Like a Phoenix from the ashes, the incident that led to the death of the Sardauna of Sokoto, Sir Ahmadu Bello, yesterday got a fresh life of its own as his surviving chief driver, Alhaji Ali Sarkin-Mota, recounted how he tried, fruitlessly, to save the late Premier of the Northern region from being killed.
The events of January 15, 1966, a watershed in the history of Nigeria, will continue to be a reference point for assessing and evaluating the country’s leadership and democratic values, judging from the way living witnesses of the memorable day spoke to LEADERSHIP Friday in no-holds-barred interviews.
Sarkin-Mota, 89, recalls that on January 15, 1966, at about 1:30am after the killers of the late Sardauna had gained access to the his residence, one of them demanded to know from him (driver) the whereabouts of his boss, a question he feigned not have understood since it was asked in English.
“I pretended that I didn’t know what he was talking about. Then he asked me in Hausa, ‘Ina Sardauna?’ I told him that since we returned from playing five (game), I had not set my eyes on the premier”, Sarkin-Mota recalled.
The octogenarian stated that, at that point, he was cleaning up the cars when he heard the Sardauna calling out to his barber to hurry up with what he was doing because he (Sardauna) wanted to shave. Sarkin-Mota said that soon after, the Sardauna turned to him and said he overheard him talking to some people.
“I told him yes, that it was the security guards or, rather, the policemen guarding the house. Alas! I was wrong in my calculation. I didn’t know they were soldiers who had succeeded in getting access to the State House and positioned themselves in strategic places. The premier then sent one of his aides, Maman Bakurato, to buy ‘kilishi’ (dry meat) and ‘Suya’ (roasted meat) for him. He then called me again and asked me to go upstairs and bring some soft drinks (tango) for the so-called soldiers,” Sarkin-Mota recounted.
According to him, all this while they were going about their normal domestic life without knowing that the soldiers had already killed and dislodged the real policemen deployed to guard the premier’s residence.
He continued: “They were three of them, and one of them told me that they were giving me five minutes to tell them where the Premier was or they would kill me. I told them they could go ahead and kill me because I was ready to die. They left me and started searching for him all over the house but they did not see him.
“Then they went to his wives’ quarters and chased them out of their rooms. As soon as the premier’s wives joined my wife in our own quarters, they (soldiers) began shooting. They came back, followed me to my room, broke the door to the room and smashed the window, thinking the premier was hiding in my room. They bent down and removed the mattress in my room. Helpless and frustrated, the soldiers were just shooting sporadically while at the same time, the premier’s wives were shouting and wailing.
“One of them, Inno, was just reciting ‘inna illahi’ (Islamic prayers). All of a sudden, one of his wives saw him (Sardauna) in jallabiya (long gown) without a cap. When she gave him a wrapper to disguise himself and quickly run away, he refused, telling her that ‘what they were looking for is here’. I moved to where the premier was standing and I held his hands. My intention was to take him to my room but the sound of a gunshot fired at our direction separated the two of us.
“They cut off the electricity in the house. Inno, his wife, again saw him and she ran towards him. The soldiers followed her; one of them shouted: ‘where is Ahmadu Bello?’ And the premier responded, ‘I am here!’ He was standing just close to the toilet and one of his wives, Hafsatu, held him tight. One of the soldiers asked her to leave him and run for her life, but she refused, telling the soldiers boldly that she preferred to die with her husband.
“Without wasting time, they shot and killed the two of them. This was at about 4am on January 15, 1966. Immediately it happened, I fainted. It took one month before I could regain my memory,” Sarkin-Mota narrated.