Shortly after Subhi prayer on Thursday December 24, 2020, I received an SMS announcing the demise of Sheikh Ahmed Lemu. Due to the pervasiveness of fake news, I called Dr Abubakar Kawu, who confirmed the sad news to me. I then called brother Nurudeen Lemu at about 6 am to know the time for the janaza (funeral) prayer.
“The time has not been fixed yet,” Nurudeen told me.
- Major sporting events to look forward to in 2021
- 20m Nigerians battle kidney disease, expensive treatment
Sheikh’s death is an irreparable loss to the Nigerian Muslim community, the entire country and the Muslim world.
I found it difficult to agree within myself on the title of this tribute because Sheikh Lemu was a versatile personality for whom no language is semantically rich enough to describe in just one phrase. He contributed so much to humanity, Islamic education, and the spread of Islam through grassroot da‘wah. He dedicated over seven decades of his life using his time, energy, wealth, knowledge, experience, and wisdom to improve people’s understanding of Islam and attract young people to Islam through published reading materials. He was a teacher, educationist, jurist, linguist, public servant, scholar, researcher, preacher, imam, exegete of the Qur’an, Shari’ah Court judge, prolific writer, author, publisher, school proprietor, philanthropist, elder statesman, patron, and eloquent public speaker.
The fact that he was excellent in all these explains why I changed the title several times until I finally settled on the above.
With many departments under the IET, the Da‘wah Institute of Nigeria (DIN), in the opinion of this writer, was the most impactful. While the welfare department provides public feeding to the less privileged during Ramadan; special feast and rams for the vulnerable during small and big eids respectively; DIN has published dozens of books that seek to bridge understanding between Muslims and non-Muslims. Alhaji Arzika Rimau, Alhaji Ibrahim Yahaya and Alhaji Abdurrahim Sulaiman will miss Sheikh’s unreserved support at IET. Each time IET workers were going out for any assignment, Sheikh would raise his index finger to say, “Remember, Allah first”. With many books to his credit, “The young Muslim” was Sheikh Lemu’s magnum opus.
Although he told me he never did anything to be remembered for, some of Sheikh’s community service include pre-khutbah preaching at the Minna Central mosque; daily tafsir of the Qur’an (with Malam Musa Talle as his reciter) at the start and close of operations of Radio Niger, Minna; lectures on “The Light of Islam” programme on NTA Minna; weekly Muslim Circle that held in his house; founding the Ilmi Bookshop; and establishing the first Islamic model school in Minna. Sheikh carried out many national assignments but the most popular was when he headed the Presidential Panel on 2011 Post-Election Violence in Nigeria. He told a section of Nigerians who insinuated that he was likely to be comprised, “I’ve already taken my boarding pass and was only waiting for the flight (to the hereafter)”. The ‘flight’ came 9 years later.
As a teacher, Sheikh Lemu was one of my technical consultants (the other person being Alhaji Alhassan Wasagi) during my years of research into the pragmatics of Arabic and Nupe languages. I travelled many times to Minna (on appointment) to see Sheikh Ahmed Lemu when I was working on contrastive linguistic analysis of Arabic and Nupe proverbs. He was wonderfully rich in proverbs in these two languages and used his knowledge to give me Nupe equivalents of the many Arabic wise sayings I presented. This study under Sheikh led me to group my results into three categories: proverbs having the same phrase and implication in both languages; proverbs having the same implication in both languages but differ in phrases; and proverbs having different phrases and different implications in both languages. Indeed, I have lost a teacher in socio-linguistics.
Sheikh Lemu once invited me to Minna. On my arrival, he called Nurudeen who was at a programme at FUT, Minna to join us. Sheikh took his time to tell me/us so much about his background, education, IET, his philosophy and approach to life, as well as how Islam should be understood and practiced. He showed me/us the group photograph they took while he and others were students in the UK. Those in the photo include Justice Mohammed Bello, Justice Mamman Nasir, Justice Muazu Mohammed, and Justice Uwais. Nurudeen had to leave after about two hours. When it was time for Zuhr prayer, Sheikh asked me to lead him.
“Small me, Ndagi, to lead Sheikh Lemu in prayer,” I thought aloud.
He insisted and I led him in Zuhr prayer. This tells how very unassuming Sheikh was as a scholar. Coming from a conservative Nupe society, he had no traditional title.
In 2013, I had a long interview with Sheikh, which was published in the Weekly Trust of Saturday May 4, 2013. Responding to one of my questions, he cited a Nupe adage which translation is: Allah never says ‘no’ after saying ‘yes’. My last visit to Sheikh was on July 2, 2018. When I entered his living room, he asked who I was, saying “I’ve forgotten many things”. He then quoted Qur’an 30:54: “It is Allah who created you in a state of (helpless) weakness, then after strength gave (you) weakness and a hoary head…” I then said, “But you’ve not forgotten the verses in your head.”
Sheikh was not without a sense of humour. In 1994, while I was still a postgraduate student in Khartoum, Sudan; I and brother (now Professor) Siraj Abdulkarim went to see Sheikh Lemu who came to attend a conference in company of Justice Abdulkadir Orire, and Dr Umar Bello (of the Center for Islamic Studies, UDUS). When I started speaking Nupe with Sheikh, Siraj (a Ba-Katsine) said Nupe was not among the recognized languages in Sudan.
Sheikh responded to him saying, “If Allah would hear him when he speaks in Nupe, Siraj could as well keep his Katsinanci dialect.”
Until Sheikh’s death, the only attempt to immortalize him was the renaming of the former “Ilmi Avenue” in Minna, where IET is located, to Sheikh Ahmed Lemu Road. Even this, I can authoritatively say, he didn’t like. Now that he is not here to reject such offers, Sheikh deserves more than just naming a road after him. Niger State government should lead in this regard. Schools, institutions, State Shari’ah Court of Appeal complex are not too much honour for this epitome of scholarship and orthodox Islam who avoided controversies. I call on individuals to discuss with Sheikh’s family on the establishment of an annual colloquium in his name. Although I have no money, I humbly volunteer to be part of that arrangement, at least in ideas.
Now, if it is the same Al-Jannah, which Sheikh Lemu spent his entire life seeking that we are also aiming at with our lackadaisical attitude to Islam, many Muslims certainly have a long journey ahead. May Allah reward Sheikh Ahmed Lemu with the best of Aljannah, amin. Sheikh, Good