Wednesday, 7 October 2015

(109): Five encounters with Hajiya Bilkisu Yusuf

Journalism has lost another icon, not an ordinary one, but a heavyweight in a profession we hold dear to our hearts. As tributes continue to pour in, the loss of Bilkisu Yusuf, who died in the stampede on the way to the Jamrat in Makkah during the 2015 Hajj, I cannot help but take my pen to narrate my experience with this humble woman.

Of course I knew Bilkisu Yusuf through her writings in various newspapers in Nigeria.  But the first time I saw her was in 2001. It was during a symposium organized by the Centre for Democratic Research and Training, Mambayya House, under the leadership of Professor Attahiru Jega, the immediate-past chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).

As undergraduates, we had always been on the watch for activities organized by Mambayya House. You can rest assured, they will bring high quality speakers, and at the end of the event, you would leave more educated, more refreshed and more motivated than you envisaged.

This time around, the event organized was the annual lecture in memory of the late Malam Aminu Kano, the leader of the Talakawa (the masses), and a revolutionary politician who greatly contributed in shaping and redefining politics in the African continent.

The theme of that year’s lecture was “The Leadership Question and the Quest for Unity in Nigeria”. Among the guests and speakers present were Professor Musa Abdullahi of blessed memory, the then Vice Chancellor of Bayero University, Kano, Alhaji Bukar Abba Ibrahim, the former governor of Yobe State, Alhaji Tanko Yakasai who spoke on ‘Politics of Population Census and National Unity in Nigeria”, and Ambassador Yahya Abdullah, who spoke on “The Politicians and Principled Politics: The Example of Malam Aminu Kano”.

Other speakers include Dr. Okwadike Chukwuemeka Ezeife, former governor of Anambra State, whose topic was on “The Relevance of Leadership to Democracy and Good Governance”, and of course Hajiya Bilkisu Yusuf who spoke on “Democracy and National Unity”. The special guest, former speaker of the House of Representatives, Alhaji Ghali Umar Na’Abba, couldn’t make it, and was represented by Alhaji Jibrin Barau, at the time a member of the House of Representatives.

The symposium took place at the peak of the Obasanjo administration, when issues of ethnicity were heating the political temperature of the country, particularly the heightened activities of the Oduwa Peoples’ Congress (OPC).

Hajiya Bilkisu was the only female speaker at the event. It was the first time I saw her, and when she was introduced to deliver her paper, she did not disappoint. Her presentation was, to say the least, one of the best. She was eloquent, fearless and to the point. Few excerpts from her speech could prove my point.

“The current preoccupation of all the elected officials is how to ensure their re-election and every action is geared towards that aim. The politics of Tazarce [succession] has clouded their sense of judgment and distorted their priorities,” she said.

“The concept of separation of powers has been jettisoned and state legislators and councilors also called ‘CASHillors’ who are working hand in gloves with the governors and chairmen also known as ‘SHAREmen’ to feather their nests. Corruption, violence and disrespect for the rule of law are threatening to erode any success made in forging unity and promoting democracy,” she added.

Hajiya Bilkisu was also critical of her profession, journalism. She told the participants at the symposium that “the press is older than the various arms of government and several civil society organisations”, but “as defenders of democracy and human rights, the media have quite often turned their role upside down to become perpetrators of iniquities and protectors of violators of human rights. They have through the ages, eroded the confidence they should have commanded from the public by their wanton disregard for ethics”.

This is just a small portion of her paper which reviewed the entire political history of Nigeria. Gladly, Professors Attahiru Jega and Haruna Wakili have compiled and edited the presentations made during the symposium, and produced a book bearing the theme of the annual lecture.

The second time I met Hajiya Bilkisu Yusuf was in August 2007. It was during the fieldwork of my doctoral dissertation. My research was comparing the coverage of corruption scandals in the Nigerian press, and I was interested in finding out whether regional and cultural biases of journalists influence their reporting of corruption.  As part of the research, I needed to conduct interviews with journalists from northern and southern Nigeria.

It was also an opportunity to meet face to face with some of the household names in the field of journalism. I got her number from one of the veterans of journalism in Nigeria.

I called her and explained my mission, and she asked me to visit her office at Citizens Communication in Kaduna, which I did a few days later.  On arrival at the office, Hajiya Bilkisu was busy doing an advocacy training for some youths. I waited briefly, and we started the interview.

This encounter says a lot about her personality. Instead of conducting the interview in an office, we sat on a mat in the premises of Citizens Communications.  While the interview was going on, her attention was partly on those youths who came for her mentoring in civil society activities.

As we finished the interview, I asked her whether she planned to return to journalism on full-time basis, or even establish a new media outfit. “I will only start a newspaper if there is two billion naira available,” she said. “I have to be sure I can pay salaries for one to two years even if we don’t make profit, otherwise, I will not get involved. I knew our experience in Citizens magazine,” she concluded as I packed my bag and said goodbye to her.

The opportunity to meet her once again came in 2011. I was planning to go on holiday, when my senior colleague and the current editor of the Hausa Service, Dr Mansur Liman, asked me to write a proposal to the BBC World Service Trust, now called BBC Media Action, for a grant to conduct some debates on World Press Freedom Day in Nigeria. 

I drafted the proposal, submitted it and left for the holiday. On my return, Mansur told me that my proposal was successful and had been expanded to cover aspects of the 2011 elections. Our then editor, Mrs Jamilah Tangaza, was to conduct the political debates in Kano during the election period, which she did at Mambayya House, while I was to organize the debate on World Press Freedom day in Abuja later.

I organized three different debates at the Shehu Musa Yar’Adua Centre on three different topics, press freedom, media accountability, and the use of media for poverty alleviation.

On the first segment of the debate, I contacted Hajiya Bilkisu Yusuf in order to serve as a panelist alongside Malam Muhammad Haruna, former Managing Director of New Nigerian Newspapers, Hon. Musa Sarkin Ader of the House of Representatives and Dr Abubakar Alhassan of Bayero University, Kano. Once more she was at her best. Hajiya Bilkisu seized the opportunity to analyze the failure of leadership in Nigeria, and as usual encouraged women to actively engage in the media.

The fourth time I met Hajiya Bilkisu was in January 2014 at King Fahad Palace Hotel in Dakar, Senegal. It was during a stakeholders’ meeting of the Islamic Development Bank (IDB) for its member countries in sub-Saharan Africa. The bank was working on producing a 10-year strategic framework, and also to assess its 40 years as a development institution. Hajiya Bilkisu has been active stakeholder of the NGO section of the IDB, and was also invited to participate in the meeting, which as usual she did with every commitment. 

The last time I saw her was in Jeddah at the IDB headquarters, we only exchanged quick greetings as she was busy with her meetings, and that was it.

In the five times that I met her, what you could never miss was her simplicity, dedication, and most importantly, she never lost her essence as a woman and a mother. May Allah (SWT) forgive her shortcomings, grant her eternal peace, and protect those she left behind with His guidance.  

23rd Dhul Hijja, 1436
6th October, 2015

Thursday, 13 August 2015

(108): The Legacy of Shaykh, Dr Aminuddeen Abubakar (II)

Praying in accordance with the Sunnah

When Shaykh Nasiruddeen Albani wrote one of his scholarly classics, Sifatu Salaatinnabiy, minattakbiri, ilattaslimi, ka’annaka tarahaa, (The Prayer of the Prophet From the Beginning to the End as Though You Saw It), Shaykh Aminuddeen was the first Islamic scholar to bring it to Nigeria. He sent a copy to a number of scholars within the country. But he didn’t stop there, he included it among the books he taught his students, and he did it practically.

Those who visit Daawah Group at the time would have witnessed how he dedicated his energy during each prayer, ensuring that every aspect of Prophet Muhammad’s (peace be upon him) command; Sallu kamaa ra’aitumuniy usalli (pray as you have seen me praying), are adhered to. He would walk from the beginning of the row to the end, sometimes using his hands to ensure that people were standing shoulder to shoulder, feet by feet, and admonish everyone to pray with full concentration. During one of his visits for Hajj (pilgrimage), it was in the 1990s, he performed the pilgrimage with some of the leading students of Shaykh Albani.

On his return to Nigeria, he delivered a Friday Khutbah on how he saw the students of Shaykh Albani were praying, practicing the Sunnah (tradition of Prophet Muhammad, pbuh), step by step as Shaykh Albani taught them. For months, after that Khutbah, he intensified his effort on daily basis, taking as much time as he could, during each prayer, until everyone on the row stands in a proper manner. He sometimes use humour to ensure that the message gets across. “When you stand for prayer, your legs must be straight like figure eleven, if your feet resembles figure seven, then you are not standing correctly”, he would normally say, an example that attracts a smile from the congregation.

It reached a point in the 1980s, when people would travel from Wudil and other Local Governments in Kano in order to pray the Fajr prayer at Daawah mosque, and participate in learning Almaathurat, a book of remembrance of Allah (SWT).  During the rest of the daily prayers, the mosque was so full, that on a number of occasions, a traffic warden from the Nigeria police, would have to direct the traffic due to the number of people attending regular prayers. This was how lively the centre was.

Women education

An exceptional legacy of Shaykh Aminuddeen was his contribution to the education of women. Although his emphasis was on religious education, he encouraged people to enrol their daughters and wives in the conventional Western schools. The women section which runs for five days from Saturday to Wednesday in the evenings, between Asr and Maghrib was a revolutionary contribution.

Those familiar with Hausa society knew how women were left in a perpetual state of ignorance. With the exception of few, it was common to find an Islamic scholar whose wife and even daughters were as ignorant as the ordinary women in the society. Educating women, despite clear example in the Islamic tradition of  brave and highly knowledgeable women  such as Khadija bint Khuwailid, Aisha bint Abibakr, Hafsa bint Umar, Fatimah bint Muhammad (pbuh) may Allah be pleased with them,  Nusayba bint Ka’ab Al-Ansariyya, Khawla bint Al’Azwar, Rabi’a Al Adawiyya, Zainab bint Ali, Umm Habiba, Rubiyya bint Mu’awwidth, , and in more recent history Asma bint Fodio and her grandmother Ruqayya, the mother of Shyakh Uthman ibn Fodio, yet the education of women in Hausa society took back stage. For more on women scholars in the history of Islam, refer to the book AlMuhaddithat: The Women Scholars in Islam by Muhammad Akram Nadwi.  

Therefore by encouraging women education, and establishing the first organised school for women in Kano, Shaykh Aminuddeen was taking a huge risk. But it was one worth taking, as no serious society could afford to exclude the primary source of socialisation in a state of ignorance. Although, people signified a lot of interest in educating their wives and daughters, Shaykh Aminuddeen introduced official buses for women only, transporting students from different parts of Kano to the school. One of them carries students from the inner city, another one covering eastern part of Kano such as ‘Yankaba, Dakata and Sauna, while another one covers different areas in  Nassarawa such as Bompai, Gawuna, Brigade, etc.

As an example of the level of resistance to women pursuing religious Islamic education at the time, let me highlight one example. Around 1985, my father enrolled my mother (May Allah bless both of them and increase them in health and purposeful life) in the women school. To benefit from the Qur’anic school, my father registered me in the children section in the evening, making me partake in both the evening and night classes. On numerous occasions when my father was at work, we join the bus to go to the school. On our way, sometimes children would be throwing stones at the bus, expressing anger at women wearing hijab or furthering Islamic education. I was a small kid, and so will only watch as the driver patiently drives his way out. The irony was that these children were either playing football or just wasting away time on the streets, while we were on our way to school.

Even some Islamic scholars, were vehemently against women furthering their education, and Shaykh Aminuddeen had to bear the pressure of their criticism. Some members of the society troop to the late Emir of Kano, Alhaji Ado Bayero to express their displeasure. To the credit of late emir, a prominent member of the Kano Emirate Council, Alhaji Babba dan agundi became a regular member of Daawah Group. He visits the centre and listen to the studies between Maghrib and Ishaa. He sometimes even visit our classes at the night school for children.

The women school was highly organised. He introduced a uniform, blue in colour, consisting of hijab, long gown and trouser for all students, making them look equal. The classes were organised according to the level of proficiency in Arabic and other aspects of Islamic education. Books from Al-Arabiyyatul Jadida fiy Nijeria, also known as Bari da Biba, Khulasatu Nurul Yakin, Arba’una hadith (40 collection of the sayings of Prophet Muhammad, pbuh) by Imam Annawi and Qur’an Juz amma, Tabaraka, upward, were taught at the school. Other subjects taught include Imla’, Insha’ and Nasheeda among others.

Teachers of the school at the time include Shaykh Aminuddeen himself, Dr Ahmad Ibrahim Bomba, Shaykh Yahya Tanko, Shaykh Nouh Musa Nouh, Shaykh Muhammad Sanusi Abubakr, Shaykh Musa Ibrahim Abdurrahman, Shaykh Murtadha Umar, Shaykh Tahir Suriy, Shaykh Mustapha Miga, Shaykh Muhammad Ghali Musa, Shaykh Baita Muhammad, Dr Qasim, Shaykh Idris Donga and my father. Some of these scholars were also teaching in the male adult classes as well as the children section.

In the early 1990s, he established Daawah Comprehensive Secondary School for women and girls. Upon completion, the school offers Senior Arabic and Islamic Studies Certificate which enables students to pursue higher education in tertiary institutions.  An advantage offered by the school was opening the window for the women who attended the evening classes, to join the secondary school, paving the way for them to pursue higher level of education without limit. Products of this school have successfully completed degrees in Nigerian universities and abroad.

Some of the women who attended some of the schools established by Dr Aminuddeen have excelled in various fields in both Islamic and Western education, with some of them holding professorial chairs in some universities in Nigeria.

Today, the education of women has become a norm rather than an aberration in northern Nigeria, despite the pocket of resistance that remains from some groups.

To be continued insha Allah.

02:48 am



Saturday, 8 August 2015

(107): The Legacy of Shaykh, Dr Aminuddeen Abubakr (I)

Sometime in 1983, my mother broke the news to me that henceforth, I will be joining my father to attend Friday prayers at the Bayero University old campus mosque, where my father regularly prays. It was an excellent news for a little kid. Apart from attending prayers, it was an opportunity to go out, and as you know, when you go out with your dad, you get a treat, and I still remember those days with nostalgia.

On arrival at the mosque, sitting by the side of my father, we listened to the sermon delivered by Imam Abbas. But even as a kid, I noticed a man sitting slightly ahead of the first row, listening attentively to the sermon, you can’t miss his exceptional devotion from the way he sat. Immediately after the prayers, this gentleman stood, and after some introduction in Arabic, he started translating the Khutbah (sermon) in Hausa, our native language. Instead of people leaving the mosque shortly after the prayers, they started moving forward, those outside the mosque where trying to find a space inside in order to listen to the translation of the Khutbah. The man was dressed in a long gown, an ash coloured jallabiyya, and a cap  made from wool, also an ash colour with some black stripes.

I asked my father, who is this gentleman?  He said this is Shaykh Aminuddeen Abubakar. He was looking youthful, most likely in his mid or late thirties at the time. Then comes another good news. “We will pray Asr, (the late afternoon prayer) in his mosque”, my father told me. It means we will stay some more hours before returning home.  After listening to the translation of the sermon, we came out of the old campus mosque; there was a convoy of cars, one of them an SUV with public address system on top. The translation of the sermon was played, and the convoy started moving, which we also joined, and move straight to No 483, Sulaiman Crescent in Nassarawa quarters, Kano metropolis.

Again I asked my father, to tell me more about this place, and he said, this is Da'awah Group of Nigeria founded by Shaykh Aminuddeen Abubakar. Inside the compound was a newly built school, a mosque made from wood, painted in blue, but made bright by the number of fluorescents in and outside. Some feet away from the mosque was a construction site, which later became the current mosque within the vicinity of the centre, some classes as well as the office of the Shaykh.

We prayed Asr in the mosque shortly after Shaykh Aminuddeen arrived from Bayero University. He attended to a number of students and visitors afterwards before entering his house briefly, to be ready for the Magrib (night prayer), where he also deliver different lessons on daily basis in between the Maghrib and Isha (late night) prayers. After spending the entire evening at the centre, my father broke another news to me, "a new Islamic school has started here at night, and you would be enrolled in the night classes", he said. I still remember with ecstasy when my father took me to Shaykh Muhammad Sanusi Abubakr, the brother and one of the closest associates of the Shaykh, to interview and register me for the classes.

The founding of Daawah Group of Nigeria was in my opinion one of the major legacies left by Shaykh Aminuddeen Abubakr for a number of reasons. First, it was the first modern religious organization of its type established in Kano, and one of the first in northern Nigeria with a completely different approach to Islamic education.

Da'awah Group was a major religious centre with a global worldview, but rooted within the local culture. Shaykh Aminuddeen Abubakr has established strong partnership with international organisations particularly in the Middle East and other parts of the world. As such, the centre was a major hub for international visitors from Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Sudan, Jordan, Syria, United States, United Kingdom, Morocco, Algeria and different parts of the world.

Whenever these visitors came, he seized the opportunity either to ask them to deliver the Friday Khutbah (sermon) or dedicate to them one of the slots during the lessons he delivers between Maghrib and Ishaa. This culture established by the Shaykh contributed significantly in creating a worldview among the visitors, which made them understood global issues, and learn how Muslims live in other parts of the world, as well as the challenges they were facing.

This culture provided an opportunity for comparison between various Muslim nations and what obtains in Nigeria. I can still recall the visit by Shaykh Babandi Abubakar Gumel in the early 1990s, who took his time to lead a delegation of Muslim reverts to Nigeria, and they camped at the Daawah Mosque sharing their experiences on how they came in contact with Islam, and why they devote their time to the propagation of Islam.

Secondly, Daawah Group was unique because of the chain of schools established by Dr Aminuddeen Abubakar. The schools include a modern primary school which combines both Islamic and Western education. In the evening there was a school for married women which I shall elaborate on later. The school for women runs simultaneously with a section for children learning the memorization of the Glorious Qur’an. The children school was a perfect fit, because the women do not have to worry about their children, as the section takes care of the kids, with an added value, which is learning the Qur’an. At night there was the school for children which runs for four nights at the time, and the remaining three nights dedicated to male adults. These chain of schools completely revolutionized the running of Islamic schools in Kano, a feat that continue to be replicated to date in Kano and other parts of Nigeria.

Thirdly, Da'awah Group was unique with the daily lessons between Magrib and Isha delivered by Dr Aminuddeen. This contribution was unique because he brought for the first time a different methodology of teaching which was different from the traditional system of Makarantun Zaure. Under makarantun Zaure, as I witnessed with my late grandfather, Malam Yusuf Abdurra’uf, a group of students will visit the scholar, each of them with his book(s), usually, Taalimul Muta'allim, Al Akhdari, Al-Izziyya, Arrisala and Mukhtsar Khalil. There were other books  like Aajurumiyya, Muwatta Malik and Tafsir Al Jalaalain, as well as the Sihah Assitta for more advanced students. This system treat each student according to his learning ability. The scholar listens to each student while reading from the text, and then translates and provide interpretation in Hausa.

It was a unique system that has value till date, because apart from the textual lessons, the students learn from the character of the scholar, listening to more advanced students and becoming more familiar with advanced texts before reaching that level. The student also has a more learned authority to make reference to whenever the need arises. It is a system that the Muslim community should pay significant attention to its revival, especially in this age when people accord to themselves the status of scholars without going through tarbiyya that is associated with learning from pious scholars.  

What Dr Aminuddeen Abubakar did was to add a spice to the traditional system of makarantun zaure by encouraging the learning of Arabic as a language, at least ensuring that students have an excellent reading and writing proficiency. Then he transformed the Da'awah mosque to provide multipurpose function by serving as a mosque and library.

The first thing a visitor will notice in the 1980s and 1990s when he enters the mosque, which differentiates it from many mosques, was that it was covered by bookshelves. The bookshelves contain abundant copies of books from the Sihah al-Sitta (Bukhari, Muslim, Tirmidhy, Abu Dawood, Ibn Maja, Nasaa’iyy, and Sunan Ahmad), Riyad Assalihin, Kitaab Al Kabaa’ir, Fath Al Majid, Bulugh Al-Maram and several books of Tasfsir (Quranic exegesis) and Dhikr (remembrance of Allah).

He ensured that enough copies were made available. Between Maghrib and Isha he teaches one book only from the collection stated, and each student attending the lesson has a copy available for use. A student does not have to worry about purchasing a copy, especially those who cannot afford to do so. For those with strong thirst for knowledge, they can utilize the time after prayers to revise the lessons and even read from other books. At any time, the mosque was a reference point.
This system that he established contributed greatly in producing a lot of youths with a sound understanding of Islam, some of whom later developed to study in higher institutions of learning in Nigeria and others in universities in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Sudan, Pakistan and Niger among others. In those days, we have witnessed people who embraced Islam in Daawah Group, or came to the centre with a very weak foundation, yet develop sound understanding of Arabic and other religious texts, which enables them secure admission into secondary and post-secondary institutions in Nigeria and abroad in order to advance their studies.

To be continued insha Allah.

03:22 am



Thursday, 7 May 2015

(106): The Story of Sarwar Khan Awan

To many of my readers the name Sarwar Khan Awan sounds unfamiliar, with the exception of few who either lived or studied in the city of Sheffield, United Kingdom. Mr Sarwar Khan Awan was a community leader, philanthropist, activist, a bridge builder and a fearless voice for the Muslim community of Sheffield. Those who disagreed with him do so because of his bluntness and the ability to tell the truth no matter who is involved, whether his family members, neighbors, authorities or the community he was serving.

Mr Khan Awan popularly called Abu Abrar, was a British Pakistani Muslim who came to the United Kingdom in the late 1950s and lived his entire life there until Allah (SWT), in His infinite mercy took him at 10:15 am yesterday (5th May 2015), most likely in his mid-eighties.

I met Abu Abrar 11 years ago when I went to Sheffield to begin my postgraduate studies. As it was then, and I doubt if anything has changed, getting a family accommodation was extremely difficult, and the University of Sheffield gave me a temporary accommodation for one week, and asked me to find a place within that period, as the university hostels and family accommodations were full.

While searching for the accommodation I met two fellow Nigerians, Dr Aminu Bello Kasarawa, and Mr Yusuf Abiodun, both of them postgraduate students at the University, and they advised me to look around shopping centres as landlords normally display their phone numbers and advertise family accommodation for students, so if I am lucky I might get one. Their advise was useful. On a Friday morning in the third week of September 2004 while walking on Western Bank I came to one shop called Summerfield, and right there on display were various advertisements for family accommodation. One of the names displayed was that of one Mr Awan, and I called him immediately.

“So you are a new student, ok, come and see me after Friday prayers” he said, and I was so delighted that after several calls to various landlords, and visits to different parts of Sheffield, including the City Council, I finally found someone who might offer something.

After the prayers I went to his house which was about 5 mins walk from the mosque, I rang the bell, and shortly an elderly man came out. He looks serious, but friendly. “Young man what sort of accommodation are you looking for?” he said. “I am here with my family, so I am looking for one or two bedroom accommodation as I have to leave the temporary accommodation tomorrow by 11 am, because the room has been allocated to another student who is expected to arrive at 12:30 pm according to the letter written to me by the Accommodation and Campus services of the university”.

“Your situation is serious, I have a two bedroom accommodation, but it is being refurbished, so it will not be ready tomorrow, there are two students also from Kuwait and Saudi Arabia who would be the first to come for viewing”, he added. My hope was dashed. “Alright, go to the Islamic Centre where we prayed Jumu’a, tell the Imam that he should find something for you immediately, said Mr Awan. “Who should I tell him sent me?” I asked, “tell him, Abu Abrar”.

I went to the Centre and waited for Asr Prayer, immediately after that I Walked towards the Imam, Dr Ahmad Sabik, one the most people oriented community leaders I have ever met. I narrated my story to him, and said Abu Abrar asked me to contact you. “Masmul Akh-what is the name of the brother?, he asked “Jameel, I answered”, “Irji’ ba’ada salatul Maghrib wa khudhil mafaatiyh-come back after Magrib prayer and collect the keys” was all he said in Arabic, and I gave way for other people who came to see him as well.

I left the centre, wondering whether what I was witnessing was true, the level of community cohesion  and the desire to assist those in need especially students was something that remains green in my memory till date, courtesy of the action of late Sarwar Khan Awan. I returned to the Centre after Magrib prayer, the keys were ready. The Islamic Centre has purchased a house with various apartments which they rent to students at a discounted rate. In return, the revenue generated serves as part of the income for running the centre. Dr Sabik told me I can use the apartment for two weeks, free, but I should try and find another one as it has been allocated to another student who would come in a fortnight’s time. Before my tenancy expired, Abu Abrar told me that his house was ready, the two students were not ready to take it, and so if I still want it, we can sign a contract.

That was how we became friends with him, and came to know more about the struggles that he led in support of the weak in the society. He told me that in the 1960s he led the struggle against companies discriminating against foreigners by denying them employment, he was also one of the organisers of Malcom X’s visit to the UK. Every Ramadhan Mr Khan Awan will contribute in talking to the neighbors about the needs of the Muslim community, and together with the management of the centre, took necessary measures to respect the needs of the neighbors. Finding packing space was a major hurdle for Muslims coming for the Tarawiyh prayer, he was among those who negotiated with the Church in the neighborhood to provide its parking space for the Muslim community to use in Ramadhan.

Beyond that, a major lesson about his life was that he owns many houses in Sheffield. As he once told me, whatever is generated from the rent, he donates it to a hospital in Pakistan to support the poor and the needy who couldn’t afford to pay their bills. He would be angry if for any reason I did not come to his house during Eid to share a meal with his entire family. Whenever there is a charity fund raising to support orphans, or construct boreholes in developing countries, he would contribute. In recognition of his service, Sheffield Hallam University awarded him an honourary doctorate degree few years back.

Despite being a very serious minded person, he can also be jovial on occasions, sometimes a risky one, as I witnessed one day when he jokingly asked Prince Naseem, the former British boxing champion, who normally prays at the centre, whether he was ready for a fight.

My sincere condolences to his family, the people of Sheffield and the Muslim community at large. May Allah forgive his shortcomings and grant him Jannatul Firdaus.  Amin.


Thursday, 2 April 2015

(105): We thought this day will not come

At a point even General Muhammadu Buhari (GMB), the President-elect of Nigeria, thought that March 28th 2015 will never come. As he said in April 2011, “this campaign is the third and last one for me; since, after it, I will not present myself again for election into office of the president.”, said the General, at the International Conference Centre Abuja. The mood of the Centre was overtaken by emotions, tears being shed, including an unlikely one from General Buhari, politicians like Malam Nasir El-Rufai and Chief Tunde Bakare were overtaken by a sober reflection of those words. 

Unknown to many people, those words actually marked the beginning of the success of the struggle. After the declaration of the results by INEC, a caller from the United States made an appeal in the BBC Hausa’s flagship programme Ra’ayi Riga (have your say), aired every Friday in the evening edition of the programme, pleading with General Buhari never to give up in the struggle to liberate Nigeria; the caller said, the presence of Buhari in politics has already made the difference, and without people like him in politics, it will be difficult for many of our elites to understand that managing the resources of a nation is a call to national duty, not an opportunity to plunder the resources of the nation.

To many of us, the youths, it wasn’t much about General Buhari not contesting, but who will step in to his shoes? Who is the candidate to develop such mass appeal with an impeccable record in public service? Someone who is courageous, fearless and determined, somebody whose mistakes you will certainly believe are made out of the sheer conviction in what he believes is right, rather than through dirty tricks, carefully conspired by our nocturnal politicians.

It wasn’t easy to find one. Those that may exist do not have the charisma and the captivating personality of General Buhari. The good news though was there were some candidates who could be developed for the future. Though not at par with Buhari, but certainly could make their marks if given the opportunity. Some of the names that came to mind were those of Malam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, then the Central Bank Governor of Nigeria, Malam Nasir El-Rufai, former FCT Minister, Chief Babatunde Fashola, the Governor of Lagos State, Malam Nuhu Ribadu, former EFCC chairman, Governors Adams Oshiomole, Rotimi Amaechi, Dr Kayode Fayemi, General AB Dambazau, former Army Chief and Governor Rabi’u Kwankwaso of Kano; all of them have their weaknesses but certainly they provide a glimpse of hope for the future.

Interestingly, with the exception of Malam Sanusi Lamido, now Emir Muhammad Sanusi II of Kano, the rest are still in active politics within the opposition APC, apart from Malam Nuhu Ribadu’s unexpected and unsteady political dilly dallying.  

A key contribution of GMB presidency is to mentor and prepare these kind of personalities for the highest office, at least to fill the psychological vacuum of potential Nigerian leaders, especially with the energy of the immediate and post-independent generation like General Buhari, and his contemporaries reaching a declining stage.

This was a serious topic of discussion especially for those of us living in the diaspora. Such discussions prompted me to write a short opinion piece on 19th April, 2012 entitled “Buhari and political mentorship” published the same week in the Daily Trust, and a couple of other news platforms.
An excerpt from the article suggests that “one of the political stories that dominated the pages of Nigerian newspapers in the last few days was the debate on whether General Muhammadu Buhari should contest the 2015 presidential election. Clearly public opinion was divided on the issue between those who support the idea of Buhari contesting again, and those who think the General should have some rest. I believe General Buhari will make the right decision at the right time. My personal opinion is that he shouldn’t contest, but if he does contest, he has my vote”.
I received a couple of responses, but two standout, one of them from an elder brother, and the other from an influential Nigerian. Both of them disagreed with me, and I saw their point, few weeks letter, this influential Nigerian told me that, “write it on paper, Buhari will contest the 2015 elections, no doubt it”. The rest is now history. 
It requires unquestionable determination, foresight, self-belief and unshaken resolve in doing what is right for GMB to spend twelve years in opposition. Even when President Obasanjo hinted that he might support Buhari to contest the presidential elections in 2007 under the platform of PDP, Buhari remained consistent and stayed in the opposition. Today he has come to political power in his own terms, propelled by the commitment of the Nigerian people to have a government of their choice.
As we celebrate the victory that eluded Nigeria for a long time, we shouldn’t forget the key lessons we can learn from the Buhari struggle. A little comparison from 2003-2015 could be helpful as summarized in the table below. I will make the comparison using 6 criteria, (1) National platform (2) campaign structure (3) funding (4) party politics (5) elite consensus (6) electoral umpire. I hope this could help us understand what is different between 2003, 2007, 2011 and 2015.

National Platform
·         A semi national platform under the ANPP. It has 9 governors out of 36, mainly in Northern Nigeria with some representation in the national assembly from other regions.
·         A weaker national platform under the ANPP with five governors from northern Nigeria only.
·         A regionally strong political party with appeal to the grassroots, CPC, but without an elected official all over Nigeria.
·         A strong national platform under APC spread across the regions of the country.
·         Significant number of elected representatives.
Campaign Structure
·         The Buhari Organisation (TBO).
·         Heavily regional and populated by non-political juggernauts, and some technocrats desperate for change.
·          Strong support from Nigerians in diaspora
·         Same as 2003
·         Same as 2003/2007
·         A strong campaign structure, highly representative of the country
·         Populated by active political actors with strong organizational ability
·         Poor funding, and lack of grass root initiative in raising funds for the campaign.
·         Innovative means of campaign collection using technology was relatively new or untested in the country.
·         Same as 2003
·         Same as 2003/2007
·         Weaker funding due to the party lacking elected officials
·         Strong funding from party officials, elected politicians
·         Grassroots fundraising and utilization of innovative technology for campaign donation
Party Politics
·         Dominated by the People’s Democratic Party
·         Heavily populated by anti-Buhari politicians
·         Not ready to give up political power transparently
·         Using religion to scare and dent the image of Buhari among Nigerians especially non-Muslims
·         Same as 2003
·         Same as 2003/2007

·         Fusion of opposition parties into a single formidable opposition known as the All Progressive Congress (APC
·         Divided ruling party with strong internal opposition
·         Stronger desire for an alternative political platform among Nigerians
·         Use of religion against Buhari ineffective among Nigerians
·         Energized youths with social media platform seeking for change in party politics
Elite Consensus
·         Lack of elite consensus on Buhari presidency
·         Same as 2003
·         Same as 2003/2007
·         Significant elite consensus
·         More favorable international climate
Electoral umpire
·         Highly partial electoral umpire
·         Same as 2003
·         Semi-independent electoral umpire
·         A more independent electoral umpire
·         Use of technology in elections

Buhari is lucky to come to office on a strong national platform with support and political sagacity of the likes of Chiefs Bola Ahmad Tinubu, Rotimi Amaechi, Bisi Akande, Malam Nasir El-Rufa’I etc. But Buhari is also unlucky to come to office at a time of declining oil prices, dilapidated infrastructure, damaged civil services required to move his programmes and policies, and a huge state of insecurity. The good news is, historical leaders who make the difference emerge in periods of crisis, and we hope and pray that General Buhari succeeds in becoming the brand Nigeria is yawning to get. Nigerians are watching and with Jeganisation, a process that uses technology to prevent electoral fraud, and peacefully bring change of government; the electorates will surely keep their Permanent Voter’s Card (PVC) somewhere safe, and God-willing they will pass their judgment sometime in 2019.

12th Jumada II, 1436,   1st April 2015         15:16