Oba AbdulRaheem: The Iconic Talba of Ilorin @ 73

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By Abubakar Imam

Thursday, October 22, 2020, would have been regarded as any other date in the historic city of Ilorin. On deeper reflection however ;it is a unique date. It is a date that marks the day a phenomenal icon of our time was born. The date is special in the life of that quintessential patriot and leader and indeed, in the annals of Ilorin Emirate, for most compatriots of his, hold him in high esteem, because of his several, generous, general and enduring contributions to the growth and development of Ilorin Emirate,Kwara State and Nigeria at large.

Prof. Shuaibu Oba AbdulRaheem, popularly known among his contemporaries across Ilorin Emirate as Oba Abu, is a celebrated academic, a foremost administrator; and an uncommon leader. This distinguished patriot is a year older and I feel compelled,once again, to pay him a tribute in appreciation of his continuous priceless services to the good people of Ilorin Emirate over the last four decades.

Just as I pointed out last year in a similar contribution,I wish to reiterate the fact that my engagement in this genre,particularly on this particular personality, is a “risk”, a very serious one at that. This is because I am profoundly conscious of the possible dismissal of my positions here as mere “conjectural postulations” about a political figure! The man has been an active party politician,at least, since the last eighteen years or thereabout and so anything about and anyone around him is seen from political prism even when every individual human being is a political animal. As a community development practitioner, it is always good,reasonable and necessary to celebrate leading lights of our community. Not because no one else will, but because honour must be done to whomever it is due, because history must be documented to preserve our memories and because subsequent generations have a right to know.

To me and many of my contemporaries across Ilorin Emirate,Prof. AbdulRaheem is to those who denied the people of Ilorin Emirate their rights and privileges what the black nationalists were to the British colonialists. There is,therefore, that possibility for those who do not see things from the patriotic angle to see this attempt as an exercise in political jobbery and a clever desire of the writer to position himself for one favour or the other from an unrelenting emancipator!

Prof. AbdulRaheem was born in Ilorin on October 22,1947 to the Kutu family of Masingba/Okekere Quarters,located on the popular Kamaldeen Street,which links Omoda Roundabout with that of Pakata in the famed Okemale segment of the southernmost Emirate. This Ilorin sub community has produced so many illustrious personalities including the multi award winning first Grand Mufti of Ilorin and the illustrious founder of the Ansarul Islam Society of Nigeria, Shaykh Muhammad Kamaldeen Al-Adaby,MFR,OFR,ORSA,FISN (1905-2005) and his legendary teacher and mentor,the extraordinary Shaykh Muhammad Taju-l-Adab (1877-1923),who was reputed to be the bridge between the archaic Arabic and Islamic scholarship and modern one; as well as the multilingual orator who became the Chief Missioner of the Ansarul Islam Society of Nigeria and the penultimate Imam Imale of Ilorin- Shaykh AbdulRahman Salaudeen Al-Adabiyy (d. 1987).Other prominent persons from the same Quarters are Shaykh Sofiyulahi Kamaldeen Al-Adabiyy(1928-2014),the third Mufti of Ilorin;Alhaji Saka Saadu,OFR(1938-2017),a phenomenal technocrat and former Minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria who served in the nation’s last Federal Military Government and, also,the second Grand Kadi of Kwara State, Justice Mutalub Ahmad Ambali,OFR,FISN(b. 1943), to mention just a few. Prof. AbdulRaheem’s late father was Alhaji AbdulRaheem Kutu who died in 2003; while his mother was Alhaja Sifawu AbdulRaheem, a daughter to the Igboho family of the same neighborhood, who also passed on in the year 2008.

This illustrious patriot,like most of his compatriots, started life as a kindergarten pupil in a traditional Quranic school. He was taught the arts and science of the reading of the Holy Quran by his grandfather, Shaykh Abdulsalam Okanla(d. 1965),who was one of the friends to Shaykh Taju-l-Adab.

This birthday boy’s consequent upbringing, like those of most of his predecessors and contemporaries, was not entirely “shouldered” by his dutiful parents. Prof. AbdulRaheem is an enduring product of the swiftly eroding cultural heritage of Ilorin, which emphasises the place of relations, friends and community in the raising of younger ones. That is why the stories of his formative years can never be completed without a mention of the role of Alhaji Shuaib Baba Pakata (1938-1995), an eminent educator and public administrator who was a friend to his uncle,who discovered in him, a great intellectual and leadership potential, and mentored him accordingly.

Prof. Oba Abdulraheem

Prof. AbdulRaheem started his primary education at the then Pakata Native Authority Primary School,Ilorin, in 1954,where he was known as Oba Okekere. He was at the school, which was the second primary school established in the city of Ilorin, till 1957 and he was a classmate to Alhaji Sideeq O. Bhadmus(then known as Garuba Gbadamasi),aka Easylife Photos;Alhaji Baba Adelakun,a retired Deputy Superintendent of Police; Engr. Sulaiman Oba Saleeman,who served as the Honourable Commissioner for Agriculture and Natural Resources in Kwara State between 1985 and 1987; Alhaji Garuba Kelebe of Agbaji Quarters, Ilorin; and Alhaji Abdullahi Adeshina Ita-Egba,who died recently,among others. He completed his primary education at the premier primary school in Ilorin, the Okesuna Primary School, Ilorin,where he trained between 1958 and 1961. His contemporaries at the school included a former Provost of the Kwara State College of Education,Ilorin,Dr. Toyin Akanbi; Engr. Laaro Sanni and Dr. Hameed Yahaya,the elder brother to the Danmasani of Ilorin, Engr.Sulaiman Oba Yahaya.

Prof. AbdulRaheem proceeded to the St. Malachi Teachers’ College, Minna; from 1964 to 1968.He was the first son of Ilorin to attend the Christian Mission School where he was a contemporary to General Fidelis Makka(rtd) and Colonel John Uba,who went on to serve as Military Governors of Benue and Kebbi States,respectively, and Prof. Thomas Jiya,among others.

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. Among his closet contemporaries in the course of his training for the first degree were Prof. Munzali Jibril,a former Executive Secretary of the National Universities Commission; Dr Gambo T. Yusuf,who retired from the Central Bank of Nigeria and Prof. Gidado Tahir,a former Executive Secretary of the National Commission for Nomadic Education. Others included Prof. I. L. Bashir,who served at the University of Jos prior to his retirement; Dr Anjikwi Ciwar,a former Executive Secretary of Teachers Registration Council of Nigeria (TRCN) and the current Minister of State,Foreign Affairs, Ambassador Zubair Dada.

From 1976 to 1977, Prof. AbdulRaheem was further educated on British Council Scholarship at the famous University of Sheffield, United Kingdom, where he earned his Master’s Degree in English. He capped his stimulating academic credentials with a PhD, which he earned in the same discipline from the prestigious University of Kent at Canterbury, United Kingdom, between 1979 and 1982.While studying abroad,Prof. AbdulRaheem was a contemporary to his distinguished mentor,Alhaji S. B. Pakata; Dr.Yahaya Adelodun AbdulKareem, a former Rector of the Kwara State Polytechnic, Ilorin;Engr. Dare Alao,who retired as an Assistant General Manager of the defunct NITEL;the earlier mentioned Engr. Sulaiman Oba Saleeman and Alhaji Ahmed Kale Gambari,to mention a few.

Prof. AbdulRaheem,while winding up his mandatory national youth service (NYSC) at the then Midwestern State,was invited to join the academic staff of the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. He was posted to the then Abdullahi Bayero College, Kano,in August, 1975 and was consequently one of the foundation academic staff of the Bayero University, Kano,when the then College metamorphosed into an autonomous University.

At the Bayero University,Kano, Prof. AbdulRaheem steadily but deservedly rose through the ranks until he attained the pinnacle as a Professor at the institution’s Department of English and European Languages in 1993.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), the incumbent Chief of Staff to President Muhammadu Buhari,GCFR (b. 1942). The three distinguished scholars taught at the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, and are eminent experts in the fields of Veterinary Medicine, Fine Arts and Political Science/International Relations, respectively.

Prof. AbdulRaheem taught many courses as he also mentored several generations of scholars,authors,technocrats,journalists,academics, politicians,military and paramilitary officers. He was the Head, Department of English and European Languages of the University. He also served as the Dean,School of Postgraduate Studies at the same Bayero University, Kano,between 1991 and 1994; among other administrative duties he creditably held at the institution.

The “turning point” in the exciting career of this birthday boy was his appointment and tenure as the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Ilorin between 1997 and 2002. It was at the University that he became an iconic national figure,which he remains till date. His tenure will forever be remembered for so many reasons; by those who love his administrative style and those who despise his gut.

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 great height of the University as an institution where excellence was not negotiable and 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!!Little wonder,his tenure has been variously described by observers as groundbreaking, phenomenal and exceptional.

To his ancestral community, he is a man of history who made the record as the first of her indigenes 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 flowing agbada and still be at home among his so-called unlettered compatriots as he does among the learned”.Even till date,should anyone has access to the gallery of pictures of all those who have had the privilege of serving as the Chief Executives of the better by far University, he would discover that Prof.AbdulRaheem is the only one who is paraded in agbada and a cap to match!

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. 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,which his successors have maintained till date.

While at the University, Prof. AbdulRaheem succeeded in no small measure 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 Nigerians of other sociocultural extractions 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 of studies is largely traceable to his pioneering roles of giving many very academically qualified and professionally competent compatriots opportunities to be engaged to teach at the University, a privilege that was hitherto unthinkable. The so-called Almajris of those days(apologies to Prof. Lasiele Alabi Yahaya)are now renowned and often consulted academic giants in different fields of studies.

Long before he became the 6th Vice-Chancellor of the University of Ilorin, Prof. AbdulRaheem had 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. He did so well that the author of the most compelling book on the history of Ilorin, Alhaji L. A. K. Jimoh , described him as a patriot on page 455 of his work “Ilorin: The Journey So Far” , published three years before his historic appointment as the Chief Executive of the University of Ilorin and about a decade to his grand entry into partisan politics.

This birthday boy also served as the Chairman of the Governing Council of the Kwara State Polytechnic, Ilorin. He was also the Chairman of the Implementation Committee of the Kwara State University, Malete. He was as well the first Pro-Chancellor of the fastest growing State Government owned University.

Leveraging on Prof. AbdulRaheem’s status, stature and exposure as a resourceful Manager of human and material resources, the late Waziri of Ilorin and second republic Senate Leader, Dr Abubakar Olusola Saraki(1933-2012) sought him out to midwife the transition between the administration of His Excellency Admiral Muhammad Alabi Lawal,mni (1946-2006),who governed Kwara State between 1999 and 2003,and the succeeding government of His Excellency Dr Abubakar Bukola Saraki,CON(b. 1962),as the Chairman of the Transition Committee on the conclusion of the acrimonious elections of early 2003.That marked the commencement of foray of this exceptional patriot into partisan politics.

On each of the privileges that came his way; this “birthday boy” gave a very good account of himself. He never left any of them without impacting positively on those institutions and the society at large. He had earlier helped in facilitating the affiliation of the Kwara State College of Arabic and Islamic Legal Studies(CAILS),Ilorin,which was headed by his late friend and compatriot,Prof. Musa Ali Ajetunmobi(1949-2008), 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,Library Science, Mass Communication 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 its liquidation, would for long be appreciated by the informed segments of the Kwara State Muslim Community and others categories of people who value human capital development.

Apart from the great feat he attained at the University of Ilorin,this exemplary teacher is also the third Executive Chairman of the Federal Character Commission,which was was established during the tenure of the late General Sanni Abacha(1943-1998). He served at the Commission during the tenures of His Excellency Alhaji Umar Musa Yar’Adua,GCFR, and His Excellency Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, GCFR. His impact in the office was greatly felt by Nigerians 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. This is in addition to several others whom he sponsored through university education or contributed remarkably , to their progress and well-being through unannounced assistance, despite having no affinity with them.

Any piece on this extraordinary six-footer that does not dwell on the perceptions of critics on his personality and career so far will be dismissed as “an antic of a paid public affairs analyst”. It could also be seen as a mere publicity gimmick intended to boost the ego of a benefactor.
It pains yours sincerely that this birthday boy is not seen for who he is; -a patriot by some. He has been erroneously smeared with the “colourless paints of parochialism, unrepentant sectionalism and ethnic chauvinism”simply because he believes in and works for the emancipation of his people through purposive leadership and relentless 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 conscious of the indispensability of the two in contemporary times. 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 to the delight of the people of Ilorin Emirate and disapproval of others,which disappointedly ignited a conflict between the ideal he represents and the selfishness of those who wanted the status quo to remain. Prof. AbdulRaheem is, no doubt,a man often misunderstood by his critics who stirred the dust of controversy after his landmark initiatives in public office where he ensured fair sharing of opportunities in higher education and public service.

To some others, his greatest “mistake” 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”, in our part of the world. However, those critics conveniently forget that “politics is too important to be left in the hands of those who have no other callings” or those who have “no alternative addresses”(apologies to Dr Muiz Banire,SAN).

Prof. AbdulRaheem has, no doubt, added a lot of positive values to politics,particularly in Kwara State. His political participation has also provided greater practical illuminations to other eggheads of the possibility of exploration of politics in providing qualitative services to the people. His informed participation in politics has also advertised him as a patriot of high value who meant well for his constituents and constituencies.

The selfless services of this illustrious son of Ilorin Emirate have not been largely unsung. They have not been unrecognised even if such is not enough. This birthday boy 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 develop further. 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 Prof. AbdulRaheem 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.All those awards were 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.

I appeal to younger generations of Ilorin Emirate and beyond at this point, to emulate this outstanding heroic figure. Two lessons are particularly germane: First, how he became an intellectual giant through relentlessness despite his humble background. Second, this birthday boy never waited to attain the pinnacle of his career before establishing himself as someone who was out to assist members of the younger generations to achieve their dreams of acquiring university education and professional progression. 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 office and residence in Kano were turned into the “Consular Offices” for sons and daughters of Ilorin Emirate who journeyed to the commercial city of Kano in search of admissions. Many of those he assisted accordingly are today academic giants,leading professionals and captains of industries. This is another attribute worthy of emulation especially, among some privileged Ilorin indigenes who believe that they would begin to help others only when they get political offices or attain the peak of their careers. Times wait for no one and opportunities don’t come all the time. We should always make hay while the sun shines.

Prof. AbdulRaheem is not infallible; No mortal is! Those who are close to him say that he can be sometimes and unexpectedly inpatient with “slow followers”. He is also seen as a leader who opens his flanks too much and too often to the extent that it makes him vulnerable to “disappointments, betrayals and attacks” sometimes from unexpected quarters. A few others also see him as very rigid and uncompromisingly blunt, particularly when he has made up his mind on an issue. But they all pleasantly remarked that he often bow to superior arguments and he has a lot of respect for the often informed opinions of the elderly as much as he listens to the diverse perspectives and exuberant perceptions of those who are young enough to be his children.

Nevertheless, as the institution he once headed, this illustrious son of Ilorin Emirate is “Better by Far” compared with many of his contemporaries and compatriots who have had similar or better opportunities! This is not farfetched as it is impossible not to mention his name in the first eleven of the real patriots produced by Ilorin Emirate,at least, in the last fifty years. The sense of accommodation and accessibility of this great son of Ilorin Emirate is unprecedented. His communal feelings and desire to always serve are encouraging, astonishing, refreshing and emulative .

Though he is very proud and protective of Ilorin heritage, Prof. AbdulRaheem is a fair minded figure who has a lot of respect for people of other cultures. He is admired for his love, respect and admiration for the people of other backgrounds who in turn admired him for his open door policy, integrity and dignity as well as straight forwardness.

This great son of Ilorin is quite religious. In addition to being a long-standing member,leader and benefactor 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. He is also a prominent member of the Muhammad Kamaldeen Educational Foundation (MUKEF).In 2002,he was awarded a Certificate of Merit from the famous Arabic and Islamic Training Center (Markaz),Agege. He is also well-venerated even amongst Christians,many of whom regard him as an honest person and a friend to behold.

At this juncture,may I suggest that all those who benefited from the generousity,patriotism and services of this birthday boy should form themselves into a nonpolitical platform,which could be named Professor Oba Beneficiaries Association (POBA).The association should charged itself with the propagation and promotion of the social welfarism ideas of this scholar through the institutionalisation of an annual lecture,counseling services and award of scholarship to brilliant but indigent students so that our society could produce more of such a patriot.

Prof. AbdulRaheem is happily married to Hajiya Taibat 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 inspiring 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 National Publicity Secretary, Ilorin Emirate Descendants Progressive Union.

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