History is life and life is incomplete without history, why I am so sure about this thesis, check it out one will discover the expediency and power that comes with history. At the four corners of a hospital our history is required, at the schools the same we are being asked before being admitted, before we are given jobs our history is required and above all it is that
aspect of life that is in the making daily. And one distinctive feature with history is it that sharpens ones intellect making them bold, confident, ready and sure to face whatever challenges life poses at all times.
I embark on this voyage to reflect on the life and times of the foremost and fearless historian; late Dr Yusufu Bala Usman, who lived his life teaching, struggling for justice and learning history. A fact that was justified by late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, during the memorial lecture in his memory saying “In his life time he fought injustice, whether
it is the injustice of one nation imposing itself and exploiting a weaker nation, whether it is the injustice of one class imposing itself on another class and exploiting it, whether it is an individual, who circumstances make to perceive himself to be strong enough to perpetrate injustice against an individual who is perceived as a weaker individual at every level and in every day of his arduous life, whether at home, in his place of work, in theatres of national discourse, he has always used his ideas and the convictions he believed in to fight injustice. There will always be men like him in every generation and these are the men who ultimately shape the world, shape society”.
It is exactly eight years since his demise. First, I knew very little about his person, but not his books and articles for I had followed his antecedents vigorously alongside the likes of Patrick Wilmot, Anthony Kirke-Greene, HSC Smith who later become Abdullahi Smith, Abubakar Siddiqu Mohammed and Alkasum Abba with their radical but cogent views about issues.
The first time I met late Bala Usman, was at Arewa House Kaduna, during one of the annual Sir Ahmadu Bello lectures. Alhaji M. D. Yusuf was the guest speaker. Dr Usman was in the company of Mallam Mohammed Haruna; the veteran and erudite journalist whose pen never dries out. In the course of listening to late Bala Usman, who spoke candidly about Nigeria’s leadership crisis, it was a memorable opportunity listening to this authority commenting live and direct. Since then (one had met )him and always striving to be with him as he (spoke) and occasionally walking up to him to respectfully greet him.
One of the many times one was with him was at another International Conference on the history of Northern Nigeria (1903-2003).I accompanied Rev Fr Peter Bauna Tanko, who was one of the resource persons. Bala Usman talked about the challenges, developing nations have had to confront taking into consideration American invasion of both Iraq and Afghanistan .He expressed his mind on the ignorance of Nigerians who he said always
perceived issues from the prism of religion, ethnicity and politics not on realities and the dire need to have a purposeful leadership. Towards the end of the session, he refused to grant interview to Daily Independent’s Kaduna Bureau Chief Sukoji Bakoji. I was very close and
saw all that transpired. He refused on the basis of not, wanting to be misquoted. Many shared his feeling about the Nigerian press at the time.
The last time one was with him and which was a memorable moment was right inside the Assembly Hall of Ahmadu Bello University’s main campus. It was a seminar organized by the Center for Democratic Development Research and Training (CEDDERT) of which he was the chairman and founder. The theme of the seminar was ‘Nigeria and The Reform of The United Nations’. In attendance to add color to the deliberations were the former Governor Ahmed Makarfi, Namibian Ambassador to Nigeria, ABU’s Vice-Chancellor at that time, Prof Shehu Usman Abdullahi, Amb Jibrin Chinade, Saidu Hassan Adamu, Dr.J. Kuna,Dr.Alkasum Abba,Mr.Segun Akpata and present chairman of the center Dr.Siddique Abubakar Mohammed, including many other hundreds of diplomats, students and members of the academia. Midway into deliberations ,I was privileged to speak about what I feel about the UN reforms and Nigeria’s quest for a seat in the Security Council.
I started by saying that the Security Council is a very sensitive seat to be occupied and Africa would benefit a lot with Nigeria being there. But though Nigeria should be conscious of her domestic crises, which have deterred our development and growth, meaning stability of the nation is much more critical. Furthermore, I argued that for Nigeria to lead others she must lead comfortably well at home, but all these are absent. I also talked about our getting nothing out of our many foreign commitments, be it economically, politically and socially. I remember talking about Nigeria’s commitments in Liberia and Sierra Leone. What have we benefited? I asked.We had lost soldiers, our citizens were brutalized and killed and at least
there is nothing to show for it. I finished by saying that we should give more premium to our problems, ranging from insecurity to economic crises which increases poverty, ethno-religious crisis, falling standard of education, lack of efficient health system among others.
I said we should learn from other nations which always look at what they stand to benefit before taking up any foreign policy. On that I rested my toddler’s views and understanding.
Kaduna state governor then, Ahmed Mohammed Makarfi disagreed with me and stressed the sincerity of Nigeria’s involvement in peace mission abroad. He challenged Nigerians on the need to think about the good image of the country. Suddenly, it was time for Yusufu Bala Usman to discuss his paper titled ‘Nigeria and the World in the 20th and 21st Centuries: Lessons and the Options’.
He started by taking me on the issues I raised and ended up educating the audience on so many historical antecedents and facts about Africa, and Nigeria’s quest for a seat in the Security Council. He demonstrated Nigeria’s capabilities and so on, as they concern global politics. He drew my attention to my take on American presence in Iraq. The whole hall stood
mute and quiet and that was his last ever appearance in that very historic ABU Assembly Hall that had host so many intellectuals and robust academic engagements. At the end of the seminar Dr.Abubakar Siddique Mohammed gave me the whole seminar papers and later Dr.Bala Usman gave me a copy of his book, For The Liberation of Nigeria written when one was still a toddler. I still treasure the book to date along with his Manipulation of Religion in Nigeria. He appreciated me and I was happy being anointed with the historical holy oil, even though one was not a history student but serendipity had made me one.
When I heard that the cold hands of death had snatched him, on 24th of September 2005, just three months after our meeting at the CEDDERT’s seminar. I was very sad and worried that our nation had lost such an embodiment of knowledge and reliable point of reference in the search of a formidable nation, at that material time. Even though, he was from a royal lineage on both maternal and paternal lineage. But Bala Usman was having the plights of the weak and vulnerable in mind to the core and very simple and humble, but quite tough and very critical of situations. I make bold to state that I am yet to see a person that hold his views and opinions strongly like he does. Others I have seen are late Chief Gani Fawehinmi SAN, and Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah.
He was a shining star in the darkness of Nigeria’s clouded climate and was a highly principled academician who never compromised his beliefs. He detested injustice and bad leadership, and he fought these tirelessly till death, using history as an instrument of change and mirror of the past, present and the future. He had done so many things in shaping Nigerian history for good and one hopes the government at all levels, would redeem commitment towards the building of Yusufu Bala Usman Institute, which is still standing a virgin land and one is remembering late President Yar’Adua commitment when he said ” I commit myself to be part of the development of this centre and I would do whatever is possible for me to ensure that”.
Looking at Bala Usman’s contribution to knowledge and scholarship that would continue to stand the test of time for research purposes in Nigeria and beyond. Nothing much is expected in ensuring that the beliefs which he held dearly should not be allowed to pass without being achieved. Initiatives related to his memory should be actively supported for the realization of his dreams.
Aruwan, is editorial staff of Blueprint Newspapers and can be reach at