Alhaji Sani Bala Tanko is retired bank worker. In this interview with ACHOR ABIMAJE, he speaks about his past, the country at independence and after among others
Where and when were you born?
I was born in Barki Ladi local government council of Plateau State on November 7, 1957 precisely.
How did you know that was when you were born?
I had a very literate uncle, who wrote down my date and year of birth when my mother gave birth to me.
What was growing up like?
It was mixed grill. At that time, there was no tribal or religious sentiment unlike what is currently obtainable in the Nigerian State. Then, there were no clashes between religions; we were all the same. We went to the same schools and shared things together. Everyone lived in unity and there was peace amongst neighbours.
When did you start schooling?
I started schooling in 1965 but dropped out for some reasons and later went back to school in 1967.
When did you start work?
I started work in 1976, but before then I secured admission to study at a London University. I have forgotten the name of the university. I was also admitted to London School of Journalism to study Journalism then but could not go because I was the only grownup child in the family. My uncle advised that I could get a job, fortunately I got a job with the Bank of the North and First Bank of Nigeria and some few other places at the same time but I opted for First Bank of Nigeria. That was the beginning of my career in the banking industry which was towards the end of 1976.
Where did you work?
Like I said, I started my banking career in First Bank of Nigeria in 1976 which I practised for over three decades.
Why did you choose the profession you practised?
I admired bankers in those days because whenever you see them, they are neatly dressed and are regarded as honest people. Not many black people were working in the banks at that time except a few lucky ones. So, I admired them, any time I was passing by a bank I see them neatly dressed and working very smart. Generally, they command a lot of respect. Once, you hear someone is a banker, there is this pride that comes with it. I told myself that one day I will be one of them and it came to pass.
Was it deliberate or accidental?
Yes, I admired bankers and made deliberate effort to become one. That was why I chose the field of study I studied to align with the banking sector and I landed there.
When did you get married?
I got married in 1984, and I am blessed with five children. Among them are an engineer, a medical doctor, an economist and an Information and Communication Technology (ICT) specialist, even though we lost him to the cold hands of death. The fifth and the last child of the family is currently waiting for admission into a university.
How did you meet your spouse?
My wife was introduced to me through one of our customers in the bank. He asked me if I was married and I said no. He told me that there was this daughter of his good friend who is nice and well behaved. I was very curious to meet the person to confirm his assertion and fortunately, for me what he said about her was correct. After the introduction, we courted for a while before we finally got married.
What endeared you to her?
She is a very shy type. The very first time we met, she was very shy and that was an indication that they respect people in her family. You remember in those days when women are shy around men, unlike what is currently obtainable in the society presently, that attribute showed me she was well trained and it actually was one of the traits that endeared me to her. She is light, you know, I like people and so I did not waste time in grabbing her as my life partner.
How was life in service?
Life in service was actually fun. Working then was dignifying because people and workers were generally disciplined in those days. In fact, you cannot open an account elsewhere unless where you are working. You are not allowed to wear any type of clothes. They were disciplined. Even if somebody is employed a day or two, hours after you, there is that respect that he/she is your senior. Also, special regard and recognition were given to bankers in those days, and our salaries were very lucrative then unlike what is obtainable now where banks employ only a handful of people while the others are employed as contract staff and paid peanuts. Bank job is very tasking so if you are employed as a contract staff in most cases your salary may not be commensurate with the hard work.
How would you compare life during your time with what obtains now?
During my days in the industry, we are very much contented with the little one we had. We were practically hungry to serve, we were not overzealous and ambitious. We are not fascinated with flamboyant lifestyle or flashy things at that time. All you know is your job and the sincerity attached to it. Now there is no sincerity on the job. Most of them are doing eye service. You know, experience counts. We are not saying they should not employ highly educated people, but what we are saying is that you cannot buy experience from the market. There is a difference between experience, commitment and loyalty. Now, the difference is that unless you have contact, you know Mr A or B at the high level, if you do not know anybody, your merit will not take you anywhere. It is so sad that now you may have a first-class result and still not get a job because you do not know any influential person in the society. That was not obtainable then, in those days they do not care about all that, your performance speaks volumes for you not like today. A lot of people that are not grounded in certain areas, they do not know anything simply because they know Mr A or B they are made to be in charge.
Where were you during the country’s independence in 1960?
Like I told you earlier, I was in Barki Ladi local government council of Plateau State. I was just barely three-years-old then.
Have your hopes at independence been met?
Partially, because there is structurally development that has taken place already and because our leaders then, are selfless people. They are after positive things and the development of their people. They do not embezzle government’s fund. They are very committed. Universities like ABU, Zaria, Kaduna Polytechnic, New Nigerian Newspaper and Radio Nigeria were established because our leaders were not self-centred. They were committed to the development of their people and the country at large, but these days most of our leaders are only after themselves, families and children.
What challenges did you face while growing up, in your work life and now at retirement?
The banks in those days were not independent. The white men managed them. That time, you were forced to achieve results. Unlike when you grow up and become head of department or branches, so there is a great difference. You have liberty when you grow up than when you are under somebody. You know he will dictate the tune.
What are you doing after retirement from the banking sector?
I retired as group head of First Bank Nigeria Limited. I was in charge of four states, Benue, Bauchi, Plateau and Nasarawa states. I built the branches under me by making huge profits and a huge deposit base. In fact, I was rewarded monetarily by Sanusi Lamido Sanusi for my good performance. Presently, I am into integrated farming and also a financial consultant. I am into table water production business. I have poultry and fisheries farms. I cultivate cash crops. I am also the financial director of JNI, participating in voluntary organisation where we build capacity of people.
What would you have done differently?
It’s not that I regret going into banking, however, if I had to choose another field, I would have opted to be a businessperson exporting agricultural products.
What is your advice to the younger generation?
They should be honest and sincere in whatever they do. They should not live ostentatious life because slow and steady wins a race. Some of the youths are faster than their shadows at the same time overzealous and ambitious, as a result most of them often crash like a pack of cards.