•And man who tamed them for 30 years died recently
• Abacha made him 50 sets of agbada, after refusing car gift
By JULIANA TAIWO-OBALONYE
Since the days of President Shehu Shagari, a particular man has been the first citizen’s animals’ keeper. Shagari left office some 30 years ago. That means the man, who was hired then and just died at 58, took up the job in his 20s.
The man, popularly known as SA (Special Adviser) Lion, has left the president’s zoo against his wish; death snatched him away from the beasts he had been tending in the past 30 years.
The wild animals’ keeper, Mallam Yahaya Adamu (Dan Zaria) more adequately, S.A. Lion, hailed from Kaduna State.
Dan Zaria, died in his sleep on that fateful Sunday at his residence in Masaka, Nasarawa State. Those he left bereaved are his two wives and 18 children, five girls and 13 boys. If the animals he kept are intelligent enough to know what death means, then many more than you think are actually bereaved because he had been with them in the past 30 years, but would not come back.
He was employed as Head Gardener in December 1983 in Dodan Barracks, Lagos under President Shehu Shagari, shortly before the Gen. Muhammadu Buhari’s coup.
He was later sent to Niger Republic to train in wild beast handling by the State House Veterinary.
Trained 3 lions
Dan Zaria, a very jovial individual while in the employment of the State House, successfully trained about three lions in the villa from cubs.
Rescues Aso Rock from stray lions
During Gen. Abdullasami Abubakar’s regime, one fateful day, one of the three lions escaped from its cage at the back of the Head of State’s residence, shortly after Dan Zaria had taken permission from his bosses to rush to town and handle a banking transaction.
The soldiers ,guarding the villa, were ordered by the then CSO, Major Aliu, to take position and shoot the lion down should it try to attack anybody.
A search party was then sent to look for Dan Zaria, who luckily was on his way back to the Villa.
On his arrival, he panicked when he saw guns drawn and pointing at the lion and pleaded in a voice filled with emotion that he be allowed to lead it back to its cage. He got a water hose and increased the pressure of the water, aiming it at the lion and the beast quietly returned to its cage. Of course, Dan Zaria was hailed and applauded for his bravery and mastery.
On another occasion, a lion again escaped from its cage. News of the danger filtered into the meeting of the Provisional Ruling Council (PRC). Again, heavily armed soldiers were ordered to surround the venue of the meeting to forestall any possible attack from the lion. Some of the members of the PRC, ran out of the meeting into the C-in-C office for cover. It was Dan Zaria again that came to the rescue and returned the lion to its cage.
Dan Zaria worked with many heads of state, including President Goodluck Jonathan but the one that kept him most busy was the Abacha administration because of the CEO’s love for pets. He had different animals, including antelopes, tortoise, zebra, peacocks and others, parading around the villa.
While some of the wild animals like lions and tortoise have since been transferred out of the villa to the Children’s Park in Abuja, the zebras, giraffes, antelopes peacocks are still seen all over the villa.
Dan Zaria suffered partial stroke that affected the entire right half of his body and the use of his right arm. The stroke left him, limping when he recovered. That seriously affected his job and during Chief Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration, he was affected by staff downsize in the State House.
The then Chief of Staff, Gen. Mohammed Abdullahi, on noticing that he was no longer seeing Dan Zaria, sought to know what must have happened to him and he was informed of his sack.
Abdullahi pleaded with the then State House Permanent Secretary, Steve Orasanye, to reinstate him and ensure his Villa tag was always renewed alongside others until he decides on his own to stop coming. He convinced the permanent secretary that sacking him would hasten his death.
He was still on the employment of State House until his death in the early hours of Sunday, April 14.
Dan Zaria was fond of the press and would always come to hang around the press gallery contributing to any discussion with deep knowledge that surprised his listeners.
He was not afraid to talk to anybody and was very vast on national issues even though he was illiterate. His arguments came in fluent Hausa and pidgin English.
On one occasion, Dan Zaria had walked into the press gallery as usual and one of the journalists asked jokingly: “Dan Zaria, it’s weekend, so take care of your people”, after letting out a long laugh, he said: “But you promised us fresh air, so give us fresh air.”
Dan Zaria hated any currency other than naira, especially the American dollar.
The longest serving photographer attached to the State House, Alhaji Sule always made fun of Dan Zaria each time he returned from a foreign trip with his estacode.
Abacha made him agbada
On one of those occasion, Sule gave Dan Zaria $100 bill but he refused to collect it and when he persisted and forced it on him, he almost tore it to pieces but for the quick recovery from him by Sule.
Dan Zaria was also very simple and not materialistic. While many would have used his position to enrich themselves, Dan Zaria was known to reject gifts, including a car from one of is admirers.
Gen. Abacha at a time was said to have asked Dan Zaria to name whatever he wanted and he replied: “Nothing. It is against my religion to ask for anything”. But when Abacha insisted, Dan Zaria was said to have requested for agbada. And Abacha ordered that 50 sets be made for him.
His residence in Masaka was bought and built for him by the former National Security Adviser, Gen. Aliyu Gusau.
Every Sallah, Dan Zaria got ram gifts from Gen. Gusau, Gen Abdullahi and former Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Alhaji Yayale Ahmed. There was a standing order for him to pick rams from their homes.
On another occasion, a certain Customs Comptroller General had sent a Golf car to Dan Zaria without prior notice. Dan Zaria never drove it but sold it off at little or nothing, “saying I don’t want to be have problems and the stroke has left me partially paralysed, so what will I do with a car?”
When Mrs. Remi Oyo was the Special Adviser on Media to President Olusegun Obasanjo, she was reported ill at a time. Dan Zaria on hearing it cried that he would prefer to die in place of Mrs. Oyo because: “She is the one that pays my children’s school fees.”
After Mrs. Oyo left the Villa and resumed as the Managing Director of the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) she left a standing order that Dan Zaria must not be stopped when he comes looking for her.
Dan Zaria, who was well known to all past leaders and governors, would fearlessly walk up to them and strike a conversation. A couple of times, he was seen chatting with past leaders like Gen. Ibrahim Babangida the last time he visited the Villa.
He lost his mother just a month before he died, had given one of his daughters out in marriage and was preparing for another on May 18 before his death.
Two weeks before his demise, he had approached the Minister for Petroleum Resources, Mrs. Diezani Allison-Madueke, to seek assistance on his daughter’s upcoming marriage, which she obliged him. Family members said he had procured everything needed in the party after Alison-Madueke’s assistance before he died.