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Tajudeen Abdul-raheem: A warrior goes home

At the time of his death, he was officially the Deputy Director, Africa Office of the UN Millennium Campaign, but Dr Taju, as he was…

At the time of his death, he was officially the Deputy Director, Africa Office of the UN Millennium Campaign, but Dr Taju, as he was popularly known across the world, was a classic case of a jack of all trades who mastered all. Armed with a First Class degree in Political Science from Bayero University, Kano in the mid 80s, he left Nigeria in 1983 to be the First Rhodes Scholar from Northern Nigeria at the Oxford University in the United Kingdom.

The libratory power of western liberal education at Oxford consolidated his undergraduate activism, transforming him into the most formidable and tireless Pan-Africanist to emerge after the first generation of the Nkrumahs, Nyereres, Cabrals, etc. According to his elder fellow traveller in Pan-Africanism, Professor Okello Oculi, Tajudeen is like a machine gun when the liberation of Africa is the issue on the table. In the post Cold War era, he almost single-handedly re-activated the old Pan-Africanist movement.

His Pan-Africanist politics meant that he met and interacted with virtually every African leader, military or civilian. But they almost always fell apart because he was too brutally frank, both in anger and in happiness, to be a friend of autocratically-disposed African leaders and generally the powerful in the African context. According to Thomas Deve, a Kenyan colleague who followed the corpse home, it is such that African leaders regarded him as “that small man with a big mouth that speaks the truth”. Because everyone agreed that he spoke the truth and only the truth, his ‘insolence’ was not only tolerated but a source of policy.

This is best illustrated with the decision of the Ethiopian authorities to relax visa conditionality for Africans because Taju told the Prime Minister, Meles Zenawi, that Ethiopia could not be hosting Africa yet be barring Africans via stiff visa conditionality. In fact, Taju told Meles Zenawi to his face that Africans should be given visa at the airport in Addis Ababa. Till his death, Taju regarded Ethiopian relaxation of visa conditions as his greatest achievement as a Pan-Africanist.

The location of the headquarters of the re-invigorated Pan-Africanist movement in Uganda meant that he was so close to Yoweri Museveni of Uganda just like he was to most of the national liberation mandarins such as Fara Aided, John Garang, Laurent Kabila, Paul Kagame and soon but recently told him off over the recent Mugingo Island conflict between Uganda and Kenya. The same to Robert Mugabe and even Thabo Mbeki whom Taju told not to forget that the colours of the rainbow give you white. That was his own way of saying that South Africa is still a white country.

His level of Pan-Africanism was such that even though parts of him lived in London, the British passport was never acceptable to him. Penultimate Saturday, he asserted the correctness of never taking a British passport. But Taju was not just a global icon floating with heads of state. He was also the quintessential grassroots man. Indeed, he was a one-man government with particular reference to education and health. In recent years, he single-handedly operationalised the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) in his Funtua community. For one, he built an ultramodern secondary school, Hauwa Community Secondary School, Funtua. The school is named after his mother whose burial he did not attend because the Abacha regime disallowed his coming. Apart from the issue of standard in the school, tuition is virtually free there.

His organisation, Pan-African Development Education and Advocacy Programme (PADEAP) runs an adult education package for the poor and the powerless, those who have been denied opportunity for formal education. However, the products of the PADEAP adult education package speak better English than any graduate of universities today. Aisha Mohammed, a housewife, a product of those classes and currently the handler of the Gender Programme of the Adult Education package told me that the training content included Basic Literacy, Awareness of the MDG, Conflict Resolution, Inter-faith Dialogue, Job Creation, Computer Training and Child/Maternal mortality.

Under the child/maternal mortality segment of the training, for example, several traditional birth attendants were trained in the most basic aspects of the practice. They were then issued with the TBA kit and that was for free. One hundred and fifty graduates of the package have got employments, she claimed. Although Hajiya Aisha broke down twice initially when the interview started, it never happened again for the rest of the interview and her articulation was superb, complete with all the terminologies we use in standard MDG discourse.

The District Head of Funtua, Alhaji Idris Sambo, corroborated everything that Aisha Mohammed said about the Adult Education package. It was learnt that, currently, there are four centres where the training takes place. These are Tudun Iya Centre; Goya Centre; BCGA Centre and Amaska Town Centre. The PADEAP took off in 2001, according to one of its team leaders, El-Abbas Yunus who described Taju as a factor in education in the state. To date, the only functional private library in Funtua was established by the late Dr Taju Abdulraheem and it is very rich in newspapers, documentaries and books on great Africans.

Additionally, he was the first person to take internet facility to Funtua and, till today, the internet centre is not only the most functional but entirely free to users. Above all, it also provides leadership training for the youth and it is for free. With such a background, it was not surprising that his death evoked a great sense of loss across the world. Kenyan and Ugandan newspaper editors were phoning ceaselessly, keeping a tab on the burial. They wanted to know who was speaking and what was being said about Taju. Alas, it was a simple but solemn process, made even more so by the dirgistic rendition of “Allahu Akbar” (God is Great) by mostly the women beneficiaries of his education package. God must, indeed, be great.  

At 4.48pm, those of us from Kano/Jigawa axis who had gone to await our compatriots from the Abuja end sighted the convoy at 4.55pm. It started drizzling while the coffin was being brought out of the ambulance to be re-arranged to fit into the final moments of a Muslim. This done, the journey to the last resting place began at 5.50pm. At 5.59, the janaizah prayer for him began. It was over by 6.02pm and the last lap commenced to Goya Road Cemetery. At 6.19pm, his body was lowered into the grave and by 6.42pm, everyone left Taju to fight his way back to his God but leaving a huge gap for the living.

Among those who will feel this gap most are his wife, Mounirah, his two daughters, four brothers and a sister, comrades, colleagues and friends, most African heads of state who benefitted from his frankness and, indeed, all humanists as captured by the representation at the burial. To this list must be added the Jigawa State Government for a number of reasons. He remained one of the most encouraging voices on the Jigawa Talakawa Summit, telling Governor Lamido during his last visit to him on March 11th, 2009 not to worry about anything.

At that meeting which lasted no more than seven minutes, he told the governor to regard Talakawa Summit as a multi-stakeholder project, not exclusively Jigawa’s and that if the governor thought that a meeting of traditional and religious leaders, NGOs, donors and other similar actors was necessary, he should feel free to call one, assuring that he (Taju) would personally be there if such a meeting was called. He apologised profusely for failing to attend the Talakawa Summit itself but assured he was fully in it.

Before meeting with Lamido, Taju had led the marking of the International Women’s Day at Dutse, Jigawa being the centre where Taju personally led the process in Nigeria within the context of the UN Millennium Campaign to end poverty by 2015. By his momentum, he was destined to be a man of history. This cannot but be so for the leading Pan-Africanist who ‘chose’ to die on May 25th, which is African Liberation Day, bringing to an end the life of the most potent philosopher, theoretician and tactician of modern-day Pan-Africanism. Hence, the cross-cutting nature of his constituency which ranged from informal diplomats from the international and local NGO arena, academia, politicians, labour, professionals, the UN system and what have you.

A sampler of attendance at his burial showed Amina Ibrahim, the Senior Special Assistant to the President on the MDG; Professor Okello Oculi; Professor Bayo Olukoshi; Kayode Fayemi; Usman Bugaje; Barrister A. B. Mahmud (SAN); foreign colleagues like Thomas Deve, Napoleon Abdoulaye, Muazu Maiwada of ABU, Zaria; Nana Tanko of Osiwa; Comrade Issa Aremu of the Nigeria Labour Congress; Y. Z. Yau, Ibrahim Muazzam and M. M. Yusif of the Department of Political Science, BUK; Dr Haruna Wakili of the Aminu Kano Centre, BUK; Chidi Odunkalu, Tolu Wonjobi, Ene Obi.

Adieu, Dr Tajudeen Abdulraheem.

Onoja is of the Government House, Dutse, Jigawa State.

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