Malam Adamu Ciroma, who died last Thursday was a statesman of uncommon gifts and outstanding ability and accomplishments. His versatility was legion, a civil servant, journalist, banker, administrator and politician. He was master of all managerial trades and Jack of none.
The late Adamu first came to the fore as a brilliant and industrious officer in the Northern Nigeria Civil Service, which he joined after graduating with an honours degree from the renowned University of Ibadan. He rose rapidly by catching the eyes of his superiors whilst serving both in Kaduna and the provinces.
One incident marked him as a truly independent and fearless official. A private businessman dealing in pilgrim affairs appeared to want to keep some funds rightly belonging to the Northern Nigerian Government. The complication was that the man was very close to the Premier. Nobody wanted to tackle the problem. But Adamu took the matter head on, as it was on his schedule. His minutes to the premier is preserved in the Archives in Arewa House, Kaduna.
“Hon. Premier, this money belongs neither to you nor to Alhaji X. It belongs to the people of the North.” In the interest of good manners usually associated with these columns I have refrained from identifying the man. In any case, he is dead now. Adamu’s Nigerian and expatriate superiors were horrified at his forthrightness. One of them asked, “Are you sure you want the premier to see this?” To which Adamu replied “Yes”. To cut the story short although the great man was slightly annoyed, the money was swiftly returned to government coffers. Thereafter, Adamu became a minor celebrity, his minutes was the talk of town for several weeks.
His civil service career was not limited to the North. He had a stint in Lagos, where he gathered valuable federal experience before returning to the North and to one of his landmark achievements. A new newspaper, The New Nigerian, was set up by the regional government just before the bloody military take-over of January 15th 1966. The mood of the people in the North was that the paper should be run by Nigerians.
The regime’s leadership of the civil service cast around far and wide for a suitable candidate who will spearhead the campaigns to publicise and protect the interests of the North. They picked on Adamu Ciroma. He was the first and the best editor of the New Nigerian. He wrote powerful, thoughtful but always constructive editorials and articles. His command of English was uncommonly brilliant.
It was during this time, 1966 – 1967, that a group of enlightened young men, sensing that a vacuum was being created because the military leadership was hopelessly inexperienced and they were beginning to be surrounded by opportunists with dubious bona fides. This group decided to cohere and assist the government with proposals and advice on running the country. Adamu Ciroma was usually their spokesman, such were his gifts of articulation and communication. It was during these heated debates that Mal. Adamu uttered one of his memorable dicta. He said the North must modernise and to modernise it must westernise. This was a subject of discussion for months.
Unsurprisingly, the New Nigerian developed a love – hate relationship with the military government with a few instances threatening to reach breaking point. Luckily Adamu survived and handed over to a carefully planned set of successors.
Having grown out of the New Nigerian, the new military government of Murtala Muhammed appointed him as Governor of the Central Bank and good judges within the bank still regard his tenure as one of the best in the bank’s history. It was during his time in the CBN that knowledgeable people began to rate him as a possible future leader of the country.
He resigned from CBN and stood election in the Constituent Assembly that was the precursor to full blown political activity and democratic government.
It was during the proceedings amidst the severely tense Sharia debate that Adamu Ciroma announced to the assembly the North’s ‘’irreducible minimum’’ condition for a closure to the issue. After gathering support and making extensive contacts among Assembly members, Adamu built a formidable team and network to vie for the presidency in 1979 when the military promised to hand over.
On the first day of the convention, Adamu’s team was confident of the outcome. Evidently, those in control of the NPN party machinery became aware that their preferred candidate was unsure of winning. We sat at the venue from 9a.m. to 10p.m. without any announcement of when the convention would begin. The convention was adjourned without achieving anything that day. If the vote had been taken that day, I fancy Adamu would have won the nomination. Late Samuel Ogbemudia subsequently told me that a distasteful amount of money was sourced from a major multinational company and delegates were heavily bribed overnight and the result of balloting the following morrow put Adamu in third place. As the French say, plus ca change… (The more things change, the more they are the same).
Nonetheless, Adamu Ciroma participated first as secretary to the party and later a Minister of Industries and Steel, and later still as Minister of Finance and Minister of Agriculture. As I say, he was master of all tasks entrusted to him.
When the military again took over the government, Adamu was detained along with many ministerial and gubernatorial colleagues. He was completely exonerated and released early but the strain of incarceration left indelible injury on his psyche and outlook on life.
However, you can never keep a good man down. When the civilians returned for a second time President Olusegun Obasanjo re-appointed Adamu again as Minister of Finance. He brought gusto and competence to his old job, but it was during his chancery at Finance he suffered a dreadful road accident, which nearly cut short his political career and spent months on end in a German hospital. His recovery was slow and his face hideously disfigured.
Nonetheless when he resumed work, the difference in his performance was not noticeable. He retired honourably although still active in politics. As a man, Adamu Ciroma was forthright, easy to make friends and had a zest for life. All in all he was a man of good character. For leisure, he enjoyed his golf and was a fierce competitor.
Historians may recall that the 19th Century English Queen Victoria complained that one of her prime ministers, Gladstone, addressed her like he was addressing a public meeting. Frequently in conversation with Adamu Ciroma he would address even his closest acquaintances like he was addressing a public meeting, with his right index finger pointing severely at one! His tone was usually didactic and stentorian. A sage once said, “Of all nature’s gifts, the chief masterpiece was the ability to write well.” Adamu could write well. He could speak well. And he could listen attentively and patiently. This aristocracy of virtues made him stand out among his colleagues.
In his senior years, he became deeply religious and generous almost to a fault. But he had no time for dilettantes and scroungers. Once a couple of young men approached him saying that they wanted to write a book about him so that future generations would remember him. His brusque replied, “I don’t want to be remembered.” Fortunately, his wish will not be granted. Adamu Ciroma will be remembered for as long as the present generation lasts.
- Mamman Daura was the editor of New Nigerian Newspapers who took over from the late Adamu Ciroma.