10 Years Afters: Remembering Dr Ibrahim Tahir, by Yakubu Almustapha


“Admiration of the great men, living or dead, naturally evokes imitation of them in greater or less degree.” Samuel Smiles December 8 is always a day for remembrance of Dr Ibrahim Tahir, who held a traditional title of Talban Bauchi.

Today marks the 10 anniversary since he passed away in an Egyptian hospital in the year of 2009. Dr Tahir was born in Tafawa Balewa Local Government Area of Bauchi State in 1938, though he was not a native of that place.

His father was at that time the assistant to the district head of Tafawa Balewa village, so that is the reason the locality became his birthplace. All in all, Ibrahim Tahir was a descendant of the famous family of ‘Gidan Alkali Aminu’ in Bauchi metropolis.

Coincidently, in the same year of his demise, the University of Cambridge, his ‘Alma mater’ celebrated its 800th anniversary since the establishment 1209 – 2009. As of then, it was unbelievable to me, if there was any College in the world that has been in existence for the past 800 years as a degree-awarding institution. Until when I learned that most of the reputable personalities like; Sir Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin, John Milton and many renowned figures of the centuries were Cantabrigian graduates. On that fateful day, while on my way, coming back from ATBU, my mind was occupied, thinking that: “Baba Talba yana Asibitin Egypt, kwararrun likitoci zasuyi masa jinya, zaidawo muyi hawan Sallah.” (Baba Talba was in an Egyptian hospital, qualified doctors would treat him, he would return and we would mount horses at Sallah durbar). At that point in time, my intuitive nous imagined that the severity of the ailment would be suppressed.

Since he was getting the best treatment in abroad. But unknown to me that he was not alive at the moment of my illusional thinking. Because on reaching home and after a few minutes, then the phone call which devastated me came in. Undoubtedly, Dr Tahir was one of the eminent personalities in Africa, not only in Nigeria.

He was a journalist, novelist, movie actor, orator, academic and politician. Moreover, he performed an unquestionable feat in all the careers. As earlier mentioned, he attended the Cambridge University, One of Britain’s most distinguished institutions, from bachelor’s to a doctorate degree in Sociology.

Suffice it to say that the University of Cambridge is one of the best in the world. Therefore, this alone showcases the overview of the man who graduated with distinction from such a prestigious learning institution. To put it simply, Dr Tahir emerged among the best students in the best University in the world.

Likewise, in 1975 he was conferred with a doctorate degree by the same University after producing a plausible PhD thesis. The geniuses exhibited by Dr Tahir at King’s College Cambridge came as a no surprise to his longstanding friends and acquaintances. Because, even as a student at the famous Barewa College Zaria, between 1954 to 1958, he recorded a nonesuch intellect transcendence in the history of that school.

This scintillating revelation was made by one of his classmates, late Mallam Turi Muhammadu who is paying his tribute said: “Tahir always came first not only overall but virtually in all subjects.

Such was his brilliance that he got a year’s promotion in his third year. He went on to beat everyone in the class he was promoted to.” Depending on this testimony, his final results are foreseeable, he came out with Grade 1 certificate at WASC.

He was among the ‘Who’s Who’ of Africa, not because of the positions he held like; Minister of Internal Affairs, Member 1976 constitution committee, Chairman of Nigerian External Telecommunications (NET), Chairman of the NNDC Group of Companies, Chairman task force on High-Speed Railway, Member National Advisory Council on Education which gave birth to NYSC program, Board Member Nigerian Universities Commission (NUC), et cetera.

All of these are not the reasons for placing him as one of the notable sons of Africa.

Because many people that were nonpareil to his noetic capabilities had excelled better than him in that aspect, due to selfish penchant for mediocrities and wheedlers by the authorities in power. In view of this, I boldly assert that Nigeria had underutilised his vast eruditeness.

Despite the fact that in Africa, there were many great men that are either alive or dead who have written their names in gold from the diverse sphere, and from among the few I happened to know, I singled out one particular person and likened him with Dr Tahir in so many ways.

In October 2014, the death of colossus man was announced, the news became viral in various international media for days. The person was none other than ‘Professor Ali Al’amin Almazrui’ a Kenyan intellectual, who got a doctorate degree from Oxford University.

An avalanche of salutations was attributed in his honour, and this prompted me to find out more about his biography. However, the upshot of my Google search of Wikipedia went in tandem with the adage of Abraham Lincoln who said; “I have talked with great men, and I do not see how they differ.”

This proverb is kindred to my Wikipedia findings in the sense that, ‘I do not see how Tahir differs from Almazrui.’ Firstly, the comparison between the duo had to do with their families background, because they both came from jurist descendants.

For instance, Tahir’s father ‘late Talban Bauchi Attahir’ was a chief supervisor of Shari’a courts in Bauchi emirate. While Almazrui’s father was a chief Shari’a Judge ‘Khadi’ in Mombasa, Kenya.

They were revered academics, as Tahir was a former head of Sociology Department in Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria.

On the other hand, Almazrui was a former head of the Political Science Department at Makerere University, Uganda. To say nothing of the duo were Oxbridge alumni. As the saying goes; ‘great minds think alike’ is tantamount to the fact that they were staunch opponents of Marxism ideology.

Tahir was a famous radio broadcaster of both Hausa and English service of the BBC, he was also conspicuously appearing in a weekly BBC television program “London line”. Whereas Almazrui wrote and presented the BBC-PBS television co-production ‘The Africans’. While staying in London, Tahir authored his first novel ‘The Last Imam’ which unsurprisingly attained an unprecedented international acclamation to the extent that somebody described it as one of the best novels ever written in the English language.

On the one hand, Almazrui authored his best works of ‘A Tale of Two Edens’ and many books. Another point of comparison is, Tahir was a leading actor in British film with tittle ‘Dan Arewa a London’. Then again Almazrui featured in American film ‘Motherland.’ Furthermore, Tahir and Almazrui were endowed with deep Islamic knowledge. Had it been they were preachers, their proficiency of Islamic jurisprudence was enough to be now remembered as great religious scholars.

Additionally, they were bilinguals as they spoke English and Arabic in proportion to their mothers’ tongues. ” When my father died, Dr Tahir spent 45 minutes praying (in Arabic). When he finished, the people of Borno, who pride themselves as the first recipients of Islam, conceded that all the local Islamic scholars combined would not match his learning.”

The Chief of Staff to the president Mallam Abba Kyari, made the above statement, in his own eulogy to the late icon. Where he supported his mastery of Qur’an and fluency of expression in Arabic Miraculously, each of them was survived by five children.

Ironically, the only difference I was able to notice between the two, was that Tahir skewed from academic lifework and ventured into politics where he became one of the founding fathers of NPN in the second republic. Contrariwise, the Kenyan American legend remained in the academic world all his life. Professor Almazrui taught at several Colleges worldwide, among were the University of Michigan and the University of New York in United States.

Consequently, he was described as one of the foremost influential scholars to come out of Africa. The Kenyan American legend was a one-time special advisor to the World Bank.

Afterwards, in 2005, he was regarded as one of the top 100 public intellectuals by Prospect magazine in United kingdom. Almazrui was born in 1933 in Mombasa, Kenya. He died at his home in Vestal, New York, on October 12, 2014.

Had he decided to stay in western countries, Dr Tahir might have probably been one of the leading figures in the shaping the world’s policies in United Nations or becoming an advisor to the World Bank, or even a consultant to any multinational corporations.

Similarly, if he had chosen to become a scholar in any of the reputable University in the world. Dr Tahir must have no doubt been counted as one of the top 100 great thinkers, being he was undeniable, a rare gem and créme de la créme personality.

But denied himself all the potentials, and inclined to work toward the development of Nigeria. Another thing which is worth remembering about the great icon was his good relationship with society and open-handed generosity.

But this episode would be a story for another time, except the little account I will relay.

Frankly, Dr Tahir was a genuine philanthropist who devoted himself to the welfare of the less privileged. That was why no matter how much money he got, he wouldn’t mind sharing owing to the fact that he never owned a Bank account throughout his lifetime.

I vividly recall that during the holy months of Ramadan, Baba Talba openly broke his fast, surrounded by impoverished people and sharing ‘Iftar’ (after sunset) meals together, without showing them superiority or secernment. In an amusing anecdote, related to his cornucopian generosity, on one occasion, when Ramadan was about to end, and the preparation for Sallah durbar has reached its crescendo, then all of a sudden, ‘Sarkin Taushe’ (Hausa panegyric Singer) and his traditional drummers came to Talba’s residence from another emir’s palace. They arrived in order to entertain on part of his entourage during the procession of durbar festival.

After the celebration of the cultural event ended, Baba Talba lavished them with a variety of expensive gifts and a lot of money.

When they returned home, Sarkin Taushe who was the leader of the group, took the bounteous and presented it before their Emir. Upon seeing the content of the gifts, he then became infatuated and picked out one good-looking and costly ‘Alkyabba’ (Cloak) for himself.

The Emir is apparently mesmerised by the beauty of the fabric, he told him that; “Wagga Alkyabba tafi karfinka” (This Cloak was big for you). Until now, I’m ambivalent as to whether he might intentionally be sent the Cloak to him as a gift, but chose a tactical way of delivery.

Although, others opined that the Emir has usurped it, simply because he considered the status of the recipient as unworthy to wear such colourful material which supposed to be the pride of the royal kinfolks.

Today is exactly ten years after his demise, and in spite of all the contributions, he rendered to the national development. To my dismay, nothing was put in place in his memory.

Therefore, I appeal to the Bauchi State Governor. His Excellency Bala Muhammad, to consider the immortalisation of Dr Ibrahim Tahir by naming an important edifice, a road, or College after his name.

For example, multipurpose indoor sports hall could be renovated and renamed as ‘Dr. Ibrahim Tahir hall’ or at best Bauchi State University Gadau, could be named after him.

To imitate what Kano State have done, after the demise of Alh. Yusuf Maitama Sule. The State-owned University, formerly Northwest University, is now renamed as ‘Yusuf Maitama University, Kano’ and a book was also launched in honour of late Dan masanin Kano.

In Katsina State, the name of his former colleague at ABU Zaria. Late Dr Yusuf Bala Usman, was named after a College as ‘Yusuf Bala Usman College of Legal And General Studies (YBUCOLGS)’. Hence, the late Dr Ibrahim Tahir, Talban Bauchi and Uzochukwu Ozurumba 1 of Achala Enugu State. One of the first northern intellectuals. Deserves a similar honour by Bauchi State Government.

May Allah (SWT) grant Baba Talba Aljannatul firdaus.

Almustapha writes from Bauchi.


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