By Adagbo Onoja
There can be no surpassing the great book in putting it: there is a time to be born and a time to die. Bayero University, Kano’s Prof Dahiru Yahya is dead and gone to meet his ancestors. I owe him a tribute because I shared a great deal of conversation with him in the course of my four years of being an undergraduate in that university. Going to school as a mature student meant that I was unusually more concerned with clarifying many things I still hadn’t understood after many years of being a journalist and some unformed activist. So, I went to the Department of History to find out who was teaching the module: History of Political Ideas. That was the course that caught my attention when I scanned through the university brochure. It turned out to be Prof. Dahiru Yahya, someone I had heard his name vaguely from Dr. Ogbe Obande, another BUK lecturer who went on to become an ambassador. But I heard of Prof Yahya then in relation to ambition to be Vice-Chancellor of the university, not as anyone who would ever teach me. I wasn’t able to take his course eventually because it clashed with my main courses but we became friends thereafter. And he contributed to preparing me for the Political Ideas I was to encounter in Political Science itself in the second year in my main course – Political Science. It turned out to have been taught the best way imaginable anywhere else in the world. But my curiosity had already led me to Prof Yahya.
And the relationship was such that at his death last week, not a few called to inquire if I was writing a tribute. INGO scholar-practitioner, Dr. Husseini Abdu, actually recalled our going to his office at the Faculty of Arts and Islamic Studies, (FAIS) and discussing very familiarly. That was the case throughout with Prof Dahiru Yahya. It is difficult to remember anytime that he ever wasn’t ready to be held hostage. That was his own way of referring to my many questions to which he had to response. It was as if he found out that I wanted to know so many things at once. In that sense, he was different from Prof Ahmadu Jalingo, the other person who never taught me formally throughout the BUK years but gave me more stuff than the formal classes.
In Jalingo’s case, he was talking about things he was involved in – the Northern Elements Progressive Union, (NEPU) and trade unionism in Nigeria. It was from him, for instance, that I heard the phrase “trade union trader” which was their own generational metaphor for trade unionists who sold union interest for personal gains. It would be difficult to determine where he was stronger based on what he said on trade union struggle in their days and the NEPU, its dynamism and the Aminu Kano persona. I think the summary is that he knew too much about those issues and was willing to talk. The difference between the two is that Ahmadu Jalingo restricted himself to the domain of what he has called “the radical tradition in Northern Nigeria” while Prof Dahiru Yahaya was the typical Historian, a discipline he calls an imperialistic domain in the sense that History intrudes into every aspect of reality – social and natural.
There were just no restrictions to our conversations. It stretched from the Kano Emirate to the great religions, religion associated conflicts in Nigeria, the national question, the problems of the university system and the trouble with Nigeria, among those one can easily recall. One persistent topic was Kano’s volatility and why that was the case. On one occasion, one was telling him if things were not overflowing the boundaries. It was a question triggered by a protest march by El-zakzaky supporters in Kano. He would be all ears as if he had not heard there had been such a march. That must be before the June 12 elections and the coming of Abacha because no religious groups could hold the country to ransom during Abacha’s rule. But it was on that occasion that he asked if I saw any of the protesters with a bazooka. We laughed. He meant to say that I was reading too much to the protest in question. Generally, he didn’t see any threats from such episodic flashes. And Nigeria, he would say, is fine.
What of the Hausa-Fulani oligarchy? That even brought out more laughter in response. He didn’t see anything there too. What he sees are multiples of oligarchies, ranging from Hausa-Fulani; Yoruba-Fulani; Fulani-Igbo and so on. He had just married a wife of Igala origin. He told me his children from the woman would not be Hausa-Fulani oligarchy but Fulani-Igala oligarchy. In other words, he made intellectualised jokes of much of the issues, saying that the future was in mixing, in inter-marriage and multiculturalism. I saw a problem in that and pointed it out to him: Muslims do not marry off their daughters to Christians and perhaps Jews. So, how could there be meeting and mixing? He acknowledged that but said the problem is not with Islam but a Christian attitude. He locates the attitude in what he sees as the derisive view of Islam by Christians. He was not sure but he thought that might have to do with Christianity coming before Islam. Arising from the perceived Christian disdain, Christians are not, in his view, likely to protect a Muslim woman under his care as against a guarantee of that by a Muslim husband of a Christian woman. It sounded plausible but I asked how it happens that most Christian women who married Muslim men end up becoming Muslims. That, he said, happens because when a woman is with a man and a setting she loves, anything can happen.
At last, he agreed to be interviewed and in which he articulated his lines of reasoning. Unfortunately, like most of my documents, I cannot access a copy of the TSM, (The Sunday Magazine) in which the interview was reported. The interesting thing, however, is a reader, Gen IBM Haruna, found the interview useful and quoted a good portion of it in a paper he presented at one of the seminars ran by the Prof Isawa Elaigwu led National Council on Intergovernmental Relations, (NCIR) and which we quote below from the January 17th, 1993, (P. 19) edition of the magazine. It goes like this:
Considering the degree of unity we have achieved in so short a period, (since 1914) and given that countries are supposed to live for years, I don’t see a break-up. Break up? There are some geo-strategic problems. Most of the minorities and majority ethnic groups are landlocked or culture locked or both. The Hausa-Fulani and the Ibos are landlocked. The Northern minorities are culture and landlocked. There has been heavy cultural infiltration from the North into these areas from which they can’t run away perhaps because they neither fit neatly into the South and the cultural pattern there. The Yorubas and the Southern majorities are not land or culture locked but will Nigerians allow them go with the loot? In any case, what sort of nation are you forming? How do you fit a militant Igbira Muslim in that nation in which the other members would be Idoma, Tiv or how are you going to put Igbos with Southern minorities? Nigeria can’t break up because the break up won’t be into two or three neat arrangements. It will be into over 200 new nations, none of which will survive in the competition both within and in the international environment.
While the first quotation was obviously his answer to the question of the fear of Nigeria breaking up, the second quotation below is his answer to whether he would support deliberate ethnic integration policies and to which he replied:
None is necessary, it’s not a question of conscious policy. Allow people to mix, give him land and who comes around, allow him to marry a wife, encourage the ‘outsider’ to settle and live. The greater the urbanisation, the quicker the integration! Kano, for example, what we have is that a typical Kano man is actually a Fulani, a Nupe, Yoruba, Igbo, Igbira or so. So, the greater the urbanisation, the faster the decline of ethnic and other particularities diminish. Ethnic groups will survive but not ethnicity. So, the Idoma elites may shout, “I am Idoma” but nothing beyond that can be mobilised.
Gen IBM Haruna’s paper from which these quotations from Prof Dahiru Yahya’s interview in TSM were extracted is published in the book Federalism and Nation Building in Nigeria: The Challenge of the 21st Century, edited by Isawa Elaigwu, P.C Logams and H.Galadima and published in 1994.
The point in recollecting some of these details is to show the state of the campus even as late as the early 1990s. Although I had been a journalist before becoming an undergraduate, my status was basically just another undergraduate. And there was I, interrogating an established professor of History. And the conversations went on for about three years. Of course, there are still level headed senior academics across the campuses, the overarching atmosphere today means that it would be very rare to find this sort of conversation going on in many campuses today. I have already mentioned Prof Ahmadu Jalingo. To Jalingo and Dahiru Yahaya could be added the late Prof Nur Alkali and Prof Kyari Tijani. Even Prof Jubril Aminu can be added to the list. He was about the only Ambassador who called back if you called him and he did not pick. That was when one went on to serve as an aide to Sule Lamido as Foreign Affairs Minister. Jubril Aminu would call back and hold a long session, very much beyond the original point of the call. May be that is what diplomacy is all about but he knew me very well, could reasonably guess the vast age difference between the two of us and was an image-breaker in terms of Nigerian diplomats to DC. Above all, he was one of the three ambassadors that were Obasanjo’s personal nominees for the missions they were posted and had good access to Obasanjo as to decide that a call from an aide of the Minister is of no consequence. But he didn’t do that.
The plausible inference is that it is a generational thing. Prof Dandatti Abdulkadir had moved on from Vice-Chancellor of Bayero University, Kano to being Nigeria’s Ambassador to Libya where he cultivated a great relationship with Muammar Gaddaffi. That was before Obasanjo’s return to power and the emergence of Sule Lamido as Foreign Affairs Minister and myself as an aide. One day, Lamido, all his aides and the Ambassador were in a lift when the Ambassador openly commended the minister for being able to pick a set of fantastic aides, pointing at me as his former student. It is true I was his student but it is another thing for one’s former Vice-Chancellor to pass such a magnificent vote of confidence before one’s boss. In other climes, that would be like an open cheque. But that’s not all. I was only to come to know Ambassador Arthur Mbanefo, the Permanent Representative of Nigeria to the United Nations under Obasanjo during a trip to Japan in 2000. Seeing him in body and soul, I thought to myself: this is the person who did not make Apa State possible under Abacha and I told him so, almost in a manner of: “Your Excellency, why na?” The next thing he invited me to his hotel room to say a few things about that drama. Apa State failure had nothing to do with him. I am not sure that is the kind of response one would get from many of the insecure elements exercising power across Nigeria today and which is why the country is imperiled. That is to say that there is a generational message in Prof Dahiru Yahya, a contention I would think I have demonstrated in the examples cited up here.
In life, he got caught up in a number of controversies. That is typical of scholar practitioners but one question remains germane. Why did he not make it to Vice-Chancellorship of Bayero University, Kano for which he contested about five times? Could that be because he was suspected to be of the Shiite? But in his February 28th, 2016 submission to the Justice Mohammed Lawal Garba Commission of Inquiry on the military’s clash with El-zakzaky, he categorically denied belonging to any religious sect as such beyond being a scholar of Islamic movements, a specialisation that he said had taken him to many areas of religious and political conflicts and revolutions in the world, including Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Bosnia and South Africa, aside from being a consultant on National security to Babangida. His additional explanation is that “There is an element of truth in all religions and sects, big or small. There are spiritual journeys in all faiths, long or short”. His submission was full of devastating attacks on President Muhammadu Buhari over the issue as well as the subsequent submission that Boko Haram is Salafism on display from which Shiites were saving people.
His second major controversy is his Chairmanship of the Governing Board of Kaduna Polytechnic, the details of which have blurred now. Nothing in these controversies contests the claim of this piece when he is compared to other intellectuals who got opportunity to serve the Nigerian State. May his soul rest in peace and may there be someone who will preserve and benefit from his rich personal library!