Reminiscences with Alhaji Halilu Ahmed Getso
Alhaji Halilu Ahmed Getso ventured into the journalism profession as a reporter in Radio Nigeria. He rose through the ranks and became an executive director in Radio Kaduna. In this interview he explained why he was removed and transferred to Lagos. He also said he was ready to anchor programmes on radio, even at 70; among other things.
From childhood to this moment, how has life been?
My life has been a successful one since I could be contacted for an interview. When I was old enough to be enrolled in school, I started in a Qur’anic school, then primary and secondary schools, up to the time I stopped. Then I secured an employment in a very good place, where you could talk and people would listen. I was nobody, but I became somebody, by the grace of God. Alhamdulillah, life has been kind to me. In the course of my work, I interacted with different personalities from near and far.
Which primary school did you attend?
I started at Getso Junior Primary School in my hometown, from 1958 to 1960; that’s three years. Actually, it was supposed to be four years, but for some reasons, I was promoted to senior primary school after my third year. At that time, the system was four years at junior primary and three at senior primary, after which you would proceed to secondary school, either a teachers’ college or what was known as craft schools. They are called technical colleges nowadays.
After three years at senior primary school, I was admitted into a secondary school. At that time, there were only two secondary schools in the whole of Kano Province - Government College, Birnin Kudu, as it is known today, and Provincial College, Kano, now called Rumfa College. I was sent to Government College, Birnin Kudu.
At Birnin Kudu, I did not spend the required number of years because in the first year there were no classrooms for us, no hostels, and no laboratories for science subjects; there were no teachers either. So we were delayed for about five months until all these things were provided. That was how we spent four and a half years instead of five years. But that did not have any negative effect on our class because from the time the school was established till today, I don’t think there is any class that had prominent people as ours. The class produced a lot of doctors, such as Dr Junaid Muhammad, who later became a member of the National Assembly during the Shagari regime; Dr Bashir Dankadai, the district head of Tudun Wada; Dr Ghali Habib; Dr Ibrahim Adamu Busurka - about six medical doctors; and those of us who did not follow the medical profession, including Dr Abdullahi Umar Ganduje, the current governor of Kano State.
Did you proceed to a tertiary institution?
I wanted to proceed to the university, but two reasons prevented me from achieving that. Firstly, I wanted to do some jobs and earn salaries to support my parents and brothers. Secondly, my father passed on when I was 11 years old. His elder brother took care of me and my brothers.
The late Ahmadu Rufa’i was asked to go round secondary schools and pick students that could be trained for the Ministry of Agriculture in Kano. At that time, Governor Audu Bako had introduced new ways of boosting agriculture in the state, and he had achieved a lot.
Rufa’i met us in school and gave us a lecture on the importance of the programme and the need to study agriculture. After his lecture, he asked whether anyone had interest; and we submitted our names. Some of us were taken to the School of Agriculture, Samaru, Zaria, while others were taken to Kabba, another school of agriculture. So, we studied while we were given three square meals. We had accommodation and were receiving a salary-like allowance.
I was one of those who went to Zaria. There too, I was not able to complete the studies. That was how I kept going in life. I left three months to our graduation due to a misunderstanding we had with one of our teachers. It happened because I was reading a New Nigerian newspaper in class while he was teaching. He told me what I couldn’t bear, so I responded accordingly and left the class. Incidentally, I saw in the paper I was reading, an advert calling for interested candidates with Grade II, or secondary school leavers from Kano, North-East, North-West and North-Central states to apply to work as state correspondents for Radio Nigeria. And it had always been my dream to work for a radio station, just to present the Zabi da Lanka programme, where greeting cards written by listeners were read. As soon as I saw that advert I tore a paper from my book and wrote my application letter. I rode my bicycle to a post office at Samaru and sent the application immediately. Fortunately, I received a reply within a week, asking me to go for an interview. That was how I ventured into journalism. In less than two weeks I received my offer of appointment. I filled the acceptance letter and returned it to them. I reported officially on September 11, 1979.
What was your schedule of duty when you reported?
The essence of the employment was to be a state correspondent, so there was no way they would change it to another thing. More so, most of those that were presenting the programme did not have the secondary school certificate I had. So on the first day I was attached to the duty continuity announcer called Idris Garba. He was a kind man. Whatever he wanted to do, he would show me how to do it. I spent three days there and moved to another section.
It was their tradition at that time that as a newly employed staff you would go round all the sections to have a little knowledge of how they were run. The last section one would visit was marketing, and from there, you would know whether you were good or they would send you out if you were not capable.
I was posted to programmes section, then news and current affairs. We were trained at Lugard Hall, Kaduna, by some qualified journalists, on how to do our reporting, after which we were posted to our different states of duty. I was the first Kano correspondent of the Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria (FRCN), Kaduna; Tunde Oladipo, Kwara; Muhammad Bashir Gulma, Sokoto; Madu
Aisami, North-East; and so on. I reported in Kano after that orientation, with neither an office to work in, house to live, nor a leader that would guide you. We were just attached to the Ministry of Information. Whenever they were going out to source for news we would follow them and see what we would be able to gather and send to Kaduna. At that time it was very difficult to communicate. To even get the phone to use was a tug of war. I was using their phone, but to even get the number through was another problem.
You were trained in agriculture, then you found yourself in journalism, what challenges did you encounter?
I met some experienced hands like the Daily Times correspondent, that of New Nigerian, Dele, and some other newspaper correspondents. However, they would not necessarily assist you on your job, especially as there was rivalry between newspapers and radio because radio was relatively a new medium but more popular. That was one of the challenges.
That was how I stayed in Kano for two years and returned to Kaduna. In Kaduna, I met a new employee, Alhaji Musa Karate, who was a degree holder but not a journalist. He happened to be my primary school teacher. He was there for about three months and was posted to Kano as a senior correspondent, believing that since he was a degree holder he could do more than me. He pleaded that since I was in Kano, I had more experience, so I should be attached to him as his deputy. That was how we returned to Kano.
This time, we rented our own office along Ibrahim Taiwo Road. But Alhaji Musa Karaye did not stay long; he decided to join government.
I developed interest in working at the BBC. We discussed with them and agreed on some terms. Before I signed the documents of our agreement, another opportunity came knocking. That was a course in Holland in form of technical aid. Our radio/television station in Kaduna was given two slots, one of which was given to me to go and study at their radio/television school. It was fully sponsored. They gave me the leverage to choose between the two. After some consultations, I opted to go to Holland because it was an opportunity that would come once while the BBC would be there all the time.
At the end of the course they would give you the opportunity to choose any European country you would like to visit, and they would sponsor your trip to and fro. Once you were back they would return you to your country. So I chose to go to London. That was also my opportunity to visit the BBC and we renewed our agreement, after which I returned to Nigeria.
I spent two years after my return from Holland, then the BBC came again for a three-year contract. But Kaduna said they would not release me for three years. They said I could go for one and a half years on training attachment. The BBC agreed, but when I got there they did not treat me as someone on attachment. I was treated as a fullfledged staff. But I had signed an undertaking that I would return at the expiration of the period. That was how I went there and couldn’t even wait until the end of one and a half years because I couldn’t condone the ill-treatment of the British. The issue of racism was pronounced. We were constantly mocked for not having freedom because of military rule. Again, there were calls for selfgovernment in some parts of Africa - South Africa, Namibia, Angola, and so on. Despite the fact that they were southern African countries, we still felt they were our brothers and sisters, so what affected them equally affected us. We had to contribute to their aspirations in whatever form, such as editorials etc. That did not go down well with the white men.
So I decided to quit, three months to the expiration of our contract with them. In fact, I was looking for what would send me back.
I did something that was never done before. I went there with my two wives. Traditionally, they would not accept somebody coming in with two wives; what they recognised officially was one wife. Initially, I wanted to go with one, but eventually, the three of us had to go. They had to seek for permission from the foreign affairs department to allow me in One other difference between those days and what obtains nowadays is the quality and oratory of politicians. Where do you see such orators now? What we have now are just political beggars and hunt dogs who bastardise and demean people on radio. with two wives and give us whatever assistance necessary.
How did you cope in London, a foreign country with a different culture?
Before I went to London I was in Holland. The life in Europe is virtually the same everywhere. England and Holland share borders. From Amsterdam to London is an hour flight. So I got used to their way of life when I was in Holland. If you were walking along the road in one of the cities in Holland and you came across a bridge, if you were to go to Germany or England, France or Spain and saw another bridge, you would think it was that of Holland because they were exactly the same. That’s their way of life. The only difference I could say I noticed is that Holland was more hospitable than other Western Europe countries. They were more accommodating, especially to Africans. We really enjoyed our lives in Holland. It’s a very nice country.
In London, one day I planned to visit a friend at an area called Balaam, a town very far way from central London. I had to board at least three trains before I got there.
It was an underground rail network, so it was a bit complicated. I thought I could go, but unfortunately, I got lost. Trains came every 5 to 7 minutes and I was confused. I didn’t know which train to board, so I decided to ask a young lady. When I got close to her and greeted her she ignored me. I approached her again and politely began to talk to her, but before I finished my statement she shouted, ‘Leave me alone!’ I said I just wanted to ask a question, but she said, ‘I don’t want to talk to you, leave me alone.’’
When you returned from London, the management of Radio Kaduna had introduced a political programme called Mece ce Siyasa, which you anchored. What was the motive behind the programme?
I ran the programme from 1977 to 1978. At that time, Nigeria was under military rule and government had banned all political activities in the country. But before the coming of Obasanjo, government lifted the ban and politicians were allowed to form associations, do all the needful, and if they satisfied the criteria for registration, they would be registered as political parties. Many people who were eligible to vote were not aware of how politics was played, so there was the need to sensitise and enlighten them. That was why we initiated that programme. It was with the sole aim of sensitising people on politics.
I ran the programme for only few months. Although it was very short, it served its purpose because people were sensitised about politics.
After Mece ce Siyaya, you also ran two other political programmes, Dandalin Siyasa and Alkawari Kaya ne. What informed your interest in them?
Immediately after the suspension of Mece ce Siyaya, Dandalin Siyaysa was introduced. It was more accepted than Mece ce Siyasa because it was introduced after political activities had commenced all over the country and people wanted to know what was happening. They were woken up and encouraged to participate in politics.
Big politicians like the late Aminu Kano, Maitama Sule, Lawal Dambazau and the rest of others went to the nooks and crannies of the country for campaign. When we introduced Dandalin Siyasa, people were very happy; hence it was widely accepted. This programme was introduced to guide politicians on how to conduct themselves during political campaigns. Normally, when elections are over, political programmes will stop. But the management of Radio Kaduna came up with another political programme, Alkawari Kaya ne, which I was also directed to anchor. The motive behind the programme was to follow up on the promises made by politicians during their campaigns. The purpose was to ensure that these politicians fulfilled their promises. I designed the programme in such a way that
I would remind the politicians about these promises from time to time. I ran the programme up to 1983 when the military took over power from civilians.
Among these three political programmes, which one exposed you to influential people?
All the three programmes exposed me to big politicians. I started meeting big politicians when I ran Mece ce Siyasa. For instance, when I came to Kano, I interviewed politicians like Alhaji Tanko Yakasai, Alhaji Inuwa Wada; Danmasanin Kano, Dr Yusuf Maitama Sule and many others.
These programmes served as the corporate social responsibility of the media in those days. Are you satisfied with what obtains in the media today, in relation to politics?
It depends on your definition of what is wrong and what is right, what is good and what is bad, what is responsible and what is irresponsible. Perhaps, because of the selfishness of man I will say that in those days we did what was more responsible. But even in those days, some people were not satisfied with what we were doing. There was a time when somebody told me face to face that our radio station had become that of irresponsible people. And that was a man who worked with us up to the level of a manager. In fact, I met him there. I asked if it was after he left or when he was there. He said it was after he left. So it was within the two years he left that we became irresponsible. His only reason was that I refused to disclose our new programme to him, even when he insisted. I told him that he was irresponsible as well.
One other difference between those days and what obtains nowadays is the quality and oratory of politicians. Where do you see such orators now? What we have now are just political beggars and hunt dogs who bastardise and demean people on radio. Sometimes you don’t even know the person you are abusing, but because you are paid to do so, you begin to say he is this and that. It was not like that in those days.
In those days, Radio Kaduna was very powerful, but with time, it became what it is today. There were insinuations that it was a deliberate act of government to pull it down. What’s your take on this?
Well, when something happens, either good or bad, there must be someone responsible. When it is good, people tend to own it, even when they were not there when it happened. But when it is bad, people tend to trade blames. Honesty, the harm done to Radio Kaduna was colossal, but it did not just happen one day. It was systemic; it happened overtime. We can no longer do what we were known for in the past. In the last 30 to 40 years, no member of staff would complain of his entitlement. All our rights, privileges and entitlements were given when due. Sometimes
you wouldn’t even know that something was for you and you would be called to collect it.
Today, the story is different. It is not a matter of giving you what you were not aware of, it is now a matter of trying to deny you what you are even aware of. In those days, the moment you began drifting off track they would call you back on track. And if you deserved to be dismissed, you would bear the consequences. No one would do you a favour and nobody would lobby for you.
There was a day one of our Hausa newscasters misrepresented an announcement made by the governor of the Northern Region, the late Brigadier Abba Kyari, that the northern government would introduce uniform school calendar for the region. But unfortunately, the caster translated the news to mean that government would provide school uniform to all students in the region. It was a great blunder because he misrepresented the government. The government could not shoulder such huge responsibility at that time. Our boss, Alhaji Dahiru Modibbo, rushed to the station before the caster finished the news and stayed at the studio’s door. When he came out, Modibbo collected the news bulletin and asked him to leave the station. He directed him to come back the next day and collect his dismissal letter, and that was the end of it.
You see, he offended the job and his superior punished him according to the gravity of his offence. Today, we don’t have the courage to do this kind of thing to protect the job for the younger ones to benefit. Do you know that nobody came to the station to save the guy after he was dismissed.
Again, there was a time a whole governor came to the station and requested Modibbo to remove the reporter that was covering his state, but Modibbo told him that he would not remove him because he (reporter) was not working for the governor alone. Rather, he was working for the entire people of the state and nobody complained about his reportage. And the reporter was not removed.
But today, reporters lobby to be sent to states of their choice. In those days, whenever we had an assignment to do, everybody would do his best to ensure that it was done perfectly. If such incidence fell on a weekend, our superiors would borrow money from their wives to settle the personnel in order to allow him go for the assignment. But it is not like that today. No one is willing to execute the job, even if he or she has the means to do it. In the past, our personnel would be confronted with various types of gift in cash or kind, including cars, but they would reject them. It happened to me several times and I rejected them. I challenge anybody to come out and prove that he offered me a gift and I collected it. I will pay him, no matter the cost of such gift. Today, young journalists are begging for such gifts.
Another disheartening thing is that present journalists, especially those working in the broadcast, are bastardising our language. When you are listening to radio, sometimes you cannot even understand what these young broadcasters are trying to say when they mention some words. You cannot differentiate whether he is using Katsina or Kano dialect. They mix gender anyhow they like. You will hear them say, mata na ne instead of mata ta ce, or mota na ne as against mota ta ce, and so on. They don’t master the language but they ventured into broadcast. These are some of the differences I have noticed. I don’t know where we are heading to.
Are you saying that government has no hand in destroying Radio Kaduna?
Well, government also played a role. Even at that, the leadership of the station allowed government to destroy the station. I can recall when an adviser to the then President Shehu Shagari, Olu Adebanjo, attempted to reduce the frequency of Radio Kaduna. When Shagari tried to implement it he witnessed serious resistance from many people, including emirs. In fact, some emirs confronted him and warned him not to reduce the frequency of the radio. In the end, it was not done. You see, in those days, even the government was not allowed to do things unchecked.
Today, journalists have sold their image and the image of their media houses. If you turn to Radio Kaduna and it is off air, you may discover that it is something that is not up to N5,000 that halted the operation.
You served as the executive director of the station twice, what effort did you make to correct such mistakes?
When I was appointed executive director, the radio station was in a seriousmess,beyondtheimagination of many people. I inherited debts worth over N50million. NEPA and NITEL bills had accumulated beyond expectation. The station was also owing those who normally supplied us diesel some huge money. But before the time I was removed, I had cleared all the debts and saved between N7 million and N10 million for the organisation. The person I succeeded is still alive; if I am lying he should come out and challenge me.
You were removed as the executive director of the organisation and transferred to Lagos. What happened?
It was a minor misunderstanding between me and the late Alhaji Mamman
Shata. What happened was that in 1995, we organised Kalankuwa, in a view to generating more revenue on our own. We set up a committee in that respect and mandated it to come with recommendations. The committee came up with the idea of organising the event in three different towns, namely, Kano, Zaria and Funtua. We did one in Funtua and planned to do the second one in Zaria. We invited our local musicians, including Mamman Shata and Dan Bade. But we were informed that the two musicians were not in good terms with each other, so we planned that one of them should come in the morning and the other in the night to avoid any clash. We sent for them and they all agreed to come. For Shata, I first sent one of our staff, Mustapha Umar Misau, who was in good term with him, with an invitation, and he agreed to come. When it was two weeks to the date, I sent one of my managers, the late Bashir Mustapha, with another invitation to Shata as a reminder and he affirmed his earlier stand. Again, nine days to the date, I personally visited Shata in Funtua with another invitation. I met him in his house and he started complaining that I bothered myself sending him a series of invitation even when he promised that he would attend the event. Unfortunately, both Shata and Dan Bade did not come for the event. Because of their failure to attend the event, some angry youths went on rampage, attempting to set the place ablaze. But God, in his infinite mercy, gave us the courage and wisdom to contain the situation.
During our review meeting, we all agreed that from that day we should suspend playing any music by both Dan Bade and Mamman Shata in our station until they gave us genuine reasons and apologised for not coming to the event. We implemented the decision.
After two days, Dan Bade came and told us that he could not attend the Kalankuwa because one of his drummers lost his elder son and he felt it would be improper to attend the event while the family of the deceased was mourning. We accepted his reasons. But for Shata, not only did he refuse to come and apologise, he also went to many places, bragging that we did not Another disheartening thing is that present journalists, especially those working in the broadcast, are bastardising our language. When you are listening to radio, sometimes you cannot even understand what these young broadcasters are trying to say when they mention some words. generate money at the Kalankuwa because he did not come, and so forth. After some months without playing his music in Radio Kaduna, people started making noise in the town and Shata realised that he was losing popularity. He started looking for a way to reconcile with us, and in the process, he went to the late Adamu Dankabo Jarman Kano and requested for his intervention. Jarman Kano sent for me in Abuja. When I met Jarma he demanded that we should lift the ban on Shata, but I turned down the offer. When Jarma failed to convince me to lift the ban, Shata hired some lawyers and planned to go to court to compel us to lift the ban. But I think some of the lawyers told him that he would not win the case in the court. Finally, somebody advised him to take his case to the then First Lady, Hajiya Maryam Abacha. So, being a friend to Abacha, he met Hajiya Maryam and lodged his complaint. The First Lady spoke to the then security adviser, Alhaji Isma’ila Gwarzo and directed him to handle the matter. Through him they directed our director-general, Alhaji Abdulrahman Michika to remove me and send me somewhere else. That was how I was transferred to Lagos.
Can you recall any joyful moment?
There was a time I went to Damagaran in Niger Republic with my friend. Unfortunately, we could not get rooms because there were too many guests that day. At last, we got two rooms, and when I mentioned my name to the attendant who was writing receipt for us, one big man heard me and asked: ‘Who is Halilu Ahmed Getso?’ I said I was the one and he hugged me and directed the attendant to collect our keys, saying we were his guests. He took us to his house and organised a wonderful dinner for us and told us to come back in the morning for breakfast. The next day, after we had our breakfast, the man took us to the Emir of Damagaran, the late Amadu Kuren Daga.
As a former executive director of Radio Kaduna, have you ever been consulted by your successors for advice on how to move the organisation forward?
Who will consult you? It is very difficult for leaders to call you for advice. It is difficult because they always open their hands to collect and you will advise them to stop that. So how would they come to you for advice? Certainly, they will not.
Is it because of your rigid stand on issues that some people consider you a radical journalist?
Yes, somebody called me radical and I accepted it. If being radical means standing for the right thing, yes, I am one. And it has paid off. I am not regretting most of my actions during my years in broadcasting.
Do you journalism?
Any time someone approaches me to do a programme for him, I can do it, provided the person will pay me. This is because I don’t have anything to sustain myself and cater for my family. Very soon I will start a new programme called Iyabo. The programme will feature former President Olusegun Obasanjo and people will have the opportunity to know him very well.
Who will programme?
the I will get a sponsor before the time.
What advice do you have for young journalists?
They should fear God in the discharge of their duties. They should hold transparency and honesty as their guide in all their undertakings. If you can do these, I am sure you will excel in this profession.
What is the size of your family?
I have four wives, 26 children and 26 grandchildren. I thank Allah for blessing me with them.
Alhaji Halilu Ahmed Getso
Alhaji Getso: “I would remind the politicians about these promises from time to time.”
Getso: “It is very difficult for leaders to call you for advice.”