I’m back in my AC-ed office, switching into ‘Forget’ mode, into ‘Life Should Go On’ mode… Isn’t that the way life goes? The UN would soon advertise Dr Tajudeen Abdulraheem’s position. The job must move on; it can’t stop at the death of just one man. But was Taju ‘just one man’? The tributes don’t say so! Neither did the unrented crowd at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja, say so after waiting for several hours.
The crowd included Dr Kayode Fayemi, founder of Centre for Democracy and Development; Dr Hussaini Abdu, new Country Director of ActionAid Nigeria; Emma Ezeazu, General Secretary of Alliance for Credible Elections; Odia Ofeimun, former president of the Association of Nigerian Authors. ‘Just one man’ couldn’t have brought so many people from across Nigeria and the world within 24 hours! ‘Just one man’ couldn’t. And that’s because Taju was a great man.
He was playful and serious; I thought I was the only one who had noticed that. (Yeah, right, genius!) I only found out from the tributes that many others knew the same thing about Taju.
It was on Saturday, May 23 that we were at the home of Dr Kole Shettima, Africa Director of MacArthur Foundation, for a reception in honour of Hussaini Abdu, when someone sent a loud compliment relating to the beauty of Dr Shettima’s house. And Dr Shettima laughed and joked, “It’s not my house; I’m only waiting for Taju to come and I shall vacate it” or some words like that.
Everyone erupted in thunderous laughter, perhaps understanding that Taju would fill every part of the house with his good-natured boisterousness. Now, Taju, the magnet of people, came in just after 72 hours and we couldn’t laugh. Whoever saw Taju and didn’t smile?
Hussaini Abdu told me at the airport that day that Taju was simply Africa’s Che Guevera on a different sheet of history; that Taju was involved in almost every post-independence African struggle. (As I write, MTN distracts me with a text asking me to join a certain Project Fame audition in Abuja. Silly Fame!)
Two years ago, I met Taju in Kano with my then boss, Dr Jibrin Ibrahim, Dr Ibrahim Muazzam, and Y. Z. Ya’u. Dr Jibo (Jibrin Ibrahim) calls Taju a “meat-arian” for his carnivorousness; and we had fun. I basically was watching them exchange banters about how the Kano State government was dragging its feet about computerisation and things like that. Taju linked everything to another, something like a bird’s eye brain.
You could see admiration in the eyes of even professors when Taju spoke. Yes, he was trained at Oxford, but I know many Oxford-trained people; so it wasn’t Oxford, it was just Taju; just one man different from the rest.
They have buried him now, but I know we won’t bury his ideals; the ideals of a free society, a just society, an angry society. Like Emma Ezeazu said under the hot sun at the airport, how we wish there was a machine to extract knowledge from the brains of the dead. How rich would have been Dr Tajudeen Abdulraheem’s intellectual juice!
So, Taju goes out of Africa, to heaven, somewhere, leaving behind Mugabe, Gaddafi, Biya and the rest. Only God knows why and at just 53 years!