By Henry Akubuiro 

The new book, Conversations with Bukar Usman, has unearthed a long kept secret about FESTAC 77. In an interview with Yusuf Tatu of Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria (FRCN) on “Nigeria and International Propaganda”, contained in Conversations with Bukar Usman (Whetstone, Kano: 2022), the octogenarian declared that most of the international organisations accusing Nigeria of being the most corrupt nation on earth had ulterior motives. 

He said: “They are just using it to denigrate Nigeria, not because they have any firm concrete evidence against the country …. Some powerful countries have identified Nigeria to be corrupt and they have their media behind them. As I said, they are in control of the media and, therefore, they give the impression that Nigeria is the most corrupt country,” Dr. Usman noted in the 1996 interview (p.247).

However, Dr. Usman did not totally exonerate Nigeria of corrupt practices, but he frowned at the holier-than-thou attitude of foreign critics with sullied hands. Going back to the late 1970s when the biggest arts and culture festival in the black world was held in Nigeria, the prolific author alleged that foreigners swindled Nigeria of huge sums of money and were yet to return the ill-gotten money.

“As far back as FESTAC 77, we know how many, for instance, foreigners who came here and duped us of several millions of Naira, and nobody has, till today, repatriated them. So, why should they be pointing accusing fingers only at Nigerians? The best thing is for them to be seen also not to be condoning corruption and all kinds of trade malpractices but the thing now is that they only point accusing fingers at Nigeria and we are saying that no country can claim that it’s nationals are not involved in some of the things they are accusing Nigeria of,” said Dr. Usman (p.247).

The second part of Conversations with Bukar Usman, compiled by Khalid Imam, contains 25 interviews granted to Nigerian radio and television stations and a few international media outlets. Some were conducted during Usman’s heydays as a senior administrator in the Civil Service while others were post-retirement interviews dealing with national, international, cultural, literary, literacy, governance and administrative issues. Looking at these chats in retrospect, Usman showcased the elegance of lucidity over gnomic responses. 

It will be recalled that Usman joined the Civil Service in 1965 as a clerical officer. Between 1972 and 1999, he had worked with many Nigerian presidents, from General Yakubu Gowon to Olusegun Obasanjo as a bureaucrat, the latter, which he retired as the Permanent Secretary, Special Services Office, The Presidency. 

Most of the interviews here are issue based, prompted by matters raised at conferences and others bordering on socio-political convulsions in and outside Nigeria. Examples include interviews on threats to national security, democratisation process, African democracy, Nigeria and international propaganda, Vision 2010, writing in Hausa, the Bukar Usman Foundation activities, reactions to awards, motivation for writing, etcetera. The date of each interview is stated at the end of the chat, which makes it easier to situate the context that informed the discourse. 

Related News

Dr. Usman has demonstrated to be a repository of knowledge on the Nigerian Civil Service, where he worked for over three decades. There are very few Nigerians who could match his expertise in this field. Little wonder, many of his interviews in this book were derived from the know-it-all recess of a technocrat, as reporters always feasted (and still feast) on his intellectual bank.

An instance is the June, 1998 interview on «The Nigerian Civil Service and Vision 2010», conducted by Yusuf Tatu, where he fielded questions on the 1988 Reforms and the changes that were brought to bear on the Civil Service. We are also enlightened on the influences of the military on the Civil Service, some of which were said to be out of sync with the norm. 

Dr. Usman hails from Biu, Borno State, and speaks Babur/Bura language. But he has shown more interest in the development of Hausa language and literature than many native Hausa speakers, which is why journalists have often engaged him on that. In an interview with Ahmad Gidan Dabino in his programme, “The Pen is Mightier than the Sword”, broadcast on Radio Kano in 2010, he revealed why he was a bilingual writer: 

“I am more used to English. Beside primary one and two, I was taught everything in English, while we were taught Hausa in Ajami. So, I cannot write in my Babur/Bura language, but can in Hausa. These days, if you have something worth sharing, you must use the medium which people understand more,”  he explained (p.281). Among others, his book of Hausa folktales, Taskar Tatsuniyoyi, has become a reference point in Hausa indigenous literature.

Through the Bukar Usman Foundation, also, Dr. Bukar Usman has awarded scholarships to many students from different parts of the country, supported literacy through book donations, given cash donations to the needy, running into millions of naira; funded degree and master’s programmes of undergraduates and postgraduates, funded book and literary events, provided charity to many Nigerians too numerous to mention in the area of health and sundry areas. 

He informed Ahmad Gidan Dabino in an interview on Freedom Radio Kano in 2010: “I established it for the fact that today it is not everything the government can do for the people. Even the Almighty God said Tashi in Taimake Ka. After I retired, I asked myself what I can do after these publications.

“My wife is overzealous about helping people. And so, I initiated the foundation so that I,  my wife and anybody who has the zeal to help people in any way can come together and give our quota to the development of the society” (p.290).