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Katsina New Lay-out, My Idea – Isah Katsina



Former Secretary to the Katsina State Government in the then Governor Umar Musa Yar’Adua administration and one time Secretary to the defunct Kaduna State Government is easily one of the most gifted Katsina’s public administrators ever. The member of the pioneer students of the Ahmadu Bello University Zaria said Katsina New Lay-out is one of the things that really make him proud.  In this interview with ANDY ASEMOTA, he speaks on wide range of issues

When and where you born?

I was born here in Katsina in 1940.

How did you know that was actually when you were born?

Actually, I am sure because my father enrolled me in an elementary school at the age of seven.  And when I worked it from there up to the time I finished, five years in elementary school, two years in middle school and six years in secondary school that made up my early education, it is very easy although I could not ascertain the month I was born but I could say I was born in 1940.

How was growing up like?

It was hectic and full of freedom; sometimes to roam the forest around the town to fish in the ponds, to hunt and to collect eggs most of the time.  At that time Katsina was not even one fifth of what it is now. It was all bush and forest land.  Also, we had a lot of time to venture into these forests and enjoy ourselves.

Which institutions and or schools did you attend?

I attended Kayiwa Elementary School in Katsina from 1947 to 1951 because I had to repeat a year as a result of illness.  Instead of four years, I did five.  Hence, I finished a year behind my colleagues who finished in 1950. I finished in 1951.  We started middle school and we had to do what they called half class and move class before we jumped to form one. In form one I was selected to take the examination into Barewa College.  Thus, I was in the middle school for two years and at the end of 1953, I joined Barewa College.

Where did you start work?

I may say I left Barewa at the end of 1959 and started work in Katsina Native Authority as Trainee Technical Officer III.  All along, I started work right from the beginning but later on I went to technical college in Kaduna with the hope of undergoing an engineering course but it happened that I passed the examination so well that I was taken away during a technical course in Sokoto to a sandwiched course at Institution of Administration, Zaria.  From there, we were selected to go to the Ahmadu Bello University (ABU) Zaria.

When was that?

That was in 1962.

When did you graduate from ABU?

I graduated in 1965.  We were the pioneer students of ABU Zaria.

Why did you choose the profession you practised?


It was due to circumstances and choice. I told you that I was in technical school, Kaduna.  I did very well there and the government at that time, Sardauna (of Sokoto) was there and the late Abubakar Imam in one way or the other saw my result and other reports and he said I should come to the institution of Administration, Zaria, to do an abridge course preparatory to being one of the first batch of students of ABU.  And I did that preparatory course and straight away I got a diploma in public administration and that took me away from the hope of being an engineer.

How did you join the public service?

I had been in the public service all long.  I attended the university as an in-service student sponsored by the government.

Would you say the choice of your career was deliberate or accidental?

I think it was a bit accidental and deliberate because I agreed when late Abubakar Imam suggested that I should come to ABU.

When did you get married and how did you meet your spouse?

Usually, in the North here and as they say Cupid the god of love has wings but it does not fly far.  Usually, many people around here married around the neighbourhood and so on and so forth.  We are not used to going very far to get our wives.  So, I got my wife from one of the people I worked with in the Native Authority. The man, who was my head of department, I saw his daughter, when I visited his house on duty and I married her in 1967.

What endeared you to her?

The traditional set up did not allow for love formation between a would-be husband and a wife.

However, what could have endeared her to you.  Perhaps it was her beauty, complexion or physical stature?

It could be, it could be.  Mainly, it was getting a wife from somebody whom I worked with and we had close relationship and he showed me care and love.  She was not ugly at all.

How many children do you have now?

I have a total of 12 from my wives.

How was life in the service?

It was very interesting in the sense that you could be posted right from Katsina to Mabila Plateau.  You know, I started as a district officer who was also called political officer. When you go to a district and a division, you are all and all.  And you even sit in judgment, register marriages and you perform the ceremony of marriages and you can even be a judge in a criminal case. That was the sort of jobs I used to do.  And it was interesting and during the war I was in Lokoja and we were organizing civil defence with the local people. It was an interesting moment.

How is life in retirement now?

Very productive, I may say, because really they get me engaged all the time either I am a board member or board chairman, or as an adviser to my home state government or to other governments.

How would you compare life during your growing up in the service and now in retirement?

The difference is security and insecurity.  At that time, let me give you an example.  If you had a car as a district officer in Lokoja, if you must service it, you must travel to either Kaduna or Ibadan and that you would do the driving alone.

What challenges did you face when you were growing up?

One, my father died when I was about to go to middle school in 1951 and I grew up as a orphan under my elder brother, but that didn’t pose a lot of challenge in that sense because my brother took good care of me and paid my fees, if required, because at that time there were no school fees.

In your working life what were your challenges?

As administration officer, the challenges have to be numerous; uncountable, challenges.  I was posted here in Katsina as sole administrator in 1976, almost operating as a governor in most of the local governments in the Katsina Emirate.  There were so many challenges in the area comprising Rimi, Jibia, Kaita, Batsari, Katsina and other local government areas now.

The challenges were uncountable, innumerable; they were so many. When I reported in Katsina as sole administrator, I inherited the problem regarding the location of old Damarna cemetery.  The Izalla sect members wanted to extend the cemetery right to the old wall near Alhaji Dahiru Mangal’s house.  And they just went ahead and started constructing concrete wall fence and all of a sudden, some elderly people came up and challenged them, saying the land the group wanted to take over as a burial ground belonged to their great grandfathers and they would not allow it to be taken from them.

So, there was a very bad situation which could easily culminate into bloodshed.  My predecessor was very happy to leave because he foresaw a lot of trouble. You know, the allocation of burial grounds is the function of local government.  So I constituted a committee of elderly people and mallams and told them their duty was to advise me on the religious and traditional regulations guiding the allocation of burial grounds.

They said sincerely the Quran with the Hadith has laid down that you cannot take over anybody’s land for the purpose of converting it into a burial ground under whatever pretence without compensating the owners.

The aggrieved persons started demolishing the wall fence before the committee’s findings were under public and Izalla people couldn’t stop them.  They were told the position of the Quaran and Hadith.  So, that was the way it was resolved although the Izalla sect wasn’t quite pleased.

Now in retirement, what are the challenges?

The challenge of many retirees is how to get something meaningful to do but as I told you I am regularly engaged by the government of the day either as chairman or as a member of the boards. You know, lack of involvement in public affairs is one of the retirement problems of people like me who have worked throughout their lives in the public service. In my own case I have no problem there. Every now and then, the government invites me to its functions and gives me at an important place to sit

Any regrets?

No. At the time I was getting old or weak, my children had come up and I am very much involved as personality in the society. I invested in my children in the sense that I took special care to make them educated and I am reaping my investment.

What gives you joy when you look back?

What makes me happy is that Allah in his grace has allowed that I finished my career without blemish. I didn’t accumulate any wealth and I am very happy that I did my duty as I should and I upheld the trust placed on me and I don’t have any regret and I don’t have any fear. Some of our colleagues who tried to accumulate wealth are there but if you check them thoroughly they are not entirely happy; they are always in fear and even some of them wanted to run away when President Muhammadu Buhari Buhari came to power. I had no intention to run away because I have no skeletons in my cupboard at all but many of them wanted to run away.

What do you have to say about the New Lay-out community you initiated in Katsina?

It is there in a book I wrote on the history of our great grandfathers. One of the things I noted was that it was a great feat which could only be achieved by a King or somebody who served as a governor for many, many years. You see, it is a thing of joy for me. This place is one of the most attractive places in Katsina now.

Most people like to live there in Katsina and the people who were there at the time (it was initiated) are always talking about it. Hence, I am very, very much pleased with that place I found.

When was it founded?

It was in 1997. The place was originally farmlands and I took over the farmlands from the owners, the ministry of lands made the demarcation into blocks, I paid the compensation and I personally distributed the plot one by one.

What was your position at that time?

I was the sole administrator of Katsina Local Government and the truth was I had a lot of backing in the military government at that time. So, I had no fear initiating anything which I thought good and honest and they always approved them for me. The New Lay-out is one of the things I am really proud of. With sincerity of purpose you can achieve anything.

What do you have to tell the younger generations?

Nigerians or the younger generations should do away with the idea that Nigeria or the world owes them anything. They should be up and doing. Granted that it is the duty of parents to see that their children are well educated but you see, parents too encounter so many problems in that respect.

Most young people are not very much interested in getting learned, they want to enjoy the world right from the word go but it’s not possible. The world does not owe them anything; they must be up and doing to learn trades, to be self reliant and not to render themselves for engagement as thugs and agents by politicians and other people who would want to use them for their own selfish purposes. And I know that the population of young people is overwhelmingly heavy on the society but the situation is not helpless, it’s not helpless, it’s not insurmountable.



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