Mohammed Haruna pays tribute to Adamu Ciroma, elder statesman, administrator and man of character

    A little over 16 years ago, on June 10, 2002 to be precise, I wrote a syndicated piece in the New Nigerian and The Country, the now rested weekly newspaper published by DER, in which I pleaded with Malam Adamu Ciroma, then the Galadima of Fika and President Olusegun Obasanjo’s Minister of Finance, to retire from public service. The title of the piece was “Time for the Galadima to bow out.” I wrote the piece because, like many of his admirers, I was worried that his political intimacy with President Obasanjo might cost him his hard-earned reputation as a man of honour, integrity and the courage of his convictions.

    At the time there were widespread public perception, right or wrong, that Malam Adamu was more a cabinet minister in name than in reality because of the way the president executed many important financial decisions behind his back through the junior minister who, like the president, was Yoruba. Second, there was also the perception that the president regarded the North, which was Malam Adamu’s primary constituency, as hostile territory, if only because of the rising clamour for Shari’a in the region, something the president was opposed to.

    Not least of all these was Obasanjo’s hostility to late Chief Sunday Awoniyi’s bid for the chairmanship of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) after late Chief Solomon Lar’s tenure as interim chair ended in late 2000. As everyone knew, Chief Awoniyi, a minority Northern Yoruba, and Christian to boot, was unapologetic about his Northerness which he rightly saw as not being necessarily in conflict with his unquestionable commitment to Nigeria’s unity.

    Obasanjo’s ostensible reason for objecting to Awoniyi as PDP’s chair was that it was incongruous for a Yoruba man to lead the ruling party when another Yoruba was already president. But as even any political novice could see, Obasanjo didn’t want the man as chair of his party not because Awoniyi was Yoruba, but because as a man of firm convictions, Awoniyi was someone he could not easily use and dump. Besides, as a Northern Christian minority, Awoniyi’s chairmanship of the ruling party was bound to blunt the president’s use of identity politics as a political weapon to neuter the North which he perceived as hostile to his presidency.

    To stop Awoniyi, money was used to buy delegates so brazenly at the party’s first post-election convention at Eagle Square, Abuja, that Malam Adamu, leading a number of Awoniyi’s friends and political associates, felt obliged to walk up to the Presidential box where Obasanjo was seated to protest the crude monetisation of the contest in favour of Obasanjo’s preferred candidate, Mr. Barnabas Gemade. Predictably, the president turned deaf ears to their protests. As we all know, the little fancied Gemade won the contest. This easily enabled Obasanjo to kill the party’s internal democracy which eventually led to its implosion ahead of the last general election in 2015, an implosion which ironically led to Obasanjo’s denunciation of the party and tearing his membership card in public before the election.

    My concern that Malam Adamu’s political intimacy with Obasanjo could cost him his reputation worsened when he accepted to serve as the Coordinator of Obasanjo’s second term bid. Without doubt Obasanjo was the most globally connected of Nigeria’s leaders and arguably the hardest working and one of the most intelligent. He also had the good fortune of the highest oil windfall in Nigeria’s history. However, as his first term drew to an end it became apparent that he had failed disastrously to combine his good financial fortune with his virtues of global connections, hard work and intelligence to lay a solid economic foundation for Nigeria and point it in the right direction for development and national unity.

    To be sure, I never believed Malam Adamu acceptance to serve under Obasanjo was for personal aggrandisement, gauging by his antecedents. By the time he became a close political associate of Obasanjo, he had served his region and the country as a senior civil servant, as editor and managing director of New Nigerian, as Governor of the Central Bank, and as Secretary General of the ruling party and minister during the Second Republic. In each and every one of them, he left a legacy of modest living, competence, courage and integrity.

    The foundation of this legacy was, of course, his career at the now rested New Nigerian. That his experience at the New Nigerian was the defining period of his life became apparent when he served as an elected member of the 1977/78 Constituent Assembly (CA) under Obasanjo as military head of state. To date that CA has been the most qualitative in its composition and the most meticulous in the country’s history of constitution making, producing a constitution that, for better or worse, changed the country from parliamentary democracy to presidential.

    As a young reporter who covered the CA for New Nigerian, I can testify to the fact that Malam Adamu played a prominent role in shaping that constitution. For example, ironic as it may seem for a former editor and managing director of one of the country’s most influential newspapers at the time, he led the opposition to inserting any special protection for the press in the constitution. There was, he said during a plenary session of the CA and in opposition to modern Nigeria’s most successful and influential journalist, Alhaji Babatunde Jose who was a nominated member of the CA, enough freedom for the press in the draft. In any case, he said, you fight for your rights not wait for them to be given to you. In the end his argument prevailed in the CA.

    His forthright stance on the press at the CA reflected not only the way he edited and managed the New Nigerian. It also formed the guiding principle of his politics and public life.

    Because his New Nigerian experience laid the foundation of his political career, half of my June 10, 2002 article appealing to him to retire from public service focused on his life as a journalist. Here’s a part reproduction of that article:

    When Malam Turi Muhammadu, one-time editor and managing director of New Nigerian, decided several years ago to write the history of that once great newspaper, his working title was simply New Nigerian: The First 20 Years. Some of the people he got involved in the project thought the title was not catchy enough for the highly influential role the newspaper played in the affairs of the nation in those 20 years. As a result, several other options were considered. Eventually, the team settled for Courage and Conviction as the main title, with New Nigerian: The First 20 Years as the sub-title.

    Anyone who had worked in the New Nigerian or who had been even a casual reader of the newspaper during those 20 years, will agree that those two words truly captured the essence and the spirit of the newspaper. It was a newspaper of strong convictions and on virtually each and every occasion it demonstrated the courage to stand up firmly and unequivocally for those convictions. As a result, in under two years it became the second largest circulating newspaper in the country, after the Daily Times under the much-respected late Alhaji Babatunde Jose. It also became second to none as the most influential newspaper. It was not for nothing that it was often described by its admirers and detractors alike as Nigeria’s Al-Ahram, after that great Egyptian newspaper which, under its great editor, the late Mohammad Heikal, was the Arab world’s greatest voice.

    The man most credited with the rise of the New Nigerian was Malam Adamu Ciroma.

    Malam Adamu came to the New Nigerian with absolutely no knowledge of newspapering. Before his appointment to the editorship of the paper, he was a civil servant, first in Kaduna and then in Lagos. As a civil servant, he was, of course, supposed to know how to manage people and his record showed he did. However, as he himself admitted in an interview for Malam Turi’s book, “I had no experience in newspaper production or editing”. In retrospect it can be said that what he lacked in journalism skills he more than made up with his management skill, his wit and his moral convictions.

    As Charles Sharp, the expatriate managing director of the newspaper whom Malam Adamu served as editor and whom he succeeded as the first indigenous managing director said, “I was beginning to think we would never find the right man (for the job of editor) when someone said, I think it was Ahmed Joda, that the right man had come along. He was right. His name was Adamu Ciroma.”

    According to Sharp, one John Smith, a close friend of his and a former colonial servant who had stayed on after independence, and someone whose judgment he trusted absolutely, thought highly of Malam Adamu. “A very clever chap.” Smith had reportedly said of Malam Adamu, “but a man with a mind of his own. One of the few who never toadied to the Premier, who he had a knack of upsetting. Has a tendency to wear European style clothes which was one of the things that upset the old man. I think you may well come to the conclusion that he was worth waiting for.”

    “Once again, Smith’s judgment”, said Sharp, “turned out right on the mark.”