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We’re reinventing northern Nigeria’s rich heritage- Director, Arewa House

Dr. Shuaibu Shehu Aliyu is a historian and the current Director of Arewa House; Northern Nigeria’s foremost centre for research and historical documentation under the…

Dr. Shuaibu Shehu Aliyu is a historian and the current Director of Arewa House; Northern Nigeria’s foremost centre for research and historical documentation under the Ahmadu Bello University Zaria.

In this interview, he speaks on Arewa House in the last 50 years and the prospect of constructing an archives building that would house conservation laboratory, archives repository, oral documentation unit and a digital newspaper library.

What informed the decision to convert the late premier’s house into a research centre?

As you know, the centre was established on the recommendation of the Interim Common Service Agency (ICSA). It was the body that recommended the constitution of a committee to write the history of northern Nigeria, especially relating to the Nigerian Civil War.

The members of the committee included Alhaji Ali Akilu, Alhaji Liman Ciroma, Sunday Awoniyi, Yusuf Gobir, and with Mallam Adamu Fika and Mallam Gidado Idris as co-secretaries. The committee was chaired by Ali Akilu, but by the time he died, Liman Ciroma took over the chairmanship. The only surviving member of the committee today is Mallam Adamu Fika, Wazirin Fika. At a later stage, the former Governor of North Eastern State, Col. Musa Usman recommended the transformation of the committee into a research centre and the official residence of the late premier was chosen to serve as the official office of the centre, purposely to immortalize the legacies of the premier.

The committee and later the centre was funded by the northern states governors through the ICA and also the supervisory body of the project, while Ahmadu Bello University provided the manpower for the project. Consequently, the then head of Department of History, Professor Abdullahi Smith was seconded to the committee and later became the director of the centre.

To allow him carry out his duties effectively, three research assistants were deployed from the university, including late Dr. Mahmud Modibbo Tukur, Dr. George Kwanashie and Mallam Abdullahi Musa. However, following the scrapping of ICSA in 1975, Arewa House was transferred to Ahmadu Bello University and since then, it continues to be under the university.

What are some of the milestones and how has the journey been so far?

In the last 50 years, the official residence of the premier has been transformed into a personal museum. The house was renovated by the Sokoto State government in 2003 and the Katsina State government in 2010 provided funds for returning the personal relics of the premier. Anyone interested can see the premier’s sitting rooms as it was when he was alive.

We also recently discussed with the family of Amb. Alhaji Shehu Malami, who is married to the first granddaughter of the late premier, and they have agreed to donate his personal properties. In the last 50 years, the centre has served and continues to serve as a political bridge between the North and the South.

It has organized conferences, seminars and symposiums related to history, economic development, political development and educational development of not only northern Nigeria but Nigeria at large. An important activity is the annual lecture we instituted from 1994 in honour of Sir Ahmadu Bello.

From that period, the centre held 10 memorial lectures and every year, the lecturers come from the north, while the chairmen come from the South. Thus, through this process, important national issues are normally discussed. The centre has also successfully organized an International conference on slavery and it should be recalled that with the ample support of the then northern governors and other eminent northerners, the centre organized the first of its kind appeal fund in 1991. It was then estimated that N120 million should be realized, but at the end of the lunching, about N125 million was realized.

The fund was utilized for the expansion of Arewa House as the museum complex was put in place from the proceeds and conference facilities.

You may recall that from 2000, Arewa House has organized series of education summits, which led to the development of an agenda for action for the improvement of education in the northern states. The northern education research project was the precursor to the intervention of the Education Trust Fund (ETF) on Qur’anic education.

Consequently, Arewa House and ETF developed many models for the integration of Qur’anic education into western education, which culminated to the development of National Framework for Almajiri Education in Nigeria.

We have been able to organize conferences on privatization and economic development in the North with the support of BPE in 2001.

At a critical period, the centre appraised the low participation of the northern states in the privatization of government owned properties and companies.

What has been the centre’s major challenge in the last 50 years?

One of the major problems confronting Arewa House is funding. In the last 50 years, the centre has lacked statutory funding. Apart from the salary paid by the university, the centre heavily relies on good will from the northern state governors and other eminent Nigerians.

Therefore, to undertake meaningful research, you need adequate funding. The only source of funding for the centre is the internally generated revenue, which is meagre and so we will like to appeal to the federal government and northern states governments to consider the need to fund our researches.

What nature of projects do you think are critical to moving the centre forward?

The most important projects we are hoping to achieve in the near future, which will impact greatly in the development of the centre is the construction of an archives building. The building would house conservation laboratory, archives repository, oral documentation unit and digital newspaper library. Consequently, by the time we set-up the archives, the centre will definitely be confronted with another major challenge of researcher’s accommodation, because there will be expansion of its activities.

The Newspaper library will be the first of its kind in Africa and the world at large. Likewise, the paper conservation laboratory will be the first in Nigeria. Therefore, what we are praying for is for the federal government, Nigerian governors, and eminent philanthropist to assist Arewa House in the provision of these facilities.

What are some of the ways the centre has promoted national unity?

It is on record that Arewa House is the only centre in the country that has organized a conference on “National question and the way forward.” The centre through its annual lecture series in memory of the late and only premier of Northern Nigeria Sir Ahmadu Bello, Sardauna of Sokoto, has been utilizing the forum to serve as a political bridge between the North and the South.

In most instances, the speaker will come from the North and the chairman will come from the South.  For instance, the Oba of Benin, the Oba of Lagos, former Senate President, Ken Nnamani, former Lagos state Governor Babatunde Fashola, and many others have chaired the Sardauna Memorial Lecture. Indeed, the 50th anniversary is a classic example. The centre invited Dr. Kayode Fayemi to deliver the anniversary lecture.

Other than exhibitions, what is the centre doing to enrich the youths on the lives and legacies of the late premier and other notable northern leaders?

Indeed, we are making effort to broaden and expand the exhibition, by incorporating issues that will reinvent our rich cultural heritage and values which are becoming extinct. We are also embarking on oral documentation and will afford the younger generation the chance to come and listen to the life experiences of prominent individuals and personalities from all walks of life.

This will help greatly the younger generation by inculcating in them the spirit of honesty, integrity, commitment, and dedication against the culture of greed and indolence. It will inspire them to imbibe the culture of modesty and humility. We are also trying to establish a peace museum to address the ethno-religious conflicts in the Nigerian society.


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