happening. I had never met him. When he stood up to go, I said ‘no, you have to pray.’ And he offered beautiful prayers.
When my good friend, Justice Uwais, led a team for condolence, I asked them to pray, and they did. So there was no question of being bitter with ourselves because of our faiths. There is nothing like that in this family. Every Sallah, the Emir of Zazzau sends me something, and of course, every Christmas or fasting period I send him something.
What we need is respect for one another. When that happens we would overcome these challenges. We need to have open minds as we had before. One of the senior members of Sardauna’s cabinet, I think Mr. Olajide, was from Ilorin. It was after he left that Abubakar Imam took over. This is what we need now.
What is your relationship with the Kano royal family since your father was a staff member of the palace?
Our relationship is still intact. When my daughter was getting married, the emir sent Hakimin Kura, who took pictures with the bride. You can see the strength of the relationship.
During my stay in America, I always wrote the emir. In 2007, the late Emir Ado Bayero asked me to come to the palace with my family. We had a nice time, including taking pictures with my entire family. In those days, some of the royal family members visited my father in Sabon Gari.
Your academic background shows that you have been a teacher all your life; how would you describe the teaching profession then and now?
There is a difference between working as a government teacher and a missionary teacher. The missionary teacher earns next to nothing. When I was in Gusau as a missionary teacher, I was earning only about 3pounds every month. This money was not enough to take care of my rent because I spent part of it in buying food, water and other essentials. But throughout my working career I was determined to enjoy what I was doing.
One has to enjoy his work and put his mind on it. Of course, in the process of doing so, you will make a lot of sacrifice. Another important thing is building a good relationship with people around you. If one establishes that relationship, the difficulties in one’s work would be minimised. Even if you are the boss, you are expected to have a cordial relationship with your colleagues.
There are also personal sacrifices one has to make to succeed. This is what I have been doing all along. Although I paid the price of doing so in some cases because there was no material reward, I have no regret at all. This is because I now have peace of mind and I am enjoying my old age. I may not have anything materially, but nobody is going after me. That is the peace of mind I am talking about. These are the attitudes the present crop of civil servants and leaders should imbibe.
When I was in Gusau, there was no water, so I had to go to the stream myself to wash my cloths despite being a teacher. I could ask my students to wash the cloths for me, but that was not our training. It was the same thing when I was in Samaru, Zaria here in the 1950s. Despite all these, I enjoyed my job and I was always happy to go to school. My students and their parents always looked forward to seeing me.
Another very good thing then was that with your little earnings you could have plenty of food to eat with your family and even members of the extended family staying with you. Again, during our days, people lived according to their means. It was really a nice experience.
You did not apply for the job, but you were appointed a vice chancellor on three different occasions. Nowadays people jostle for appointments; what do you think is wrong?
Well, I don’t know their reasons. Maybe they have seen the lifestyle of some vice chancellors and they were encouraged. Some see it as an avenue to make money and build houses because the society has become decadent. Maybe they have the spirit of service and they want to show it. So you can speculate on why some people struggle for appointments these days.
However, what disturbs me is that in most cases, some of these people are not competent to go that far. They don’t have the commitment and sacrifice for the jobs being offered. Some are very sure they would make it because the people behind the appointments are their friends or relatives. So there are many reasons why people go for jobs these days.
During our days, one was even scared of being considered for vice chancellorship. This is because if you looked at those who were there before you, they were highly competent. One would begin to wonder whether he could measure up to expectation. When you talk of people like Biobaku, Oluwasanmi, Koduliye, Audu, etc, you would marvel. When you talk of an expatriate vice chancellors like Alexander in ABU, you wouldn’t want to step into those shoes because they were big.
When you were appointed to replace those people, you must work very hard to prove yourself. In my case, my first test was to go to Benin, a place I had never been to. In all the places I served as vice chancellor I put three things into my head, namely, God, the North and my family. These were my guiding principles. I worked to make sure I did not disappoint the people who sent me there and the people I represented.
How would I face my people, particularly my family, if they heard that I stole money somewhere? So, I went all out to give my best. In all these places I ran an open system; everybody was the same. I had no kitchen cabinet. I appointed people and mixed them up. However, I was conscious of their politics and avoided them. In Benin, for example, I associated with my northern people there. I was a good friend of the Sarkin Hausawa there; we visited each other. So I had that backup. They prayed for me regularly. But in all these, we made a lot of sacrifices.
There were times they would tell us not to eat or drink this or that, but I would go ahead to eat or drink that particular thing and nothing would happen. With all humility, we have strong faith in God. In Lesotho and Nasarawa, I applied the same principles.
Who has been keeping you company since your wife passed on?
Well, God blessed us with five children – three boys and two girls. They are all working. At the last count, I had 12 grandchildren. One of them is a graduate while two will graduate this year. None of my grandchildren is married yet, so I don’t have great grandchildren. These family members are my joy in the absence of my wife.
One of my children is a retired military officer. He retired as a major. The other boy is in the civil service and the third boy is an architect in South Africa. The fourth child is a civil servant in Jos, Plateau State, and the last child was a banker.
Generally, in retirement I try to make myself available to community service. I serve in educational and religious committees. I engage in religious committees because I want to make a difference in the thinking of Christians, especially those who have a second thought about their relationship with others. I have served in different capacities in that area.
The second passion I have is writing. I am now writing a small book on Sabon Gari, Kano. I call it The Melting Point of Kano. The book is about how the area was created, the people living there, education in the area and even the area’s relationship with the palace. I am making interesting discoveries. I am recording this for posterity because I grew up there. I want to leave behind some historical accounts of the experiences I have gone through. I am getting a bit tired now, but we are moving on, nevertheless.