Tribute to Dr. Saleh Abubakar, By Ismail Misbahu

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He’s everything to me. I acclimatise the climate of his thoughts/ideas and actions. His intrepidity in me is immeasurable. Allahu Akbar, Bappa breathed his last today, 21st May, 2022.

        Mallam is not just ‘Dan Boko’!

I have never seen a University academic lecturer more content with times of Salaat, who couldn’t choose to be distracted by the dare punctuated academic schedules, a man with ever-extending readiness to fulfil obligations, like Dr. Saleh Abubakar. As a devout Muslim, his struggle to keep it neat with Allah has come to a fulfilling end. Beautiful words from many of his funeral attendees attested to the fact that Mallam is not, by his behavioural traits, that ‘Dan Boko’ you could imagine. He’s widely understood to have accustomed himself with sound norms and values of the society, he cared for relatives and neighbours and had sweet words for disciples, kids and young ones. His generosity was legendary. Indeed, as the Imam who led the funeral prayer said, ‘Salaat, Salaat, Salaat, is something he couldn’t miss!”

Born in 1948, Bappa Was a Senior Lecturer in the Department of History, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, where he lectured for a period of more than 40 years (1977 to 2020). Given his records of engagement and dedication to service, the University administration, under the then Vice Chancellor, Professor Adamu N. Muhammad, considered his appointment as the Chairman of the Interim Joint Matriculation Board (IJMB) Task Force Unit of the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria (1986 to 1989). Having completed his assignment, he then joined the services of the College of Preliminary Studies, Yola, as its Principal from 1989 to 1991. Given his excellent academic leadership performance, the then Gondola State Government approved his appointment as the Provost of College of Education, Jalingo (1991 to 1994). After that, he served as a delegate to the Nigerian National Constitutional Conference (1994 to 1995). A year after, i.e. in 1996, he became the Acting Registrar, Joint Admission and Matriculation Board (JAMB), a position  he held for just three months and from 1996 to 2007, served as the Director/Head of the Board’s Admission and Test Development Department. Until his death, Dr.  Saleh retained his designation as a Senior Academic Lecturer with the Kaduna State University.

In all the positions he held, Dr. Saleh, was widely known to have never dipped his hands in the public purse. His principle, narrated by closest friends, was that, you must not be lazy and you must be paid accordingly. If as it happened he became answerable to the authority of others, he either followed legitimate process free of extortions or resigned the position for Allah’s sake! Simple and contented as he remained, he was a fountain of inspiration to all of us. Part of his incorruptible way could be located from his ‘shooting match’ with the authorities in JAMB and I quote him in his 2020 latest expose( lamenting that:

“As a Chief Executive, I was sadly deficient in other skills, not least those needed to keep the bosses happy and that created serious issues for me.” He added: “In the course of time, it became obvious that banks were pulling a fast one on the Board with respect to the sale of these application documents. This was because they had turned the forms into a commodity whose value was more than its declared price. Therefore, hoarding and diversion of forms became the order of the day as a lot of money was accrued to the banks while critical stakeholders such as parents and candidates received the short end of the stick. To put a stop to all that, I insisted that banks must pay upfront for all the forms they needed and that the Board would not accept so-called unsold forms back. That was to ensure that the Board received the revenue due to it while at the same time eliminating hoarding and diversion of forms to other states.” 

Dr. Saleh trained a good number of sound academicians including Dr. Kabir Chafe, Prof. Mustafa Muhammadu Gwadabe, Dr. Salisu Bala, Mal Idi Ronke and several others, he still did not choose to put much ink in scholarly historical writings as his colleagues and disciples tend to have done. Going by his narration (and I am careful not to misinterpret his words), he told me that he did not write much in historical scholarship but more in poetry—a practical writing skill he had nurtured going back to his elementary school days! I have access to the draft collection of his poems and I’ll put effort in making them available to readers in history department and elsewhere. This is something that many don’t know about him and it has explained the fact that in terms of the number of scholarly academic writings, Dr. Saleh was more of a poet and of course, still not less a historian. This has also proved the fact that his extraordinary English skills and language communication was not by accident. He indeed meant it as his stay in the department of history became a busy time for proof-reading, correcting and improving the English of so many academic theses and dissertations including those of his colleagues and seniors.

Dr Saleh had been the supervisor for virtually everything I drafted including personal write-ups that were outside the academic mentorship. He supervised my project and offered insightful comments to my dissertation. Typical of us students, we always said that ‘this man, you write and he cancelled … red biro everywhere and still he would ask you to write again … wahala all dey with this Bafullata’! This explained how our reactions disagreed with his perfectly vetting style of our projects at undergraduate level. It turn out all to unending thanks and gratitude to a man from whose mastery supervision and insightful comments, my F9-rate English began to take a new shape! I had only realised it was deliberate when, the then Project Coordinator of the Department, the late Toure-Kazah-Toure assigned my proposal to him. ‘I must improve my English’, the late Toure must have said in his mind and thank God it’s all love. I was really fortunate that I had the two astonishing scholars (and may His mercy shower on their graves) agreed on mentoring my talent to this bearable standard of excellence. I could recall a time when he called our attention that our projects be made available and someone must have reached him at home for signatory. Being the male in our group, he asked I should collect from my other two female colleagues (Khadija Abdullatif and Nafiu Basirat) their project copies and reach him at Kaduna. Unknown to us, he had been sick at the time and so he couldn’t be in Zaria for all intent purposes.The God-fearing man you know couldn’t let me take the transport burden and so he paid back to-and-fro and even added with some cash! Such is the man I can’t underrate as my mentor but ‘my father’ rather, is all I can submit.

Many who have seen my Facebook announcement of his death thought he’s my real father. This is because, beyond academic mentorship, Dr. Saleh treated me as a ‘son’ full of privileges – welcomed at any time, entered his house with, or without permission, slept, woke-up and took my bath. I would eat, rest and die there if I like! When I was writing my thesis recently, his computer couldn’t be disowned from my hand until I came round the end. He once told me that he had never thought I could keep in contact and become so close, perhaps, he said, more than many of his students. I really get content by his dear utterance and I thank God for the luck I have to witness his demise and closer indeed, I got to his grave after the funeral prayer, which I unfortunately missed!

Dr. Saleh died at a ripe age of 74 leaving 12 children alive, including those of his late wife who died by accident barely two years before him. My sincere condolences to his family: Sister Nafisa, Fauziyya (a poetess), Officer Ammar, Mal Ibrahim, Barrister Umaima, brother Uthman and their darling siblings Nana, Umar Faruk and all who have not been mentioned including his relatives: Gidado, Abdurrahman, Lankwan and all-and-sundry. I owe my mentor everything prayers and I’ll not hesitate because, even for nothing, he was a man who had never said ‘NO’ to my request. ‘Yes’ had been his answer to me even if that may turn apart. Pure and gentle is your soul Sire!