Polygamists live longer than those in monogamy — Tanko Yakasai
Where were you born?
I was born at Kofar Mata quarters, a neighbourhood of Yakasai town in Kano State. But I grew up in Yakasai, where I was weaned at the age of two by my mother’s friend. I was named Tanko because I was preceded by female siblings. This is a tradition in Hausa, which is still being practised till today. The name of my father is Abubakar Barau and my mother is Hauwa Abubakar.
I didn’t go to a normal school initially. I attended Quranic schools. I attended evening classes at Shahuci Elementary School. I studied up to Grade II level. And by the time I graduated, I had trained myself to be a professional tailor.
I had interest in western education. The Government of East Germany offered me and the late Ali Abdallah, the father of Na’ajat Mohammed, an opportunity to study in East Germany then.
I travelled there for a degree programme but at the time, we had to spend one year to learn German language because the universities offered lectures in German. I calculated that at the end of the day, the programme would take at least seven years to complete. This was because I had to first master the German language. Then I had three children. I could not afford to leave my wife and three children for long. I then opted for a diploma programme instead of the degree programme. Other education I later acquired was self-taught.
Can you share your experience in colonial northern Nigeria?
The British believed that if they educated northerners the way they did for the southerners, their control of Nigeria would not last long. There is a saying by a popular colonial master that “to educate the North is to lose Nigeria.”
The British limited the education they administered in the North. All the big names such as Tafawa Balewa, Sarduana, Muhammadu Ribadu, Inuwa Wada, Aminu Kano, Isa Wali and the rest of them were only able to attend either mid-school or college. College was the highest educational institution the British provided for northern Nigeria in those days.
You once described yourself as one of the most prosecuted politicians in the North. Why did you say that?
You have many wives and children. Many believe polygamy can reduce life expectancy. What did you do differently?
Those who believe that polygamy reduces life expectancy are wrong! They are not speaking from experience. Many factors influence life expectancy. In some countries like Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, etc, there is the problem of poverty and illiteracy. Because of that, people are not able to take care of their children well. I read an article on WhatsApp written by an expert. The article notes that those who practise polygamy live longer than those who practise monogamy. I agree.
How do you manage rivalry among your wives?
This is our culture. It depends on who they are. Sometimes, they manage to live together peacefully but sometimes, they quarrel among themselves. From my experience, what often leads to such a quarrel is the inability or refusal of the younger ones to submit to the leadership of the older ones. But in some cases, they live peacefully with one another, such that you would not believe that they are married to the same husband.
Do you drink?
Alcohol? No, I only drink water and soft drinks from time to time but certainly not alcohol.
What are the lifestyle choices responsible for your good life?
This is basically from our genes. My grandfather died at the age of 105. My father died at the age of 96, while my mother died at the age of 87. Longevity is peculiar to our family. I still have well over 500 relations apart from my grandchildren.
You were Hausa editor of the Daily Comet. What led you to journalism?
I had a flair for western education. I did not get the opportunity to further my education beyond the diploma in political economy I obtained from Germany. I attended English tutorial classes and British Council English tutorial classes in Kano. I addition, I used to task myself to read. The most important habit that journalism helped me to develop is the culture of reading. I read every morning.
Let me share a brief story. At the time I was Hausa editor, I bought the West African Pilot, Daily Times and Nigerian Citizen, published in the North. If I buy a newspaper and I see a story that interests me, I would read the entire story. If in the course of reading the stories, I came across a number of words that could make the comprehension of the story incomplete, I would write them down. In the evening or at night, I would take a dictionary to find their meaning. The greatest achievement I recorded as a journalist was the inculcation of the culture of reading. I practise this habit till today. This culture of reading is the most important lesson I will take to my grave.
During the Second Republic, you were a special assistant to President Shehu Shagari. How did you get the job?
I was in my house when President Shagari sent the then Minister of Internal Affairs, Alhaji Bello Maitama, to my house. Shagari had been my friend for a long time. Prior to that time, we were also members of the Northern Consultative Committee. We related very well. The President sent Maitama to invite me to Lagos that he wanted to see me. He knew that I hated visiting or living in Lagos. We used to discuss this. He also said he would only stay in Lagos as a matter of necessity, not because of his wish. I asked Maitama if he knew why the President sent for me. He said he didn’t know and I accepted to go. That was at the early stage when Shagari was forming his cabinet.
We went and on arrival, he asked Maitama to excuse us. He told me, “Tanko, I know you do not like to stay in Lagos but I also want you to remember that I too don’t like staying in Lagos. And because of that, I didn’t want to contest the presidential election that I am now holding.”
I said, “I know.” He said, “You people compelled me to seek the presidential position. This is the sacrifice I am making. I am going to ask you to make a similar sacrifice. I want to appoint you as special assistant.” That was how he drafted me into his administration.
You supported former President Goodluck Jonathan against President Muhammadu Buhari. Do you regret that action today?
I will support Goodluck Jonathan any time. I will do it tomorrow and even a day after tomorrow. I will do it next year and will do it until the end of my life. I will tell you why. After the 1959 general elections, the Northern Peoples Congress and National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons formed a coalition government, which ushered Nigeria into independence. So, Igbo and the northerners worked together during the First Republic. Now, during the Second Republic, although an Igbo man was the Vice President, the Igbo did not give NPN the kind of support that minorities in the South gave to the NPN. The NPN got 25 per cent in all the minority states in the South. The bulk votes of minorities in the South, together with the North, gave the NPN the majority to earn the Presidency. The civil war created a big wedge between the Igbo and the northerners because an average Igbo man believes that the civil war was fought between the Igbo and the Hausa Fulani.
They do not believe that they fought the war between the Igbo and Nigerians. The Yoruba were divided into two–pro-NCNC and pro-Action Group. Even though Chief Obafemi Awolowo is no longer alive but the anti-Hausa and anti-Fulani sentiments are still more among the Igbo because of the civil war.
When was the last time you spoke to Buhari?
The last time I spoke with Buhari was between 10 and 15 years ago. I spoke with him when I delivered a lecture at the Bayero University Kano, organised by the Students Union. The students, after criticising previous leadership in the country, requested Buhari to join politics, so he could be President and correct the mistake of the previous leaders made in the country. He said he would not join politics because politics is now a business of money and he has no money to do it. He said he could not afford it. That was the last time I spoke with him. But he sent a delegation to me when he was considering contesting election in 2003.
At the time, I had already committed myself to another candidate.
What is your assessment of the Buhari administration?
I did not support Buhari’s candidacy in the first place and the All Progressives Congress because they have no programme. They did not prepare to rule Nigeria and did not provide any viable programme to transform Nigeria into a better place. I didn’t support them. Till today, I retain my position.
What are your regrets about Nigeria?
My regret is that military intervention destroyed the foundation of leadership in Nigeria. They destroyed the leaders. They destroyed people who can succeed the leaders and build on what they have started. Also, they destroyed the political party system in Nigeria, which is the only vehicle for developing democracy and the transformation of a country. The military introduced corruption and impunity to our system.
Nobody can build a country on corruption and impunity. Until we do away with corruption and impunity, we cannot get it right. To get it right, we have to get political parties that have articulated programmes for transforming Nigeria into a better place. The political parties we have today are not political parties because they have no programme. They are all the same. You cannot see any difference between one and the other.
What does the country need to do to stay together?
The country is staying together. Those who are talking about splitting this country are minorities. They are disgruntled people, who wanted power and they didn’t get it. The way to look at Nigeria is not from the perspective of these disgruntled elements. You don’t see any Igbo man fighting a Hausa man in Enugu, Onitsha or anywhere. You don’t see any Yoruba man fighting Igbo or Hausa man in any place in Yoruba land. You don’t see Hausa or northerners fighting Igbo in Yoruba land or any place in northern Nigeria. The ordinary people are living with one another, in peace and harmony. The unity of Nigeria is solid because the ordinary man in Nigeria is in support of peace. And besides, the three main groups in Nigeria; Yoruba, Igbo and Hausa, including the minorities, either in the North or in the South live in peace. If the majority elements are not with them, they fight one another. Today, if there is no Nigeria, you will hear Urhobo fighting Itsekiris. Even today or recently, you find Edo asking Ijaw to leave Edo State. The current stability among the minorities is brought about by the existence of Nigeria.
You were raised by your mother’s friend, Yaya Boyi. Tell us about the experience.
Yaya Boyi became a friend to my mother because they got married at about the same time to common friends. She was a bit older than my father. Therefore, my mother had to respect her and decided to call her Yaya, which means aunty or elder sister. She was not fortunate to have a child of her own. The first daughter of my parents was given to her for posturing, which is a Hausa tradition (giving their child to their friend or relative). Unfortunately, my elder sister did not live long, as she died at the age of between one and a half and two years. Thereafter, my parents were again blessed by having me. She requested that my parents should be kind enough to give me to her, as a replacement for my late sister. She looked after me up to the time I got married for the first time in 1945.
What motivated you to join politics?
The way I joined politics was very interesting. In the first place, I read political views of prominent northern politicians like the late Sa’aid Zungu, Aminu Kano, Isa Wali, Nuhu Bamali, Abubakar Tafawa Balewa and many others in the vernacular newspaper; Gaskiya Tafi Kobo. It is a very popular newspaper, still being published.
I didn’t know anything about political party system then but only the political views they were expressing about independence and anti-British domination. However, by 1946, the NCNC leaders were touring Nigeria and came to Kano. The team was led by Dr. Herbert Macaulay and Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe. The colonial authorities at the time directed the town criers to announce that some southerners were coming and parents shouldn’t allow their children to attend their event which was to hold at Sabon Gari.
My friends wondered why the authorities directed parents not to allow their children attend the event. For us to satisfy our curiosity, we decided to be at the gathering. We were between 20 and 21 years old then. We went to the NCNC rally at Aggrey Square at Sabon Gari, Kano. We listened to what the NCNC leaders were saying which made sense to us. They said they were going round the country to raise funds for the purpose of sending a delegation to the colonial office in London to protest against the method the British Government was adopting in Nigeria by appointing people to represent Nigeria in advising the British Government in Nigeria.
The NCNC said they would protest against the method. They said if the British wanted people to advise them on what Nigerian wanted, they should allow Nigeria to elect the people, who would represent them to present their case rather than appointing people to tell them what Nigeria wanted. It made sense to us.
We were impressed by it and that signalled the beginning of my interest in politics. The following year, in 1947, the Kano Youths Association was formed. It was part of the political movement, which northerners developed as a result of the concept of the NCNC delegation. There was Sokoto Debating Society, organised by personalities like Shehu Shagari, Ibrahim Dasuki and Ibrahim Gusau, among others. In Bauchi, there was a group, called Bauchi Discussion Circle, led by leaders like Tafawa Balewa, Sa’adu Zungu, and Aminu Kano, was then a teacher in Bauchi Mid-School, Yakubu Wanka and many others.
The group in Sokoto also transformed to Sokoto Youths Association or something similar to that (The correct name of the association is in Sheu Shagari’s book, Beckoned to Serve). These organisations started to spring up in many parts of the North and between 1947 and 1948, we started to protect one another and by 1949, a cultural organisation, the Northern People’s Congress was formed in Kano.
But in Hausa it is called; Jem’iya Mutane Arewa, which is an association of northern people. Following the formation of Kano Youths Association, my childhood friends, like Abdulkadir Dan Jaji, Baba Liya Manager and the rest of them became active members of the organisation. As a result of that, they attracted me into that association and I became a member.
But when Jemiya Mutane Arewa Zaki, the new NPC was to be formed in Kano, Kano Youths Association was invited as a constituent unit like the Sokoto Youths Association and Bauchi Discussion Circle. Other splinter groups then sprang up all over the North and were made to be the constituent unit of the Jemiya Mutane Arewa. Members of the organisations automatically became the founding members of the NPC and that was how I joined the group.
What is your view of the afterlife?
Heaven and hell are realities of life! The God you believe in is the same God I believe in and we are all worshipping Him. It is He who knows who is the right person. And we have no right to decide; it is God who will decide who is practising religion on His behalf.
What is the greatest mistake made by the country’s foremost leaders?
I think the foremost Nigerian leaders, in my opinion, were those, who institutionalised sectionalism and ethnicity into politics. It was the greatest mistake they made. They should have concentrated on building the nation, as well as on what they can do for the country to be better.
Are you fulfilled at 91?
I feel happy. I am grateful to my God for His mercies, good health and long life. I thank Him for giving me many children and grandchildren. Today, I have 19 surviving children. They are all graduates. They are all independent. Also, they have their own children. I have 88 grandchildren and their parents take care of them. I am grateful to God for allowing me to have a fulfilled and satisfied life. Source: Sunday Punch