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Remembering the contributions of Abdulmalik, Abduaziz and Habib Raji Abdallah to the development of Nigeria

When we talk of heroes, we refer to those that make rare things happen. We also speak of people whose activities are geared towards the emancipation of their countries from the shackles of colonial onslaughts. We mean people who lay their lives for the growth and development of their fatherlands and the people that inhabit them. They are people that also make rare sacrifice above selfish interests. Heroes are honoured and remembered during and after their life time in various ways for their struggles and invaluable contributions to the progress of their people and human race in general.
Singing the Nigerian National anthem, a stanza of pledge strikes our mind and it says, “The labour of our heroes past shall never be in vain.” Indeed, the governments and people of Nigeria have kept this pledge for the peace and unity of the country. The labour of our heroes past is often appreciated by immortalizing them and their names through naming of structures, institutions and monuments for posterity. Various governments and people of Nigeria have also honoured and remembered some of our heroes that have laid their lives for the progress of the country and her people through national honours and merit awards. The names of such awardees will fill volumes.
But there are still others whose names have not featured prominently in the roll call of local and national honours and merit awards. These people are Habib Raji Abdallah, Abdul Aziz Atta and Abdulmalik Atta of blessed memories. These three forgotten heroes hail from the Central Northern Nigeria in Kogi State. Their great contributions in the development of Nigeria shall remain a shining star to Nigeria and Nigerians.
Habib Raji Abdallah of blessed memory was a foremost Nigerian Nationalist who as a civil servant in Kano in 1946 defied the General Order as it was popularly called and broke the chains of bondage that fettered him to join the Zikist Movement which he later headed. Habib Abdallah and his fellow Zikists were said to have supported the General strikes of 1945 against the British imperialism. Habib Abdallah was also said to have pulled down the Union Jack and branded it as ‘a symbol of persecution and brutality.’ He was also said to have called the then Governor-General as ‘Richards, the Iron Hands.’ When in 1949 a number of striking Coalminers in Enugu were fired on and killed, Zikists responded with positive action, in an outbreak of riots throughout Nigeria. This led to the banning of Zikist Movement after its leaders have been jailed. In October 1948, the Zikists delivered a public lecture which was an exact equivalent of the American Declaration of Independence of 4th July, 1776 because the title of the public lecture was ‘A call for a revolution.’ After the lecture, the leaders of the movement were arrested and arraigned before the court for prosecution. Prosecution lasted till early 1949 when they were finally sentenced to two years imprisonment. During one of the prosecution sessions in November 1948, Habib Abdallah in his defence made a further personal declaration of his Independence of British Colonial government and asked other Nigerians to do the same.
In 1950, Habib Abdallah was released from prison. Once again, he joined the National Council for Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC) for the independence struggles. But unfortunately, the NCNC later became a regionalist party following the internal ideological quarrel that split the party into two. At the slightest identification of this regionalist orientation of the NCNC, Habib Raji Abdallah resigned from the NCNC in 1955 and joined the NPC which he actually belonged to in a regional politics. He was appointed the party’s Principal Organising Secretary and Administrative Secretary up till 15th January, 1966 when the Military staged the first coup d’état in Nigeria. Habib Abdallah later started to lead a life of religious seclusion. But in 1968, Police Commissioner Audu Bako appointed him the Chief Executive of Kano State Pilgrims Board. He finally retired from the public service in 1978.
Indeed, Habib Raji Abdallah, a Northern radical was one of the bravest Nigerian Nationalists. Right in the presence of a British-born trial judge, Mr. Justice James Really Gregg, Abdallah attacked the colossus of British imperialism by raining abuses, insulting statements, accusations, insinuations and innuendoes at the empire and her imperial agents. Mr. James Gregg no doubt shared some of Abdallah’s views and grievances. In what amounted to ‘mother of all treasonable felonies’, Mr. Gregg ended up, sentencing Abdallah and his fellow comrades at- arms to only two years imprisonment. Habib Raji Abdallah died in December 1982.
Our second forgotten hero is Alhaji Abdulmalik Atta (1914-1969). In 1951, Abdulmalik was nominated by the Native Authority (N.A) to the Northern Regional House of Assembly in Kaduna. He pursued a highly distinguish pioneering diplomatic career. In the same year, he was also appointed the first Agent General for the Northern Nigeria in the United Kingdom and later became the first Nigerian High Commissioner in the United Kingdom until 1967 when he moved to Paris as the Nigerian Ambassador to France. His diplomatic dexterity was reflected in the remarkable role he played during the trying period for Nigeria’s Independence. He acted as the vital link between the Colonial Office and the Nigerian nationalist Leaders through the Pre-independence Conferences held in London. It was in recognition of his excellent diplomatic records the Queen of England honoured him with the award of the Commander of the British Empire CBE.
During the critical period of the political crisis that later led to the abdication of his father in Ebiraland of Kogi central, even though he was his latter’s Secretary, he successfully and patiently accommodated all the powerful opposition elements without antagonizing anyone of them nor creating permanent enmity between them and himself. His perception of the whole episode was that it was in accordance with the dictate of Allah. This was in spite of the fact that the opposition elements remained arch enemies of his father; they all accorded him great honour and respect throughout his lifetime. Abdulmalik’s transparent honesty and accountability earned him the post of the first Treasurer of the Northern Peoples Congress, NPC. His generosity extended beyond ethnicity, age, sex, religion or kinship. He could give his priciest material possession to anyone who merely expressed admiration without even asking for it.
It is very difficult to separate his virtues from his high devotion to the religion of Islam. He studied and comprehended Islam. He allowed the faith to influence virtually all facets of his life and popularized the cause of the religion particularly in Ebiraland. He financially supported Scholars engaged in the promotion of Islam in Ebiraland. He did not believe in the acquisition of material wealth or in building houses since he devoted the greatest part of his life in building his house in the hereafter. Alhaji Abdulmalik was the second Ebira Muslim to perform Hajj in 1947 after his father who went on Hajj in 1930. He invited Sheikh Ibrahim Niass, the West African Leader of the Reformed Tijjaniyya to Okene for the first time in 1953. He cemented the relationship between Ebiraland and Koalas in Senegal with the marriage of one of his daughter to the Sheikh in 1959.
The popular respect, reverence and affection Alhaji Abdulmalik Atta had attracted from the entire Ebira by virtue of his own exemplary personality was amply demonstrated on the fateful day of his death when the shock that followed in the wake of the incident led to the immediate and voluntary dispersal of people from the Okene Central Market. Alhaji Abdulmaalik, popularly known as ‘Mallam Malik’ was a man of God, a man of the people and a man of the nation. His types are rarely produced more than once in the lifetime of a community that is fortunate to have them. He died on 28th August, 1969.
Our third forgotten hero was Alhaji Abdul-Aziz Atta of blessed memory. He worked in the public service as an administrator between 1948 and 1972, serving in the former Eastern Region for ten years, and in the Federal Service for fourteen years. He started his career as a Cadet Administrative Officer in the Colonial Service in 1948, rising to the peak of his career in 1970 to become Secretary to the Federal Military Government and Head of Service. In all the places he worked, he established a reputation not only as a hard working, competent, committed and an honest civil servant, but also as a loyal, patriotic and totally detribalized Nigerian. As an administrator and civil servant, Abdul Aziz made immense contributions to national development, as attested to, by some of his colleagues, bosses and those who knew or worked with him.
Abdul Aziz believed Strongly in, and was committed to, the ideal of one united, indivisible, and strong Nigeria. He believed that the country has a lot of potential to become a great nation. On account of his strong belief in the Nigeria project, he worked hard, especially during the crises between 1966 and 1970 that almost led to the disintegration of the country. Abdul-Aziz was involved in almost every happening throughout the period. Realizing the gravity and implications of national survival, he did his very best to participate actively in the work of the various groups that tried to mediate. As one of the most senior administrative officers at the time, he was regularly in touch with various leaders in the four regions, pleading for understanding, cooperation, compromise and the need to avoid conflict.
The Eastern leaders, many of who were his colleagues, subordinates, friends and associates, knowing his genuine and patriotic motives, saw him as a nationalist and a neutral person. They listened to his ideas and respected his views. The Northern leaders saw him as one of their own, though he had never served nor lived in the North. They knew he meant well for the country as a whole. They too listened to and respected his views and suggestions on the issues that were in contention then. He was well known in the west to be a detribalized Nigerian. Many leaders in that region equally respected his opinion and suggestions on those crucial issues which threatened the unity of the country. So, Abdul-Aziz was uniquely placed to play a significant role in the series of crises that nearly tore the nation apart.
Alhaji Abdul-Aziz Atta was a party to the decision to release Chief Obafemi Awolowo from prison and to appoint prominent, credible and experienced civilians as Federal Commissioners to help the Military run the affairs of the country and give it credible and some measure of stability. As the most senior Northern Federal Permanent Secretary then, he rallied and led a group to Ikeja during the July 29th 1966 coup, to dissuade the restive and rebellious Northern Soldiers and coup leaders, from their original secession plan which would have caused a lot of damage to Lagos and chaos in the whole country. It was the same group that assisted the soldiers to set up the new administration under the leadership of Gowon. The history of Nigeria would have been different if he and his co-patriots had not played that crucial time in our history.
Abdul-Aziz was largely instrumental in advising the government to make urgent arrangements for the purchase of arms and ammunition from Arms Dealers, as he saw the inevitability of civil war, and the likely refusal of Britain, United States and other western Countries, to sell arms and ammunition to Nigerian government. He followed this up and ensured the government had enough and regular stock of arms and ammunition. When he was Permanent secretary, Ministry of Defence, Abdul-Aziz contributed greatly to the establishment at Kaduna, of Nigerian Defence Industries, which produced arms and ammunition for use by Nigerian army. The production of these arms reduced dependence on imported arms and saved foreign exchange for the country. He also contributed to the establishment of military training institutions in the country, such as Nigerian Defence Academy. He ensured rapid Nigerianisation of the Nigerian Army during the post independence period.
It was Abdul-Aziz Atta and his colleagues who, after carefully studying the Aburi Accord document and its implications, strongly advised the Military Government to review the agreement which, if implemented, would have seriously weakened the authority and positions of the Federal Government. Accordingly, the Aburi Accord was never implemented by either side. Of equal importance was the fact that the decision of the Gowon administration to restructure the then four regions into twelve state structures in order to contain the threat of secession and allay fear of regional domination was largely the initiative of Abdul-Aziz Atta and his administrative colleagues. He also advised the new Gowon administration that, contrary to the popular belief at the time, it should not bother to seek external recognition for the regime, since those countries would likely impose their conditions for recognizing the new government. Thus the issue of seeking external recognition for the regime, hitherto considered important for any new regime, was simply ignored.
These are not all. Abdul-Aziz Atta was one of the ardent advocates and proponents of “No victor, No vanquished” idea, officially declared at the end of the civil war. The underlying idea was to ensure quick reconciliation with the Igbos after the war. He quickly re-established contact with them and provided much needed assistance to civilians who had suffered greatly from the effect of the war. He was highly in support of the policy of re-absorption into Federal Civil Service, some Igbos Senior Officers who fled to the East before and during the outbreak of hostility. He made personal efforts to find all his old friends in the East, offered assistance to those he could find, and rehabilitated some others. As a Federal Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Finance for four years between 1966 and 1970, he helped to maintain reasonable level of economic activities in the country, principally due to his reputation integrity and personal discipline in ensuring fiscal responsibility.
As the Secretary to Federal Military Government and Head of Civil Service, Abdul-Aziz worked extremely hard to build a strong, disciplined and efficient civil service, which was a pride to the nation and compared favourably with any in the world. He set a high standard in accountability, transparency and incorruptibility. He also gave the civil service a positive sense of direction, gave it confidence, hope and sense of belonging, and protected it from undue political interference from the Military. The force of his personality and authority was such that he enjoyed the confidence and loyalty of the people he worked with, including his colleagues and bosses. He participated actively in and made valuable contributions to many policy decisions, actions and plans for post war reconstruction, and development programmes. He contributed immensely to the preparation and implementation of the 1970 to 1974 National Development Plan, the implementation of which saw rapid transformation and socio-economic and infrastructural development of the nation so soon after the civil war. The success which the plan achieved was a tribute of the quality of his leadership of the service.
Abdul-Aziz Atta was committed to and pursued relentlessly the policy of indigenization of the private sector of the economy. He was one of the brains and advocates behind the indigenization decree which sought to encourage Nigerians to take over certain enterprises which were then being handled or controlled by foreigners. He felt that such foreigners were not really contributing to the growth of Nigerian economy. He worked hard to ensure the implementation of the decree. He also played a leading role in negotiating and ensuring Nigerian membership of OPEC, a move which was not popular then with some western countries. Equally important was his role in laying the foundation of NNPC. He contributed also to initiation of the new Federal High ways, connecting northern and southern parts of the country such as Port Harcourt, Warri-Benin Kaduna Highway, Calabar- Makurdi-Yola Highway, etc. What about the initiative to introduce National Youth service Corps (NYSC) Scheme, which was one of the initiative of Abdul-Aziz Atta and his colleagues as they saw the scheme as one of the practical ways of promoting integration and unity.
Abdul-Aziz Atta died on 12th June, 1972. Prominent people, among which included his administrative colleagues, expressed their views and tributes when he died and after his death. Such personalities among others are Dr. Fabunmi, Chief Sunday Awoniyi, Chief Philip Asiodu, Alhaji Ibrahim Damcida and Chief Allison Ayida. Others are Alhaji M.D. Yusuf, General Yakubu Gowon, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Barrister Fred Egbe, Ambassador J. S. Attah, Ambassador Abdullahi I. Atta, Alhaji Daudu A. Umar, Chief Dr. Majekodunmi, G.K. Dosunmu, Ikemba Dim Odumegwu Ojukwu, Chief J.O. Udoji and General Muhammad Buhari. All these personalities have attested to the great contributions of Alhaji Abdul-Aziz Atta to the growth and development of Nigeria as contained in his biography book titled, “ABDUL AZIZ ATTA: An Administrative Genius and a Patriot” by Professor Albert Ozigi and published in November, 2004.
In view of the enormous contributions of Alhaji Habib Raji Abdallah, Alhaji Abdul Malik Atta and Alhaji Abdul Aziz Atta to the development of our great Country, Nigeria, we call on local, State and Federal Governments of Nigeria to immortalize their names and persons for posterity without further delay.

2 Comments

  1. OldNaija on April 5, 2016 at 8:04 am

    Thank you for the information. It was really helpful.
    http://www.oldnaija.wordpress.com

  2. abdul on July 28, 2017 at 4:51 pm

    Abdulmalik Atta was NOT d first to go on hajj to Makka from Ebiraland.Sheikh Alkali Abdulsalam who introduced Islam in Ebiraland in 1901 performed hajj from Okene in 1924, HRH Ibrahim Atta went with his first wife in 1930.Wokili Yakubu and his wife went in 1932 with Sheikh Alkali Abdulsalam again.Abdulmalik Atta also son-inlaw of Alkali went in 1947.He was however the 2nd person to graduate from Alkali Abdulsalam Quranic school at Okeneba,Okene. Abdulmalik Atta and Raji Abdallah were d first set of N.A .primary school in Okene in 1923.

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