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As Nigeria’s Guardian of Arabic retires from Unilorin to Auchi

When it comes to celebrating people that have made marks in their chosen careers, the popular tradition in this part of the world is to…

When it comes to celebrating people that have made marks in their chosen careers, the popular tradition in this part of the world is to immortalize them after their death. Here is one being immortalized in his lifetime. The occasion was the public book presentation in honour of Nigeria’s “Guardian of Arabic Language and Literature, Professor Zakariyau Idrees-Oboh Oseni” who is retiring tomorrow 20th December 2020, his 70th birthday, from the University of Ilorin (Unilorin), Ilorin, to his birthplace, Auchi in Edo State. The festschrift, which consists of peer-reviewed essays, was put together by the 37 PhD students Professor Oseni supervised their theses in the Arabic Department of Unilorin.

The event, which held on Sunday November 8, 2020 at the FOMWAN Secretariat along Fate Road in Ilorin, was attended by dignitaries that include Chairman of the Occasion Malam Yusuf Olaolu Ali, SAN; Registrar of JAMB, Professor Ishaq Oloyede who was the Book Presenter; Book Reviewer Professor Moshood Mahmood Muhammad Jimba. The occasion sequentially started with prayers, national anthem and recitation of verses of the Glorious Qur’an. The master of ceremony Ustadh Mahmood Danjuma thereafter invited Dr Usman Idrees Kankawi of the Arabic Department in Unilorin to deliver his welcome address. Kankawi who was Chairman of the Organizing Committee (being one of the PhD holders honouring their teacher) chanted encomiums on Professor Oseni and prayed to Allah (SWT) to reward the latter with the best of gifts here and in the hereafter.

When Malam Yusuf Olaolu mounted the podium, he told the audience that Professor Oseni taught him how to recite the Glorious Qur’an, from the first to the last chapter. He recalled that although he did not know why the organizers chose him to chair the occasion because he did not have a PhD degree as he never registered for one, he believes Professor Oseni deserves more than a festschrift. This was followed by the reading of Professor Oseni’s citation by Dr AbdulHakeeem Zubayr. When it was time for goodwill messages, the Dean of Arts at Unilorin read a poem to appreciate Professor Oseni. Dr AbdulHameed Yusuf Bidman also recited a poem (in Arabic) to honour Nigeria’s Guardian of Arabic.

In his speech, the Vice Chancellor of Unilorin who was represented as the Chief Host at the event described Professor Zakariyau Oseni as a rare reference point in the field of Arabic Studies in Nigeria. According to him, Professor Oseni made sacrifices that propelled Arabic Department of Unilorin to become a Center of Excellence. He said “Professor Oseni served Unilorin faithfully, selflessly and honestly”; adding the Book Presentation event is a testimony that Allah (SWT) is happy with Professor Oseni “because he served God and humanity diligently”.

The bi-lingual book, which consists of 435 was edited by five of the PhD holders supervised by Professor Oseni, is made up of Arabic and English sections including a brief biography of the honouree. The Book Reviewer, Professor Jimba, noted that the contents of the book are exclusive of Professor Oseni’s over one hundred works, including fifty-five articles in learned journals, seventeen chapters in books, as well as about thirty other books and monologues.

While presenting the book to the audience, Professor Oloyede mentioned that Professor Oseni was his first contact with Unilorin (which he later headed as Vice Chancellor) as the latter’s lecture was the first class he attended as an undergraduate student in 1978. Oloyede who described Professor Oseni as a rare model said he considered his presence at the occasion as a matter of duty because Professor Zakariyau Oseni was his teacher and mentor. Professor Oloyede thereafter presented the book to “all lovers of knowledge” and purchased two copies for each university and college of education in the country that offers Arabic and Islamic Studies. While the vote of thanks was given by the Head of Arabic Department at Unilorin Dr Yakub Abdullahi, the event ended with a closing prayer at noon.

To modestly define him, this writer knows Professor Oseni as a classical intellectual and scholar who combines religious with traditional leadership by being the Chief Imam of Auchi as well as the Waziri of the same ancient town in Etsako Kingdom of Southeast Nigeria. He is a prolific writer, author, editor, poet, orator, Arabic novelist, playwright, literary critic, discourse analyst, and public speaker who writes from both sides of a paper; left to right and vice versa.

Born in Auchi on Wednesday 20th December 1950, Professor Oseni had his primary education in Auchi (1958-63); secondary education in Auchi (1964-66) and Owo (1967-69). He obtained the Teachers Certificate in Arabic and Islamic Studies in 1971 from the University of Ibadan (UI) where he was thereafter admitted in 1974 and graduated with a First-Class BA (Honours) degree in Arabic in 1977. He also earned his MA and PhD degrees from UI in 1980 and 1984 respectively.

Professor Oseni is the first and only Nigerian professor (for now) with unequivocal passion for creative writing. His creative works, which include “Al-‘Amid ul-Mubajjal” (The Honourable Dean) and “At-Tabaqat ul-‘Ulya” (The Upper Class), largely center on societal reforms. In “Al-‘Amid ul-Mubajjal”, for example, he exposes the wickedness and corrupt practices of a university don, who has been exploiting his kith and kin in his village under the pretext of securing admission for their children. The don, who was the Dean of a faculty, later met his waterloo and was eventually sent to prison. “At-Tabaqat ul-‘Ulya” captures the excessive thirst for power among contemporary politicians.

A newspaper column is grossly inadequate to summarize the academic worth of a man who has lived the greater part of his life as a writer. With about thirty meritorious as well as fellowship awards including “Fellowship of Arabic Studies in Nigeria (FASN)” received from NATAIS, and “Fellow of Arabic Language in Nigeria (FASIN)” from ASALLIN; Professor Oseni is a member of dozens of local and international professional bodies and learned societies. Promoted to the rank of professor in October 1995, Professor Oseni speaks Etsako, Arabic, English, Yoruba and Hausa. He is married with children; one of them a medical doctor working in the USA and another is a Professor of Law practicing in Malaysia.

Since June 2020, Professor Oseni began his countdown to retirement. Each time we spoke in recent times, he reminded me of the months, weeks (and later) of the days left before his retirement. Yet, there’s nothing to show that he’s tired of contributing to knowledge. May Allah grant him good health and long life for Arabic and Islamic Sciences to benefit more from his wealth of scholarship and experience, amin.

2020 World Arabic Language Day (WALD)

Yesterday, December 18, 2020 was this year’s WALD with the theme: “Arabic Language Academies: Necessity or Luxury?” Learn and use five Arabic words for the next one week. Happy Arabic Language Day!!!

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