Daily Independent Online.
Thursday, November 27, 2003.
Adamu Ciroma, tested and trusted yet uncrowned
Senior Correspondent, Lagos
When younger generations of Nigerians gripe about successive
administrations recycling old names in nominations and appointments in
government, one name generates more bile than all the rest. The story of
post-independence Nigeria cannot be adequately written if the name of Mallam
Adamu Ciroma, the Dallatun Fika, does not appear in it as frequently as a
punctuation mark. He has practically seen it all.
agree that Nigeria is a country blessed with a huge amount of resources. Yet,
since independence and despite the resources, other countries at comparable
level of development that were not as blessed with huge resources as we were
have left us behind. It may be observed that the single factor, which explains
our economic stagnation, is the lack of integrity and public spiritedness among
our elite. Many of us have been selfish and have individually done well in
life. But today it is not possible for the individual who has prospered to
enjoy his wealth. His neighbours and relatives are poor. The roads on which the
Rolls Royce or the VBoots travel are non-existent or in deplorable condition.
Armed robbers recruited from unemployed artisans or unemployed educated
elements make nonsense of all anti-burglary security devices as the armed
robbers invade in large formation. The neighbours who may be equally rich or
miserably poor do not feel concerned by the robbery taking place next door. The
police are not mobile to go to the scene of the crime. Individual selfishness
has dissolved societal bond and neighbourliness,” he postulated in 1996
at a public lecture he delivered at the Lagos Island Club.
Lack of knowledge about the problem of Nigeria and Nigerians
cannot be one of the weaknesses of a technocrat and statesman who had been
pivotal to the advancement of the Northern establishment, which he specifically
represents, and by extension, the fate of the country which he helps to rule.
He has had the rare privilege of managing the economy of Nigeria three times as
the finance minister, the last and the longest being in the first term PDP
government of President Olusegun Obasanjo.
The Mallam has come a long way and in the process earned his
respect. He once considered himself as one of the luckiest Nigerians and nobody
can disagree with him.
Born in Potiskum in the present day Yobe State in 1934,
Ciroma has had a life designed for the public space. He was enrolled at the
Fika Elementary School in 1943 and his educational career saw him through the
University College in Ibadan where he studied History till 1961 and the Cite
Universitaire in Besancon, France, where he undertook postgraduate studies
between 1962 and 1963.
From 1961 when he joined the Northern Nigerian Civil Service
as an administrative officer in the office of the premier of the Northern
Region, Sir Ahmadu Bello, the Sardauna of Sokoto, Ciroma rose behind the scene
until 1966 when he was appointed the first editor of New Nigerian Newspaper and
later its managing director.
His New Nigerian appointment, strategic in no small measure
to the interest of the North of 1966, underlined his anointing as a scion of
the establishment. From then on till 1978, when he decided to transform from a
regular administrator to a politician, as he resigned from being the Governor
of the Central Bank to represent the Fika/Fune constituency at the Constituent
Assembly that gave the country the 1979 Constitution. Many watchers of the
country’s political landscape of the time felt, as the country’s
military quit the scene, that it was time to entrust him with the biggest seat
in the land.
He had a kind of educational attainment rare among his peers
in his geo-political zone. He had worked closely with the Sardauna himself. He
had been tested in many strategic positions of authority. The crown eluded him.
The skills of Ciroma were useful to the interest of his constituency but his
politics fell short of its expectation.
Having helped to form the conservative National Party of
Nigeria (NPN), he naturally contested for the party’s presidential
ticket. The contest between him, Alhaji Maitama Sule and Alhaji Shehu Shagari
threw up Shagari, who actually wanted to be a senator, as the candidate.
The writing is on the wall. The outcome of the NPN primaries
exposed a class structure even in the northern establishment of yore as well as
the primordial fear of the intellectual in the fold. He spoke vehemently for
the North anytime issues border on the region’s interest. And he did not
hide his regrets for the northern elite’s attitude to western education.
The respect that Ciroma commanded in the North has been
largely attributed to integrity, probity and selfless service, which he always
espoused. But these values, coupled with his unalloyed loyalty to the late Sardauna
and the interest of the North did not seem enough for the establishment to
reward him with the ultimate leadership of the country whenever the opportunity
arose for them to present a candidate, which is usually arrived at through
consensus. At the same time, they did not fail to thrust him out for a seat in
Losing the presidency against Shagari in 1979, he was made
the Minister for Agriculture and then Industries while his fellow contestant,
Sule, was sent to far away land as an ambassador.
Either by accident or design, the second attempt of Ciroma
at the presidency of the country was also not successful. As a member of the
National Republican Convention (NRC), first he was banned along with the old
breed politicians by the then President Ibrahim Babangida. Then when the ban
was lifted, he did not scale through the primaries.
All through his peregrination in power, the Dallatun Fika was
a toast of the political class both in his constituency and beyond. His
political stature, achieved through experience, has been courted through the
years as a legitimizing factor in any government and he has proved to be a
useful instrument for vote bargaining. The North deployed the technocrat in him
effectively whenever it was time to argue the position of the North and its
interest in governance. The military under the late General Sanni Abacha too
tried to use him as a tool to get public support in the North by making him a
minister early in the government before he parted ways with the military.
His principled disdain for the military cost him so much in
his constituency that saw the military as an alternative tool for holding
power. His politics started to smack of frustration under Abacha. He condemned,
in clear terms, the continued incarceration of late Bashorun Moshood Abiola and
the assassination of his wife during the period. He was the secretary of the
Turaki Committee, which was acting as the last bastion of the Sardauna
tradition to project and protect the interest of the North. In fact, he
co-signed a document with seventeen other Nigerian politicians calling tacitly
for Abacha to vacate office.
Ciroma was among those who midwife the current democracy, if
it is seen in the light of G34, led by Dr. Alex Ekwueme. The inclusion of
Ciroma in Obasanjo’s government raised a lot of highbrow.
First, having been in government in one way or the other for
long, younger generation of politicians even from the North began to grumble.
The evolution of politics in Nigeria has helped to raise a crop of younger
generation of politicians who liked to de-emphasise regional tradition for a
more broad-based government that does not necessarily deny regional interest,
but Obasanjo, in his wisdom, still preferred the old brigade, especially during
his first term.
Moreover, he was not known to be in the Obasanjo camp of the
ruling PDP to merit a seat in his government. He supported Ekwueme in the
primaries that Obasanjo won. He, in fact, threatened to resign his appointment
as the finance minister during the PDP imbroglio that denied Sunday Awoniyi the
chairmanship of the party. His
hands are visible almost in every pie of the Obasanjo government and he was
about being touted as indispensable in government by the administration. When
he got involved in an auto crash in March 2000, he spent several months in the
hospital and many Nigerians expected him to quit government but he refused.
Obasanjo himself refused to drop him as a minister. Coming out of the hospital,
he directed the affairs of the ministry from the wheel chair.
As the finance minister, he still headed the panel that
probed the case of the controversial deal involving Nigeria Airways and
Airwings Aerospace Ltd. While still holding the ministerial position, the
Mallam was appointed by the President as the national coordinator of his
campaign to vie for a second shot at the Aso Rock seat.
The question now is: Are the Ciroma clout and phenomenon
still effective in the North to endear Obasanjo to the geo-political zone?
Despite its overrunning of many of the southern states, PDP received beatings
in no small measure in the North. In fact, Ciroma, his campaign coordinator,
lost his ward in Potiskum and was said to have left town at dawn after his
prayers on getting the result.
Some younger northern politicians feel that the respected
statesman has lost touch with his people. They accuse him of not being
conservative enough while in government. During the Sharia law crisis in the
country, some conservative elements expected him to draw out a policy or sponsor
a law that will establish the Islamic Bank. He did not. In fact, some thought
he stuck to Obasanjo because he has noticed a loss of relevance in the new
A veteran of several administrations, Adamu Ciroma has a
pedigree to which he is still loyal, which transcends partisanship. He believes
in multi-party democracy as against a one-party state. He stands for probity
“We need discipline and honesty and ethical
regeneration to succeed. Above all, we need leadership by example,” he
said in that 1996 lecture.
Observers however believe that a back seat position at a
time like this will crown the credentials of an elder statesman like him.