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.

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