Ishaya Audu:How Not To Pay Back A Good Nigerian By Taiwo Obe



The Ex-ABU VC Earned N47 For All His Years Of Meritorious Service

GUESS all this man wanted, besides being a good physician, was to be a selfless, responsible, conscientious and patriotic Nigerian, all his life; serving his Maker and humanity.

And so he was.

Imagine this: when in 1983, at the beginning of the second term of then President Shehu Shagari, he was made Nigeria’s permanent representative to the United Nations — he had been the External Affairs Minister during Shagari’s first term of four years — the Nigerian UN mission booked him into New York’s Waldorf Towers, described glowingly as “the ultimate luxury boutique Manhattan hotel,” because his official accommodation needed refurbishment.

That, in his books, was wasteful expenditure. He turned it down, and got his party, comprising his wife, five of his children (four girls and a boy) and his grandson checked into a self-catering apartment that cost like half of Astoria’s price. The girls revolted and he had to reach a compromise: move to a modest hotel, but the family would have to eat breakfast and dinner only.

For lunch, what was allowed were sandwiches; of course, not from any deli. The house they were supposed to move into apparently needed $5million for refurbishment. This man refused to sign the cheque saying that any house that needed that much to spruce up ought to be sold and the mission could buy another house; and US$2 million could buy a house fit for royals in the neighbourhood, anyway. He stuck to his guns.

That is a slice of the life of Prof Ishaya Audu, the first indigenous vice-chancellor of Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria.

What you have read thus far is the recollection of one of his children, Saratu, who was the eldest of them with him during the Waldorf Towers saga. If because of this you want to waive it off as “family tale” then let’s hear from a neutral person, Prof Albert Ojo Ozigi, OON, who at some point was a director of ABU’s Institute of Education: “Prof. Ishaya Audu… an outstanding and accomplished scholar, an intellectual giant, a competent, diligent administrator, a medical colossus, a humanist who cares for people, a totally detribalised Nigerian, and a patriot, a committed and practising Christian. His virtues of simplicity, humility, absolute integrity, self-discipline, courage, firmness, steadfastness, straightforwardness cannot but strike anyone who might have had some dealing or interaction with him.”

Prof Ishaya left the services of ABU in September 1975.  Let’s rephrase that: Prof Ishaya Audu had to leave ABU, after nine years of being VC. His time at ABU is still being fondly remembered by those who know his accomplishments there. Prof Ozigi again: “The University was well-funded, well-equipped and well-staffed with quality staff drawn from all over the world. Infrastructural facilities were provided and regularly maintained. He had the policy of recruiting and attracting to the University, the best staff from all over the world and never discriminated against any one on account of race, ethnicity religion, and place of origin.

“In his time, Ahmadu Bello University was really an international, peaceful and happy community, where people would like to live and work.” Most importantly: “It may be noted that though he was easily the most powerful Vice-Chancellor of his time in Nigeria, he never allowed this to get into his head. He had golden opportunity to make millions of Naira from the resources of the University. He did not steal a kobo nor mismanaged the University finances.”

Following the coup that ousted General Yakubu Gowon from power, Audu was told that he had to leave ABU. He was asked to proceed on study leave to the United Kingdom, which found him working as a paediatric consultant at Hammersmith Hospital where he spent one year.

For one reason or the other, ABU did not pay him his salary and other entitlements for a long while thereafter, that, indeed, he had to resort to seeking financial help from family and friends. He could well have been sent to Siberia.

 

In May 2005, aged 78, Prof Ishaya Audu was diagnosed with cancer of the stomach that was operable. He had to undergo surgery which cost was put at $150,000. At home and abroad, as they say, this man probably did not have N150,000. After his public service, he opened a private hospital, which he called Savannah Polyclinic, in Dogon Yaro, Samaru, Zaria, in his home State, Kaduna. It was, more or less, a missionary hospital. It was a place where the poor and down-trodden flocked, for medical services which were largely free. In fact, where any of the patients needed surgery, Audu would use his personal funds to get an external surgeon.

So, donations had to be sought, here and there, for Audu’s own surgery. But, about three months later, just about 20 per cent of the required sum was raised. The family hatched a plan: Audu’s son, Paul, a professor and consultant anaesthesiologist in the United States — where the operation was billed for — would sell his house to pay the balance.

Another shocker:  when Prof Ishaya Audu was to fly out, even as he could barely walk, the airport authorities and the airline officials refused him a wheelchair — because… because… because… he was not a first class ticket holder. Oh well, when Audu got to the US, the cancer had spread to his major organs and was now inoperable. Within a month, precisely on 29 August, the good doctor was gone.

But, as they say in Nollywood, the story has just begun.

About a year later, a part of the Savannah Polyclinic collapsed and Prof Audu’s widow, Victoria Abosede, thought that perhaps it would be an opportunity to go in pursuit of her late husband’s entitlements.

So, she made a plea to President Olusegun Obasanjo, to help get the concerned authorities to do the needful. Well, that yielded the release of N3million out of N7.4million that had been computed was due to late Audu, who, by the way, had once been the physician to the late much-revered Sardauna of Sokoto, Ahmadu Bello.

She applied the funds to the restoration and rebuilding of the hospital.

Then began the pursuit of the balance. And, that has taken the last five yea… but you sure would not fancy how it has ended. But, you can’t afford to leave now, if you’ve gotten this far. Or can you?

Mrs Ishaya Audu would probably by now be able to give you the minutest details of the Pensions offices at Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, and the National Pension Commission, Abuja as she frequented the two places like she was sleeping and waking. You don’t have to believe that line, please. It was at Pencom, in October/November 2011, that she was told that she had actually been on a “wild goose chase”; that all that was due to her late beloved husband of  47 years was N47. Now, if you think that this is a trick being played with the number 47, perish the thought. It is FORTY SEVEN NAIRA.  Could it be that the calculator they were using suddenly lost its memory or that it had been inflicted by some virus? No.

Anyway, Mrs Audu didn’t offer to buy them a new calculator. She went back to the ABU pension office, and behold, they too said the money that was due to Prof Ishaya Audu was N47.

Perhaps something would change, so she demanded a re-calculation; assured that there must be some error somewhere, especially with her knowledge of what successive VCs at ABU received as pensions. She had also noticed that some documents were missing in Prof Audu’s file. The person who in 2006 had given her the details of the balance had been on a long-term sick leave. Again, in January 2012, she was told it was N47. She had appealed to one or two people whom she believed could help. Guess what she was told? She should worry more about the living than the dead. What are they talking about; isn’t Mrs Audu living? She would need the money to take care of things, of the hospital, of the 10 underprivileged children —  some orphaned and the others from poor homes – who live with her and see her as their “Mother Teresa” and are also attending a school she founded in Zaria.

The news is that this Mother Teresa is now dependent on the benevolence of her children. As Saratu said, “we now take turns to provide her a stipend and those of us that don’t earn enough, pool our funds, together, to give her a monthly allowance. Sometimes we get exasperated to see that despite her meagre resources, she is still continuing to give to the less advantaged. She talks of these children fondly and is always telling me that she has told them to make the most of the education she is providing, as she is doing it for them, and not her. She reminds them that ‘where she is going is closer to her than where she is coming from’, and that it is unlikely she will be around when they have grown up and got jobs, so it’s not as if she is waiting for them to finish so they can feed her.”

 

Now, Nigeria’s Minister of Education, Prof Ruqayah Ahmed Rufa’i may not have attended ABU Zaria, but she must have heard of Prof Ishaya Audu. Hey, Prof Audu was a familiar name and face for many in his days as VC, ABU —  he was one of those whose names you had to memorise to pass one of those subjects in primary school then… ? Ishaya Audu… and as the External Affairs Minister — writing this now, I am visualising the unique way he placed his cap on his head —so, the minister should know of him. Is there something she can do? Or, who’s there who can do something? Oh no, not to lay a curse as Senate President David Mark threatened when the guys who allegedly stole billions, billions and billions of people’s pensions appeared before the Senate probe on pensions. Just get these monies back from these fellas and pay the owners — and let the law take its full course. Full stop.

Culled from The Guardian,Sunday

Obe is Group Editorial Director of Harpostrophe Limited (a TaijoWonukabe Limited company).

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