A close friend for 40 years

Weekly Trust - - Tribute - By Mah­mud Jega

Writ­ing a trib­ute to a re­cently de­parted fam­ily mem­ber, col­league or close per­sonal friend is one of the most dis­tress­ing ex­pe­ri­ences in the writ­ing busi­ness. Less than a month ago I paid trib­ute to Inuwa Ab­dulka­dir, a stu­dent­turned-close friend for 35 years. Today I must pay trib­ute to Dr. Ab­dur­rah­man Umar, class­mate, com­rade in the days when we were ar­dent left wingers, my in­tel­lec­tual ref­er­ence point and very close per­sonal and fam­ily friend for 40 years. He died in Abuja on Tues­day last week, July 21, af­ter a brief ill­ness.

I first met Ab­dur­rah­man Umar in 1979 in our Part One class at the then Univer­sity of Sokoto, now called UDUS. I had done my pre-de­gree course there while he ar­rived, with many other mates, from the North East Col­lege of Arts of Sci­ence [NECAS], Maiduguri. He was from Gombi in Adamawa State, which struck a chord with me be­cause I was born in Mubi, also in Adamawa State. Though he was in the Fac­ulty of Ed­u­ca­tion [with English as his teach­ing sub­ject] and I was in the Fac­ulty of Sci­ence, we soon be­came very close be­cause the stu­dent pop­u­la­tion was small and ev­ery­one knew ev­ery­one else.

I could see from day one that Ab­dur­rah­man had a very sharp mind and was very widely read. Con­vers­ing with him on any lo­cal, na­tional or in­ter­na­tional is­sue, he dis­played easy fa­mil­iar­ity with the sub­ject and al­ways of­fered a deep in­sight. I soon heard from his Ed­u­ca­tion class­mates that he was the top stu­dent in class. One day I over­heard one Ed­u­ca­tion stu­dent telling an­other that he did not know who was Ab­dur­rah­man. So the other stu­dent said, “Just wait. On the day of our con­vo­ca­tion, look out for the per­son who will be called out to col­lect all the prizes.” Sure enough, Ab­dur­rah­man was the only one who bagged a First Class in his fac­ulty, and one of only three First Class stu­dents in our grad­u­at­ing year, 1982.

We found an­other com­mon ground in po­lit­i­cal rad­i­cal­ism. We were mem­bers of the un­der­ground So­cial­ist move­ment. Again, Ab­dur­rah­man was so far ahead of the rest of us in his study of Marx­ist-Lenin­ist lit­er­a­ture that we dubbed him “Suslov,” chief ide­o­logue of the Soviet Com­mu­nist Party at the time. Dur­ing our NYSC, he twice left his sta­tion in Benue State to visit me in Anam­bra State.

Im­me­di­ately af­ter the ser­vice, we came to­gether again as Grad­u­ate As­sis­tants at Unisok. The univer­sity lodged us in the same guest house, to­gether with Bashir Ladan Aliero, cur­rent VC of Kebbi State Univer­sity. As bach­e­lors the three of us main­tained one cook­ing pot. Our house was noisy, with a string of com­rades vis­it­ing and ar­gu­ing ide­o­log­i­cal and po­lit­i­cal is­sues. That was when I no­ticed that Ab­dur­rah­man some­times created pri­vate mo­ments for him­self by going out of the house, then sneak­ing back in, lock­ing him­self in his room and read­ing.

He was madly in love with Bilk­isu, then a

Un­i­maid stu­dent, over whom he end­lessly fan­tasied. I per­son­ally thought she was not in­ter­ested be­cause she used to send brief replies to his let­ters. One Satur­day, Ab­dur­rah­man ad­min­is­tered a test to a large Gen­eral Stud­ies class. I no­ticed that he tried to hide the ques­tion pa­per from me so I sneaked in, got hold of the ques­tion pa­per and saw what he was hid­ing. The first ques­tion asked stu­dents to re­ar­range cer­tain names as they would ap­pear in a tele­phone di­rec­tory. Each stu­dent re­turned “ABBA, Bilk­isu” [his beloved fi­ancée] as the first name. Any­way, she was his wife for 34 years un­til he passed away.

Be­cause he bagged a First Class, he was au­to­mat­i­cally en­ti­tled to a Fed­eral Gov­ern­ment schol­ar­ship. It was eas­ier said than done. In 1984 he spent one month plod­ding up and down the Fed­eral Min­istry of Ed­u­ca­tion of­fices in La­gos, be­fore he was fi­nally helped out by the Co­or­di­nat­ing Di­rec­tor, Malam Ya­haya Hamza.

Ab­dur­rah­man then went to Univer­sity Col­lege of Wales, Aberys­t­wyth in the UK, where he bagged an M. Ed in Ed­u­ca­tional Tech­nol­ogy in 1985 and a PhD in 1988.

He re­sumed teach­ing at UDUS in 1988, where we re­sumed our very close per­sonal and ide­o­log­i­cal friend­ship.In fact we stayed in the same house for a year in the late 1980s, with his young wife. Apart from So­cial­ist com­rades, Ab­dur­rah­man was also very close to his col­leagues in the Ed­u­ca­tion Fac­ulty, es­pe­cially his towns­man Prof Gi­dado Tahir, Prof Mo­hammed Ju­naidu, Prof Mo­hammed Dukku and Prof Mo­hammed Jagaba. They were all united by hard work and in­tense love for their sub­ject. In fact, we used to tell Ab­dur­rah­man to slow down on his ob­ses­sion with re­search and pub­li­ca­tions and not to toe the line of the very in­tense Prof Tahir, who ap­peared to have lit­tle in­ter­est out­side re­search pa­pers.

Luck­ily, he did not lis­ten to our ad­mo­ni­tion be­cause his 2015 CV showed that he had three books, 34 pub­li­ca­tions in learned jour­nals and an­other 10 pa­pers wait­ing for pub­li­ca­tion. He was al­ready an author­ity on teacher ed­u­ca­tion, pas­toral ed­u­ca­tion, ed­u­ca­tional tech­nol­ogy, cur­ricu­lum de­vel­op­ment and dis­tance learn­ing. He was also vis­it­ing lec­turer, ex­ter­nal ex­am­iner, M.A and Ph D su­per­vi­sor, jour­nal Ed­i­tor in Chief and mem­ber of 59 ex­pert com­mit­tees on ed­u­ca­tion, vis­i­ta­tion pan­els and other na­tional and in­ter­na­tional com­mit­tees. His death re­minded me of what Cheikh Anta Diop once said, “A $1mil­lion li­brary has been set ablaze!”

In 1994, Ab­dur­rah­man be­came Spe­cial As­sis­tant to Min­is­ter of State for Ed­u­ca­tion Al­haji Wada Nas. It was ac­ci­den­tal; Min­is­ter of Ed­u­ca­tion Dr. Iorchia Ayu has asked Dr. Yusuf Bala Us­man to fish out for him an ed­u­ca­tion­ist of the rad­i­cal school to be his as­sis­tant. When Al­haji Wada saw the CV, he begged Ayu to do­nate Ab­dur­rah­man to him. He fol­lowed Wada Nas to Min­istry of Spe­cial Du­ties and from there went to Na­tional Com­mis­sion for No­madic Ed­u­ca­tion in 1997 as Di­rec­tor of Pro­gramme De­vel­op­ment & Ex­ten­sion. In 2001 he moved to Na­tional Teach­ers In­sti­tute, Kaduna as Di­rec­tor ofA­ca­demic Ser­vices re­spon­si­ble for Pro­gramme De­sign and De­vel­op­ment, Re­search and Train­ing, or­ga­niz­ing

na­tional ex­am­i­na­tions and Qual­ity As­sur­ance. I was in Kaduna all those years and Ab­dur­rah­man was a reg­u­lar vis­i­tor to my of­fice as Ed­i­tor of New Nige­rian and to my house. I also reg­u­larly vis­ited his of­fice and house. From our end­less dis­cus­sions, I soon re­al­ized that I was be­com­ing an inat­ten­tive ex­pert in ed­u­ca­tion mat­ters.

From 2008, Ab­dur­rah­man was at the Com­mon­wealth of Learn­ing [COL] in Van­cou­ver, Canada for five years as Ed­u­ca­tion Spe­cial­ist (Teacher Ed­u­ca­tion) and Team Leader Ed­u­ca­tion. He didn’t like it in Canada, es­pe­cially hav­ing to shovel snow from his court­yard ev­ery morn­ing dur­ing the win­ter. He re­turned to Abuja in 2013 as Lead Spe­cial­ist, Pre­ser­vice Teacher Ed­u­ca­tion, Teacher De­vel­op­ment Pro­gram­meat DFID/UKaid.Late last year, Pres­i­dent of the UN Gen­eral Assem­bly Prof Ti­j­jani Mo­hammed Bande sent me to con­vince Ab­dur­rah­man to come over to New York and oc­cupy a UN po­si­tion on ed­u­ca­tion. He re­fused, say­ing at this stage in life he did not want to live abroad again.

Dur­ing the lock­down how­ever, the gov­ern­ment ap­pointed him as Nige­ria’s Am­bas­sador to UNESCO in Paris. He was wait­ing for air­ports to re­open be­fore he re­sumed duty in Paris. Alas, he fell sick a day af­ter at­tend­ing a long meet­ing on ba­sic ed­u­ca­tion and passed away a week later. I have missed a friend from whom I was in­sep­a­ra­ble for 40 years. My con­do­lences to Bilk­isu and Hauwa and to all his lovely chil­dren. May Al­lah re­ward Ab­dur­rah­man for his ex­cel­lent work here on earth with Al­janna Fir­daus.

Luck­ily, he did not lis­ten to our ad­mo­ni­tion be­cause his 2015 CV showed that he had three books, 34 pub­li­ca­tions in learned jour­nals and an­other 10 pa­pers wait­ing for pub­li­ca­tion

Sure enough, Ab­dur­rah­man was the only one who bagged a First Class in his fac­ulty, and one of only three First Class stu­dents in our grad­u­at­ing year, 1982

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