The death of Mallam Adamu Ciroma at the ripe age of 84 has depleted the rank of the first generation of a class of political elite of Northern Nigeria extraction who served under the revered Sir Ahmadu Bello and by sheer political sagacity, some say shrewdness not only fostered the interest of Northern Nigeria but also dictated the pace of events in the country as a whole. Theirs, under the famous Gamji Club, a gathering of the lieutenants of the late Bello, was a perspicacious disposition that ensured that later generations of Northern leaders have their eyes on the ball as far as the interest of the region is concerned.
In his lifetime, the astute administrator was a recurring decimal in the arrangement of state operators, military or civilian. At a time, he was said to be the arrowhead of the fabled Kaduna Mafia – a loose group of young Northern Nigerian intellectuals, civil servants, business tycoons and military officers residing or conducting business in the former Northern capital city of Kaduna during the end of the first republic.
With History as the intellectual pursuit of choice, he rose to become a journalist, an administrator, a banker and a consummate politician. Ciroma was the first Nigerian to be appointed the Editor of the New Nigerian newspapers and later its Managing Director. In his own words, he might have been erroneously appointed the Central Bank Governor by the military administration of Murtala Mohammed, he went ahead to make the best of the opportunity. He quit that job on June 28, 1977 to participate in politics when the military government of Obasanjo lifted the ban on political activities.
He was a foundation member of the defunct National Party of Nigeria (NPN) and aspired to be its presidential flagbearer but lost to the eventual winner, Alhaji Shehu Shagari. Ciroma was briefly the secretary of the NPN and later served, at various times, as Minister for Industries, Agriculture and Finance. As a senior cabinet minister in the Shagari administration, he played pivotal roles in the implementation of the president’s agenda, especially in the areas of food production. Working with international agencies, he developed an Agricultural Development Project (ADP) that emphasised agriculture as the reliable economic base for the nation.
In September 1983, he was made the chairman of a presidential transition committee mandated to make proposals on how to re-structure the federal government, which was going through a crisis of confidence. A military coup in December of that same year, cut short that assignment.
But he was not deterred as he was also a founding member of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP). He ran with Dr Alex Ekwueme in the presidential primaries. They lost. Ciroma again served as Minister of Finance in the government of Olusegun Obasanjo from 1999 to 2003.
The highly respected Northern leader so much wanted to rule Nigeria that he vied for the presidency one more time on the platform of the National Republican Convention (NRC). He was coasting home to victory when the military government of Ibrahim Babangida cancelled the exercise and banned all presidential aspirants from contesting in fresh primaries. He was appointed minister of agriculture — again — under Sani Abacha, the military head of state, in 1993. The adventure did not end well though.
Commenting on his experience as minister under Abacha, he once said, “I wanted to ensure that things were done properly. I knew that fertiliser was one of the most important things to help farmers. I laid out a system of international contract award in a way that nobody would bring in corruption into that system. But Abacha said no, that there was enough fertilizer in this country and everything was okay. I told him I was the Minister of Agriculture and I should know what was needed. He still said no. A few days later, I sent in my letter of resignation.”
Many Southerners would remember a different Ciroma; the one who campaigned vigorously that power must remain in the North after the death of Yar’Adua in 2010. Goodluck Jonathan, as vice-president, automatically became president but was not expected to contest in 2011 because of a political understanding in the PDP that power must rotate between the North and the South.
Adamu Ciroma was born on November 20, 1934 in Potiskum in today’s Yobe state. His ethnic group is known as Karai-Karai, one of the smallest in Northern Nigeria. He attended Borno Middle School, Barewa College, Zaria, the breeding ground of the Northern power elite where he came first in his class, and went on to the Nigerian College of Arts, Science and Technology to prepare for university. He entered the University of Ibadan in 1957 and graduated in 1961. May his soul rest in peace.