Seventy-year-old Shehu Aliyu Maradun was the driver (chauffeur) to the late Sardauna of Sokoto, Sir Ahmadu Bello, until his death in the January 1966 coup. In this interview with PUNCH, Maradun recalled his memorable moments with the revered Premier of the Northern Nigeria Region
How did you become the driver (chauffeur) to the late Premier of the Northern Region?
I never sought to be the late Sardauna’s driver, rather, I would say it was providence that took me to him because by the time I met him, I didn’t even know how to drive a vehicle. It all started after I completed my primary education and decided to join the government because there was an advertisement for some positions in the public service for people who could read and write.
I applied and 75 applicants were selected and later, 25 of us were shortlisted. I was told I would be a driver at the Premier’s office, despite not having any knowledge of driving. I was asked if I was ready to be a driver and I said yes because I did not want to miss the employment opportunity.
Two of us, Abdulkadir Kaura and I, were selected to be drivers. We were taken to Kaduna and on arrival in Kaduna, we were taken to Alhaji Hassan Lemu, the protocol officer to the Premier. The late Sardauna picked interest in me during our first meeting when he heard that I was from Maradun and that my father was the ‘Magatakarda’, who was working with the village head.
On our second day in Kaduna, Abdulkadir, two others who were employed from Niger State; Muhammad Kudu and Ibrahim Shehu, and I were taken to a driving school. The white men, who were the vehicle inspection officers gave us learner’s permits (provisional licences) and date to start learning how to drive with some other people we met there. After some days, we were tested but none of us passed the test and we were later given 29 days to continue our training. After the 29 days of training, I was the only one recommended for further tests and after two days of rigorous tests, the white man in charge congratulated me.
I passed the tests and was issued my driver’s licence. Sardauna was very happy when I showed him my driver’s licence. I was number 12 among the drivers in the Premier’s office and was later sent to UTC Motors, where the government bought, serviced and repaired vehicles for another three months training. I learnt how to service and repair vehicles, and thereafter, joined the drivers in the convoy of the Premier.
How long did you drive Sir Ahmadu Bello?
I was the late Sardauna’s driver from 1964 until he died in the January 1966 coup. It all started after one of our trips from Zamfara back to Kaduna, when Sardauna told Ali Zaria, the senior driver, to give me the second car that he (Sardauna) usually went out with since the one with me was for guests. After some days while we were in Hadejia, Sardauna’s secretary told me to prepare to drive him (Sardauna). I was directed to reposition my car; then suddenly, they brought two police power bikes which would ride in front of me and another two behind. Also, there were three police horse riders in front and another three at the back. Since then, I became his driver until he was killed in 1966.
What were the memorable moments you had with him?
My experience working with the late Sardauna left an indelible impression on me because I learnt a lot through my closeness to him, and that really shaped my life, even after his demise. He was a very simple man and I enjoyed a close and good relationship with his family. The late Sardauna was interested in the progress of the people around him. Even though I was his driver, Sardauna took me as a son. He concluded all arrangements and bankrolled my marriage before embarking on a foreign trip to India in 1964. On his return, he still gave me £500, through Ali Zaria.
For you to know how much interest the late Sardauna had in my progress, there was a day we were in Zaria and he asked me if I had a bank account where I save money. I said yes, and he asked for my account number. I said the number was in Kaduna, but honestly, I did not have any bank account. When we returned to Kaduna, Sardauna still reminded me to give him my account number. I was left with no other option but to tell him the truth. He then counselled me to save for a rainy day and gave Abba, one of his staff members, £15 to open an account for me at Bank of the North.
How did you hear about his death?
You know Sardauna was killed during Ramadan. It was my wife who woke up to prepare Sahur meal that woke me around 2am to say she heard gunshots coming from within the vicinity. I did not take it seriously because I wasn’t living in Sardauna’s house; I was living nearby. It was when one Abdullahi ran to my house and said the opposition, the Action Group, had killed Sardauna that it dawned on me that the gunshots my wife said she heard must be connected to Chief Samuel Akintola’s discussion with Sardauna some days earlier.
Along with Abdullahi, we went to the residence of Sardauna’s second steward, Mamman Bakura, and then headed to Sardauna’s residence. From a distance, we first noticed something unusual – the building was in darkness despite having a standby generator. As we moved closer to the house, we heard gunshots and this made us to retreat and run back to our houses. It was Ali’s wife that broke the sad news to me when she came to my residence in the early hours of the morning as they had been chased out of the Government House. Ali was Sardauna’s orderly. What we did was to fulfil Sardauna’s wish because he had said he should be buried in Wurno, near Sultan Abubakar Fodio’s grave.
How was he killed from the account you heard?
The only episode I was not privy to was the killing of the late Sardauna but I was privileged to know other things that happened from my vantage position as one of the closest drivers to him. The unfortunate incident occurred in the month of Ramadan, after Sardauna returned home via Mallam Aminu Kano International Airport from Umrah (lesser hajj). The following day as soon as we arrived in Kaduna, Chief Samuel Akintola, the Premier of the Western Region, called Sardauna on the telephone to say he was coming to see him in Kaduna. Yanda Argungu, Ali, senior driver; Hassan Lemu, and I were sent to the airport to receive Samuel Akintola. Unknown to us, Chukwuma Nzeogwu, who had been monitoring the movement of Sardauna, trailed us to the airport and back to Sardauna’s residence. When Akintola arrived at Sardauna’s residence, while they were having a discussion, I overheard Akintola asking Sardauna if he was aware that the military wanted to overthrow their government? Sardauna said he was not aware of such plans and asked Akintola what he planned to do. Akintola answered that he came with an aircraft and they should run out of the country. But Sardauna categorically said no, that he was not going to leave Nigeria because some people wanted to overthrow his government. He assured Akintola that he would give him the necessary support to go to any neighbouring country he wanted to flee to.
The courage shown by Sardauna made Akintola to jettison his plan to flee the country. He then told Sardauna that he was going back to Ibadan and that anything that would happen to Sardauna should also happen to him. Then we took Akintola back to the airport.
On his last Friday on earth, Sardauna went for Jumaat prayer dressed in a dark green babariga made from Guinea brocade fabric. When he returned home, he did not enter the house; he ordered that his chair should be brought outside, within the compound, so that his assailants would not need to stress themselves in entering the house before they would overthrow his government. It was from that spot that he went for Azur prayer at 4 pm and returned there till he broke his fast for the day.
On this particular night, four men – the Commissioner of Police, M. D. Yusuf; Secretary to the Premier, Ali Akilu; Yusuf Balanta and Brigadier Samuel Ademulegun – came to meet Sardauna and he led them to the conference room. They had a closed-door meeting and after the meeting, the visitors departed. About 30 minutes later, three of them came back without Brigadier Ademulegun and Sardauna led them again to the conference room. We don’t know what they discussed.
People have said many things about the coup and come up with different reasons why Chukwuma Nzeogwu and others carried it out. What do you think was behind it?
How would I know? It was crystal clear that the over-ambitious coup plotters, who were influenced by ethnicity, were driven by selfish interest. Unfortunately, the wound inflicted on the nation has yet to heal as we are still living with the scars of the bloody coup.
What was the last thing the late Sardauna said to you?
My last encounter with him was around 10 pm, the night before he was killed. It was shortly after the trio of M. D. Yusuf, Ali Akilu and Yusuf Balanta left the house. He directed me to get Ali Zaria, the chief driver, for him. Ali Zaria was living in the boys’ quarters. When Ali got him, he asked if all the vehicles were in good condition and Ali said yes.
The Sardauna said he planned to travel to Sokoto for Sallah celebration, which was in five days’ time. I remember he also asked me to call Ali, his orderly, whom he asked for the number of policemen in the house at the time. His orderly said four were at the entrance gate and another four in the backyard and Sardauna directed him to get more policemen. Mind you, policemen on duty at the Premier’s residence were not armed; they only had batons. It was only Ali, his orderly, who had a pistol with four bullets. Around 11 pm, I bade him goodnight, not knowing that would be our last encounter.
How are his children doing today?
The late Sardauna had three children, all females. His first child is dead; she was married to the late Emir Sanusi, the grandfather of the current Emir of Kano. His second child, Gogo Aisha, is the mother of Magajin Garin Sokoto and his last child, Luba, currently resides in England, UK.
What are the fond memories you have of him today?
Aside from being a detribalised Nigerian, the late Sardauna was a selfless leader. After he was killed, Nzeogwu ordered the military to probe into his bank account, but when the bank manager confirmed the amount in his account, they were shocked beyond imagination – the balance was £60. Sardauna’s untimely death was a great loss, not only to me but the entire Northern region and Nigeria as a whole.
He was not only committed to the development of the North and Nigeria, but his legacies all over the northern region are also a testimony to his selfless service. Sardauna was not materialistic; he had only one house in Sokoto, which was renovated during the late Sani Abacha’s regime. He also left behind three guest houses for visitors.
What are the things you knew about him that people don’t know about him?
None of the leaders that came after him, at whatever government level, have anything close to his unblemished credentials in good governance and sincerity of purpose. I doubt if anyone knows the story of Sheikh Shabab College, Kaduna, opposite the Nigerian Defence Academy. Sardauna raised funds from oil-rich Kuwait to build the secondary school and named it after their leader. He never embezzled or mismanaged funds; he used funds for the purpose of advancing education in the North. The school is still there till date. (Culled from The Punch