As The Director General, Government House Administration, Lokoja, Alh. Dr. Umar Oricha Shaibu clocks the age of 60, his Media Team comprising of Balogun Omeiza David (BOD), Babamba Onize Juwaira (BSBB) and Muhammed Omeiza Aliyu (Brown) visited him in his beautiful office to grant him an interview tagged ‘the JOURNEY SO FAR’. It was indeed a wonderful afternoon inside his well furnished and air conditioned office as we took out time to quizze the three score old man who is always full of life without any trace of dull moments anytime one is with him. The answers he gave to our questions were apt and befitting of a man of his class. To those who never knew this man from Adam, this is an opportunity to know where he started from and where God has placed him today. Kindly take your time and read this detailed interview he granted us.
Congratulations sir. You are celebrating your 60th birthday today just as Nigeria is celebrating her 60th independence. How will you explain this coincidence?
Thanks so much for congratulating me on a special day like this. My birthday celebration that is same with Nigeria clocking 60 years is not a coincidence. It is God that destined the day I was born to be same with when Nigeria gained her independence. It is simply a natural thing that happened and I give all the glory to God for that.
So many people refer to you as Oricha or better still they call you DG. Can you give us the full name your parents gave you?
You are not far from the truth. Many people call me Oricha but Oricha and Umar happens to be my surname. My name is Shaibu. I was privileged to meet my maternal grandfather and mother alive and they were the ones that trained me. The uniqueness in me when I was growing up was the physical strength God gave me. Based on this, they ended up naming me “Akonyi.” The name “Akonyi” means a strong person. I was also born during a festive period and my maternal grandmother named me Abiodun. This name Abiodun originated from Yoruba language and it is given to any child born during a festive period. I grew up largely at Lampese with them.
Can you kindly tell us about your academic background?
(Chuckles) Well, it will surprise you that I started Primary School at the age of 12. It was hard for me to cope with academic work when I resumed as I was into much farming at that age. Because of my dozen age and growth at that time, I had to join Primary 3 straightaway. I had to take the bulls by the horns as I was bent on succeeding. Throughout my Primary 4, 5 and 6, I was swimming between the 3rd, 2nd and 1st positions. It was God who helped me academically if not; I would not have amounted to anything at all in the academic world.
Sir, we discovered you are now been referred to as Alh. Dr. Umar Oricha Shaibu. How were you able to go through school to become an academic doctorate degree holder despite your busy schedules?
It was not really an easy task at all. Determination was what made me to fit in to the academic environment I found myself. The classroom work I had was at Kwara State Polytechnic where I had my A’Levels and the rest was part time. In 1983, I took a job because there was no money for me to continue my educational pursuit. I was however able to continue in 1987 when I went back to Kwara State Polytechnic for my Diploma in Public Accounting and Auditing. My first and second degrees were bagged through distant learning.
From what we have deduced so far from our interaction with you, it is crystal clear that you were faced with many challenges while growing up. Can you expatiate on some of those challenges?
Without mincing words, I was from a poor family. My parents were peasant farmers and they resided in Lampese, Edo State and this was the place I was brought up. At the tender age of 5, I was given to my uncle who took me to Ibadan in Oyo State. I stayed with him for only a year at a time the civil war was looming. Having left Ibadan, I was later taken to Kaduna. All these years I journeyed between Ibadan and Kaduna, I was never enrolled in any school. I only took delight in sitting close to where children were been taught extra mural lessons and eavesdropping what the teachers were teaching them. As long as I wanted to be one of them, the opportunity was not there at all. This however helped me in a way as at the age of 12 when I finally started Primary School education. The war was about breaking out when I returned to Okene from Kaduna. Despite the pauperized condition I met myself as a child, I discovered that I was able to comport myself naturedly more than my age. God made me to be sharp and this enabled me to pick little of Yoruba and Hausa languages with the little time I spent both in the Western and Northern parts of Nigeria at a tender age. I later joined my father at Lampese and this was how he finally enrolled me in Primary School. My father removed me from school after I dislocated my leg in a football match I played for my school. His reason was that I made him spend 6 pence for the treatment of my dislocated leg. I had to remain with him on the farm and we toiled hard on a daily basis to generate funds for the school fees of my elderly siblings. I remained with my father till 1972 on the farm till when my elder sister completed her Teachers’ College in 1971. The bottom line of the challenges I had while I was growing up was that of poverty. My parents gave to us what they had and we were contented with what they offered.
Sir, were you able to have a role model while you were growing up?
(answers with much excitement) Yes! I was able to have a role model and that person happened to be my elder sister, Hajia Hajara Ohunene Obajimoh. She was the one that told my father that it was high time I left the farm when I was already 12 years old. She was already through with her Teachers’ College in 1971. She was posted to Roman Catholic Mission (RCM) School, Upogoro and I resumed in her school in 1972. She tried to place me in a class in her school and it was only Primary 3 I could be admitted into because of my age. She devoted her time religiously to make sure she brushed my brain which was already farming. As a young woman, she did not spend her earnings on the fashion or cosmetics that was in vogue during her days. She was rather using part of her income to pay my school fees and buying me textbooks. When I took 38th position out of 39 pupils in my promotion exam to Primary 4, I did not visit the farm again for a while. My sister sat me down during the holidays ushering me into Primary 4 and injected much into me academically. She encouraged me and urged me on telling me that I was not a failure despite the position I took. She was God sent and my saving grace academically. By the time I resumed Primary 4, I remember I maintained the first position and I can remember it was only once I took second position when I was in Primary 5. My teacher then never liked me for reasons best known to him. He gave the first position which was mine to one of my classmates named Joseph. Thereafter, I was always the first in the class till I left Primary School. In 1974 I was admitted into Baptist College, Okuta in Borgu Local Government Area in Kwara State. Out of the 39 of us that sat for the Common Entrance Examination during my set, only two of us were admitted into Federal Government College. I could not go ahead with the admission as there was no money to foot my school fees. That was how I ended up gaining another admission at Baptist College, Okuta. All through these experiences, I was able to comport myself always having it at the back of my mind that I will overcome all the many troubles that will come my way. I was the only one that travelled from Okene through Ilorin and got to Baptist College at night. I was lucky to have met many students that were Ebiras. The pioneer Manager of Union Bank that was formerly located at Okengwe in Okene Local Government Area was the Senior Prefect while Pst. Dr. Christy Halimat Saliu (Big Mama) a Radio Presenter who worked with the Kogi State Broadcasting Corporation before retirement was the Head Girl when I got to the school. They were in Form 5 while I was in Form 1. When I was in Primary School, I participated in sporting activities especially sack race. I was damn good at the game. One particular teacher named Alhaji Adebayo of blessed memory took special interest in me. When I got to Primary 6, he was transferred to the ministry and we lost contact. It was when I got admission into Form 1 at Baptist College that he came for inspection and he was full of joy when he sighted me among the crowd of students when our school Principal was introducing him and his team as inspectors from the Kwara State Ministry of Education. He shouted my name SHAIBU! in ecstasy. He told my Principal who was already used to me also despite been in Form 1 because of the edge I had over other students when it came to sack race that I was his son. It was through him I secured yet another admission into Abdul Aziz Attah Memorial College, Okene (AAAMCO) after spending only a year at the Baptist College, Okuta. I finally rounded up at AAAMCO having written my West Africa School Certificate (WASC) in 1980. I had the opportunity of moving forward academically almost immediately but had to pause seeing that my role model has really tried to see me to this point of my academic pursuit. I combined farming with schooling right from Primary School even up to the time I joined the Civil Service and till today, farming is still of great help to me.
At the age of 60, how best do you think you can appreciate God almighty?
Hmm! Clocking 60 years is not sixty hours days, weeks or months. We are talking about 60 solid years here on earth. This is a DIAMOND JUBILEE which also translates to three score years that I have come to this world. If I roll out drums and gather people to celebrate God with me, I do not think it will be out of place. But I have decided to mark it on a low key because that is how I feel I should appreciate God the more. If I allow this to go into my head, I may end up not appreciating God the way I should. I am very grateful to God almighty for He and He alone has seen me through. From the breakdown I gave you since the beginning of this interview, you will agree with me that the journey has been very rough. One thing I really appreciate God for is that when I plotted my graph for these past 60 years, there was a never a time my graph curved downwards. There were times the point I reached on my graph remained static but I did not come down. Every movement has been on going higher on the graph up till this moment. Many of my colleagues are no more. Many of them are not as I am today. God has seen me through and I will continue to show Him genuine appreciation on a daily basis.
We have seen people who clocked the age of 60 and they set up a foundation to help the less privileged. Do you have anything of such in mind?
I am the type that I do not like blowing my trumpet. I am confident to say that what I have been doing so far is even more than coming up with a foundation. If I go into my records and reel out to the whole world what God has used me to do to some people, you will agree with me that it is more than a foundation. By the time I am able to have a comprehensive compilation of all the list of the people God has used me to help then I will know the exact name to give such a foundation.
Just last month, His Excellency, Alh. Yahaya Adoza Bello became victorious at the Supreme Court after the opposition took him to court for the winning the governorship election for the second time. What do you have to say about this victory?
First and foremost, there is the need I go down memory lane to what led to the emergence of the governor. Kogi State is made up of 3 Senatorial Districts and from record, one Senatorial District has been occupying the seat of governance in this state. When you are talking about democracy it simply revolves around fairness, equity and justice. This has not been happening in our dear state and the God we all believed in is the one that has come to our rescue by bringing Alh. Yahaya Adoza Bello on board through the All Progressives Congress (APC) in 2016. In 2016, even some members of his party and those of the opposition took him to court and God brought him out victorious. The same thing happened after he won the Saturday 16th November, 2019 gubernatorial election before the Supreme Court announced him as the rightful winner of the election. As human beings, we were all afraid of the unknown as we did not know what the Supreme Court will pronounce as judgment but still, we believe that the governor genuinely won and that nothing whatsoever will take away this victory from him. At the long run, our team of lawyers were able to prove beyond every reasonable doubt that the governor won the election overwhelmingly devoid of rigging and other known vices associated with elections. The Supreme Court verdict actually came as a thing of joy to all of us especially me because I have been in this government for the past five years. From the place I come from, we are happy and lucky to be the ones governing the state presently. We need to face the challenges and make people feel a new system of governance in Kogi State. This is exactly what the governor stands for. That was why when the victory came, all of us trooped out to appreciate the God of heaven. By the special grace of God this victory is actually one that has spurred the governor to face governance squarely to help the state enjoy more of the dividends of democracy.
We have seen and heard of your philanthropic strides in helping to alleviate the condition of the less privileged especially students and old women. What will you say gave you the urge to have this empathy?
You see if you look at my background, I came from a poor family. I have tasted poverty in different shades and have gone through untold hardships. It is one of the major reasons why I have decided to give out the little I have to those who are in dire need of help. As a person, I believe there is love in sharing whatever God has made one to have. Even if you do not have much, the little you have that you give out to those deserving of it will be multiplied by God who sees the contents of your heart. The same God will continue to sustain you because He will rise up to become your source. As a person, I am not used to saving money. When my salary comes I share it having the faith that God will provide for me and that another one will surely come when the month ends. This is what has become part and parcel of me that when people have genuine complaints I rise to be of help to them from the meagre resources available to me. I normally look at where I am coming from and where I have reached today and this catapults me at all times to embrace more the godly instruction about giving. As for students that I pay their school fees, I am one of those who truly love education to a fault. That is why I picked interest to be helping students as I want them to be educated. Even if an educated person is yet to get a job with his or her certificate, that one is able to read and write with much comprehension is not an academic feat anyone should take for granted. Education gives you the opportunity to have broader knowledge of almost everything and this can help an educated person to dabble into any profiting business or career. Talking about old women, I believe many of them have actually suffered. Some of them have gone through hardships. Some of them lost their children and could not eat the fruit of their labour. I reasoned within myself that this is not the wish or desire of any of them. It is God that has destined such occurrences to happen to some of them. Now, they are in their old age not having anything to call theirs. Some of them have children who are not responsible. I have seen so many of them in this category and they need to be taken care of. His Excellency, Alh. Yahaya Adoza Bello has instructed us repeatedly to always render helping hands to the aged men and women within our communities. I am just following suit what the governor has passed to us as instruction. That is why anytime I see old women, it dawns on me that they have lived their lives with some of them praying that death should come anytime. Anyone who sees aged men or women in any critical condition and is not ready to help such a person however little is actually far from God.
It is believed by many people that presently you are farmer. If yes, what led you into farming and what type of crop(s) are you into?
From my background, I told you that at the age of 12 I was taken from the farm to come and join Primary School. From school I will go to the farm to work in order to raise money for my textbooks and school in addition to the one my role model was giving to me. Farming therefore became an inseparable part of me. Even as a civil servant, after the normal office work, I still engaged myself in much farming as no one and nothing was able to break the bound I have with farming. By weekends, I move to the farm with my brothers. That time, I had a Panel Van we used in transporting ourselves anywhere we hear that the land is fertile. We had farmlands at Lampese, Ekpedo, Ubokuma and Achoze. In 1995, we moved to an area called “Ido-Ocha” in Okehi Local Government Area. Fortunately for me, that is the place I have my farm today. We engaged in manual farming and employing labourers to help us work on the farm. When His Excellency, Alh. Yahaya Adoza Bello came on board as governor and I was opportune to be part of his team, his first pronouncement was that all his appointees should go into farming. Some went to Abuja and other places to start farming but I remembered where I was coming from. It occurred to me quickly that I still have a farm at “Ido-Ocha” and nothing stops me from going there. I had to negotiate with the land owner for me to go into commercial farming. Initially they did not want to part with the land as they placed a bogus price on it. I later had to educate them that should they give me the land at a reasonable price the staff the farm will employ will come mainly from their location. This was how they now gave me a positive nod. Thank God today I have a vast farmland there cultivating mainly cassava as I want to key mainly into the government directive declaring an emergency production on cassava plantation. I am also into maize production. I heard of recent that the federal government wanted to go and import maize. I was not too happy when I heard the news as maize is a plant that can be harvested after two to three months of planting it. I also have a little livestock that I believe will grow into a larger one with time.
Can you tell us one painful experience you had in life that is hard for you to erase from your memory?
(Thinks deeply before answering and heaving a sigh of relief). When you look at where I am now and you compare it with where I was coming from, the present place I am now has helped in a way to erase some of my painful experiences in life. However, when my father died, it was indeed a painful one to me and the memory of his death lingers till today. In January 1972, the year I was enrolled into Primary School was the exact year my father died. He died on the 24th of August 1972 to be precise. What pained me most is that he deceived me to go and check the farm. We were on holidays and he sent me to go and get his household foodstuffs from the farm. I told him we have food at home but he insisted I should go and inspect the farm and bring more food home. It is not now that we have many buses or even have mobile phones. It was only once in a blue moon you see vehicles plying the roads. We were still having our farm at Lampese at a place called Ogugu. You will have to trek a long way when you get to Lampese before you reach my father’s farm. There is no how you will get there and you will be able to make it back home same day. I left home to the farm as he instructed not knowing that he deceived me. The following day the old man died. Anytime I remember this experience, I always feel bad as I was not able to bid him good bye. I could not attend his burial. He knew he was going to die and he did not want me to be around to witness the journey of no return he was embarking on. Thank God he said one thing that has rubbed on us his children. He said, “I am dying as a poor man and a peasant farmer but you my children will surely make it in life.” Anytime I remember these words of his, I throw away every pain as I have always concluded that he actually died as a rich man because he is our father. If the son of a nobody is now somebody that shows that man is somebody. I really thank God for this.
You are from Kogi Central, Okene Local Government Area and Agassa/Okene-Eba/Ahache Ward to be precise, to what extent can you say you love your people?
Right from 1971 I have been in Agassa because Upogoro is just a short distance from Agassa. I have been around this place for over 40 years and still counting. The people of Agassa are loving and peaceful. When we got to Agassa in 1972, they heartily welcomed us as one of their own and that is where we have been for a very long stretch of time. We have our houses in Agassa and we have a robust relationship with all and sundry. Before the coming of Alh. Yahaya Adoza Bello as governor, I remember when I was in a place where I assisted some people with employment. Giving to the needy is what I have been doing to people from Agassa and the other axis that made up my ward. On several occasions, I have attended to the pressing needs of old women who cannot do anything to fend for themselves within my ward and beyond. I have always had and still have the love of Agassa people at heart because that was where I grew up and achieved many positive things in life. This depicts the people of Agassa as a good set of people worthy to live with.
What do you have to say about your nuclear family?
I have been into the journey of marriage from 1983. As a young man I joined the civil service in 1983 and the next thing on the lips of everyone was for me to look for a woman and marry. I was also interested in getting married. The first woman I got married to was without a child for 8 years. That was how God designed it. You know in our tradition when you marry a woman and for two years there is no issue, people will start asking questions. There is an African proverb that says, “a woman without a child is like a fertile ground without the feel of roots.” This proverb shows how much Africans believes that a man and a woman after getting married ought to have the fruit of the womb that serves as the climax for their union. We lasted for eight years and there was no offspring for us to show for our union. At this point people started murmuring and getting suspicious as they would not know whether the problem was from me or my wife. It is not our present days that medical facilities abounds that could be used to check what actually was wrong with us as man and wife. After 8 solid years, we had to come to a conclusion that the marriage can no longer continue. I got married to my present wife in 1991. We had our first child before the second year into our nuptial knot but the baby girl died. As God will have it, the death of my first child became the gateway that ushered in my other children. In 1993, I had another baby. My wife has given birth to five healthy, strong and progressive children. As a polygamist, I have two other wives making the total number of my wives to be three. My children are eight in all and doing fine. They have come to help me wipe away the tears of staying for eight years without a child to call my own.
Sir, it is glaring that you had a close affiliation with our late Matriarch, Hajia Hawawu Oziohu Bello the mother of His Excellency, Alh. Yahaya Adoza Bello. What will you say cushioned this relationship with the Bellos?
Well, I told you my father was not a rich man. He lost his own father that is, my grandfather at a tender age. Fortunately for him, he was handed over to the grandfather of His Excellency, Alh. Yahaya Adoza Bello to become his son. I am referring to the late Adayi Ochi. You cannot but mention Adayi Ochi as one of the renowned persons that time in Ebiraland. My own grandfather and Adayi Ochi, the governor’s grandfather were related as second cousins. When my grandfather died, my father’s elder brother was he who handed over my father to Adayi Ochi to look after him. Adayi Ochi who was wealthy during his days had oxen and horses. In those days in Ebiraland, you will be adjudged as a rich man once you have a horse. It was Adayi Ochi and the late Attah that had horses then. My father grew under Adayi Ochi and according to my late father, Adayi Bello (the father of the governor) was very young as at then. My father said he used to carry him on the ox and together they reared the cows and oxen together. He told stories of how they led the flocks of Adayi Ochi to the present day Ekuku Dam in search of edible green plants and also for livestock’s to drink water. When my father was old enough to start fending for himself, he left to join his elder brother. By this time, my father’s elder brother was already farming at Lampese. If you trace our history, you will discover we lived most of our lives at Lampese. At the end of the day when he got to Lampese as a young energetic man, he normally participated in communal farming competitions known as “Arogwun” in Ebira language. He was always coming out first among his equals winning farming implements especially a hoe as prize. It was this hard work that took my father to work in my maternal grandmother’s farmland that made people to ask who he was. My maternal grandfather was told my father is a son to the senior brother of one Ali Adinoyi. That was how my father was released to start working for the man after he demanded his services. My father later married my mother after proving his mettle as a hardworking farmer. My father was far older than my mother when they got married. My father never thought of anything marriage early in life as what was solely registered on his mind was to work hard on the farm. Fortunately for us, we lived in a place (Lampese) where they had much regard for education. As farmers, many of them had children who were schooling in Lagos and other cities across Nigeria. This also made my parents to vow that they will also want their children to go to school even in abroad. It was only my elder sister who later became my role model they were able to push forward and that step they took brought us where we are today. In 1971 when we came home for “Eku-Echi” festival (an annual traditional festival in Ebiraland), my father took me to Agassa from Iruvucheba to Adayi Ochis house. There we met one Pa. Amodu who I was made to understand was the surviving eldest son of Adayi Ochi. When I was finally enrolled into Primary School in 1972, anytime I was passing through Adayi Ochis house to school or on my way back, I will stop by and greet the old man. He will ask of my father and my school work. Fortunately for me again, my mother and the governor’s mother happened to be friends. They were not only friends but they were fond of calling each other “my mate.” They were also answering the same name “Hawawu.” Most times on my way from school, I will branch at the Ochis and they will serve me food to eat. They were living at the downward part of Agassa while my parents resided at Ateba. My mother with time started sending me on errands to the governor’s mother. From all indication and based on the history I have delved into, what is happening now is not what started all of a sudden. The relationship was built a long time ago by our parents. Indirectly His Excellency, Alh. Yahaya Adoza Bello is my younger brother. By the time he was born I was already in Form 2. Today, I am glad to say that the spirit of Adayi Ochi and my grandfather named Audu was what prompted the governor to pick me to work with him. This is why they say, “blood is thicker than water.” I really appreciate God for everything that has happened yesterday and today. May our tomorrow be much more better. Amen.
What are your hobbies like?
Hunting is my hobby. Those days when we were in Primary School that is the present day Government Reserved Area (GRA) Agassa, it was a bushy area where we had so many animals especially rabbits around. After school hours, our mood of relaxation was to go hunting with our younger ones. We will pursue what we call Mr. Hare till we are able to kill one or two of them. We also did not spare birds as we were all equipped with catapults to bring them down no matter how high they fly. I was also fond of climbing high trees to pack the eggs of birds from their nest. I cannot forget one nasty experience I had when I climbed a tall palm tree to pack the eggs of a kite. Having successfully thrown the eggs of the sharp claw and beak bird to my younger ones who caught the eggs with their clothes to stop them from breaking, the kite out anger started piercing my flesh with its sharp beak and claws. I had to endure all the pains as I could not jump from the palm tree. Hunting has remained a part of me as I still have my catapult with me but my leisure time is now mainly used for farming.
You have achieved a lot by the special grace of God, what is that one thing you are still praying to God to give you?
On a daily basis I am praying to God to give me sound health and longevity of life. I am begging God for this so that I can fulfill my positive plans towards helping humanity. God has used the governor to bring me on board and I have plans and aspirations to help the masses and the aged. I will like to see how I can appreciate God by rendering a helping hand to people who thinks they have come to their wits end.
Lastly, is there anything you will like to do to immortalize your parents you have talked about so much in this interview session with you especially your father you told us you cannot easily erase how he passed on from your memory?
You see apart from the annual prayers I do organise to pray for the departed souls of my parents, my plan is to come up with something that will stand the test of time for them. It could be a foundation. I want to come up with something that people cannot do without on a daily basis. I want a situation where I will have something like ORICHA FM RADIO STATION. The name “Oricha” is a household name in Ebiraland. It is a name that revolves around praising God as Oricha means God. The person who named my father Oricha knows it will be a name that will not fade away. It is good for me to also garnish the name and make it last longer than expected. My mother too was a good woman. My father before he died said he will prefer to die first while mother lives on to take care of us as he does not see himself capable of looking after us. I told you initially that my father was far older than my mother before they got married. True to his words, he died before my mother. My mother took the challenges of training us after the demise of my father. I think any woman that answers the name Hawawu is a special woman. She sacrificed all the mundane things of this world just to make sure she took appropriate care of us. When I was to register for West African Examinations Council (WAEC) in 1980, she took one of her precious woven clothes from her box to be sold at Lagos just for her to be able to pay my WAEC fees. Then we were to pay twenty five naira (N25.00). She sold the cloth for thirty naira (N30.00) and gave me all the money without taking a dime from it. That is a woman who loves her children. Some will keep that money to be eating assorted foods or making different hairstyles but she never did. My father and mother really suffered for us and I am waiting to see how I will coin their names to reflect in whatever I will end up coming with to immortalize them.
Thank you so much for your time and congratulations.
Thank you for your interview that has helped me to recount history and happening of old. It has also helped me to better appreciate God. May you all be blessed of God.Share this on WhatsApp