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Reminiscences: Our Values Have Gone Down The Drain – Captain Joji

Captain Muhammad Joji is the chief executive Skypower Express Airways Nig. Ltd. In this interview with RAHILA ABDULLAHI, he takes a journey down the annals of time, recalling the standard of education and politics before Nigeria’s independence has drastically dropped

When and where were you were born?

I was born in Plateau State in a village called Gana Road, which is near Barkin Ladi, but I grew up in Gimbi Akwati where my father married my mother. I was born in May 1947, approximately 25th, because in my age group, unless someone recorded your date of birth, you cannot just say it exactly and if it is anything from 70 or 80, it is very difficult to know your exact date of birth.

 

How were you able to know the exact date you were born?

Why I said I was born in 1947 is because I was privileged to come across my primary school register, because then, Malam Baba Hadeja a religious teacher in my school took and kept the register of everyone then. The school was established in 1947 and it was Amalgamated Tin Mines of Nigeria (ATMN). In those days the white people who were mainly miners were the ones who established the school for us, hence the name ATMN.

I was number 129 in the school then at age 7, I went to school in 1954, this was how I knew I was born in 1947. And at that time Gwamna Awan was the first headmaster in the school, in fact the register contained the list of teachers who taught in the school with their salaries, the white man looked at your fundamental background before appointing you to a certain position in life. It is very important for one to keep his records intact.

 

Which other educational institutions did you attend?

I went to an elementary school in Gana Road, but I started in Jos in a primary school which was established by a Bauchi State man who was living in Jos called Malam Arabee in Gangaren Jos just near the bridge where the University of Jos is located now in 1952. They taught us a bit of English language but it was purely an Arabic school, and you know the famous long clock in Jos, we were born to see it there, I started my junior secondary school in 1954, and one thing most people do not know then is that from primary one to three, we were taught in Hausa, so it was when you are about to graduate from primary three that you would be taught a bit of English.

Subjects such as history, geography and many others were taught in our local language, this made schooling very interesting, easy and very understandable because we were taught in our local languages. Secondly why schooling was very easy for us then was because we were able to memorize the Qur’an which has opened our brain and made the western education easy for us.

That is why I am not in favour of the kindergarten and nursery school because when you look at the years back, we were kept at home under the care of our parents, unlike the children now who are being taken to the nursery school and as such, your responsibility has been handed over to a total stranger who does not understand your culture or tradition, hence the need for us to start thinking on how to review the whole thing or better still go back to the old system.

In those days the grade three teacher took from primary one to four, while the grade two took primary five to seven and grade one taught the secondary school. Shehu Kangiwa who was the best polo man at that time was our practical teacher from TTC Bauchi in 1959. When he came for teaching practice, then the white men sat to supervise those sent for the practice, the teachers then were segregated, well groomed and fed unlike now teachers ask students to buy handouts which is wrong, they are supposed to teach you.

From the elementary school in Gana Road where I did primary one to three, I went to primary five to seven as my senior primary school at Riyon, then my secondary school which was a government school at Pankshin in Plateau State from 1962 to 1964, where I graduated with a secondary school 3 leaving certificate in bricklaying, carpentry and sheet metal work.

I also attended Technical College Bukuru, Plateau State from 1964 to 1967, where I graduated as an electrical/ mechanical engineer. NYSC then was referred to as manpower and it started in 1967 and once you are done with it, free scholarship was given to us to go and study anywhere in the world but for me by 1969, I decided not go to any foreign country, I made up my mind to go to Aviation School, Zaria which was in 1969 and that was how my aviation career started.

I’m also a graduate of Pilot Training School in Gamble, England and Perth Air Training School in Scotland, 1978 to 1980. I was a superintendent and senior inspector design and development Aero Electronics, Western Airways, England 1973 to 1974, I worked at British Airways, United Kingdom as aero electronics engineering manager 1974 to 1986. During the period, I had been flying with Air Scotland.

I was a managing director as well as chief executive Skypower Express Airways Nig. Ltd 1986 to date. I was also executive board director Nigeria Airways Limited 1989 to 1991, I also worked as managing director Nigerian Airways Limited 1992 to 1994 as well as secretary-general Aircrafts Operators Association of Nigeria (AOAN). However, I was admitted as a freeman of the City of London on 15th day of April, 1994 in the 43rd year of the reign of Queen Elizabeth ii for services rendered to the aviation industry.

 

How was growing up like?

Well, I grew up as a stubborn child because during my youth one had to be like a man because someone might just come and pick up a fight with you and you must know how to fight your fellow men regardless of who the person was. There was a time while growing up, we were learning how to speak English language, I was the head boy then, so the head girl of my school pinched my nose and out of anger I hit her breast and unfortunately she collapsed because she was just growing breast then, so on getting to the headmaster’s office, he asked me to explain myself in English and as we were learning the language then, I did not know what breast was called in English, so I said she did that and I hit her milk, because then I only knew the milk from the cow which is called (nono) in Hausa, and then everyone was laughing at my English.

 

When did you start work?

It was in the Railways in 1967 during the civil war when we were just finishing from the technical college when late Major Hassan Katsina took some of us to the Railways where we spent two and half years before we started receiving some salary.

 

When did you choose your profession?

When I finished from aviation school, Zaria, I went to do a post graduate program in aero electronics engineering in Brunel London between 1971 to 1973. I also specialised in airborne communication, navigation and radar equipment. In those days if you got into the airlines and you did not have any money, we went to some building sites and took up another job such as digging. That was why a labourer digging earned more than a professor then, it was then I bought my first temporary car in 1971.

 

Was choosing your profession deliberate or accidental?

It was by accident because I was born to be a soldier, I passed my NMA Zaria exam in 1961 but I was unfortunately waiting for the result to be released, then an interview came at that time for crafts school Pankshin, and I took it because of the fear that I might not get admitted into NMA and that I would end up not attending secondary school. That’s how technical education came to me by accident because my choice was military at that particular time, but I was later called to attend NMA but it was too late as I was already in Crafts School Pankshin.

 

When did you get married?

I got married late around 1986.

 

How did you meet your spouse?

That is something quite interesting. Then I was straying abroad and my family thought I will not get married, so when I came for holidays with my jeans, afro hair and chains on my neck, they asked me to go and choose my wife from three different houses they proposed and I agreed. On reaching my wife’s house, she looked at me and started laughing because the way I dressed and that was how we met, and you know marriages then last longer compared to the present time because then we did not date, we met and agreed to get married.

 

What attracted you to her?

She was a teacher, her composure, intelligence and dress sense endeared her to me.

 

How many children do you have with her?

I have seven children with her. Two males and five females.

 

How was life in service?

It was interesting and challenging because you did not know what would happen tomorrow, it was sensitive and fragile too and at the same time high profile industry.

 

In what ways did your people particularly benefit from your profession and positions you held?

I employ people and teach them as well, I pay for flight maintenance, I am an employer of labour, I have a school for training pilots and engineers, funny enough to mention, the present governor Nasir el Rufai was the first person who started the infrastructure of my maintenance facilities, he is the quantity surveyor who designed everything for me because he is a very intelligent man and mine was the first indigenous maintenance facility in the north.

 

How is life in retirement?

I never retired because I still have my airline Skypowers, though I retired from British Airways in 1986 and started the operation of Skypowers same year. Before I left British Airways, I was already steady in Skypowers, I started planning on how to operate my own airline since 1985.

 

How will you compare life during your time with what obtains now?

I always tell people that we really have lost a lot because those days while in secondary, colleges, tertiary institutions, we were fed three times daily, given three sets of uniforms, I used to tell my colleagues that why can’t we do same to the children now, what right do we have to deny those in school now the quality of education we had before? Now you see people or an individual dashing money and cars anyhow, then you begin to ask yourself how does he make money, one other bothering issue is the political system of the country, we have been saying it should be restructured but instead of doing the right thing, the so-called political leaders will always look for ways to bring division among the people of the country, all they need do is to go back to the democratic parliamentary system of the country and do the needful.

 

Where were you during the country’s independence in 1960?

I was in senior primary school Riyon, at that time we first learnt the national anthem which is the old one and it was very meaningful than the new one which has the pledge and to me is very stupid.

 

Have your hopes at independence been met?

System keeps changing, hopes and dreams keep changing, then if you still believe, it is shame to you and your whole family. I remember one storekeeper in Zaria who told me he never went on leave for thirty years and when he was asked why the refusal to go on leave, he said he was afraid if he went on leave someone would come and steal from the store in his absence. So, you can imagine the kind of dedication people have then, values have gone, school values have also gone, the whole world system has collapsed. Maybe we have to wait till the day of resurrection.

 

How did you unwind during your younger days?

I was a sportsman during my school days because I was involved in all sorts of sporting activities

 

What challenges did you face while growing up?

I was faced with the challenges of becoming a man because in those days you had to be a man

 

Did you have any challenges in your work life?

Well aviation industry is the most fragile and volatile industry, like I can tell you in Nigeria for the past 30 years, about 56 airlines have gone bankrupt because you can never recoup what you have spent. Ownership of aircraft is very expensive, unless one steals or gathers all his resources to maintain that aircraft. That is why most foreign countries, people do not buy aircraft, they only finance.

 

Has the present-day National Assembly met the expectations of the people?

Well, I do not go there because I am no longer a member of AOAN even though some might say I do not have interest. Whatever it is I won’t say anything now.

 

Do you have any regrets?

One has to have regrets in life and as such mine is that my parents did not live long to see whom I became, by the time I became someone in life, both of my parents were gone. My dad died 7th July 1970 by 8:20 pm, I was in Aviation School Zaria and I was told he was bedridden and on reaching the hospital he was lying breathing unconsciously, just as I went to bring food, before my return, he gave up. My mother also died while I was abroad around 1979, which was exactly nine years after my father’s demise, she died of car accident.

 

Your advice to the younger generation?

The younger generation has a problem of being in a hurry to become rich, they should learn to leave a pious life, sometimes they look at those kids whose parents have stolen money. This is why we say values have gone out of the window.

 

Did you listen to music in your youth?

You see in my youth I was a disc jockey when I was in Bristol from 1971 to 1973, and what I keep thanking God for is that I never drink, womanise, I never missed my prayers and fasting.

 

Your favourite tunes, artistes and dance steps?

My favourite tune then was temptation, and JB but now I never play music while driving in my car, this is why I warn people never to play music while driving. Always listen to religious scriptures.

 

What were your hobbies then and now?

My hobbies then were all sorts of sports. Now I cannot even cross a gutter properly because the legs are heavy because time changes.

 

Your favourite food then and now?

Do you know something, believe me I eat anything, anything good goes into my stomach.

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