Rem­i­nis­cences With Al­haji Muham­mad Buhari Ali

Sunday Trust - - FRONT PAGE - From An­drew Agbese & Mo­hammed Yaba, Kaduna

Al­haji Muham­mad Buhari Ali was privy to the pro­cesses that led to the set­ting up of the Nige­ria De­posit In­sur­ance Cor­po­ra­tion (NDIC). He was one of the pioneer staff mem­bers of the cor­po­ra­tion. He rose to the po­si­tion of an ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor in 2004 be­fore tak­ing an early re­tire­ment. The 71-year-old in­sur­ance un­der­writer re­calls the process that led to the set­ting up of the cor­po­ra­tion and the early chal­lenges the in­sur­ance sub­sec­tor faced in the north­ern part of the coun­try due to cul­tural and re­li­gious be­liefs, as well as the role the NDIC played to cush­ion the ef­fects for those who lost de­posits in failed banks.

How did you start school?

I was born on July 27, 1947, to Malam Ma­ji­dadi Gwandu and Ha­jiya Hadiza Jega of blessed mem­ory. I was sent to a Qu­ranic school at Modibo Us­man House in Gwandu. Later, my el­der brother, Al­haji Umaru Sidi Ali, took me to Kano, where I con­tin­ued with my Is­lamic ed­u­ca­tion be­fore my ad­mis­sion into the Gi­dan Makama El­e­men­tary School, Gudu­lawa, where I spent four years.

I later got ad­mis­sion into Gwale Ju­nior Pri­mary School, Kano. At the el­e­men­tary school, I held the po­si­tion of a class mon­i­tor and later school pre­fect. I later passed my com­mon en­trance ex­am­i­na­tion to Kano Teach­ers’ School.

What was your ex­pe­ri­ence in your first day in school?

In my first day at Gi­dan Makama El­e­men­tary School, I was ex­cited when I en­tered a class­room that had benches, chairs and ex­er­cise books. I was us­ing these items for the first time, un­like in the Qu­ranic schools where pupils sat on bare floor to learn be­fore grad­u­at­ing to a wood plate called ‘allo.’

In­sur­ance was very rare in those days, how did you get into the busi­ness?

I went into in­sur­ance af­ter I left teach­ing. My brother hap­pened to be a trans­porter, and in the process of re­new­ing the in­sur­ance li­cense of his ve­hi­cles, I be­came a reg­u­lar cus­tomer at the in­sur­ance of­fice. In the process I also got some peo­ple to in­sure with the com­pany. Due to this, the then area man­ager saw my po­ten­tial in the in­dus­try and ad­vised me to take ap­point­ment with them. Af­ter con­sult­ing with my brother, I took the ap­point­ment with the in­sur­ance com­pany as an un­der­writer/ac­coun­tant clerk. They sent me to La­gos for a three­month in­duc­tion course. Af­ter the course, I re­turned to Kano and was put in charge of un­der­writ­ing.

Did peo­ple un­der­stand what in­sur­ance was about?

Ac­tu­ally, our peo­ple in the North were skep­ti­cal about in­sur­ance, maybe be­cause of our re­li­gious and cul­tural background. Peo­ple here be­lieve that what­ever hap­pens to them, Al­lah made it to hap­pen, so there’s no need to in­sure risks.

When I took ap­point­ment in NICON in Kaduna we had in­sur­ance firms in Kaduna and Kano. I hap­pened to be the branch chair­man in Kaduna and we usu­ally met to hold meet­ings from time to time. In the course of our meet­ings we con­sid­ered it nec­es­sary to do pub­lic en­light­en­ment about what in­sur­ance was about. Then we in­tro­duced a sort of meet­ing to make the in­sur­ance com­pa­nies and other peo­ple to be meet­ing reg­u­larly. I re­mem­ber that there was a time in Kaduna when we spent a week do­ing pub­lic en­light­en­ment about in­sur­ance ac­tiv­i­ties in news­pa­pers, ra­dio and tele­vi­sion sta­tions.

We en­light­ened the peo­ple on the im­por­tance of in­sur­ance and the need for poli­cies be­cause we felt that in­sur­ance was a risk one should take. Some­body whose house is gut­ted by fire would be dev­as­tated, and be­fore he re­cov­ers he may have un­der­gone lots of suf­fer­ing. Af­ter our en­light­en­ment cam­paign, grad­u­ally, peo­ple started show­ing in­ter­est in in­sur­ance poli­cies.

What can be done to en­lighten peo­ple about in­sur­ance?

It re­quires en­light­en­ment, es­pe­cially as the eco­nomic sit­u­a­tion in the coun­try makes it dif­fi­cult for peo­ple to con­sider in­sur­ance. Peo­ple are hes­i­tant, so they pre­fer the third party pol­icy sys­tem when tak­ing in­sur­ance. You will find that some peo­ple are in­ter­ested in third party pol­icy, just to let the po­lice and army al­low them to pass. The com­pre­hen­sive pol­icy ac­tu­ally cov­ers a whole lot. For in­stance, if some­body is covered un­der the pol­icy and he suf­fers an ac­ci­dent, he will be com­pen­sated ac­cord­ing to the dam­age on his ve­hi­cle. If you take a third party pol­icy, you will not be com­pen­sated as it cov­ers only the other per­son whose car has been hit and the in­surer will re­pair it for him. With fire in­sur­ance, it is only when your car gets in­volved in fire that the in­sur­ance will take care of it for you. But I think that with the re­cent devel­op­ment in in­sur­ance, they are mainly on the third party fire in­ci­dent.

Who were your school­mates?

In my se­nior pri­mary school, up till teach­ers’ col­lege, I had a good num­ber of friends; prom­i­nent among them in­clude the present man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of the Nige­ria De­posit In­sur­ance Cor­po­ra­tion (NDIC), Umaru Ibrahim and a for­mer clerk of the Na­tional As­sem­bly, Al­haji Ibrahim.

How would you de­scribe ed­u­ca­tion in those early days?

Af­ter school hours, some of the chil­dren who did not have the op­por­tu­nity to be en­rolled in schools would com­pose songs to make fun of us; but that did not bother us.

Did you know you would go into the fi­nan­cial sec­tor?

When I fin­ished col­lege, I started work­ing as a teacher and rose to the po­si­tion of head­mas­ter in the Kaduna Ed­u­ca­tion

Author­ity. That time, peo­ple were run­ning from teach­ing, so it was manda­tory to spend five years teach­ing. Af­ter five years I left. As I told you, it was in the process of as­sist­ing my brother with his in­sur­ance li­cense that I switched over to in­sur­ance.

In those days, head­mas­ters were highly re­spected; can you share your ex­pe­ri­ence with us?

Be­fore I be­came head­mas­ter I was an as­sis­tant head­mas­ter at Tam­bu­rawa Pri­mary School at the out­skirt of Kano State. It hap­pened that the most recog­nised peo­ple in that vil­lage were vil­lage heads, imams and head­mas­ters. We were just like coun­cil­lors; any­thing the vil­lage head or district head wanted, he would call us to dis­cuss and share ad­vice.

How do you feel now, see­ing how head­mas­ters are be­ing treated?

We were earn­ing about 20pounds monthly. It was a big money. That salary made me to eat bet­ter food, as well as save and buy a mo­tor­cy­cle. But now, you find out that the money they are given can­not take them through a month.

How would you de­scribe your first time in the NDIC?

I can call it ac­ci­den­tal, in the sense that when I rose to an ex­ec­u­tive po­si­tion in the con­ven­tional in­sur­ance, I was trans­ferred to La­gos. When I con­sid­ered my large fam­ily, I said I could not move to La­gos be­cause then, life was very hec­tic there for a north­erner. While I was in La­gos, I met the then gover­nor of the Cen­tral Bank of Nige­ria (CBN) who hap­pened to be a close friend of our fam­ily. So I com­plained to him and he said they would soon set up an in­sur­ance com­pany and he would rec­om­mend me. So when they set up the NDIC I joined them. When I went for the in­ter­view I thought it was a con­ven­tional in­sur­ance, but went they asked ques­tions, I re­alised we were go­ing into another form of in­sur­ance.

The in­ter­viewer asked what I would say as I was go­ing into fi­nan­cial in­sur­ance. I said he should al­low me to try. Thank God that I tried.

First, they put me in ad­min­is­tra­tion but I later moved to another sec­tion that dealt with bank liq­ui­da­tion. I hap­pened to be the first set to liq­ui­date banks, such as Na­tional Bank, Con­ti­nen­tal Bank, Mer­chant Bank and so on.

When­ever they de­cided to liq­ui­date a bank, our man­ag­ing di­rec­tor would call us to say we were go­ing to do a hec­tic ex­er­cise, to sur­prise bank staff. We would use a whole week to carry out the ex­er­cise. He gave us enough money to take care of our­selves and usu­ally told us we shouldn’t tell our fam­i­lies where we were go­ing.

That means you re­ally en­joyed your­self at the NDIC.

I truly en­joyed my­self be­cause when I left the con­ven­tional in­sur­ance I didn’t know that I would make what I made there. In fact, I even be­came the prin­ci­pal man­ager be­fore I took leave of ab­sence to do my post­grad­u­ate diploma (PGD).

Be­fore I left, they gave me a con­di­tion that they would only al­low me to go with­out salaries. I took the leave, and thank God that I com­pleted my study suc­cess­fully. Apart from fur­ther­ing my ed­u­ca­tion, another thing that made me to go for PGD was to show my chil­dren that with age one could still go back to school. I was about 60 years old when I went back to school, and all my fam­ily mem­bers were sur­prised that I could do that, even with­out salaries. By the time I fin­ished my study, the NDIC had moved to Abuja.

The very year I fin­ished my fi­nal exam I be­came the head of the unit in charge of in­sur­ance and se­cu­rity. When I com­pleted the PGD, my man­ag­ing di­rec­tor con­grat­u­lated me and said he would com­pen­sate me. At that time, the Kaduna Uni­ver­sal Bank was hav­ing a prob­lem and they were about to be taken over. So he sent me to be one of the ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tors be­cause at that time, the CBN pro­vided one ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor, so the NDIC pro­vided one too. That was be­fore it was sold to a man who hap­pened to be a man­ag­ing di­rec­tor, I think of Union Bank. It was a gen­eral cir­cle, so we sold it. We also sold another bank, Co­op­er­a­tive, but they later gave it another name, Uni­ver­sal Bank. Af­ter that, we sold it to a new share­holder and went back to our work. When I went back to the NDIC I was sent to Lon­don, where I spent two weeks on ad­min­is­tra­tion work be­fore I re­turned to Nige­ria.

What was re­spon­si­ble for the fail­ure of banks, and how did the NDIC cope with the pres­sure?

The NDIC was es­tab­lished to pay when a bank is in liq­ui­da­tion. We in­sured what­ever you had. You would find out that af­ter we took over all the pro­cesses, we started pay­ing some­thing, and later, when we sold the as­sets, we started shar­ing. That is why, from time to time, you see the NDIC call­ing on peo­ple to come and get their money.

Ini­tially, peo­ple were hos­tile to us be­cause the sta­tion wagon cars we were us­ing had the NDIC in­scrip­tion on them. When we saw peo­ple try­ing to at­tack us, we stopped writ­ing on the cars. But when peo­ple later re­alised that we were help­ing them, they stopped at­tack­ing us. They re­alised that with­out us they may not get any­thing if a bank failed.

We started pay­ing N50,000, and when we shared the as­sets of the bank we shared with them. When pol­i­tics came, we in­creased the amount from N50,000 to N200,000.

Bank own­ers al­leged that some banks were closed as a re­sult of po­lit­i­cal vendetta. What is you take on that?

There was no such thing. It was dur­ing the mil­i­tary regime, so there was no is­sue of pol­i­tics, but re­al­ity.

We don’t see much of failed banks these days, why?

We hardly find banks go­ing into liq­ui­da­tion these days be­cause liq­ui­dat­ing a bank is very ex­pen­sive. We feel that in­stead of liq­ui­da­tion, as­sist­ing the banks to sur­vive would be bet­ter. That is why we formed the bailout. The NDIC in­jected bil­lions of naira in banks in or­der to en­sure that they sur­vive. That is the in­no­va­tion, and I pre­fer it to liq­ui­dat­ing a bank.

Why did you re­tire from the NDIC?

I re­tired at the age of 58. That was two years be­fore my re­tire­ment age, which is 60 years. The CBN in­tro­duced what they called early re­tire­ment in­cen­tives. The early re­tire­ment in­cen­tives would en­hance your pocket and po­si­tion; and they would over­look your debt ýto en­cour­age you to go.

What they wanted to do was to make those who were age­ing to go so as to re­cruit new peo­ple. I took that ad­van­tage be­cause I knew that even if I stayed back to com­plete the two years, what I would have got­ten would not be up to what I got now. So, to me, it was a bless­ing.

How would you de­scribe the then CBN gover­nor, Ab­dulka­dir?

He was ac­tu­ally an in­no­va­tor. He was the per­son who in­tro­duced the NDIC due to his wide ex­pe­ri­ence. He per­formed very well. I am not say­ing this be­cause I was close to him, he ac­tu­ally did very well.

Would you like any of your chil­dren to

go into the in­sur­ance busi­ness?

I can’t dic­tate for my chil­dren what pro­fes­sion to do, but if they want to do in­sur­ance busi­ness I will have no ob­jec­tion. Right now, I have two of my chil­dren al­ready in the in­sur­ance busi­ness. One is in the NDIC while the other is in con­ven­tional in­sur­ance. And they are mov­ing fast.

So my chil­dren can de­cide what to be­come. The one in the NDIC got there be­cause when I was about to re­tire, I jok­ingly I told the man­ag­ing di­rec­tor, who hap­pened to be my classmate, that since I was go­ing, he should let me bring a re­place­ment. He laughed, but that’s how my son got it.

What are your hob­bies?

I like trav­el­ling, read­ing and writ­ing. I have writ­ten books about NICON Man­age­ment, my­self and my late son, who I love so much. It pained me when he died, but God knows best. He was at the Us­manu Dan­fo­dio Uni­ver­sity dur­ing his fi­nal year when had an ac­ci­dent and died. That was why I wrote a book about him.

How many books have you writ­ten so far?

The ones I printed are three, but all in all, I will say I have writ­ten five books.

Among them are NICON Man­age­ment, Agri­cul­tural In­sur­ance and three oth­ers.

Did you launch the books?

I planned to launch them, but I later felt it was not nec­es­sary. But I dis­trib­uted to friends and fam­ily mem­bers.

What is your favourite food?

I like fura, be­ing some­body from the Sokoto, Kebbi and Zam­fara axis. We all like fura.

One of your hob­bies is trav­el­ling; can you tell us some of the coun­tries you have vis­ited so far?

When I was in Maiduguri in 1977 I trav­elled to Makkah. That was my first pil­grim­age. I was in Lon­don, Amer­ica and so many other coun­tries.

How is life af­ter re­tire­ment?

I thank God. Be­fore I re­tired I made in­vest­ment in prop­erty. Right now, I earn from rents, I get my pen­sion. I also bought lots of shares and that re­ally helped me a lot.

When I got my re­tire­ment ben­e­fits I bought some houses and in­vested in shares.

What ad­vice do you have for young peo­ple who want to go into the in­sur­ance busi­ness?

Hon­estly, due to the eco­nomic sit­u­a­tion in the coun­try, some peo­ple are strug­gling to sur­vive, and that is mak­ing in­sur­ance busi­ness a big chal­lenge.

Ac­tu­ally, our peo­ple in the North were skep­ti­cal about in­sur­ance, maybe be­cause of our re­li­gious and cul­tural background. Peo­ple here be­lieve that what­ever hap­pens to them, Al­lah made it to hap­pen, so there’s no need to in­sure risks.

Al­haji Muham­mad Buhari Ali Gwandu

Al­haji Muham­mad Buhari Ali

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