Tuesday, 14 February 2020 marked the fifth year since Professor Mustapha Ahmad Falaki was cruelly murdered in cold blood from unknown assailants, yet to be identified to face the full wrath of justice.
My esteemed readers, I am dedicating my column this week to pay tribute to my excellent mentor, teacher and farmers’ general, Prof. Falaki. I am paraphrasing my earlier tribute written three years ago.
Prof. Falaki was a mentor 1000s of us who passed through his arduous tutelage. He was a consummate agricultural scientist, extension specialist par excellence and the farmers’ general; Professor Ahmad Mustafa Falaki.
It is difficult to justifiably describe the time and life of Prof Falaki. He was an embodiment of truth, hard work and perseverance with the limitless passion to assist, fight for the common man and absolutely engage in youth’s mentorship.
His relentless drive to support smallholder farmers earned him accolades nationwide and beyond.
He was honoured with several chieftaincy titles from different rural communities in many states as testimonies for touching their lives in agricultural enterprises.
He was a centrepiece of SASAKAWA, SG 2000 enormous successes in the development of agriculture in Nigeria.
The history of SG 2000 in Nigeria began with the name of Prof. Falaki in the early 1990s and continued till 2008 when he handed over the mantle of leadership to his closest disciple, student and ally, Prof. Sani Miko as Country Director of the Internationally acclaimed famous NGO.
Falaki’s roles as the National Coordinator of SG 2000 for almost two decades were groundbreaking, gargantuan and unprecedented in the history of agricultural development in Nigeria.
When SG 2000 set foot in Nigeria, the organization was lucky to find a perfect match in Prof. Falaki, a simple, humble and down-to-earth man with chains of disciples across the nation and the acute passion to support smallholder farmers increase their productivity.
With the financial backing of SAA/SG 2000, Prof. Falaki’s team identified “the correct application of fertilizer” as the most potent technology that could impact on the productivity within a shortest possible time.
Thus, Falaki adopted a strategy, which integrated technology generation and technology transfer process with the involvement of researchers, extension agents and farmers on farmers’ fields.
The improved technique of fertilizer application by digging holes and burying the dose was advocated in conjunction with the use of improved varieties.
Similarly, farmers were trained to use optimum agronomic practices to obtain greater returns to their investments.
In addition, farmers obtained credit facilities for the purchase of necessary inputs with more than 95 per cent recovery.
These short-term production loans greatly assisted farmers to access improved production inputs for timely utilization, which impacted heavily in yield increase. This was part of the SG 2000 strategy for achieving successes all these years.
The SG 2000 approach championed by Prof. Falaki paid off as yield per hectare of smallholder farmers increased from an average of 1.2 tons/ha to an average of 5.5 tons/ha.
Falaki’s wave of influence and selfless services to humanity through SG 2000 touched principally nine states; Adamawa, Anambra, Benue, Cross-River, Gombe, Jigawa, Kano, Katsina and Ogun.
In these states, over 26,000 farmers, 3,800 extension agents and lead farmers directly benefited from the SG 2000 projects.
The SG 2000 Agricultural projects in these states benefited well over 100 thousand farmers, which deservedly made Falaki, the farmers’ General.
Several farmers graduated from small-scale to large-scale producers improving the livelihoods of several other rural dwellers through SG 2000 implemented projects in their domains. SG 2000 was one of the platforms that made Falaki directly touch the lives of millions of farmers.
SG 2000 pledged to continue the good work of Prof Falaki; “that his death says to us that we must continue to work, passionately, unrelenting to make the smallholder farming dream become a sustainable and profitable reality, so that he did not die in vain”.
His roles as a teacher, school father, counsellor and mentor in Ahmadu Bello University Zaria and other higher institutions of learning were very commendable and admirable.
This column cannot justifiably catalogue Falaki’s inspirational, instrumental and mentoring roles in making and shaping the lives and future of young men and women in Ahmadu Bello University Zaria and beyond.
Today, these men and women are doctors, professors, vice-chancellors, and administrators impacting knowledge and civility on the larger society as legacies from passing through the hands of the great personality, Prof. Falaki. To buttress this point, let me share with you my personal knowledge of this great teacher.
In 1983, when I finished my A – level, a one-year academic program in School of Basic Studies for direct admission into ABU Zaria, some of my classmates, although marginally qualified, only secured admission for their preferred courses through Alhaji Falaki, as he was then popularly called.
When students had issues with admission, registration, accommodation, victimization and similar challenges, Alhaji Falaki was always there for them with his magic wand.
His milk of human kindness continued to flow unabated, his generosity was limitless and his soft-spoken nature was so enticing and comforting to all of us.
His humility accompanied by small stature and friendly face made students feel free and reveal their worries. He was simply an epitome of hope to the hopeless and a darling tutor to all the students.
On employment after graduation, Alhaji Falaki was instrumental to the employment of several graduates who passed out with first-class and second-class upper division degrees in the Faculty of Agriculture.
Even as a relatively distant observer, I am aware of some of my friends who secured their employment in the Faculty of Agriculture, ABU Zaria and other universities courtesy of Falaki’s behind-the-scenes roles.
Today, many of such friends have become full professors of various disciplines of Agriculture. Although, Prof Falaki was from the stock of the so-called “Hausa-Fulani”, he was never discriminatory to people based on their religion or tribe. Testimony of Professor Samuel Duru, one of Falaki’s disciples suffices.
Professor Duru said in a telephone conversation to me " “Falaki was an Angel, he was a wonderful human being who often did the impossible, his absence during the Faculty’s homecoming was very glaring as he was missed by all the faculty’s graduates”.
This provides a vivid reflection of what Prof Falaki represented to all his students, friends and the university community irrespective of their social and religious differences.
To express the simplicity of Prof Falaki and his readiness to go an extra mile to elevate people, let me share one of my personal experiences.
In late 1998 when I was still a lecturer at the Federal Polytechnic Bauchi under the unbearable pressure of “Abachaconomics”, on one particular evening, I noticed a brand new official vehicle parked in front of my house at the staff quarters of the Polytechnic.
I was wondering who the visitor was as most of my visitors then, used to come on motorcycles or trekked down. Within a twinkle of an eye, Dr. Falaki emerged from the car, strode to the gate and knocked, I couldn’t believe my eyes, how could I entertain this August visitor, do I dash to the neighbourhood to buy soft-drinks?
Why didn’t he send for me to come to his hotel as his peers normally do?
As I opened the doors, his enticing smile and captivating nature composed me and I shivery uttered a warm welcome.
He observed my uneasiness and suggested I should bring a mat out for us to have fresh air. Prof. Falaki didn’t allow me to go out to buy any " entertainment ", he insisted on eating whatever we prepared for the dinner that day.
I was certainly honoured to host such a great personality in my house, where a mere presence of a car was a symbol of opulence and high class within the neighbourhood.
After having dinner, Prof, Falaki brought out an envelope containing a letter. “Babangida” as Falaki normally called me, a name only used by closed family members and childhood friends, “This is your appointment letter into Ahmadu Bello University Zaria as an academic staff of NAERLS”, Falaki announced with a beautiful smile on his face.
It was a moment of joy that remains a turning point in the entire history of my life.
I later learnt this was how Falaki visited some of his former students to deliver appointment letters or admission letters of postgraduate studies or notes for them to deliver to other places to secure favours. It was just his typical passion to help others.
In the melee of the fight against Boko Haram, unknown criminals murdered Prof. Falaki, before the very rural dwellers, the people he spent all his life serving. What an irony of life? The news of his murder was certainly the saddest thing we all have to bear. May Ajannah Fildausi be his final abode, Ameen.
Professor M. K. Othman, MNIAE, MNSE, MASABE (Professor of Soil and Water Engineering), Executive Director and CEO NAERLS, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria.