Alhaji Abdulwahab Salawu, is retired but is definitely not tired. After his retirement in 2000, he set up an insurance brokerage firm, Sahab Insurance Brokers and has served as its managing director since then. In this chat with JOSEPH CHIBUEZE, he reflects on his 75 years on earth
Where and when were you born?
I was born in Otta, Ogun State on the 28th of June 1944. But I spent my childhood days in Kaduna where I also had my primary school education.
How did you know that was when you were born?
My father kept records of when all his children were born. The family has a tradition of keeping such records. You see, we may think that our parents didn’t go to school, but they know how to record dates, they know how to keep record of events especially significant events.
How was your growing up like?
Growing up at my time was very interesting. Well looking back now I can say it was very interesting, but then at that time we actually felt our parents were over working us.
Unlike what you have today, when I was growing up, you dare not disobey your parents, especially your father, in fact his word was law. I can remember a number of occasions when I was denied dinner because I spent too much time playing and failed to do one or two house chores. At that time, you dare not stay out of the house late in the night. There was close monitoring of what we do, not only by our parents, but also by other adults in the neighbourhood because it is believed that a child is for all not just for the biological parents. That was the training we had, such strict discipline is what helped to mould us into responsible adults, building in us the virtues of hard work, honesty, obedience and that sense of responsibility.
That is what is lacking in our society these days. Parents no longer have time to monitor their children because they are busy chasing money and neighbours cannot correct a child who has misbehaved because it is none of their business and even when they do, they end up getting into trouble with the parents of the child. It is really unfortunate.
Which schools did you attend?
I attended Baptist Primary School, Kaduna. That was in 1951, but I later moved to Government School Kaduna where I completed my primary education. I also attended the Commercial College, Zaria.
When did you start work?
I started work in 1966. That was just before the Nigerian civil war. I worked at the Niger Motors, it was a subsidiary of the United African Company (UAC). UAC recruited us just after secondary school and posted us to one of its subsidiaries. At that time working with the UAC was the dream of every young man. It was not only because they paid well, there is this prestige that come with it. So I was very happy when I got a job to work at the Niger Motors. Working there gave me the opportunity to meet with many people. There I made life-long friends.
But I had to leave Niger Motors for an electrical company, it is an electricity generating company in Bukuru, a suburb of Jos, Plateau State. Later I left them and was employed by an insurance company, Unic Insurance; that was in October 1966, I was with them until 2000 when I retired. After retirement I incorporated an insurance brokerage firm called Sahab Insurance Brokers. I am the managing director for now. We have some other shareholders.
Why did you choose the profession you practiced?
I would say that my going into insurance was accidental. There was no premeditation, I didn’t plan it, I just got a job in an insurance company and I loved it. So I don’t have any regrets at all. That was even why when I retired I still set up my own private insurance brokerage firm and we are doing well. You know sometimes providence leads you to where you should be. I didn’t have any prior knowledge of insurance, there was nobody I would say inspired me, but I have done well.
When did you get married?
I got married on the 14th of February 1973, the day you people call Valentine Day these days. It was a beautiful ceremony.
How did you meet your spouse?
I met her while we were in secondary school. We attended the same secondary school. I just discovered that while in school, we were just fond of each other. In fact we were actually friends, but not the type of friends you people have these days.
At that time we were very disciplined, you dare not mess up with a lady. Even the lady maintains her honour because she was conscious of her family name, so she wouldn’t get involved in anything that will put the family name in bad light.
Our parents knew that we were friends, the two families knew about the relationship.
What attracted you when you first saw her?
I was attracted by her discipline and modesty. She is a very good woman. The moment I saw her, I knew that she had a good home training. She was also very respectful and sincere. So right from day one, I knew she would make a good wife. She has not disappointed me.
How many children do you have?
I have eight children. They are all grown up now. Mine is a big happy family.
How would you describe your experiences while you were in employment?
It was a very challenging experience. It was particularly so because of the nature of our profession. You know in Nigeria, not many people really understand why they should take up an insurance policy. It is difficult convincing them, yet your employers want you to come with results. The challenge is that when they give you responsibility, you struggle to meet up. Responsibility depends on what management think you can do. I was in the Jos branch which was not doing so well, but the year I came there, I did so well that management had to upgrade the branch. Later on I moved to Kano. At that time, the output of Kano was not as much as that of Ibadan, Lagos, Port Harcourt and Benin, but when I took over as the area manager of Kano, we were next to Lagos. After Lagos, it was Kano.
You are always under pressure, your company want you to continue to increase your premium income every year. That was the challenge. But I thank God I was able to meet their expectations, but it wasn’t easy.
How would you describe life in retirement?
Life in retirement is full of challenges and responsibilities.
It is interesting to know that you are actively involved in something, doing things which senior management people like directors couldn’t do. And now you are retired, you can no longer do those things you were used to doing. In retirement, you are looking forward to be healthy with your family, you want to make sure that you bring your children up in the fear of God and to give them good education with your meagre resources. But all said and done, I am grateful to Allah who made all these possible for me.
In terms of health, I am healthy, my children are doing well and I still have a business of my own which I am managing. When I look at my colleagues and age mates whom we all started together, some of them are dead, some are bedridden, I just thank Allah for his grace upon me.
How would you compare life of the young people at you time and young people of today?
Life at our own time was a very good life, life now is very tough.
Then, we worshipped our parents, we worked for them, we served them, but now things have changed. Most children cannot take care of their parents, even after going to university and getting big degrees. Children graduate from the university, they have no job; they still depend on their parents.
In those days, we didn’t place emphasis on money, we lived a life of contentment. The best child in the house was the child that worked for the parents, but now the best father is the father that gives his children money. We were more interested in maintaining the good name of the family than in what money we can make. You try to protect the family name as much as you can. It was a taboo to hear that someone is a thief or that someone was involved in practices that revolve around cheating. In fact it is your family that will first of all denounce you and even bring you before the council of elders for punishment. Who does that today?
At our time, the competition was to become acceptable in the society and measuring up with peers. In fact I can tell you that we were always striving to outdo each other in terms of who becomes the most hard working and obedient because your parents will always proudly declare how a good boy you are.
Parents these days celebrate the ill-gotten wealth of their children. A child drives a car home, you know he does not have any job or at least that the job he is doing is not paying him enough to buy a car, but the parent celebrate him and even make mockery of neighbours whose own children are yet to buy a car.
What I have seen is that our society has lost its values. Even elders no longer tell the truth for fear of losing favour or even being killed. What are you living for if at the age of 70/80, you cannot caution a child that has done evil, you cannot call evil, evil. Something is definitely wrong in our society and we can only begin to rebuild and reclaim what we have lost if the religious groups would stop preaching money, money and begin to tell their followers the truth about life. You cannot reap where you did not sow. You cannot succeed in life if you do not work hard, if you do not make sacrifices. Enough of this easy money thing.
Where were you at the nation’s independence?
I was then in Kaduna. I was still in school at the time. We were taken to the parade ground where we did march past with the Premier taking salute. We watched as the British flag was lowered and Nigeria’s Green White Green flag was raised.
I must tell you, it was a joyous occasion. We were happy that we have finally gained independence.
What were your expectations from the independent Nigeria and have they been met?
First of all we now have full independence. Of course it is natural to expect that with the independence, Nigeria will become an Eldorado. We all had that expectations, and it was legitimate.
Have those expectations of yours been met 58 years after?
Well, it is one thing to expect something, it entirely another thing for it to come to pass. In the case of Nigeria, while one had expected that we would have gone far beyond where we are now, we should also appreciate the fact that we have moved forward. We may not have done so well, but don’t forget the effect the civil war had on the country. That war set us back many years. And I can tell you that up till now, we have not yet recovered from that war. The distrust that was sown as a result of the war is still deep, people are now more of their ethnic group than they are Nigerians.
The long military rule also did not help us and the civilians that took over seem to be only after their personal pockets than serving the people. The level of corruption is unimaginable. There is virtually no office you go to and ask for something, that someone will not demand for bribe. What is even making me to shed tears now is the fact that young men and women looking for job are being asked to pay up to N1,000,000 to someone for them to be employed. Where will the person get the money from? If he had that kind of money wouldn’t he use it to set up a business? Those are some of the things that are pushing our youths into crime such as armed robbery, kidnapping, prostitution and even joining insurgency groups, and we keep blaming them. Something needs to be done and quickly too to save this nation.
I think we need a national reorientation. I expect the present administration which has set for itself, the task of fighting corruption, to invest heavily in reorientation of the people. What we need is attitudinal change, we need to recover our value system, it is not putting people in jail. We need to change the people’s mindset, get them to see corruption as an aberration. That is the way to go. I also expect that the Nigerian people should support the government, let’s stop playing politics, this is a national emergency. If you think it is not affecting you now, it might affect your children tomorrow.
What was your favourite food as a young man?
My best food then was Amala and Gbegiri (Beans soup) but now because of age and the need for us to reduce our carbohydrates intake, I now settle for wheat and vegetable soup.
How do you unwind?
I love children, that is why most times you find me sitting with younger ones, telling interesting stories. It is always fun for me. I also love wrestling, traditional wrestling, not the one you people do on television, killing and wounding yourselves. I love it our traditional way which essentially is meant to entertain. Don’t ask me if I am a good wrestler.
Do you attend parties?
Yes I did, especially when I was invited. I dance too. Attending parties to me apart from being a way of relaxing, it is also a way of showing that you care for the celebrant and you are there to rejoice with him or her. It is a bad thing for someone to invite you to his party and you refuse to attend, especially when you have no serious reason not to go. We all organise parties at one time or the other, how will you feel if people refuse to attend your party?
Do you listen to music/which type?
Of course I listen to music, especially the old highlife music like that of Ebenezer Obey, Sunny Ade, Victor Uwaifor and Victor Olaya. If you listen to their message you will discover that they are prophetic. I cannot listen to the music of today because sometimes they are abusing themselves and they say they are singing. Their music has no message, it has no meaning.
Glory be to Allah as I am happy at my age. I don’t have any regrets.
What would you have done differently?
I would have loved to further my education. I would also have loved to provide a vacation centre where people can go and relax. But Allah knows all. I am grateful to him for what I have been able to accomplish, most especially, maintaining my personal integrity. There is no one who will say that I stole his thing or that I cheated him in any way. Those are some of the things my father warned me against and I am happy I kept to them.
What were your hobbies then and what are they now?
Then it was watching football match now it is playing golf and walking. You know at my age, I need to do exercise to keep fit. Golf is actually a game I love dearly.
How would you want the government and the society to help make life more enjoyable for the aged?
Old age is not a cause. Everybody whom God preserves his life will get old. I know some people behave as though they will never get old by the way they treat those of us who are old. They forget that we were once like them and they will come to be like us.
You see caring government provides for its youths as well as its older persons. We don’t have that in our country. The society has also failed in protecting the old. In other countries where they value life, provisions are made for the old, for their medicals, their feeding, their accommodation and everything that will make them enjoy their old age. These are the things I would want this government to do for us more so as our President is also an old man.
What advice do you have for the youths?
I will advise the youths to be honest, be sincere, be patient and listen to their parents. Don’t say you have gone to university, what can they teach you, the books will not help you. Some people have first degree, second degree, third degree and yet nothing to show for it. Always think of what you can do to feed yourself. Don’t say you are too big for any job, so long as it is legitimate, do it, it is better than sitting idle. One must be contented with what he has. When you have that contentment, you will be able to move ahead. If you are not contented with one naira and you are hoping that when you have one million you will be contented, it is a lie. Lack of contentment makes one a rolling stone and getting involved in all sorts of immorality and crime. The person will not have good character.
Another thing I will advise them is to get themselves engaged in a positive means of earning a livelihood. There is nothing like menial job, if it pays your bill. They should work harder, be disciplined, honest and have patience.
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