interviewBy Hamza Idris
Maiduguri — Veteran civil war-era Army General Mamman Shuwa was killed by unidentified gunmen in Maiduguri two weeks ago. Controversy has since swirled around the circumstances of his death. The Joint Task Force [JTF] in Borno State said in a statement that four gunmen entered his house and killed the General and his guest. This account is now contradicted by Dr. Hassan Bashir, a cousin of the deceased General and the new head of the Shuwa family. Bashir, who was once based in the United States, spoke exclusively to Weekly Trust in Maiduguri. Excerpts:
Sir, how are you related to the late General Mamman Shuwa?
General Shuwa was my cousin and I was the closest cousin to him. He was actually the one that persuaded me to come back to Nigeria and settle down. While he was alive, I used to be with him every day. I have links with him through my mother. The mother of General Shuwa died when he was very small and he was therefore looked after by her relatives, including my mother. At that time, only kids that had no mothers were enrolled in school and therefore, when the village head of Kala Balge asked parents to bring their children to school, the General was one of those that were taken there. Some of his half brothers were not taken to the school because their mothers grabbed them and held them back. The General grew up in a rough environment because he didn't have a living mother.
How old are you?
I am 65 years old now.
When did you come back to Nigeria?
I returned in 2008.
How long did you stay in the US and what were you doing?
I went to the US in 1982. I was a lecturer in the School of Nursing here in Maiduguri. The Borno State government sponsored me to go and study advanced medicine in the United States. I therefore went there on in-service training. Right now, my wife and children are still in the US.
Why did you come back to Nigeria?
General Shuwa persuaded me to come back. He said Nigeria is Nigeria and that I had had enough in the US and there was the need for me to come back and settle down so that I can help my society in healthcare delivery.
On coming back, what did you do?
When I arrived, General Shuwa told me to open a hospital but I told him that I only have a land, I don't have a building that I can convert into a hospital. He said well, he will do his best to help me open the hospital here in Maiduguri because there was no way he could help me open it in Abuja because he doesn't have land there. He therefore gave me his house in
Mafoni which I converted into a hospital, a pharmacy and radiology. The place is functioning now. My son is in charge of the hospital. The head office of the hospital is in the US.
There is controversy surrounding the killing of General Shuwa on Friday, 2nd November, 2012. Can you tell us what actually happened on that day?
I spoke to him on Wednesday, 31st October, 2012. I told him that I have had enough here in Nigeria and I would like to go back to the US. He told me that actually he had done his best to make me settle here but it appears to be a very difficult situation and therefore said I should go back. All the time, the General will call and ask of my whereabouts and my welfare. On Friday, he went outside his house and sent for a shaving razor blade. He sent one Adam to buy it for him and he then sat on a chair outside the house, waiting for the razor blade. At that very time, some boys, our relatives were sitting together with him as he was waiting for the arrival of the razor blade. Then there was a gentleman, a passerby that saw the General sitting outside. He therefore approached him in order to offer Fatiha (a tradition in Borno whereby indigents recite some verses of the Quran in front of affluent people and get a little money in return).
As he was reciting the Fatiha, three armed men appeared and took position, two on the western side of the General and one on the eastern side, facing the soldiers that were guarding the General. They were all armed with AK 47 rifles. There was a huge tree close to where the General was sitting and a fountain of water under it. As the two armed men approached him, they began chanting "Allahu Akbar" (God is great) and started shooting. One irony is that whenever the General was going out of his house, he went with a gun. He always sat with a gun and goes everywhere with a gun. However, on that very day and hour, he did not go out with the gun. Instead, he locked the door of the room where the gun was and put the key in his pocket and went outside.
As the two men were chanting Allahu Akbar and shooting, the passerby that was reciting Fatima attempted to stand up but the gunmen shot him and he collapsed. Then the General said a word in Shuwa Arab, "Hou" roughly translated as "What?" in English language. Then one of the men looked at the General and shot him and was trying to refill the Ak47 rifle again. That was when the General stood up and put his hand inside his pocket, thinking that he will bring out his gun but instead, brought out the keys to his room. On realizing this, he attempted to grab the man that shot him. When the other gunman saw what the General was trying to do, he shot his two arms.
The General's arms and one of the bullets penetrated his ribs and hit the heart directly.
Was the General able to grab one of them?
No, he was not. He was making attempt to catch one of them when the other one shot him in the chest, precisely at the epical line where the heart lies. And when he shot the heart, the General fell and both of them continued shooting him. They pushed him with their legs and confirmed that he was dead. They then started shouting and jubilating and entered their tricycle.
Before then, the General's most senior wife was trying to go out of the house when she heard gunshots. As she peeped outside, she saw her husband and the passerby on ground. She wanted to go and embrace him but was prevented [by relatives]. This is when the third gunman who was across the other part of the road started shooting at her but she was very lucky, the bullets did not hit her. She later went and embraced her dead husband. Again, when one of the boys that was sitting outside found out that the General was not with his gun, he rushed into the house in order to get the gun but found out that the door of the parlour was locked and he could not get in. When you go outside this house (General Shuwa's house) you will find out that there is an umbrella...a tent where the General normally sits and you will see the many holes created by bullets.
Were there no military guards in the house?
There were about eight or ten soldiers guarding this house (the General's house).
But where were they when the gunmen came?
They were right there at their post in front of the house but none of them could show any resistance or stand and make any effort. There was another girl who is also our relation. She was in the General's second house which was close by. She told me that when the shooting was going on, she had wanted to go out and grab one of the gunmen, exactly what the General's wife also wanted to do. They wanted to at least obstruct the gunmen but they were grabbed by other relatives. Unfortunately, the soldiers outside could not do anything. If any of the soldiers had made any shooting, I think the life of the General could have been saved. And apart from the soldiers that had been stationed in the house, there were other soldiers at the cross section of the street. Again, there are many security checkpoints that the gunmen passed through before they came to this house. There was no resistance or effort to stop the gunmen. The General has always been in Maiduguri, he has always been in this vicinity thinking that he has been protected and his life was safe.
I can see that the soldiers are still guarding this house. Have they given any explanation as to why they were unable to repel the attack?
Not to my knowledge but I would like to know if there is any.
When the federal government delegation came from Abuja, did they ask you how the General was killed?
I explained to them in detail and they were very amused that the soldiers were there but no effort was made to save the life of the General, despite the fact that the purpose of stationing them here was to protect his life. Why there was no shouting, no shooting, nothing? How can something like this happen to a war hero? Someone that spent all his life to protect this country and keep it united? I would like to know why he was killed this way before me too vanishes from this world.
Are you happy that the soldiers are still stationed outside this house and do you see them as protecting the family?
Look, the family is gone! Which family are they protecting again? The head of the very family has vanished. Have they (the soldiers) not received orders from the high authorities to protect him? I don't know... may be they have some commanders that did not give them orders to protect the General. Or maybe they don't have weapons or their weapons are inferior to that of the gunmen, I don't know.
How many soldiers were there when the gunmen came?
Between seven and ten and the gunmen were three in number. They did the shooting and left. The gunmen were even screaming and laughing and jubilating. It was women that were trying to protect General. The women told me that if not because they were pulled back, they would have obstructed the shooting. His wife said she was pushed to the ground. This was what happened.
Now let's talk about his life. Who was General Mamman Shuwa?
I can say General Mamman Shuwa was born as a soldier, he lived in this world as soldier and he died as a soldier.
Why did you say he was born as a soldier?
This is because he told me that when he was in Barewa College, one of his teachers, a white man, looked at him and also looked at General Murtala Muhammed and said the two of them have no any career that will suit them apart from military. This is what General Shuwa told me. And this is why I said he was born a soldier. Again, my mother told me that when General Shuwa was barely two years old, she took him to the local barber (Wanzami) to remove his uvular. After cutting the uvular, my mother said he did not cry at all...He did not shed tears and he was barely two years old. He was born a soldier; there is no doubt about it. He was fearless, very strict and straight forward.
Where was he born?
He was born in Minsharde, a village situated about 3 kilometers to Kala Balge. He attended his elementary school in Kala Balge. From there, he came to Borno Middle School. From there, I think only three of them were chosen to go to Barewa College and thereafter, he got enlisted into the Nigeria Army. General Shuwa told me that because of his height and the size of his chest, there were grievances that surrounded his joining the army...He was not tall and that was a disadvantage to him. Along the line, he went back to our village in Minsharde but later on, his admission into the army was released. But at that time, all his mates including Bisalla and Murtala were already in Ghana for the military training. He was three months late when he joined them in Ghana. This was after he was selected by the white people. In Ghana, some people told Shuwa that there was no way he could make it because he was late but he said he will give it a try even though initially he wanted to leave. He had even taken his luggage and was about leaving when Murtala and Bisalla pulled him back, insisting that he must remain and after the examinations, he told me that he was either first or second.
From Ghana, they proceeded to Sandhurst in the United Kingdom for more military training and stayed there for two years. Shuwa's father did not know where his son was. That time, I was under the custody of the General's father and I told him that I would love to go to formal school but he said no. He said western education was not good. Two months after, the father died and that was when I entered school.
What happened to General Shuwa when he came back from Sandhurst?
He came back from Sandhurst as a second lieutenant. I was among the people that welcomed him in Kano. At that time, I was in primary school- Igbo Union Grammar School in Kano. We went to the Kano Airport and welcomed him; he bought me Coca-Cola and Fanta as gift. From there, he went straight to Enugu and after one month, he went to Maiduguri for his leave. I was also in Maiduguri that time and we met. He said Hassan what about your school? I told him I was on vacation and he told me that he will like to transfer me to Enugu to stay with him and do my secondary school in eastern part of Nigeria. He said if I studied in the East, I would be more knowledgeable and qualified but he was suddenly posted to Congo. Before then, he saw a lady here that he wanted to marry and he told me to stay with her in Maiduguri until the time he comes back. Her name is Jidita; she was Shuwa Arab by tribe. He told her to take care of me because I was young. We stayed together even though I was very stubborn. Then he returned from Congo and was again posted to Enugu. He married Jidita and the plan was that he will take all of us to Enugu but she told him that I was stubborn. She said I did this and I did that. I told him I would like to go back to Dikwa and I will not go to Enugu and he left with his wife to Enugu and I went to Dikwa. The Native Authority gave me work and I went and studied as dispensary assistant in Kaduna. Then I went back to Kaduna again and became health inspector.
That was the time we met with General Shuwa again. He was a captain then and had parted ways with Jidita but had gotten another wife. I stayed in his house in Kawo barracks. He travelled to US for more training and I completed my training as rural health inspector and came back to Dikwa. Then the first Nigerian coup of 1966 took place and General Shuwa was in Lagos. He told me how the coup took place but I am not going to talk about it here. The details will be in the book I am going to write.
Did the General ever tell you why he decided to come back and settle in Maiduguri after his retirement?
He told me he wanted to be in his community. You can never push away the General from reality. He was very simple and opted to live with his people; he wanted to share with them; he wanted to eat with them, he wanted to interact and laugh with them and that was his life. Otherwise, he could have stayed in the GRA. I live in the GRA but the General didn't want to live in GRA. He told me if he lives in the GRA, he will be cut off from the reality and he will not have the opportunity to live with the locals.
As a retired General, what was his day like during his life time?
He was very much concerned about his children.
You mean he has little children?
Yes, he has over 25 biological children and there are many others he adopted. If you put all of them together, he left behind over 40 children and he was a caring father. I always asked him why he was keen about children but he always said that is how a father should be. Sometimes he laughed at the children and sometimes he shouted at them. Sometimes he stayed outside the house, looking at the people who have been oppressed. Such people could be the Shuwa Arabs, Kanuris, Hausas and Fulanis among others. They all come to him on daily basis looking for help.
Did he give them money?
Yes, but the fact that what he used to do for them is more than what money can do. He advised them and sometimes, when some of them have been arrested by the police, he will go and face the authorities. Sometimes he even goes to the police station with his gun. In fact, sometimes he goes to the army to rescue people that have been arrested, abused and molested. I always tell him that the responsibilities he was taking were too much, that if I were him, I will just go somewhere and rest but he doesn't listen. I told him that some of the interventions he was doing were detrimental to his old age.
Was he very healthy before his death?
At the age of about eighty, one cannot be perfectly healthy but he was taking care of himself very well. Whenever he is sick, I direct my son to come and take care of him. I also advised him on the food he eats but sometimes he protested.
Did the General tell you his feelings about the insecurity in Maiduguri?
There was time I told him that Maiduguri is in chaotic stage and is not safe to live here but he asked me where can he go? He even said he doesn't believe that Maiduguri is in chaotic stage. He always talked about Maiduguri, about Borno, about Nigeria, about the civil war. He said he will remain in Maiduguri to save the lives of the people and to unite them. Till his death, he always protected the Igbos whenever there is problem, they normally come to his house. Most of the people working for him, including the carpenters, the technicians were Igbos. He said during their military days, they don't talk about this one was a Muslim or Christian. He told me that during the Civil War, all the soldiers stayed in ditches but during fasting periods, the Muslims would come out and break their fast and the Christians will continue working, all in an effort to keep Nigeria one.
Before General Shuwa died, was he rich?
He was not rich. He never had any house in Abuja. He had a house in Zaria and another one in Kaduna but he got rid of them long ago, about 15 years ago. He only has one farm in Kano. Then this house here in Maiduguri and the one that I converted into a hospital in Mafoni. That is it, nowhere else. By his caliber and if he had wished, he would have houses all over the world.
How many wives and children did he leave behind?
He left behind four wives. His youngest child is two years old and the eldest about 35 years old. The grown ups are not more than six in number, all the rest are young, below 15 years! Can you imagine the situation we are facing now?
What is your call on the Federal and Borno State governments?
The state government has taken a drastic action and they promised to assist. I will soon see the governor. We have received condolences from the President, four ministers came here. I am studying the situation carefully and hopefully, I am going to see the president and tell him the situation we are in.
Finally, what is your personal plan now?
I have been crying and crying but ultimately, I know that I have to go back to the US because I have properties there, I have houses and I have a wife and three children. My wife and two of the children are there in the US. My other son has a PhD in hospital administration and is the one managing our hospital here. It was only General Shuwa that was telling me to come back home and he has gone, so what would I do?