My father, Garba Atiku Abdulkadir, was fond of me. He wanted me to become an Islamic scholar, herdsman, farmer and trader – just like him. He was a deeply religious
man who was suspicious of Western education which he believed could corrupt the impressionable minds of young people.
My father did not want me to go to school. He tried to hide me from the prying eyes of Native Authority officials who had embarked on compulsory mass literacy campaign in the region. My father soon discovered that he could not resist the wind of change that was blowing through the area at the time.
My mother’s older brother, Kawu Ali who had received a little education through adult literacy classes, registered me at Jada Primary School in January 1954 as Atiku Kojoli.
For trying to stop me from going to school, my father was arrested, charged to an Alkali court and fined 10 Shillings. He refused to pay the fine. He said he had no money. He spent a few days in jail until my maternal grandmother, who made local soap for sale in the community, raised the money to pay the fine and father was released to her.
But my father was not a happy man. He was sad and angry that his only child had been taken away from him to be exposed to a strange world. He saw Western education as a threat to their cherished values and way of life.
Father was responding typically with fear and anxiety to the onslaught of change in Nigeria.
People often feel safe in the world they know. They see change as a harbinger of evil and as being disruptive to the normal order of things.
Jada Primary School was bare and rudimentary. The school consisted of small round huts with thatched roofs. Classes were sometimes taught under the tree. Some school buildings had no doors or windows. There were class rooms without chairs or desks. We spent the first two years writing on the floor. No wooden slates or exercise books. It was only in Primary Three that exercise books were given to us.
The school was made up of junior and senior primary schools. Pupils spent five years in junior primary school and two years in senior primary school. Junior primary school closed every day at noon, giving the pupils time to assist their parents in taking the animals out for grazing or to join in weeding, planting or harvesting in the farms.
A boarding facility was provided at the senior level. We slept on wooden beds covered with locally made straw or palm fibre mats. Meals included rice, guinea corn, beans cake (kose in Hausa), yam and a custard-like drink known as kunu which is made from guinea corn flour. The food was prepared by cooks employed by the school and served to the pupils in small bowls in the dining hall.
It was an all-male school built and run by the Native Authority. No tuition was charged.
Uniforms and other school materials were provided free. The teachers too were men and they came from the community.
We began each day with early morning chores, such as cutting the grass, sweeping the school compound and watering the garden. Through these chores, the values of hard work and of the dignity in labour were being inculcated in us.
After about half an hour of work, the bell would ring for the commencement of the morning exercises to prepare us physically and mentally for the day’s tasks. We would then go for breakfast. Breakfast was followed by “fall-in”, the assembly of all pupils. The teachers would inspect us, looking out for sloppy appearance and listening to complaints about those who did not do their chores or participate in the physical exercises. The offending pupil would be brought out, tried and punished. Canes were liberally used to correct such offenders.
Lessons resumed soon after in arithmetic, English language, literature, geography, science, religious studies and handicraft. The rest of the day was taken up by lunch, siesta, dinner, private studies (using kerosene lanterns for illumination) and bed-time.
I started learning to read and speak Hausa in that school. It was taught at the school to the predominantly Fulfulde-speaking pupils. Like other pupils in the school, I grew up speaking only Fulfulde. I realized later that Hausa is the lingua franca in most parts of Northern Nigeria. It was both the language of commerce, administration and every day interactions in many parts of the region.
Culled from the biography titled ‘Atiku: The Story of Atiku Abubakar’ by Adinoyi Ojo Onukaba (Africana Legacy Press, Abuja, 2006)