Sunday, 1 May 2016


Queen Elizabeth II of England marked her 90th birthday on Thursday. Daily Trust on Sunday talked to the man who chauffeured her during her visit to Nigeria. Alhaji Ali Kwarbai, Sarkin Mota, the chief driver of the Premier of the then Northern Region, Sir Ahmadu Bello Sardaunan Sokoto, has driven many world leaders, and narrates how he felt when he drove the British longest reigning monarch in 1956 in Nigeria.

How did you become the chief driver to the late Premier, Sir Ahmadu Bello?
 I am about 80 years old now. When we were kids, children crowned me “sarkin mota,” literally meaning chief driver in the office of the then Mai Unguwa Datti in Unguwan Madaka in Zaria city because I was good in rolling used car tyres about.

One fateful day, the driver of the Turaki, Malam Bawa Gwandu, who worked with the Ministry of Works (MOW), told me to start his car - then cars were started using a crank- a long bended iron with a T-shaped top - which was inserted into the engine and turned to fire the vehicle. As I was turning the crank, the engine backfired and the metal hit my hand and I sustained a fracture. When that happened to me, I made a promise to myself that I must learn how to drive.

I was born during the reign of Sarkin Zazzau Ibrahim and I knew him before his death, he was succeeded by Sarki Jafaru.

 I started learning car repair under the late chief mechanic, Malam Iyal (the father of Captain Shehu Iyal, a former Special Assistant to the President on Aviation).

After my training as a mechanic, Turaki Aliyu who was a prince of Zazzau emirate, made me his driver. He was married to Amina, my elder sister, and the grand-daughter of the Dan Galadiman Zazzau Abbas. He took me as his son, because he had no child of his own then.
 He was a friend of the Sardauna and he introduced me to him at the then Provincial Office near the post office at Sabon Gari in Zaria.

 Before they departed by train from Zaria to Lagos for the constitutional conference, one Yusuf was told to stay behind to drive the Sardauna to the Iyan Zazzau’s house, but he came up with some excuses so Malam Iyal directed me to drive the Sardauna home. That made Sardauna happy, and he asked who my father was and I told him. He told the Turaki to allow me be on his staff but Turaki told him that I was a small boy, that he would allow me to join him when I grow up.

 The Sardauna took me along to the Emir of Katsina Usman Nagogo, Emir Jafaru  Dan Isiyaku of Zazzau, Emir Yahaya of Gwandu and Ciroman Kano, Alhaji Muhammadu Sanusi, who represented his father, the Emir of Kano, Alhaji Abdullahi Bayero.

What type of cars did parliamentarians use then?

 They were to choose between Vanguard, Citroen, Chevrolet and Pontiac. They were given Pontiacs. And Sardauna collected a Station Wagon.

Who were the personalities you drove before the Sardauna?
 Emir Jafaru took me to Sarkin Fada Sambo, he then transferred me to Madaki Shehu, the son of Emir Dalhatu of Zazzau. Though I didn’t want to drive, as my passion was to be a mechanic, we spent five years together. He never had a driver who lasted three months with him because he was a disciplinarian. He treated me well in Makarfi. I used to drive him to meet the Sardauna in Kaduna.
At the eve of election, Turaki Aliyu said I will relocate to Kaduna and work with him. That if he won, I will stay with him and if he lost, I will go back to Zaria. In Kaduna, he took me in the evening to greet Sardauna at Unguwan Sarki in Nasarawa (Ministers Quarters).

That was when Sardauna told Turaki that from then on I was on his staff; that he had seized me from Turaki and also told his younger brother, Sarkin Fada Nuhu, that he should proceed on retirement from being his driver. The Sardauna bought him a truck and gave him some capital as retirement benefits. That was how I became the chief driver and mechanic. I was his chief driver for seven years before he was assassinated by Major Chukwuma Nzeogwu in a coup.

You were sent to the UK to learn how to drive and repair Rolls Royce cars. How did it go?
 I was told to go to England and learn how to drive and repair Rolls Royce cars. While in London the White men told me that there was nothing left that I needed to learn about driving and vehicle repair as they had tested and found me to be competent. So instead of staying for six months, I only spent some weeks. The only thing they taught me was that the car had three removable covers: One for normal drive; another for ceremony and the third for very important visitors.

How did it feel driving Queen Elizabeth?
 In 1956, before independence, the Governor General was to host Queen Elizabeth. The Aide de Camp (ADC) to the governor sat in the front and he was the tour guide. An English man called Mr. Samson who was the chief engineer in Kaduna first drove the Queen, but later left me to carry on.
She was lodged in the Government House in Kaduna near Tudun Wada. I drove the Queen briefly during the dinner. It was during the visit of the Queen that the city gate of the Nigeria Defence Academy (NDA) Junction by Badarawa bus stop was erected.
Did you talk to the Queen?

 I was told not to talk to her. She was busy smiling and waving hand at people. The weather was cold, but I was sweating profusely. I also drove the Queen’s sister, Princess Alexandria, during her two visits. I usually go in advance to durbars in Kano and Maiduguri and she will follow by flight and I will drive her in the Rolls Royce or Oldsmobile open roof car.
Source:Daily Trust

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