Alhaji Ibrahim Ahmed is a retired general manager of Radio Niger. He is a seasoned journalist with many years of experience in the industry. In this interview with ABU AMODU, he pointed out that Nigeria might have witnessed some level of development but contends with ethnicity which divides her unity. He also took a walk down memory lane
Where and when were you born?
In the first place my name is Ibrahim Ahmed Kontagora, if you hear the word Kontagora it means, I was born in Kontagora. I was born on the 14 January 1943. Hence, by January 14 next year, I will be 78 years Insha Allah. At the age of six my father, Late Ahmadu Bawa Madaki Kontagora, and I moved to Minna.
How did you know that was when you were born?
I was born in that particular year because my late uncle, older brother of my late mother, was a school headmaster. He was educated enough to know my date of birth. My mother had me in the house of my grandfather, Sarkin Bauchi Usman, and my uncle, Alhaji Sani Sarkin Gona, recorded the day and sent it to my father immediately I was born on January 14, 1943.
How was your growing up like?
I grew up in a very large family. My father was a teacher at the Central Primary School, now named IBB Central Primary School Minna, before he became the Madakin of Kontagora. He brought me from Kontagora to Minna when I turned seven years, and I started my primary school in 1951 in the school where he was teaching then. The same school that was attended by General Ibrahim Babangida and General Abdulsalami Abubakar in 1950.
Which other schools did you attend?
After my primary education here in Minna, my late daddy moved to Kontagora and became the Madakin of Kontagora, I continued with my Senior Primary School Education there in Kontagora up to 1957. I took my secondary school examination then went to Abuja Secondary School, now Suleja Secondary School, in 1958. I then proceeded to the Netherlands for my certificate and Diploma in Broadcasting.
When did you start work?
I started my broadcasting career in July 1964 at Radio Television Kaduna, now Federal Radio Corporation, from 1964 to 1980. I transferred from Radio Kaduna to Radio Niger in Minna, Niger State, where I was appointed as the station’s general manager.
Why did you choose the profession you practised?
My sojourn into the broadcast profession was actually an accident. My late uncle, Alhaji Sani Kontagora, of blessed memory, was a broadcaster. I went to live in my uncle’s house after my secondary school in Kaduna, and he took me to his office one day and had an impromptu interview with the managing director of Radio Television Kaduna then, and was successful. That was how I started my career as a continuity announcer in those days, news reader and translator, both on radio and television.
When did you get married?
I got married in 1962 and my first child was born in March 1973.
How did you meet your spouse?
It happened that my late wife Hassana and I were virtually staying in the same house. So, we grew up together, I was older, and God made it that she was going to be my wife.
What endeared you to her?
She was a very humble woman, highly disciplined because she came from family of disciplined parents. I found in her that very special attribute and it further endeared her to me.
How many children?
We had nine children, six boys and three girls and as God willed, unfortunately though, three boys died, leaving me with three boys and three girls
How was life in service?
Honestly, life was very exciting. I worked with the Federal Radio Corporation, Kaduna, when it was Radio Television, Kaduna. We saw ourselves as one, it didn’t matter if you were Kanuri, Hausa, Gwari, Nupe or Tiv, we all assimilated, we all had a sense of belonging because we worked just like a family. It is just unfortunate that is no longer obtainable in our society today.
How is life in retirement?
Very exciting one in the sense that you wake up in the morning and you are not rushing off to work by 7:30 or 8 o’clock. However, in retirement all the time you think of what you are going to do for yourself or what you are going to do to earn a living because I retired in 1986. Now look at 1986 till date, it is a long time, so I need to look for a way to earn a better living and to take care of my life and family. So, I started rearing cattle and poultry business but I have left everything to my children now because of my age.
How would you compare life in your time and what obtains now?
As I said earlier, life was a little bit exciting during that time, everything was virtually free, one bag of rice was just about N2.00. If we are talking of naira but if the point I was just getting older in 1964, 1965, 1966, we bought a measure of rice one shilling today you imagine what it is, so you can’t compare the past with the present, things were much better in the past because one may say, we had smaller population, but today we have over 200 million people so growing food in the same way has become much more difficult, not to mention what is happening to the farmers today. Farmers cannot even go to the farm anymore because of insecurity. So, food is becoming too scarce, money is scarce. This unfortunately, coupled with the Coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic that is killing people uncontrollably globally. The situation is quite pathetic.
Where were you during the country’s independence in 1960?
I was still in Form 3 in the secondary school then. We were given school uniforms and were given pocket money every week back then. We were given money for our transportation when we were coming back home, and free food three times a day break-fast, lunch and dinner. But today those things are not there
Have your hopes at Independence been met?
When we got independence we hoped for a greater Nigeria. Recall, I mentioned I joined the service of the Nigerian Radio Television Kaduna, which was owned by a Northern broadcasting company after I left secondary school. Back then, we had all the hopes that Northern Nigeria will grow into a better place because the administrators at that time, late Sir Ahmadu Bello Sardauna and his ministers worked towards development. However, things started to change after the creation of states. People started talking of their state, local government, local government, and the town they come from. So, things have changed, we had all the hopes of becoming a good nation; we have development but unfortunately that cooperation is no more because people think more of their own local government and town than the country.
What is your favourite food now and then?
Being a Hausa/Fulani boy, I grew up eating Tuwo Shinkafa, Tuwo Dawa. If we remember those days when we were in school, we used to eat Tuwo Acha, you know this Acha up till today I enjoyed eating Tuwo Chinkafa and Miyan Taushe soup.
How did you unwind during your younger days?
During our younger days life was very easy. You spend most the time of the day busy at your place of work and you come back home to relax with your family afterwards. When I was working in the Radio Television, Kaduna, I had four or five children, then you find yourself always with your family and your friends, sometimes they come and take you out and go to the party or night club but you can’t balance that easily today.
Did you listen to music, go to parties or dance?
I was playing music as announcer on the radio. If you work with a radio station, you play music, both foreign and traditional, including all the recording of Alhaji Mamman Shatta. I did that and was heard in all parts of this country. I recorded a lot of music and enjoyed a lot too, both foreign and traditional music.
What were your favourite tunes, artistes and dance steps?
I don’t know whether you remember the time when they play a music called “twisting the night away?” You see, there was this musician I can’t remember some of their names and when you go to the night club or parties they play that record “ twisting the night away” and the other things like that well you know later on Jackson came up with all styles of music but at that time some of us had grown up older and become much more better.
What were your hobbies then and now?
Ok, back in my school days I played a lot of hockey even afterwards. We used to play with the Kaduna Flickers. I continued till I retired in 1973 then I started buying cattle, cows and keeping them in the village like a hobby till date.
What challenges did you face while you were growing up, in your work life and now at retirement?
You know, in those days as a broadcaster you enjoyed a lot of goodwill from people. If you were a good broadcaster you would go to many assignments you were given outside your station. You were never a stranger, you were given accommodation, feeding and your office gave you pocket money too. So, life at that time was extremely very exciting but when I came to Radio Niger as the general manager, I had to adapt myself then I was more an officer. I was not directly involved as a broadcaster. I had to invest myself to teaching and helping the young ones in my station to become good broadcasters.
Yes. In 1983, when there was this coup, Buhari took over and then you know all the chief executives of agencies in all the states were dismissed. You know we were all retired. After retirement when I received my payment, we all found it difficult to adjust but as God will have it immediately after my retirement in 1986 and 1987, I was given an appointment as a member, Board of Directors of the Federal Radio Corporation Nigeria (FRCN), then headquartered in Lagos. Afterwards, I was made a board member of New Nigeria in Kaduna and later came back to Niger State and I became the chairman of Niger State Media Corporation up till 2007.
What would you have done differently?
If I didn’t pick up broadcasting, I would have taken up administration. The first place I applied for scholarship was to go and study Journalism or Administration in London but there was no space for Administration, so I opted for Broadcasting and was sent to study at the Netherlands International Broadcasting where I got my certificate and diploma in 1969 to1970. I would have gone to London to read Administration if they had available slots then.
Advice to the younger generation?
Life is becoming too difficult these days and the younger ones are too keen to make money, and you can’t just make money like, you have to work and earn it in our days. In fact, when I was working with Radio Television, Kaduna, my salary was £13. Those were the pounds of those days, then when I retired at Level 16 Step 3, my retirement benefit was nothing to write home about today but still there was that contentment in me that I served diligently. Younger ones must work hard. They should also know they cannot run away from what God has destined for them.
You attended the same primary school with Gen. Ibrahim Babangida and Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar, two former Nigerian leaders, what was it like growing up with such leaders?
My late father, who was a teacher in the same school took each and everyone as his own child. We grew up just like one family, very close family with Gen. Babangida, Gen. Abdulsalami and myself, because we knew each other’s parents. We related closely like brothers, particularly Gen. Babangida and I. We were very close even with Gen. Abdulsalami, we are just like relations for the last 70 years because I knew both of them since 1950 till date, and by the Grace of Allah they are still alive and we still relate.
Were there attributes that suggested to you then that they would become leaders?
Yes, particularly General Babangida. Almighty Allah gave him that gift to mingle with everybody. He makes friends with anybody he comes across with, up till today. He had that vast knowledge; even at his young age he portrayed that knowledge trying to become the head of virtually everything. I can easily remember both of us before he became president when we were in Kaduna, he was always thinking ahead of his peers, ahead of what he thinks should become of this country, even at that time, he was a young man, he had vision.
What was your assessment of him generally as a leader, were you advising him?
Some of us in the same line with you in journalism should look at the development at that particular period and the money coming into the coffers of the government that time, compared with the development that time and what is happening today. If you look at the moving of the federal capital from Lagos to Abuja that is one big development particularly. Look at the development in Abuja, the structures and the educational development Babangida brought into this country. They are not quantifiable.
You asked whether I advised him while in office, of course, my relationship with General Babangida is very close. We always sat down and discussed why certain places couldn’t be touched and he would listen. He is a very good listener who tries to listen and adhere to advice. The good thing about General Babangida is that when you stay with him for 10 minutes if you don’t learn something, that means you will never learn again. He is a wonderful and fantastically intelligent person; he is patient and he listens to people.
What is that particular thing that you can recall IBB did that was brave?
When you are talking about his brave side, you talk about the Dimka coup. Dimka and Babangida were very close friends and they were course mates. Dimka went on air at a radio station in Lagos to announce that he was taking over knowing fully well that General Babangida was close to him. The then army Chief, General T. Y Danjuma, sent Babangida to bring him down. He went on that assignment and when Dimka saw him, Babangida simply told him to come down.
Dimka could have shot him then, he could have been killed and instead the coup ended. That was one sign of bravery. Another one I remember is that I covered the civil war and met General Babangida in Okigwe. He was commanding a battalion. When he saw me, he said ‘what are you doing here? Go back to Agwu.’ so we went back to Agwu because it was safer. Okigwe was attacked that same night I left him there. I called him and he told me I was very lucky because I might have been killed or shot if I stayed back.
There was also this time that he took a bullet on his way to Umuahia. He took a bullet again on his chest and that bullet remained in him until about two or three years ago when he went to Germany to get it removed. How can you have a bullet in your body and it remained in your body till you became the head of state even after he left the service? Only a brave person can do that. There were many of his acts of bravery.
What was the lessons you learnt from the civil war that you covered?
I think those who really saw the war have learnt several lessons because nobody today who was in that particular field or area when the civil war started and during the civil war would pray for such again.