Atiku Abubakar was born on November 25, 1946 in Jada, Adamawa State, Nigeria.
He said: “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.
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.
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 sad and lonely. Father’s death pained me greatly. I resolved to work hard, remain focused and be successful in life to make my father proud. I was sure that he was somewhere watching over me. I did not want to disappoint him. I wish father had lived long enough to see the benefits of Western education in my life.
After completing my primary school in Jada in 1960, I was admitted into Adamawa Provincial Secondary School in Yola. I joined 59 other young boys from Adamawa and beyond in January 1961 to begin a five-year high school journey. The school’s motto is Tiddo Yo Daddo, a Fulani aphorism for “Endurance is Success”. It reminded us daily that success in life would only come to those who worked hard and persevered. Adamawa Provincial Secondary School, like others in the region, belonged in the second category of post-primary institutions in Northern Nigeria.
When I was 15, I spent my school holiday at home, working as a clerk in Ganye Native Authority. My boss was Adamu Ciroma, the then District Officer. From my holiday job earnings, I bought a house for my mother in Ganye, the headquarters of the local government council. The thatched mud bungalow had two rooms plus a kitchen and bathroom. It cost me about nine Pounds Sterling. My mother was very happy and proud of me. I had saved her from homelessness after her older brother sold the family house in Jada without her knowledge.
Before completing my Diploma in Law programme in June 1969, a team from the Federal Civil Service Commission came on a recruitment drive to the university. By chance one of the interviewers found in my file a report that I had once been found suitable to join the police force and had in fact received some training in 1966. This in- formation was brought to the attention of the chairman of the interview panel who promptly ruled. “O.k., you go to the Department of Customs and Excise”. That was how I joined the Department of Customs and Excise in June 1969. The invisible hand that has always shaped my life had once again steered me towards my destiny. After my training at the Police College in Ikeja, Lagos and at the Customs Training School in Ebute Metta in Lagos, I was posted to Idi Iroko border station. My colleagues and I were tasked with collecting duties on imported and exported goods, stop- ping the entry and exit of banned items, and arresting and prosecuting smugglers. I was posted in 1972 to Ikeja Airport in Lagos and later to Apapa ports in Lagos. I saw Customs not as a punitive institution but as a way of making money for government. Instead of seizing goods and extorting money from their owners, I made money for government. A lot of people tried unsuccessfully to induce me. I was posted to Ibadan mid 1975 and promoted Superintendent of Customs. This was during the memorable days of General Murtala Muhammed, the nation’s new military leader who had electrified the nation with his campaign for discipline, probity, hard work, patriotism and dedication to duty. I admired General Muhammed and tried to promote the same values and attitudinal change in our office. I was nick-named “Murtala Muhammed Junior” by my Customs subordinates in Ibadan because they said I was behaving like him. Although I was second-in-command in Ibadan, I used to order late-comers to be locked out of their offices. I was sad to hear about General Muhammed’s assassination on February 13, 1976 during a failed military coup. Some of those who were later implicated in the coup and killed were well known to me. But I did not know they were involved in a coup plot. Shortly after that failed coup, I was transferred to Kano in 1976.
I recognized very early in life that I have a good nose for business. In 1974 I applied for and obtained a Federal Staff Housing Loan. The loan, which amounted to 31,000 Naira, was the equivalent of my salary for five years. I was granted a plot of land by the Gongola State Government at Yola Government Reserved Area (GRA). I hired a foreman and began building my first house. With close personal supervision, the bungalow was completed on time and to my taste. I rented it out immediately. The rent I collected in advance on the house was substantial enough for me to purchase a second plot. I built my second house there and rented it out. I continued to plow back the rent into the building of new houses and within a few years I had built eight houses in choice areas of Yola. I also built a new house for my mother and rebuilt the old mud house I bought for her in Ganye when I was a 15-year-old student. Property investment can be very rewarding. It is safe and the returns are high de- pending on the location. Kaduna, for instance, was a good place to invest in property before the emergence of Abuja. I built my first house in Kaduna with rent from other property. I bought six more plots and built residential houses and rented them out to individuals and institutions. Of all the businesses into which I would venture, the most successful and the most lucrative would be a small oil services company I established with an Italian business man in the early 1980s. I met Gabriel Volpi when he was working at Apapa Ports in 1982. The Genoa, Italy-born Volpi was a director in MED Africa, a shipping company. Volpi suggested we go into oil and gas logistics. He knew Nigeria’s future was in oil and gas. We registered the Nigeria Container Services (NICOTES), operating from a container office at Apapa Ports. I was not involved in the running of the company. NICOTES relocated later to the Federal Lighter Terminal in Port Harcourt when the business began to grow. The company, now known as INTELS (Integrated and Logistics Services), has grown into a multi-billion Naira business providing over 15,000 jobs in Nigeria and other African countries, and paying hefty dividends to its shareholders.
Meeting Yar’Adua While in my office one day, I was informed that Shehu Musa Yar’Adua, the retired Major-General and former deputy to Obasanjo, was waiting to see me. Yar’Adua wanted a license to import beans from Niger Republic for sale in Nigeria. I told him that he would have to write an application to President Ibrahim Babangida for the license. Yar’Adua thanked me and left. Babangida approved his application. Yar’Adua imported the beans from Niger Republic, sold them and made good money. He felt he needed to show appreciation to me for assisting him. I was happy to see him again when he visited me and happier still to know that his business had gone well. He offered me a token of appreciation, but I declined, saying it was unnecessary. I was just doing my job. Yar’Adua was highly impressed. In an organization known for its endemic corruption and unethical deals, he was happy to find one decent officer. From that day, a friendship developed between us. Going into politics When I joined the Customs 20 years earlier, I had drawn a graph anticipating my career progression from Cadet to Director of Customs by age 40. I told myself that if by the time I was 40 years old I did not head the organization, I would quit. I retired at 43 as a Deputy Director on April 30, 1989. I paid the mandatory three months salary in lieu of notice to government. A year before my retirement, I had started attending political meetings at Shehu Yar’Adua’s house in Ikoyi, Lagos. “Look, you are good, you relate well with people. I think you will make a good politician. Why don’t you join me in politics”, Shehu Musa Yar’Adua said to me one day. That was how it all started.
The Yar’Adua Group, as we came to be known, wanted to build a bridge across the old fault lines of ethnicity, religion and region. In May 1989, the Babangida administration finally lifted the ban on party politics. The Yar’Adua group immediately unveiled its political association, the People’s Front of Nigeria (PFN), which had “the pursuit of justice, peace, and service” as its motto and “People First” as its slogan. At its first national convention in June 1989, Farouk Abdul Azeez, a medical doctor from the then Kwara State, was elected Chairman while a woman, Titi Ajanaku, was elected National Secretary. Six of us represented the then Gongola State at the convention. I was elected one of the National Vice Chairmen of the party. I was also in charge of setting up party structures in the South-East where I already had a network of friends and business associates. Yar’Adua and I paid the initial expenses of the PFN. I took PFN to Gongola State. It was the first political association to be launched in the state when the ban on party politics was lifted. I was the party’s sole financier in the state. My contributions to my immediate community had earned me a lot of good- will and support. Of the 13 political associations formed at the time, the PFN was the most organized and disciplined. Yet, on October 7, 1989, President Babangida announced that his Armed Forces Ruling Council had decided not to register any of the associations be- cause, as he put it, “the associations were set up by the same old discredited politicians who must never be allowed back in power”. He disbanded the 13 associations and created and funded two new parties – the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and the National Republican Convention (NRC). The SDP, he said, was a little to the left in terms of its ideological orientation while the NRC was a little to the right. He asked politicians to join either of the two.
Now 72 year old, the former vice president explains why he opted for polygamy as a young man. Atiku said: “I wanted to expand the Abubakar family. I felt extremely lonely as a child. I had no brother and no sister. I did not want my children to be as lonely as I was. This is why I married more than one wife. My wives are my brothers, my sisters, my friends and my advisers and they complement one another”.
Atiku Abubakar married Amina Titi Atiku Abubakar at the young age of 25 secretly in December 1971, at the Ikoyi registry in Lagos, because her family was initially opposed to the union. In January 1979 he married Ladi Atiku Abubakar. He married his third wife, Princess Rukaiyatu Atiku Abubakar, daughter of the late Lamido of Adamawa in 1983. He married Fatima Atiku Abubakar his fourth wife in 1986. He later divorced Ladi, allowing him to marry, as his fourth wife, Jennifer Iwenjora, who then became Jamila Atiku-Abubakar.
The first wife gave birth to four children, Fatima, Adamu, Halima and Aminu while the second wife, Hajia Ladi has six children, Abba, Atiku, Zainab, Ummi, Mariam and Rukayatu. The third wife, Princess Rukaiyat (current Lamido Adamawa’s 13th child) had seven children, Aisha, Hadiza, Aliyu, Asmau, Mustafa, Laila and Abdulsalaam. Hajia Fatima has six children, Amina, Mohammed and two sets of twins, Ahmed and Shehu and Aisha and Zainab. And Hajia Jamila has three children, Abdulmalik, Zahra and Faisal.
Behind the Business mogul cum politician, is also a loving husband and caring father.