Professor Ali Danlami Yahaya, who died penultimate Saturday, was one of the most accomplished town and gown scholars that have excelled in the pursuit and sharing of knowledge within the universities as well as taking it out to dispense for the public good. His entire career exemplified this commitment.
Somehow, my path never had the privilege of crossing the professor’s in ABU Zaria, even though that’s where I had my first degree in the 1973-76 set. The fact that he taught many of my friends and associates in the Political Science Department made me to equally regard him as my tutor. But I didn’t come to properly know him till 2003 when he was appointed Political Adviser to the Vice-President, a part of the State House where I was also posted as a Director.
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I was away in NIPSS Kuru serving as the S/DA when Professor Yahaya assumed duties in Abuja. My posting to Kuru was actually a stop-gap measure by the Office of the Vice-President to enable me assist the NIPSS DG until the post of SDA could be filled. When I eventually returned to Abuja, I found that I had been posted as one of the directors in the newly-created Bureau for Public Service Reforms (BPSR). However, a few days into the assignment, I was summoned by the Head of Service, Yayale Ahmed, who explained to me that Professor Yahaya had formally asked for me to be posted to his office. He said: ‘I thought you would be well fitted in the BPRS but I have received a request from Professor Yahaya for you to be returned to his office. You know he was my teacher and I cannot refuse his wish’.
Thus began my close association with the Prof for all the four years he served as a political adviser. He came to the post as probably one of the most prepared for it. He was the first indigenous Head of ABU’s Political Science Department in the mid-1970s and Dean of Faculty of Arts and Social Science (FASS). He served Governor of Kano State, Abubakar Rimi, as Special Adviser Political in that turbulent PRP period, alongside Dr Bala Mohammed who was brutally murdered in the 1981 riots. In the mid-1980s, Prof was a permanent fixture in the General Ibrahim Babangida’s kitchen cabinet along with professors Eme Awa, Omo Omuriyi, Adele Jinadu, Sam Oyovbaire, Dr Tunji Olagunju and Baba Gana Kingibe, all consummate academicians that came to be deeply involved in tuning and re-tuning public policies throughout that dispensation. He also served as Director-General of Administrative Staff College of Nigeria, (ASCON), Badagry, from where he proceeded to Kenya as Executive Secretary, African Association of Public Administration (APS). He was in Kenya when he was called to be the political adviser to the Vice President.
But I guess Prof Yahaya must have been most unsettled by what he found in the State House when he arrived there, at arguably one of the most fractious times ever. At the beginning of President Obasanjo’s second term in 2003, for one reason or the other, the President and the Vice-President had fallen apart and a war of attrition had virtually broken out in the Presidential Villa affecting all normal functions. It was the most inauspicious time to be a political adviser, but AD Yahaya soldiered on counting on his long experience both in the classroom and the field. He knew that he had the respect of his two Principals and he tried his utmost to maintain an even keel in discharging his functions.
He presided over the weekly political strategy meeting, which was attended by all his colleagues serving in the VP’s office. My office was privileged to serve as the secretariat throughout and I watched the dilemma the Professor faced with proffering solutions to what inevitably degenerated into an open warfare between the President and the Vice-President. As the crescendo of the 2007 elections approached, all the political appointees in the VP’s office were shown the way out by the President, one after the other. Prof Yahaya was in the last batch to go in December 2006 and I was truly touched to see him go.
Despite the difficult terrain in the Villa, Professor Yahaya made admirable efforts to stamp his name as an archetypal scholar in government. He supported the writing of biographies by prominent Nigerian citizens who successfully published by the end of his tenure. I recall the support the office gave to writing the biography of the prominent Kano politician, Tanko Yakasai and a former Governor of North-West State, Usman Faruk and the eminent NEPU poet, Mudi Spikin, among many others. The Professor also initiated researches into topical issues of the time. Researches into Islamic fundamentalism and the rise and prominence of the new churches gave us fresh and deep perspectives.
Even after leaving the State House, Professor kept a close eye on me. When I started writing this column, he became one of my keenest readers always phoning to take me up on one issue or the other.
Professor AD Yahaya was born in Lokoja. A product of Keffi Government College, he was among the second set, 1963-66, to study BA Public Administration, in ABU Zaria, from where he joined the academic staff of the University.
May Allah forgive his shortcomings and grant him Jannatul Firdaus. .Ameen.