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LogoDaily Independent Online.         * Thursday, November 27, 2003.

Adamu Ciroma, tested and trusted yet uncrowned

Bolaji Adepegba

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.

 “We 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 successive governments.

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 conservative fold.

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 and integrity.

“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. 




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