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 Punch correspondent, Garba, who is father of Senator Binta Masi Garba, representing Adamawa North District in the National Assembly, said with pride that 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.”
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.