ABDULAHI IBRAHIM ATTA
Ambassador Abdullahi Ibrahim Atta, O.O.N. who turned 90 on August 10th 2018 was Nigeria’s pioneer Ambassador to Cuba in 1977 and one of the founders of the National Intelligence Agency in 1986. His long and meritorious career spanned the National Railways, Finance, Foreign Affairs, Security Services, and Lecturing on Diplomacy and Security Consciousness to leaders in both the public and private sector. He was born in 1928 in Okene, Kogi State into a royal family of 149 children headed by His Royal Highness, Alhaji Ibrahim Atta, The Atta of Ebiraland and Hajiya Aminatu Ovbene Atta. He served the country internationally in Guinea, Ghana, Egypt, the United Kingdom, Western Germany, Cuba and Canada. During his years in the security services, he worked with four Heads of State, earning their respect and receiving formal recognition, culminating in the award of Officer of the Order of the Niger O.O.N.
A true Nigerian and a devout Muslim, he nevertheless judges persons and prospective in-laws based on their character, not on their race, religion or ethnicity, and this is reflected in his diverse extended family. Ambassador Atta is a trustee of the Association of Retired Career Ambassadors. He was pioneer Chairperson of Metro Health HMO. He has published many professional papers as well as his 2010 autobiography titled International Diplomacy & Palace Politics that is available in bookshops and online book retailers. He is married to his wife and partner of 63 years, Amina, and they have been blessed with eight children, with their spouses, and 20 grandchildren. Your father was Pa Atta, the paramount ruler of Ebiraland and Kingdom. He had over 40 wives and 148 children. What were the some of the happiest moments for you as a child in such a huge household?
My happiest recollection was the day they asked me to go to college, to Ondo Boys High School. I was the only one chosen from my mum’s family. I had an early consciousness of the huge value of this privilege to be educated to a higher level.
How did your upbringing help shape you as the man you are today, how did it reflect in your career choices and what lessons learnt would you like to pass on as wisdom to the next generation?
I witnessed a lot of competition amongst my father’s wives, our stepmothers; sometimes healthy rivalry and often, not so healthy.
Every woman struggled to make sure her own child was not left out. As a result, any privilege I received, I took seriously and did not allow any opportunity to pass without taking advantage of it. My advice to the next generation is “Don’t assume that another opportunity will come. Grasp every chance and privilege and take it seriously” Though your father was wealthy, what other jobs did his wives do to help supplement the upkeep of the palace and children?
Almost all my father’s wives, including my mother, were experts in weaving silk cloth. Apart from selling them in the market, they also received special commissions that were expensive, and some special orders with English yarn. Other wives sold cotton, traded in foodstuffs between the on and off-season such as locust beans, maize, and sorghum. Some also bought spinning yarn to make into fabric and sell, while others bred poultry and sold the chicks. The women were very industrious and a vital part of the family’s wealth and the local economy. When you started working in the railways as a stationmaster, how tough was the training and
I found retirement quite boring. From early childhood I had early morning tasks, whether the farm, school or work. Suddenly, I had nowhere to go in the morning. I was lucky that I have always been an ardent reader of books, so I read all the books that I collected during my career and my travels to kill time.
what did you enjoy most about the job?
The railway administration was one of the career choices that gave the most comprehensive training to its staff especially the traffic and commercial staff. They taught you telegraphic communications, train composition depending on the capacity of the engine hauling it, working out the tonnage, booking of luggage, goods, receiving and delivering goods, bookkeeping, accounts and creating a daily balance sheet. I most enjoyed the variety of the competencies and tasks required. Sending telegraphs, learning morse code, and communicating between stations using block working with the train drivers to ensure safety. How did the government make you comfortable about the risks involved and protection of your family at the time?
Every Nigerian government assures its staff that they are responsible for your safety and protection, and that of your family, if anything happens to you in active service. That has been the law and the rule applied. It gave us the assurance we needed to boldly do our jobs. What is your personal take on the Nigerian civil war and its interlude in our history as a nation?
The Nigerian Civil War was the most unfortunate event in our nation’s history. From my perspective, it was provoked extraneously. Left to Nigerians, we would not have fought. External forces provoked. The killing of Ibos in Northern Nigeria was orchestrated by Radio Dahomey announcing that northerners were being killed in the east, and some Ibo soldiers showing photos of the slaughtered Sardauna. The French were behind the Radio Dahomey incident. The French were interested in the newly discovered oil, and President De Gaulle was reputed to have given Ojukwu $6 million to purchase arms to defend the Ibos. They were targeting the oil. What key things do you think a leader or a President has to have to improve Nigeria and achieve true unity
The leader who will unite Nigeria must be very well educated. He or must know the history of Nigeria properly. S/he must have the charisma, skills and network to attract and bring educated and knowledgeable people together without ethnic or religious leanings, and avoid nepotism. S/he should be honest, transparent, not greedy, be able to relate to people at all levels. Your wife, Amina, played a prominent role in building of relationships between you and the prominent officials of the countries of your ambassadorship. Can you give us some examples of how she enabled this?
My wife, Amina, is a very intelligent woman. She is a master at hospitality and hospitality is the key to making good friends in diplomacy. She was an excellent hostess and would invite wives of key public servants, ministers and madam ambassadors for tea or lunch. With her natural charm, she entertained them, built relationships, and the women found her admirable and would emulate her.