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Happy Birthday Sardauna

My most favourite quote of the Sardauna is:  “The cardinal principle upon which our university is founded is to impart knowledge and learning to men…

My most favourite quote of the Sardauna is:  “The cardinal principle upon which our university is founded is to impart knowledge and learning to men and women of all races without any distinction on the grounds of race, religious or political beliefs¦. Only through freedom of membership and freedom of enquiry and research can a university be drawn into the full ferment of thought from which new knowledge comes.  Only if it adheres to this freedom can it become truly great”. He was speaking at the occasion of his instalment as the first chancellor of ABU in 1963. I like his vision of a university as fountain of knowledge and a melting pot for the construction of democratic citizenship.

Do our universities reflect those ideals spell out by the Sardauna? To be fair to ABU, it is probably the only university that reflects the diversity of the country in terms of its staff and student composition. However, until a couple of months, it was dogged by controversy about the appointment of its Vice Chancellors which divided the campus into ethnic and religious camps. Ironically, Professor Andrew Nok, one of the candidates who many people opposed on account of myopic reasons was also the recipient of the NLNG Prize for the best scientific innovation, the equivalent of our Nobel prize!   

Scholars moved out of universities because non-indigenes were not wanted and these were boldly written on their office doors. We should be mindful of the ideological rationalization role of genocide of the 1990s by the National University of Rwanda. In fact the seeds of the genocide were planted by the intellectuals of the Hutu at the University.

How about the role of universities as centers for the production of knowledge? Whereas the global ranking of universities has too many problems, it is instructive that only Ilorin, Ibadan, Jos and OAU in Nigeria made the list of 100 universities in Africa, and the best is Ilorin at number 55!  

The Sardauna was very concerned about education. In 1963, there was poor academic performance by students in northern Nigeria. Many couldn’t qualify to gain admission into universities. He invited 500 students all over the north to Zaria to reprimand and encourage them to perform better. He said  “I note with deep regret that one of those schools is my alma mater. Last year 50 percent of the boys of this college who took the West African School Certificate examination failed”. I am not sure what the Sardauna would have done if he were alive when 98 percent of the students in Nigeria and probably 99.5 percent of the students in northern Nigeria couldn’t pass their WASC with five credits including English and Mathematics.

He was known for the values of service and integrity. His admirers and opponents attested to his probity and high moral standard. He made a clear distinction between public and private affairs. He was by no means a wealthy person. He never accumulated wealth, a characteristic he shared with many of his contemporaries like Tafawa Balewa and Audu Michael Buba. Certainly, he received so many gifts and never kept them to himself; he was generous to a fault. According to John Paden, Sardauna’s generosity is sometimes financed from bank overdraft. After his death, the military leaders who check on the personal accounts of the Sardauna are reported to be surprised at his lack of assets, and in fact, the size of his overdrafts. Their question is, “who will pay for the overdrafts”. I wonder what would have been his reaction if he heard that a former governor of one of the divisions he governed paid N15 million as dowry whereas in 2010 the minimum dowry is less than N50, 000 and the minimum wage in the country is less than N10, 000, and when in that division more than 100 children, driven by poverty, died digging illegally for minerals!    

Certainly the Sardauna was most controversial on issues of politics, class, religion and ethnicity in the north. His admirers speak admirably of his efforts to accommodate people of different ethnic and religious groups in his cabinet. People like the late Sunday Awoniyi and Michael Audu Buba were very close to him. There are stories about how he encouraged building of churches in many parts of the North. He is reported to have paid for the pilgrimage to Jerusalem of Christians. During one of the sub-committee meetings of the Sir Ahmadu Bello Memorial Foundation, a prominent member and who happens to be a Christian, spoke how the Sardauna positively affected his life.

Others have also pointed to his intolerance of political opposition and of people of different backgrounds. Movements like the United Middle Belt Congress, Borno Youth Movement, Ilorin Talaka Parapo and Northern Elements Progressive Union were formed to give expression to those concerns. A rare show of solidarity among minorities in the north was when Ibrahim Imam, a Kanuri, who couldn’t stand for elections in Borno because of the hostile political environment created by the Northern Peoples Congress, found refuge in Tiv land and indeed won elections on the platform of the UMBC.

I am afraid that if Sardauna were alive, he would have been confined, until recently, to Anguwar Sarki ward in Kaduna. Kaduna, the city from which he governed the North, witnessed a cycle of violence in the name of religion. Settlements divided along religious lines. Probably, the Sardauna would have moved back to Sokoto where his Toronkowa clan is indigenous to. Fortunately, he doesn’t need to travel through Jos to Abuja where being a Fulani is potentially dangerous because he could be a victim or perpetrator of violence.     

Whatever may be the shortcomings of the Sardauna in his ethnic, religious, political relations, and everyone has shortcomings, he is superior to many who parade themselves as leaders. Many are not better than hate mongers.

 His commitment to the development of the North is not disputable. He wanted the North to be at per with the South. Unfortunately, the North in 2010, if it were a different country, would have been classified among the worst in almost all human development indicators: maternal mortality, infant mortality, polio, education, poverty and water and sanitation. On the other hand, the South, if it were a different country would have ranked about 80 out of 194 countries of the world. Let’s face it, the North has become an embarrassment and is dragging the country down in almost all indicators of development.    

If the Sardauna were alive, what would have been his reaction? May be he wouldn’t have been alive. If he were not killed in a military coup, perhaps he would have died of ethnic and religious violence, malaria or hypertension caused by the problems in the North. The Sardauna being a proud person, I am sure he would have prepared to die in a coup than be killed by the developmental problems of the North or live with the development challenges in the North.  Happy birthday Sardauna.

Shettima is the Director of the Macarthur Foundation and Chair of the Technical Committee of the Sir Ahmadu Bello Memorial Foundation.

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