I was born on November 14, 1937 in Sokoto. I am happily married to Asmau Nana Ahmadu. Our marriage is blessed with children. I attended Waziri’s Ward Primary School, Sokoto; Sokoto Middle School; Kano Provincial Secondary School; Bida Provincial Secondary School; North Devon Technical College, Barnstaple; Southern-on-Sea Municipal College, England; Middle Temple, London and Wolfson College, Cambridge, England.
In all modesty, this is one area of my life I remain grateful to Allah for His divine wisdom has helped me to navigate the business world successfully. I started work as a private secretary to the Sultan of Sokoto in 1959, and later as his special assistant from 1970 to 1974. I was Director, Nigerian Industrial Development Bank from 1966 to 1975 and Kaduna Textile Limited from 1970 to 74.
In between, I was District Head of Wurno in 1973 and Chairman, Wurno Caretaker Local Government Area in 1976. From 1973 to 80, I was also a Director at Barclays (now Union) Bank of Nigeria; Chairman, PZ Industries since 1977, and later Chairman, Union Bank of Nigeria Limited from 1980 to 1983.
I also served as member of Endowment Foundation, Nigerian Institute of International Affairs, and concurrently as Chairman, Endowment Fund, and member, Governing Council and Tenders Board, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, between 1974 and 1980; member, Nigeria’s Constitution Drafting Committee from 1975 to 1976; member, Nigeria’s Constituent Assembly from1977 to 1978 and Chairman, Assessment Committee of the Nigerian National Merit Award between 1981 and 1987.
Also, I have been a Director at Japan Petroleum Company, Indo-Nigeria Merchant Bank; member, Executive Committee, Nigeria-USA Business Council and member, International Advisory Council and World Economic Forum Foundation.
Can you recall any of your schoolmates?
I remember some who are still alive. One is Alhaji Imam. He is from Gusau, Zamfara State. We attended school together in Sokoto and he later went into banking. The other is well known in the country and we call him ‘Triple A’. I am talking of Alhaji Abubakar Alhaji, a one-time finance minister. He was one year ahead of me at the Sokoto Middle School, but along the line, I caught up with him and we became classmates.
What bothers you about the state of the nation?
I commend what the present administration is doing to recover stolen money and I wish that recovered money would be committed to judicious use, for the benefit of coming generations.
For agitators, especially the youth, who probably have never experienced war but are now fanning its embers and singing war song, I hope they will reason and see the unity in our diversity as a nation because war is not what anybody should toy with.
Someone once described you as the most travelled person in Sokoto. How true is this?
To the glory of Allah, I won’t say I have travelled a lot, but I have travelled enough because at one time or the other, I headed various reputable organisations. That made me to travel to Singapore, Hong Kong, USA, Vietnam, Japan, Malaysia, Indonesia and other countries, including Saudi Arabia. I have never been to France, Germany, Iceland, Australia or New Zealand. I was in Indonesia a few years back but I didn’t go into the country. I wish to go to Australia and New Zealand.
I have been to many countries because I have friends in many places. I go to England often. At every opportunity, I travelled together with my family. I encourage my children to travel also to widen their horizon and learn new things, get to know people, learn their lifestyles and possibly, let the good side of other people rub off on them.
It will interest you to know that some of my children went to school in Egypt, England and one of my daughters went as far as Jordan, through the connection of the late Sir Ahmadu Bello, who was a good friend of the ruler of Jordan.
You are a renowned administrator and boardroom expert but less visible in the nation’s political space. Why is this so?
I was in politics during my school days in England and I belonged to the student wing of the Northern People’s Congress. After I came back, I wanted to go to the parliament but the coup of 1966 truncated my political aspiration.
Initially, I was offered a northern assembly seat in Kaduna. Later, Ahmadu Bello told me of an existing vacancy in Sokoto at the House of Representatives in Lagos, but unfortunately, the coup occurred; this truncated my political dream. At one time or the other as I earlier said, I was involved in constitutional conference, Constitution Drafting Committee, up to the formation of the National Party of Nigeria (Second Republic), which we started as a strong cultural organisation, until it transformed into a political party, which myself and the late Waziri Gwandu decided not to be part of again.
I am glad not to be in politics and I never regretted it. However, I never shy away from speaking the truth to my friends who are in government. I never hide my feelings about their policies. I may not do it on the pages of newspaper; I do reach out to them to tell them my opinions. Whether they accept my advice, suggestion or criticism or not, my conscience will be clear that I have played my part.
What is the secret of your good health at 80?
There are no secrets than the fact that I make moderation my watchword in all I do. I don’t allow things to bother me. I don’t keep grudges and I eat in moderation. I have no traces of diabetes, hypertension or any old age-related diseases. I am thankful to Allah.
Normally for people of my age, I wake up around 6am, say my prayers and return to bed till about 10am provided there is nothing that needs my urgent attention.
When I am fully awake, I attend to people who require my attention, attend meetings or sometimes I go visiting friends because I believe in sustaining good relationship. Keeping a good relationship is one of the lessons I imbibed from my parents.
I try to do my best to be good to people and whether I am in Sokoto, Abuja or Lagos, I visit friends. In fact, I have more friends outside Sokoto. They include those that we were in constitutional conference or Constitution Drafting Committees together or those we served in one committee or the other together because I was involved in many committees.
Like I said, I maintain good and cordial relationship with my friends and we are always in close contact.
You hold the traditional title Sarkin Sudan Wurno. What does it stand for?
The story of my traditional title dates back to the time of Usman dan Fodio. My tribe, the Fulani, when they first came to this part of Africa, were fair-skinned like the white, and we settled among the black. Gradually, there were inter-tribal marriages and our complexion started changing.
Sarkin means king and Sudan means black country, So, my title Sarkin Sudan, means king of the land of the black country. Originally, the title was given to the late Sultan Bello, who was living in Wurno and that is why the title is named after Wurno, where the late Sultan Bello lived before he relocated to Sokoto.
Your must have recorded landmark events in your life. What is your life’s memorable event?
I have many memorable days and events in my life but the most unforgettable was the day Sultan Abubakar died. He was my father’s elder brother and he took me away from my parents at the age of seven. I was born in this house (where the interview was conducted), where many Sultan, like Sultan Muazu, the 9th Sultan of Sokoto, lived before he became Sultan of Sokoto.
My grandfather, the late Sultan Hassan, gave me the name Othman and when my father was transferred to Wurno as Sarkin Sudan, I started living in this house where my grandparents lived and died. I feel comfortable living here more than anywhere else.
My father’s elder brother, who brought me to this place, financed my education from elementary school in Sokoto, all through to the United Kingdom. The day he died, I felt a terrible loss. Another unforgettable day for me was the day Ahmadu Bello died.
He was in charge of education under Sultan Abubakar. I was doing well in school at the time; he got my report and liked me so much to the extent that he was always getting in touch with me to know how I was doing academically. I was quite close to the late Abubakar and Ahmadu Bello than to my late father. That is why their demise remain indelible in my life.
What exercise do you do?
As for exercise, I have a mini-gym in my house, where once in a while, I do minor exercise.
What lessons has life taught you at 80?
Life has taught me that it is good to be honest and straight-forward. I always remember my parents’ admonition that ‘you lose nothing by being honest.’ The moment you establish a pattern where people know you to be honest and straight-forward, they will trust you. Their trust will ultimately earn you future advantages. The trust people have in me, and my sincerity, have really worked and opened doors for me.
How do you feel at 80?
I thank God for giving me a long life to the age of 80. I am thankful to Allah because some of my contemporaries are not alive to see this age. Some have become burdens to their children one way or the other. For these reasons, I am ever grateful to Allah in my prayers to Him every day.
Do you have any regrets?
With gratitude to Allah, I have no regrets. In everything I have done, Allah has blessed me and I am full of gratitude to Him for all He has done for me. Honestly, I could not have wished for anything more than I have achieved. I thank Allah for everything. I am contented.