By Abubakar Imam
Tuesday, October 22, 2019 is a date; which may be regarded as any other! Yes, it is!!However,on deeper reflections; it is a unique date it is a date that marks the day a great icon, a often misunderstood Nigerian patriot of Ilorin Emirate extraction was born. The date is special in the life of that quintessential public servant (and I think it should also be in the annals of Ilorin); who many respect for his high impact on the lives of the people of the nation’s southern-most Emirate.
Prof.Shuaibu Oba AbdulRaheem, well-known among his contemporaries as Oba Abu, is a distinguished academic, an outstanding administrator; and a compassionate leader.This torch-bearing political figure is a year older and I felt compelled to dedicate this tribute to him in appreciation of his worthwhile services to his people even as a septuagenarian!!!
I must say that my engagement here is a risk, a very serious one at that. I am conscious of the possible dismissal of my position here as mere conjectural postulations about a great figure! This is because the man is deep into politics, partisan politics for that matter, while I am not.
Let me, however,say, that I am prepared for such a consequence but it should be known that I am attracted to his virtuous epochal patriotism but with principled indifference to the politics surrounding his politics!
To me,Prof.AbdulRaheem is to contemporary Ilorin Emirate what the black nationalists were to the British colonial rule and in the emancipation of their motherland.There is,therefore, that possibility for those who do not see things from my “opinionated prism” to see this attempt as a study in political jobbery and a clever desire of the writer to position himself for one favour or the other from an unrelenting emancipator!
Honestly, my position at the community level places me in a situation to do what I am doing about appraising the careers of our leaders for the younger ones to learn from. Moreover, I have done quite a number of such in recent times.
Prof.AbdulRaheem was born in Ilorin on October 22,1947 to the Kutu family of Masingba; an Ilorin sub-community, which produced so many illustrious scholarly personalities including the multiple award-winning first Grand Mufti of Ilorin, Sheikh Muhammad Kamaldeen Al-Adaby(1905-2005) and his legendary teacher,-the extraordinary Sheikh Tajul Adabiyy (1877-1923); as well as that multi-lingual orator and the penultimate Imam Imale of Ilorin- Sheikh AbdulRahman Salaudeen(d.1987).
His father was Alhaji AbdulRaheem Kutu who died in 2003; while his mother was Alhaja Sifawu, a daughter to the Igboho family of the same neighborhood, who also passed on in the year 2008.
This great man’s upbringing like that of most of his predecessors and contemporaries, was not entirely “shouldered” by his parents. He is an enduring product of the eroding cultural heritage of Ilorin, which emphasises the place of relations, friends and community in acculturation. His upbringing during his formative years was, according to him, “accomplished” by a friend to his Uncle; the late Alhaji Shuaib Baba Pakata (1938-1995), under whose watchful eyes, his cognition for intellectualism blossomed.
As a young boy, he was taken along to so many schools that his uncle’s friend, a distinguished teacher, was posted to in the early 1960s.He later attended St.Malacy Teachers’ College, Minna; from 1964 to 1968. Between 1970 and 1974; he was educated at the defunct Abdullahi Bayero College (ABC, Kano) of the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, where he studied English. From 1976 to 1977, he schooled at the University of Sheffield, United Kingdom, from where he earned his Master’s Degree in English.He capped his stimulating academic credentials with a PhD which he received in the same discipline from the University of Kent, also in the United Kingdom between 1979 and 1982.
Prof.AbdulRaheem taught at the Bayero University, Kano. He joined the services of that second generation University in 1976 following the conclusion of his one year mandatory Youth Service.
At the University, he steadily but deservedly rose through the ladder of the academic positions until he attained the pinnacle as a Professor at the institution’s Department of English and European Languages in the early 1990s.This made him the fourth indigene of Ilorin Emirate to attain that venerable professorial pedestal.
His predecessors in that exalted academic rank are Saka Nuru (b.1935),who retired as the Deputy Vice-Chancellor of the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria; Saliu Suleiman, who was Nigeria’s Envoy to Ireland between 1984 and 1986 and Ibrahim Agboola Gambari CFR(b.1944), Ex-External Affairs Minister and Nigeria’s longest-serving Permanent Representative to the United Nations. The three Professors taught at the Ahmadu Bello University Zaria, and are eminent Scholars of Veterinary Medicine, Fine Arts and Political Science/International Relations, respectively.
Prof. AbdulRaheem served as the Head, Department of English and European Languages and later as the Dean,School of Postgraduate Studies at the Bayero University, Kano; among other administrative duties he creditably held at the institution. He was also at a time the Chairman of the BUK chapter of the Academic Staff Union of Universities.
The “turning-point” in his glittering career was his tenure as the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Ilorin between 1997 and 2002. It was at the University of Ilorin that he became an iconic national figure. His tenure will forever be remembered for so many reasons; by those who did or did not like his style of administration.
No matter anyone’s position, the fact remains that his tenure marked the beginning of the uncommon stability in the academic calendar of the University, which his successors have admirably upheld. He is the man who laid the foundation of today’s greater height of the University as an institution where excellence was not negotiable and made it the nation’s most sought-after University by parents and candidates who desire the completion of their studies within record time! In fact, the institution deservedly became known with the slogan “Better by Far” while he was its Chief Executive!!
To his ancestral community, he is a man of history who made the record as the first of her sons to serve as the Chief Executive of a University. He is “the first academic of that status who demonstrated and projected the culture of Ilorin while in active service”. Before him, “we never thought that a Professor will put on turban on a high-flying agbada and still be at home among the so-called unlettered as he has been among the learned”.
He is also the first Muslim Vice-Chancellor of the University and the man who first ensured that the institution responded to the yearnings and aspirations of its host community as envisioned by the Federal Government of Nigeria. He,indeed, initiated the lasting and unbreakable bridge the University eventually erected with the Ilorin Emirate community.He promoted genuine town and gown mutual relationship.
While at the University, he succeeded in ensuring that the Ilorin Emirate community was allotted its fair share of the benefits that should ordinarily accrue to it. This greatly enhanced the socio-economic well-being of the institution’s host community and created in the members of the community a profound sense of belonging. While doing that, he never denied others of their fair rights and privileges in the University.
The fact that Ilorin Emirate now has quite an impressive number of her indigenes who are today Professors and high-ranking academics in different fields is largely traceable to his pioneering roles of giving many very qualified compatriots opportunity to be engaged to teach at the University, a privilege that was hitherto unthinkable.The so-called Almajris of those days are globally acclaimed Professors in different fields of study.
Similarly, Prof.AbdulRaheem performed remarkably when he was the Sole Administrator of the Kwara State College of Education, Oro, between February and July,1984. He also served as the Chairman of the Governing Council of the Kwara State College of Education, Ilorin, from 1984 to 1986. Prof. AbdulRaheem also served as the Chairman of the Governing Council of the Kwara State Polytechnic, Ilorin.This accomplished academic was the Chairman of the Implementation Committee of the Kwara State University, Malete.He was the first Pro-Chancellor of the University.He was also the Chairman of the Transition Committee, which birthed the administration of the former Governor Abubakar Bukola Saraki in 2003.
On each of those privileges; this “birthday boy” gave a very good account of himself as he never left without impacting positively on those institutions and the society at large.He had earlier facilitated the affiliation of the Kwara State College of Arabic and Islamic Legal Studies to the Bayero University,Kano in 1992. The affiliation,which was a prerequisite for the recognition of the institution’s programmes and credentials afforded hundreds of hitherto “hopeless”products of organised private Arabic and Islamic schools in Kwara State and beyond the opportunity of pursuing higher education, not only in Arabic and Islamic studies but also in Law and many other fields of studies.The patriotic “war” he fought in ensuring the retention of the College, when those who did not appreciate its essence insisted on scrapping it, would for long be appreciated by the informed segments of the Kwara State Muslim Community and others who value human capital development.
Apart from the great feat he attained at the University of Ilorin,this exemplary teacher is also the first Nigerian to be appointed as the Executive Chairman of the Federal Character Commission twice since the Agency was established during the tenure of the late General Sanni Abacha. He served at the Commission during the tenures of the late Alhaji Umar Musa Yar’Adua GCFR and Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan GCFR. His impact in the office was felt because every part of this highly heterogeneous nation-state was given its due; most especially, in staff recruitment and career progression to and in all Ministries, Departments and Agencies of the Federal Government of Nigeria. His efforts at empowering the less-privileged with employment is so unprecedented that there is hardly any State in Nigeria and any Federal Ministry, Agency or Department where his beneficiaries are not currently earning decent living.That is in addition to several others he sponsored through university education or contributed in specially remarkable ways to their well-being through unannounced assistance despite the fact that he never knew them from Adam.
Any piece on this extraordinary six-footer that does not dwell on the perceptions of critics on his personality will be dismissed as a work of an incompetent public affairs analyst.It could also be seen as a publicity gimmick penned by one of those he assisted in their transformation to the status of being breadwinners of their families; none of whom I am not. It is painful and disheartening that Prof. AbdulRaheem is not seen as who he is; -a patriot). He has been erroneously smirred with the “colourless paints of parochialism, unrepentant sectionalism and ethnic championism”simply because he believed in and worked for the emancipation of his people through purposive leadership and mentorship.
While it is a settled fact that the people of Ilorin Emirate tarried a while in embracing western education and were initially contemptuous of white collar jobs,they faced horrendous obstacles from their compatriots of other backgrounds; even on their land,when they became convinced of the indispensability of the two in modern era.There was,therefore, always the need for someone who would take up the task of ensuring that they had their own share of placements in schools and the Public Service as statutorily provided for. A challenge the subject of this piece lived up to courageously and most admiringly by Ilorin people,which expectedly ignited a conflict between the ideal he represents and those who wanted the status quo to continue.
To some others, his greatest undoing is his decision to join partisan politics. Such category of critics believed that a man of his pedigree ought not to have ventured into a field “symbolised by endless treachery, disregard for competence, perpetual discontent and limitless falsehood”. However, they forget that “politics is too important to be left in the hands of those who have no other callings”.
The fact that he has not succeeded in being elected to govern the state does not take anything away from him. He has no doubt added value to the politics of the state and illuminated other egg-heads of the possibility of using the instrumentality of politics as a means of offering qualitative services to the people. It also advertised him as a patriot of high value who meant well.
The selfless services of this illustrious son of Ilorin Emirate has not been unsung. He has been honoured in many ways and by many institutions, organisations and communities, over the years.
The fact that the University of Ilorin has remained the nation’s most peaceful and sought-after University is a tribute to his foresight,which, I believe, he would forever be grateful to his Creator for using him to precipitate. Four years after his eventful tenure as the Chief Executive of the University of Ilorin, the people of Ilorin through the Emir- Ibrahim Sulu-Gambari CFR; turbaned him as the Talba of the Emirate; and as the first holder of the prestigious title.The national honour of the Officer of the Order of the Federal Republic (OFR) was also conferred on him by the Federal Government of Nigeria in 2011. Prof. AbdulRaheem was equally honoured for his relentless contributions to the intellectual development of Nigeria with the award of the National Productivity Order of Merit Award by the Federal Government of Nigeria in 2013.That was in addition to several others conferred on him by many organisations including those from the Northern and Central Zones and the Home Branch of the umbrella socio-cultural organisation of the people of Ilorin Emirate, the Ilorin Emirate Descendants Progressive Union on different occasions.
A piece such as this will be incomplete without appealing to Ilorin Emirate younger generations to emulate this outstanding heroic figure. Two lessons are particularly germane: first, how he became an intellectual giant through academic painstaking and personal conviction despite the initial setbacks and his humble background. Second, he never waited to attain the pinnacle of his career before establishing himself as someone who assisted significant number of the younger generations to achieve their dreams of acquiring university education. He was particularly, more concerned about the less-privileged members of our community right from his days as a struggling teacher at the Bayero University, Kano; where his official residence in Kano was turned into the “Consular Office”of Ilorin Emirate sons and daughters in that great commercial city by many admission seekers, who are today giants in various professions and as captains of industries. This is another attribute worthy of emulation especially, among some privileged Ilorin indigenes who believe that they should only help the people when they get political offices or attain the peak in their places of work.
This is not to say that Prof.AbdulRaheem is perfectly infallible; No mortal is! Those who are close to him say that he can be sometimes and unexpectedly inpatient. He also opens his flanks too much to the extent that it makes him vulnerable to “attacks and betrayal”. A few also see him as very rigid and uncompromisingly blunt particularly when he has made up his mind on an issue although he often bow to superior arguments and have a lot of reverence for the more elderly.
Nevertheless, as the institution he once headed, this Fellow of the Nigerian Academy of Letters is “Better by Far” compared with many of his contemporaries! His sense of accomodation, assessibility and communal feelings;the desire to always serve are richly astonishing.
This great son of Ilorin is quite religious.In addition to being a long-standing member of the Ilorin Emirate Descendants Progressive Union, he is also a frontline leader of the Ansarul Islam Society of Nigeria who is also well-respected among other Muslim organisations.In 2002,he received a Certificate of Merit from the famous Arabic and Islamic Training Center (Markaz),Agege.He is also well-venerated even amongst Christians,many of who regard him as an honest person and a friend.
Prof. AbdulRaheem is married to Hajiya Tayeebat Jumoke (nee Ogendegbe). Their union, which was solemnised in 1979; is blessed with successful children and grandchildren who are doing well in their various careers.
It is my prayers that Almighty Allah prolongs the life of this outstanding patriot and grant him good health with greater wisdom as he continues with his exciting statesmanship; and may we have more of such leaders who will dedicate their time, energy and other resources to the love and greatness of our people!!!
Imam is the Secretary, “Pakata Patriots”, Ilorin.