When Corporal Tumba Garba (retd.) joined the Nigerian Army on July 21, 1965, two years before the start of the civil war, he had no idea he would become a driver to the top brass in the military, some of whom later went on to become the country’s heads of state.
Sharing his memories in the military with our correspondent, Garba, who is father of Senator Binta Masi Garba, representing Adamawa North District in the National Assembly, said with pride there was virtually no important personality in the military that he didn’t drive.
“I fought in the civil war. Our division was stationed in Enugu. Two years after the war ended, my division returned to Kaduna. Later that year, after our division returned to Kaduna, I was appointed a standby driver attached to the fleet for all foreign dignitaries. “I drove every important foreign dignitary. I drove almost all the top-ranking military officers of that era also. There was no important personality that I didn’t drive.
“I drove former President Olusegun Obasanjo. I also drove late General Murtala Mohammed, General Sani Abacha, General Jeremiah Useni (retd.), and Lt. Gen. Theophilus Danjuma (retd.) when he was the Chief of Staff. I also drove General M.B. Haruna and even General Paul Tarfa (retd.),” Garba said.
Since 1942 when he obtained his driving licence, Garba said he was happy that none of the vehicles assigned to him was involved in any accident even until 1985 when he left the military.
Garba also narrated how he drove President Muhammadu Buhari as a colonel in the Nigerian Army.
“He was the General Officer Commanding Zone 3 before he became the director of Supply and Transport. I drove him when he was the director of military supply and transport,” he said.
Speaking of his knowledge of Buhari, Garba said, “Buhari is one person who cares for your welfare. He wouldn’t cheat. The Buhari I know would take hours to finish a bottle of soft drink. One bottle of soft drink was too much for him to finish in five hours.
“He abhors corruption and is also a man of few words, who rarely speaks. He hates cheating. I also know he served in different capacities and went for several courses in the army before he Became the governor of the North-East; Minister of Petroleum; and General Officer Commanding 3 Division in Jos, from where he went on to become the military head of state, after the coup that overthrew the civilian government of Shehu Shagari.”
Following the overthrow of the Shehu Shagari regime, Garba said he felt happy for Buhari, but was sad that he never had the opportunity of seeing him again – until 2015 when he became a civilian President.
He said, “I decided I wanted to see him after failed attempts in the past to see him as a military man. But my daughter, who is now a serving senator questioned my curiosity. She wanted to know my relationship with Buhari. I simply replied, ‘I was once his driver.’ Many people asked me the same question when Binta was taking me to meet with the President.
“Eventually, I saw him. We hugged each other and took pictures. I sat close to him and he felt very happy. It was one of the happiest days of my life. Buhari told me, ‘Garba, it’s been long. It’s good to see you after all this while.’”
Asked if he had ever imagined that his daughter would become a senator someday, Garba replied, “Well, there is an adage in Hausa that says that a good Friday is noticeable on Thursday. There’s one important incident I would never forget. When she was in school, quite young then, the Kaduna State handball team had featured her in a handball competition.
“Immediately she reached home, she handed over all the money she got from the competition to me. She did not take even N1 from it. She often said, ‘Daddy, take it’. She has continued to behave that way till date such that her mother even envies her closeness to me, saying she’s my favourite child. When she finished school, the New Nigeria Newspapers employed her and she worked with them and from there, she joined politics. I didn’t know she would become what she is today.”
As the father of the only female member of the senate from the north, Garba said he always felt happy, disclosing that one of the things he had always told himself was that since he didn’t have an opportunity to have Western education, he would invest all he had to give all his children good education.
“My maternal grandfather had withdrawn me from the school I was attending in Mubi. It was later in life that I obtained adult education. Consequently, I was able to read and write my name,” he said.
Disclosing that he had a special relationship with his senator daughter, Garba said the singular act of always thinking about others distinguished her from her siblings.
“She is also likeable and doesn’t discriminate,” he said.
Recently when he met with the Muslim Council from Adamawa North Senatorial District and wept, the retired military officer said he had done so based on what was said about her daughter.
He said, “I later realised this is nothing but politics. I was among those who began politics in northern Nigeria with the Sardauna of Sokoto. Politics during the time of Sardauna was different from the politics as we see it today. In those days, there was no division or discrimination whether you were a pagan, Muslim or Christian. Even though pagans formed a large part of the population, yet Sardauna regarded all as the same.
“I compared the type of politics played then and what is practised today. I then concluded it was important to reach out to the Muslim Council because of the statements being attributed to Binta; I did that just to set the records straight and tell them that Sardauna never played this kind of politics. Today, Saurduana will be rolling in his grave to see the kind of politics being played in the north.
“So, I decided to invite the leaders of the Muslim faith from the five local governments – Mubi South, Mubi North, Maiha, Madagali and Michika – to let them know I do not have any problem with Binta. And that Binta will never insult Islam; that everything being said about her is false.
“I don’t have any problem with my children, including their mothers. It was unfortunate that something like this happened. Binta never intended to insult Islam. Our family by history is a very tolerant one and it has coexisted with everyone and allowed anyone to practise their faith.”
The senator had in April narrated during her 50th birthday how her properties were set ablaze by her father after she became a Christian while she was in primary school.
“My father was infuriated and he burnt everything I had because of my decision to follow Christ. I suffered so much because of the name of Jesus. I would have been nothing if not for His grace,” she had stated.
Asked if her daughter’s narration was untrue, Garba said he wept when he heard about the report initially, but later stopped weeping, saying he realised it was purely about politics.
He said, “There’s no difference between Binta and me. Look at the SUV she bought for me; when I complained that it was too high for me to climb, she got me a Mercedes-Benz that’s easier for me to climb. Every year, she sponsors all of us to Mecca.
“Every year, I must go to Mecca. It was only the last Hajj that I didn’t go as a result of old age. I also tell her not to discriminate against anyone and she has listened to my advice. Binta does not discriminate.
“When she wanted to marry a Christian, she told me she had found a fiancé who’s a Christian and I asked her, ‘Binta, how can you marry a Christian and become a Christian?’ She replied, ‘That is what I want.’ I allowed her and gave her my blessing. She married him and became a Christian.”
Asked how his father, who was a Christian, also reacted when he too decided to convert to Islam, Garba shared, “When I told him I had embraced Islam, he said if that was what I wanted, he had no problem with it.
“I told him, ‘Papa, I don’t understand your religion. You do not practise your religion because as for me, you don’t have a religion yet. As for me, I have joined Islam, the right faith of Allah. He allowed me and did not protest. He then told me to go, saying God would be with me.”
Garba said he was always surprised at the level of religious intolerance in the country today, particularly in the north, saying, “I worked closely with the late Sardauna of Sokoto. I drove his Minister of Works. The late Sardauna did not discriminate; he never gave preference to anyone because of their faith. Sardauna would never force you to convert to Islam.
“To him, there is no compulsion in religion. Anybody willing to become a Muslim at the time, Sardauna would give him money, clothes and prayer beads. During his time, there was no bigotry. But today, we have moved into mixing politics with religion. During the late Sardauna era, there was no tribalism or religious bigotry. This I always tell my daughter, never to discriminate and I thank her for listening.”