Last week a report from Kano made my day. It was about “a warm homecoming” organized by the English Department, Bayero University Kano (BUK) for Professor Abubakar Rasheed who resigned as Executive Secretary of the National Universities Commission (NUC) and went back to the BUK to continue with his teaching job, with an unblemished record in the commission. In fact, he is the most popular Chief Executive in the history of the Commission. Please prove me wrong.
The Vice Chancellor of the university, Professor Sagir Abbas, presented him a plaque for his “outstanding contributions to the Department (English) and the Nigerian University System” at the occasion.
Also, his colleagues spoke about his achievements, sacrifices and character. They are: “Professor Mahmoud Umar Sani, Professor Ismail Tsiga, Professor Said Babura Ahmed, Professor Ibrahim Bello Kano, Professor Mustapha Ahmed Isah and Dr Sani Said Ibrahim.
Very intimidating names and scholars. They are professors who profess. They are also not sycophants who will call a pot aunty for a plate of jallof rice. At least, I can speak about two of them; Ibrahim Bello (our IBK) and Ismail Tsiga.
Well, their actions are understandable.
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The decision of Rasheed is “Un-Nigerian”. The commission is in charge of all federal universities and the vice chancellors of the universities report to the secretary. But as the secretary, he resigned and went back to the BUK to work under a young vice chancellor who was admitted for a degree programme in the university when Rasheed was already a lecturer. Tabdi jam! No wonder, the new Senate building in the university is named after Rasheed. If he were a bad man, BUK would have been on fire on the issue.
For me, the excitement goes beyond the sacrifices made by Rasheed to the emerging culture of acknowledging and celebrating people who make outstanding contributions to society.
About three years ago, I tried to organise a public lecture to celebrate Malam Mohammed Haruna for his outstanding contributions and sacrifices to journalism and I contacted some people but we failed. Perhaps his good friends, like Dan Agbese, who lived in Lagos where the culture of celebrating achievers has been institutionalised can help us.
People are entitled to live their lives the way they want.
But the culture of ubangida in Northern Nigeria has reduced the concept of hero to patron/client relationship based on which many people hardly see the bigger picture of somebody who had served humanity on a larger scale, beyond their ubangida. Professor Anthony Kirk-Green explains it better: “So ubiquitous has the patron/client (uban gida) of traditional Hausa society been that it sometimes seems to me one might justifiably say of it that everyone’s client is someone else patron. Thus when we talk of a man’s reputation as mutumin kirki, we need to leave ample room for the fact that in the display of some of the characteristics of the good man in Hausa discussed later he may well be consciously underwriting his status as A’s patron or B’s client.”
The struggle for “neman na Maggie” (looking for what to buy Maggie cubes with) has created problems in Nigeria. And they always back it up with proverbs like: “ruwan da ya doke ka shine ruwa” (the philanthropy you benefitted from is the real philanthropy) and “iya ruwa fidda kai” (the best swimmer is the one who saves himself (not others from drowning). In other words, there is no what Ibn Khaldun described as Assabiya (group feeling and solidarity). God save you, no matter your contributions to humanity, if you are not in the good books of their ubangida. They can even kill you the way the “talakawa” (less privileged) burnt Dr Bala Mohammed in his house in Kano because of his pro-poor policies, as the engine room of the progressive government of Abubakar Rimi in Kano State in the Second Republic. We lost a real scholar who excelled in character and learning.
Also, a person can commit atrocities against humanity but his “yara” (clients) will neither condemn nor disown him. They will even go the extra mile to defend him. Maigida is always right.
In a newspaper house I worked, the editorial board introduced a column, “MY COMMUNITY” with a view to providing a platform to people to present the problems of their communities for possible intervention by governments, organisations or philanthropists but it didn’t last long because it was turned into a platform of massaging the ego of ubangida. For example, somebody may write as follows: “The name of my community is Bambarakwai. In that community, there is somebody called Garbebe who is very generous. In fact, he paid the dowry for my third wife who now has eight children…” He will never go back to the community in his presentation.
Unlike other parts of Nigeria, regional and national heroes are not celebrated in Northern Nigeria. For example, the Annual Chief Obafemi Awolowo lecture has been observed, unfailingly, since his death in May 1987. Awolowo was the Premier of the Western Region. But the Ahmadu Bello memorial lecture organised by Arewa House, and recently by the Ahmadu Bello Foundation, was organised less than 10 times since his murder in January 1969 (54 years ago). Bello was also the Premier of the Northern Region and we all know the sacrifices he made for the region.
What about Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, former Prime Minister of Nigeria, who was killed in the same bloody coup as Ahmadu Bello simply because they were Northerners?
Well, he may be celebrated by his “yara” (clients), if he had any. This is why it is good to celebrate achievers as a strategy of encouraging others to do better and to institutionalise the culture of public and community service.
Perhaps envy and the ubangida culture make it difficult for northerners to celebrate anybody fisabilillahi (genuinely).
But they are good in celebrating new political appointees not because of their service to humanity but to reposition themselves for patronage.
When I saw the piece Amina Salihu Lukman wrote on Professor Attahiru Jega, I buried my head in shame because it should have come from us who benefitted more from him. She is lucky that she has not been captured by the ubangida syndrome.
Professor Jega taught me at graduate level and supervised my MSc Political Science dissertation on the topic: “The World Bank in Nigeria: An Assessment of Multilateral Assistance”. Although he was represented at the defence but the last comment by the External Examiner, a Professor of Political Science from the University of Jos, made me proud. He said: “When I saw the name of Attahiru Jega as the supervisor of your work, I had high expectations. I am glad to say that you did not disappoint me either in the work or the defence”.
In a way, Jega gave me a second degree for which I shall remain grateful. But it was not on a platter. In the words of a Fulani man who came back from sharo with a battered chest and somebody asked him how was the sharo, he replied “mun shi uwamu”.
The contributions of Professor Jega to public service are obvious. He was Vice Chancellor of BUK, Pro-Chancellor of some universities and the chairman who revolutionised the election process in Nigeria using technology at the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). He also published extensively, and served on many international, national and state committees. He also presented papers at many conferences and public lectures. Sir, we are proud of your achievements and grateful for everything.
You may be curious to know my interest in BUK and its scholars. Well, I went into the university with school certificate and came out with an MSc in Political Science. If all the BUK certificates are to be cancelled I will be left with a school certificate. Inna lillahi wa’inna ilaihi raji’un!
Dikko resides in Abuja