By Musa Sunusi Ahmad
Unassuming and down-to-earth, Chief Tony Hassan, who is the Dokajen Jaba, is an unrelenting mind towards service to humanity. As the brain behind the Sherah Hassan University in Kachia, he became the first to break the jinx in advancing a dream towards setting up the first university in Southern Kaduna. In this interaction with a select group of journalists in Kachia recently, he speaks on his life, Southern Kaduna and why he is so passionate about serving humanity in his little way, among others. SIMON REEF MUSA captures highlight of the interaction.
Can you take us down memory lane of your life?
I was born in Kufai Gidan Tagwai village in Kachia Local Government Area on June 6, 1960. At that time, because of the large size of the family and the prominence placed on farming, it was the practice by our parents to choose one person from the children of every mother to go to school. The lot fell on my elder brother, but due to pressures from the brothers of my mother who dissuaded him from going to school in order not to allow our mother suffer, I became the chosen one. Like every young boy then, my ambition was to work in any of the Kaduna textile companies after my primary school.
My close relations who was then being sponsored by my father, and was then in a secondary school, inspired me to go beyond the primary school. If I must walk to my dream, I realised that I had to work hard to come on top of the class. That I did without let or hindrance.
In those days, getting admission to a secondary school involved a stiff competition. Only the best five in all the primary schools were picked for secondary. In 1974, I got admitted into the Sardauna Memorial College (SMC) that was at that time a unity school for all the North.
In SMC, those of us that took the first position in our various primary schools were admitted into the SMC. It was indeed a tough academic environment that inspired a lot of us for excellence.
Initially, I had planned to read sciences because I was very good. More importantly, our science master, from India, was an inspiration. Just before I was to make a decision of what to read, one of our science teacher had a burning incident in the laboratory. I was horrified. More worrisome, there was this someone we called an engineer who used to climb the electricity pole to fix the light. We were told that if we read sciences, we could end up being engineers and forced to climb poles every day of our lives to fix light.
On the hand, we were told that the arts subjects offered us opportunities to read courses that will make us become bank managers and administrators. There and then, I resolved on a conspiracy that could save me from my science master who was determined that I must read sciences. One early morning, I went to see an uncle of mine that was then serving as a soldier in Kaduna to come to my rescue. Without much promptings, he followed me to the school and told the science master that the family had resolved that I should be allowed to read arts since most students from my family were reading sciences in other schools. The science master put up a resistance, but my relation spoke the military language. At the end, the science master grudgingly allowed me to go for arts.
After my secondary school education, I proceeded to the Katsina College of Arts And Science. I had originally planned to read Law. All that changed when my roommate, when filling the Joint Admission Matriculation Board (JAMB) direct entry forms, chose Accounting. He would later persuade me to choose Accounting. I came top after the Interim Joint Matriculation Board (IJMB) exams. Thereafter, I proceeded to the Ahmadu Bello University where I obtained a degree in B.Sc Accounting in 1984 with a second class upper.
After my degree I proceeded for my compulsory National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) where I became an internal auditor with the Niger Hygiene Nigeria limited Ibadan from 1984-1985. I would later serve as an Audit staff of Coopers and Lybrand Chartered Accountant, Kaduna, from 1985-1987. I was also an accountant with the Kaduna State Rural Electricity Board from 1987-1988 and senior analyst, Internal Auditor Continental Merchant Bank, Nigeria Plc from 1988-1989.
I attended many workshops that included, effective bank inspection appraisal organized by FITC in 1990. From 1990 and 1991;strategic treasury management course organized by DC Gardner London and Trade finance and documentary credit course respectively; management of change, turning strategy into reality organized by Cornerstone Professional Development London, and Credit Risk skills course organized by BPP London in 1993.
I was also an active participant in various banking courses that included: Corporate banking course organized by Continental Merchant Bank plc; public sector Accounting and Auditing by Afro Euro Consult limited in 2001 and Intensive training program for Federal civil servants for grade level 12-14 by Samsort associates in 2002, among many others seminars.
While working in the bank, the challenges then forced many financial institutions to go into liquidation. I resigned and registered with Nasko Products in Jos for distribution. I got a J-5 bus and got three young men that had HND and we hit the various markets in Walijo and others in Kachia LGA. Many were shocked why I had resorted to selling in the market after occupying a prime position in the banking sector. But I was determined to feed my family and was never ashamed of doing any legitimate business to bring food to my family. In line with what the Bible says, “If you humble yourself, God will lift you up”, two months later, I got a job at the Kaduna Finance and Investment Company. I would later occupy several positions in the state. In 2000, I transferred my services to the Office of the Accountant General of the Federation. From the office of the Chief Accountant, I rose to become a Director of Finance in the Federal Ministry of Works.
Upon what principles have your life been influenced?
I have always believed in a humble beginning, and rising steadily to achieve your dream. I am never in a hurry to achieve whatever God has destined for me. Early in life, when my mates were renting two-bedroom flats, I rented just a single room and put a 6-spring bed. From there, I was able to rent a room-and-parlour, one-bedroom, two-bedrooms and so on. I drove six beetles for a long time to cut down cost.
Having gone far in setting up a university, the first in Southern Kaduna, are you not thinking of collaboration, especially from foreign partners?
Let me tell you that as soon as the news filtered that a university was to be set up, I received so many calls from professors teaching in the USA, Canada, United Kingdom, among others. A Turkish Hospital has even offered to build 100-bed hospital to serve the needs of the new university. We intend to begin with the Faculty of Medical Sciences. But at this stage, we are ensuring putting the right things on ground before going into collaboration with others. There is need to reach a particular level before collaborations for maximum impacts. We are also building an e-library and, when completed, foreign universities are also to key in.
What is your view on way forward for Southern Kaduna?
Nobody will come and develop Southern Kaduna for us; we are the ones to do it. We must collaborate across ethnic and religious divide with the deliberate intention to develop our area. In as much as I do things to serve people, but as a financial expert, I must justify all actions. I remember in those days, when Sen Isaiah Balat used to invite me to assess and analyse the budget. At the each of each analysis budget, I would advise him where to invest. For a long time, I was his financial advisor and our relationship grew closer.
At a seminar that you participated, there was this recommendation that we need access to education, quality education and relevance. From here, what next?
By the time we get the basic things done, then we are ready to fly. That is why if you go to the National Universities Commission (NUC), the minimum land requirement is 100 hectares, but we have at present 250 hectares for the university. Some people say that since our people are mostly engaged in Agriculture, we should have started with the Faculty of Agriculture. Our intention here is that we need to address certain crucial needs and, thereafter, move to other sectors.
Why the interest in Senate in 2023?
I have no business in expressing interest in the Senate if those who are presently there are ready to listen to advice. You will agree with me that we have had poor quality of representation politically. There is need to stand up for quality representation. I invited one of the prominent Southern Kaduna lawmakers for a discussion on issues relating to our people, I was shocked when he told me that the greatest problem of our people is tribalism. How could someone who has been elected to solve a problem be going around to insinuate that tribalism as our problem? Then, if tribalism was our major problem, what was he doing to solve it? He was elected to solve problems and when he resorts to pointing out these problems, rather than solving them, then, it is unfortunate. We need to set up standards and allow incoming generation to build and maintain it.
What is that dream that you have for Southern Kaduna people?
The dream is for them to be self-independent. We are having problem today because those we elected as leaders are not performing what is expected of them. We need to rally together and work towards the common cause anchored on humanity and development.
Who is your role model and… (cuts in)
My mother is my role model, and that is why I have named the University after her. After my A-level, my father wanted to stop me as he explained that he wanted others to also go to school. However, my mother insisted that I should go further and promised to support me through thick and thin. She actually did that and never spared any effort to see to my academic development. Even when I had become independent and stabilized, she would always advise me to take care of the people around me as their prayers would always see me through any form of difficulty. My mum was never in the habit of asking me to do anything special for her. She greatly inspired me to embrace service for humanity as a passion. Before she passed away on the eve of last year’s presidential poll, my mum told me that her prayers would always be for me.
In the course of your career, did you at any point in time have regrets?
No, I cannot recall having regret over anything as I am always contented with what life has given me. Of course, I was not happy when I was asked to leave the bank after putting in my best. However, looking back now, I am glad I left. I have never allowed anything to disturb or weight me down. While some others would have resorted to drinking and other vices, I looked beyond and resolved to bounce back to the path of progress. There are some people who leave their houses and go to office, only for them to be sacked. Once you are contented with life, and your focus is service to humanity and meeting the needs of others around you; you will always be happy and fulfilled.
When do you relax and what are those things you engage in for relaxation?
The truth is anytime I retire to bed; that is the time I relax. When I told a young man recently that I was travelling abroad for relaxation, he jokingly told me that when I returned I should be prepared to be taken to the mortuary. That is the bitter truth. I find it painful to see people suffering without help. I find happiness in serving people. Once I retire to bed, I try to switch off my phones to have good sleep