I was born on November 25, 1946 in Jada, Adamawa State, Nigeria. I was named after my paternal grandfather, Atiku Abdulkadir. It was the practice among the Fulani people to name their first sons after their paternal grandfathers.
My grandfather, Atiku, came originally from Wurno in Sokoto State. There, he had met and befriended Ardo Usman, a Fulani nobleman from what is now known as Adamawa State. My grandfather decided to accompany his new friend back to his home- town of Adamawa.
They settled in Kojoli, a small village in Jada Local Government Council of Adamawa State. My grandfather farmed, kept livestock and raised a family. He married a local girl in Kojoli and gave birth to my father, Garba Atiku Abdulkadir.
He was their only child. My father was an itinerant trader who traveled from one market to another selling imitation jewelry, caps, needles, potash, kola nuts and other nick-knacks which he ferried around on the back of his donkey.
He also kept some livestock and cultivated guinea corn, maize and groundnuts.
When it was time for him to marry, my father chose a young girl from nearby Jada town whose parents had migrated from Dutse, now the capital of Jigawa State.
My mother, Aisha Kande, was born in Jada. Both my father and paternal grandfather were learned men. They gave free Islamic classes to adults and young people in Kojoli during their spare time.
As a young boy growing up in Kojoli, my parents doted on me. They tried their best to provide for me and to ensure that I grew up in a wholesome environment of love and spirituality. My father saw me as a rare gift, a child of destiny. My parents tried unsuccessfully to have more children.
GOING TO SCHOOL My father, Garba Atiku Abdulkadir, was fond of me. He wanted me to become an Islamic scholar, herdsman, farmer and trader – just like him. He was a deeply religious man who was suspicious of Western education which he believed could corrupt the impressionable minds of young people.
My father did not want me to go to school. He tried to hide me from the prying eyes of Native Authority officials who had embarked on compulsory mass literacy campaign in the region. My father soon discovered that he could not resist the wind of change that was blowing through the area at the time.
My mother’s older brother, Kawu Ali who had received a little education through adult literacy classes, registered me at Jada Primary School in January 1954 as Atiku Kojoli. For trying to stop me from going to school, my father was arrested, charged to an Alkali court and fined 10 Shillings. He refused to pay the fine. He said he had no money.
He spent a few days in jail until my maternal grandmother, who made local soap for sale in the community, raised the money to pay the fine and father was released to her. But my father was not a happy man. He was sad and angry that his only child had been taken away from him to be exposed to a strange world. He saw Western education as a threat to their cherished values and way of life.
FATHER’S DEATH Three years after I started school, tragedy struck in December 1957. I was then11 years old. I was just about to begin the Senior Primary School in Jada as a boarding pupil.
My father drowned while trying to cross a small river known as Mayo Choncha on the outskirts of Toungo, a neighbouring town. The river was in high tide following a heavy rainfall. Father’s body was recovered the following day and buried in Toungo according to Islamic rites. He was less than 40 years old when he died.
I built an Islamic primary school at his burial site years later to immortalize him. He was a simple, hard working, kind, honest and God-fearing man. I miss him a lot. After my father’s death, the task of raising me fell on my mother, Kande, and her childless sister, Azumi, as well as my father’s extended family members in Kojoli. Although people were generally kind and caring towards me, it was difficult for relatives to fill the vacuum left by my father. As such, I was often.