Professor Ango Abdullahi is a distinguished Professor of Agriculture, respected elder statesman, the convener of Northern Elders Forum and former Vice-Chancellor of Ahmadu Bello University Zaria. In this interview, the octogenarian talks about his childhood and growing up among other matters.
Birth and Early Life
I was born on 13 December 1938 in Old Giwa village, about 30 kilometers from Zaria. It is what we presently have as Yakawada.
When I was two years old in 1940, my father was appointed the village head of Yakawada, so we had to move from Giwa to Yakawada. And then in 1944, when I was six years old, children were being recruited or rather captured to go to schools ‘Makarantan Boko’ at that time.
And my father being the village head, with the difficult job of getting recruits into the elementary school that was nearest to our village, concluded that I should go to school. I was too young at the age of six because the ages that were recruited were 11, 12 and 13.
My mother was not happy, but she really had no choice. My mother’s only consolation was that I would be living with her younger sister, whose husband was a teacher in the school. She still wasn’t happy even though her sister was there, so she decided that one of my older sisters must accompany me to the school to do the chores that a six-year-old could not do.
I was supposed to stay with the teacher. I stayed for one year, and you know, according to our cultural customs, you don’t get circumcision unless you are seven years old. Thus, I went without circumcision so one year after, I was brought back to do mine. That is how it was and I think it was God’s intervention.
Looking back now, I was actually the one that blazed the trail in the nucleus family. I was lucky I would say; even among the older boys whenever they could not answer the question, the teacher would say a prepared younger person ought to be an equal companion to an older person.
So each time, the older ones could not answer questions in the classroom, I would be called to answer it but of course, I suffered the consequence during break or after school; the knocks that would come on my head that I was disgracing them.
After four or five years of elementary school, we moved to what we called Remedial School in those days. It was a Junior Secondary School. In Elementary School in my days, the English language was not used in teaching, so you have to come to Remedial Class where you begin to pick up English.
After two years in the Remedy School, I picked exams forms and passed to Barewa College in 1952 and 1953, which was the only secondary school in northern Nigeria. It was only about 50 of us. Barewa College has produced some heads of state; Abubakar Tafawa Balewa; Gen Yakubu Gowon; Shehu Shagari; Murtala Muhammed and Musa Yar’Adua
Most of the trained leaders of Northern Nigeria ended up in Kaduna, Kaduna being the political headquarters of Northern Nigeria. Maybe that was what gave rise to northern leaders seeing things together, working together and succeeding together
Post Secondary School Education
After Barewa College, I got admitted to the Nigerian College of Art and Technology here in Zaria 1951. There were three colleges at that time, one in Ibadan, one in Enugu and one in Zaria; we got admitted to that of Zaria with quite a number of friends one can remember.
Even though we were not from the same secondary school, I remember we met TY Danjuma. We got admitted the same year. In fact, his room was next to mine. One day, we came out of morning lectures and we were just approaching our rooms when he said to me, “Ango I’m going” and I said, “Going where?” And he said, “I’m going to join the Army.
I said, “Why wait this long?” He said, “My parents refused that I joined the Army and that is why I came to the college, but yesterday I got their letter permitting me to join the Army.
I said is that what happened? In terms of culture or even religion, obedience to parents will translate into something very good for a child, I can assure you are going to be a successful military man and that is why it is still very difficult to beat TY Danjuma in terms of military records and integrity.
That was how we started our A level in the Nigerian College of Arts and Technology because there was no university in the country except the University of Ibadan, that is where we got admitted in 1961. We were the last set of university college students who would get the university of London degree because it was the University College of London.
Wole Soyinka was just graduating when we got admitted into Ibadan. Of course, Adamu Ciroma was our senior, we didn’t find him there. Olu Falae was in the hall with me but he was studying Economics; he was two years my senior, Jim Nwobodo was one year my junior and we were also in the same hall.
We were quite a number of Nigerians who knocked the doors of politics, business and so on, that we shared life together at the University College, Ibadan
Graduation and Career
We graduated in 1964 and came back home. I started my career with the Northern Nigeria Ministry of Agriculture, but as soon as I reported for documentation in the ministry, they said my posting would be Samaru.
At that time, Ahmadu Bello University had just been formed 1962 and the institutions that were there formed the nuclei of many of the departments and faculties of the early Ahmadu Bello University.
The Institute for Agriculture Research that we know now was a research department of Northern Nigeria Ministry of Agriculture, then when it was incorporated into ABU academically, it changed into an institute for agriculture research, and that was where my first posting was in 1964.
Professor Ango Abdullahi later attended Kansas State University, the USA, and Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria earning an MSc. in Agronomy, 1968 and Ph.D. in Agronomy, 1976. Pursuing an academic career where he rose to become a Professor.
He was elected member representing Zaria north west constituency, Kaduna State; former commissioner for economic planning, north-central state, 1973 – 1975. Director of Agricultural Research, Ahmadu Bello University, 1977 – 1979, Deputy Vice-Chancellor, 1979, and Vice-Chancellor, Zaria 1979 – 1986.
Upon his retirement, he has returned to the farm – in a practical commitment to his first love, agriculture.
Professor Ango Abdullahi has been a vocal voice on the need for northern farmers to return to the farm especially during his days in office as the Special Adviser to President Olusegun Obasanjo on Food and Security, from 1999 to 2003.
Though he identified oil as a very important revenue earner for Nigeria, he insisted that agriculture should be the backbone of the country.
In 2007, the distinguished Professor of Agriculture was honored by the Federal Government as Commander of the Order of the Niger, CON. In the same year, his native Zaria Emirate turbaned him the Magajin Rafin Zazzau (Custodian of water and agricultural resources).
Professor Ango Abdullahi: Life in his 80s
I feel what you see from outside and I also feel what I feel from inside. The other day a friend of mine was making a comment at an elders’ meeting and he said: “You don’t look the 80 years that you are claiming, or are you making it up?” And I said, “No! You may be seeing something younger than 80 years, but that is what you feel and you have to allow me to also feel what I feel inside that commensurate with 80 years.
There is nothing more to say, but to thank the Almighty God for His Mercy, for His grace to spare this life from the cradle to what it is now, 82 years. I am particularly grateful that I am celebrating 82 years in a country where life expectancy is only about 48 years.
So, you can see how generous the Creator has been to some of us who are this lucky to live this long. Of course in my case, I would it is something in the family; some genes for longevity. My father died at the age of 100 years; he was born in 1890 and died in 1990 and he never prayed sitting down till the day he breathed his last
Professor Ango Abdullahi has served and chaired several boards, committees, universities governing councils, organizations, etc