Patrick Alikali is a retired civil servant.Now,the octogenarian is a full time farmer. He shares his life story with VICTORIA OMUYA USMAN
When and where were you born?
I was born in Gijuwa, Niger State in 1936. I lived with my father for just a short while until he died sometime before 1944. Around 1944, the government requested that each village head around my area bring a child to be enrolled in school and anyone who did not bring would be punished. So each district brought children for enrolment and I was chosen from my district. There was quite a number of us that were gathered. And because we were not sure what the gathering was for some of us ran away and every time anyone ran away, there were people who sought and brought them back. In the end, just a few of us were remained most of whom are dead now, may they rest in peace.
How did you know that was the year you were born?
Before 1956, there were no permanent staff in the civil service only contract staff. So when we were to be converted to permanent staff that year, we were asked to bring our birth certificate. I didn’t have one so I went to my village, Gijuwa, and asked my uncle when I was born and he told me that it was the year that gold mining started in our village. My uncle didn’t know the year either, so I asked a Yoruba man Alabi, when mining activities started in Gijuwa and he told me it started in 1936.
How was growing up like for you?
My parents died when I was young and for that reason my uncle raised me. At the time, children were being picked, each from one household, to enrol in school, my uncle wanted my brother to go. But because we had just lost our parents he kept crying, we thought that they were being gathered to be killed. To save him, I volunteered to go in his stead because I said to myself, if it is death, let me be the one to die. That was in 1944 and the school was St Michael’s School in Gusoro. My maternal uncle was not happy about the arrangement so he picked his gun and went after my paternal uncle. His intention was to kill him but to get him, he asked him to go hunting so that when they were alone, he could kill him and throw his body in the stream. My maternal uncle felt like my uncle who allowed me to be taken to school wanted me dead. Somehow my uncle figured it out and escaped the trap.
How was school?
On my first day in school the Rev Fr asked us to write down our names. There were some very big boys among us that wanted to leave because of their size but the priest would not have that. When it was play time, we were usually asked to wrestle and the big boys always got the small ones, beating them in every fight. There was a particular boy who became a star slamming everyone that came his way to the ground. But one day, some of the boys from my district brought me before him and challenged him to fight me, he agreed and surprisingly, I slammed him to the ground. There was an uproar of laughter that was followed with singing.
In 1948, we were moved to Guni, and while we were there, chores were divided among us and I got the responsibility of being a shepherd, taking care of the sheep. One day, one of the rams in my care got missing and I didn’t report. The punishment for losing the sheep meant that I had to go to Minna to source for money to replace the sheep. With all the hardship which included working in the farms of the teachers, we managed being in school. It wasn’t something I enjoyed because we were forced to go. If we ran, we were caught and brought back and if we did anything wrong, we were punished.
After we finished school, we stayed in the mission where Fr Moses took care of us, giving us menial jobs. Then in 1956, the priest gave me a note addressed ‘to whom it may concern,’ and sent me off to get a job. My letter was to Public Works Department (PWD) which is known today as the ministry of works and housing. I sat at the gate and waited for a long time with nobody to attend to me. After a long wait, I finally met and gave my letter to the white man in charge of the place and when they saw that it was from Fr Moses, I was immediately asked to be taken to the workshop as an apprentice, so that everything I did was always followed up. I was given the responsibility of charging trailers in the department to work. After a while, they bought me to work on bulldozers with one man called Sunday, a Benin man. One time, work took us to Paiko and by the time we returned to Minna, it was politics time so they asked that everybody returned to their states. After the person who worked as an electrician left, I was pushed to that department and I had to stay. Later I was asked to drive the bulldozers to clear thick bushes for different purposes. Sometimes as we cleared the bushes, we would meet dead bodies on our path. Over the years, I worked in different departments including the one that constructed the railway and at some point, worked with the army to construct a dam, I was not recruited in the army though. I also worked in Abuja, in Gwagwa area, where I was sent to by my boss, who was a white man, to work on the compressor of a truck.
How much was your first salary?
My first salary was three shillings and a penny; that is because I was employed as an apprentice. Labourers where paid just two shillings.
When did you get married?
I got married in 1959.
What attracted you to your wife?
My elder brother and I were sitting outside one day and we saw her coming with a basin of corn on her head. I just looked at her and told my brother that I was going to go after her. Immediately I indicated interest in her, another boy who was there, though he was not from our household, also said he was interested in her. When my brother heard this he told the boy that there was no problem and asked that the boy and I go to her house in the evening. And that evening we went and asked her to choose whom she wanted to be with, me or the other boy. So she chose me and from then on, even if she was with someone else as soon as I came to her house, she would leave them and come to me. She was a princess and I am a prince so it was a royal attraction.
As a prince, if anyone wanted to come and see me in the palace, they would have to sprinkle ashes on their forehead three time before they are allowed to come in and if the visitor were a member of the group which were regarded as slaves at the time, they would sprinkle the ashes on their shoulders instead, before they were allowed to come in and see me.
Why did you abandon the privilege of being royalty?
Before my father died, he gave me permission to practise whatever religion I want. He separated me from the deity of my people so that there would be no consequences for my choosing to become a Christian or doing whatever I chose to do that would ordinarily have drawn the wrath of the gods because of my position as a prince. The traditional practices are not practices that I would want to be associated with. One that say that you have to kill to sit on the throne or to hold your staff of office, that kind of practice is not for me. So I rejected the throne. But I still have relevance among my people, I am like the one that they come to consult about issues concerning the kingdom and what I say is what it is, but I can never sit on the throne.
Where did you get married?
We were married in the St Michael’s Catholic Church, which is the cathedral in Minna today. My masters were happy for me so they were the ones who organised the people who came to entertain guests at my wedding. My wife and I were married in the Christian way before we started having children. Afterwards, we had 12 children. We were all baptised in St Michael’s, my wife, children and I.
When did you retire from work and what have you been doing since you retired?
I retired May 1, 1985. Since retirement, I returned to farming. I’m now a farmer. If you go by David Mark Road in Minna, I had a piece of land there that is marked with my name, Mr P. A. Alikali Farms. Even as a civil servant, I always had my farm. At some point, I was paying the Niger State government to hire prisoners to work on my farm. They would release them to me in the morning with a guard and when we were done for the day, they were taken back to the prison. I never had to buy grains or vegetables even fruits for consumption in the house because I planted enough of all that on my farm to last us till the next rainy season. There were also palm trees and such economic fruits as cashew trees. The only things we bought was soup ingredients like seasonings and all. So after retirement I went back to farming. And the proceeds from my farm were what I used to send my children to school. I still have a small garden in my backyard that keeps me going.
What would you say is the difference between life when you were a boy and life now as a senior citizen?
There is a huge difference. We had everything in abundance but all that is gone today. The value of money has also reduced, there is no value anymore even for life. We don’t have coins in circulation anymore. Back in the days, they were all over the place and had huge value. We would usually wore our small wallets made out of a piece of cloth round our waist to store them and they came in handy for when we wanted to buy small edibles like kwosai, and the likes.
When I look at life these days I feel like it would have been better if I was gone. Life has become so meaningless. Children no longer respect elders and nobody corrects anyone anymore. It wasn’t like that in our days. No child raised his/her voice against an elder, if you did you were severely punished. But it’s happening today. If our elders kept something and we take it without being asked to, we were in trouble too. But these days a father just sits and watches his children doing all those things and it’s the norm. Even if you picked something from the ground on the road, you were mandated in my days to keep that thing and wait for whoever owned it to come collect it. Today, you know that it is not yours but you fight to take it from the owner and that is not helping our society.
My sister told me the story of how my father would travel on foot to Zaria, Kano and Bida to buy things to sell to owners of horses back in Minna.
Where were you during independence?
I was already working at the time. I was in Minna. There was a public holiday so all I did was to go to my farm.
Would you say that your expectations for independence have been met?
Far from it, our evil in Nigeria has robbed us of everything good. Our leaders have only ruled us through one bad hardship after another. Nothing is done based on merit anymore. Even when someone is entitled to a particular benefit, we have the tendency of attaching some conditions to such benefits, conditions that might screen out worthy, capable hands, and that is not doing us any good. The issue of religion is killing Nigeria.
What are your regrets in life?
The matter surrounding Shiroro Dam is one. The land belongs to us, my wife’s father was the one who gave the land that the dam was built on and today we are not benefiting from it. It was just recently that the Niger State government built a road that connects Gusoro to the dam. We only had boats and ferries for a long time. For many years we had no access to the dam by road. After the dam was built, they left the place as it was with no school, no health facility not even electricity, just the way it was.
What, in your opinion, can the youths do to help secure the future of Nigeria as a country?
I think that inter marriage to a large extent would help us. If youths continue to marry from different parts of the country, a day would come when the people would have no choice but be one. So it is a task that has been left for the youths now, to keep Nigeria as one united nation.
How would you access your generation of parents?
It was our leaders who sold us that is why things are the way they are today. As a parent I don’t like what I see but even at the level of chiefs, we were not given the chance to do much. They allowed religion to divide us into small groups of helpless people. As a parent, I never insisted that any of my children marry from my place, one of my daughters is married to another tribe.
What do you think we need to correct as a nation to make meaningful progress?
The only thing that the government over the years have given us, corruption. If we can rid our society of corruption, we would be much better for it. Nothing has been added to what the colonial masters left behind. Most of the tarred roads we see today were there at independence and not much attention has been given to them in the form of maintenance since Independence, so much that they are dilapidating. Electricity was there before independence and we have not been able to improve on it. The roads that are even being constructed now are not even as good as the ones that were there at independence.
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