This is the second time in less than two years that I’m writing a tribute with a troubled heart. The first was in November 2018 when Professor Ibrahim Adamu Kolo, former Vice chancellor of the Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida University, died.
At about 11.30am on Tuesday May 12, 2020 while I sat working on a history project, a call came into my phone and as soon as I picked it, the caller carefully announced the demise of Professor Bello Muhammad Agaie.
With confusion immediately arresting my thoughts and blood covering my eye balls, I asked for the source of the sad news.
The source was credible and I spontaneously repeated the Qur’anic expression, “Inna lillahi Wa Inna Inna Ilayhi Raj’un”, meaning “From Allah we came and unto Him is our return”.
I did this for some minutes with a heavy tongue in a dry mouth. I did much to control myself but yet found my eyes soiled in tears.
Born in 1968 in Agaie to the family of Alhaji Abdulmalik Shaba and Hajiya Aishatu Nkya Muhammad Tsaduya, Professor Bello was a prince of dual royal lineage.
While he was paternally a great grandchild of Malam Muhammadu Babba, the celebrated founder of the Fulani dynasty in Agaie Emirate, his mother was a grandchild of the 7th Etsu Agaie; making Bello a great grandchild of Malam Sulaimanu who was Babba’s brother.
Prof Bello’s paternal great grandfather, Abdullahi, was the first Etsu Agaie.
Fondly called Nagya (or Yanagya) at home, Prof Bello Agaie attended Sulaimanu Primary School Agaie 1973-1979; Government Teachers’ College Doko 1979-1982; Government Science Teachers College Bida 1982-1984; and Usmanu Danfodio University (UDUS) Sokoto where he earned all his academic degrees.
He graduated with a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) degree in 1992; Master of Veterinary Medicine in 1998; and a Doctor of Philosophy Degree in Veterinary Pharmacology and Toxicology in 2004.
The loss of his father in 1977 while still in primary school as well as the demise of his mother in 2002 while still pursuing his PhD never hindered Bello’s academic endeavour at any level.
Rising through academic ranks, Bello became a professor at 44 years of age in October 2012. In addition to being the first professor from Agaie, he was also the first Professor of Veterinary Medicine from the Emirate who held the traditional title of Tswanku Agaie.
I recall one Saturday morning in January 2014 when Prof Bello called to inform me that a reception was being planned to celebrate his promotion to the rank of professor and that he would like me to be the guest speaker at the occasion.
The event, which held on March 29, 2014 at Agaie, was one occasion too remarkable to be forgotten as most of those who mattered in the veterinary profession in Nigeria were in attendance.
With several dozens of publications in peer-reviewed journals, Professor Bello Agaie was External Examiner to the veterinary postgraduate programmes at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka; Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria; University of Maiduguri, Maiduguri; and University of Agriculture, Makurdi.
At different times, he served UDUS in different capacities including being the Dean of Student Affairs; Director, University Development Office; Member, University Governing Council; Chairman, University Welfare Committee; Chairman, University Prizes and Scholarship committee; and Chairman of 42 other University Ad-Hoc Committees.
He belonged to all professional veterinary organizations within and outside Nigeria including being a member of the African Veterinary Association (AVA), Commonwealth Veterinary Association (CVA), and West African Society for Pharmacology (WASP).
At the time of his demise, Prof Bello Muhammad Agaie was the National President of the Nigerian Veterinary Medical Association (NVMA).
About a week before his demise, Prof Bello told me on phone that he lost a close friend, the DVC of the UDUS; adding that he was not feeling well because he had fever.
When I told him I also had malaria fever and was going to take the last dose of anti-malaria drug, he said he’s was a different fever.
That, he hadn’t experienced such a fever in his life. I thus advised him to consult any of his colleagues in the College of Health Sciences and he replied, “Lallai, that’s what I will do”.
I never knew that was going to be my last conversation with a humble, hardworking, generous, pious and highly-skilled academic researcher and brother.
Every aspect of the character of Bello’s parents who were my teachers in the primary school found expression in him. Amidst these qualities, Bello was a highly principled academic who never compromised standards even if it were to involve his family.
Prof Bello’s daughter and eldest child, Amina, who is a 200 level MBBS student at UDUS concisely captured her father’s personage in a WhatsApp tribute she posted few days after her father’s demise.
She wrote, “Assalamu alaykum, there are so many things I want to write about my beloved father unfortunately words are failing me.
He was a soft-spoken, selfless, hardworking and dedicated man. His humility, patience, love and accommodation for people I’ve always envied.
He had a lot of dreams for the university and the veterinary profession; some he was able to achieve, others he couldn’t. UDUS holds a very special place in his heart. He loved the university to the core and would do anything in his power to see her progress.
He was a people’s man and has never complained about anyone even when a person had hurt his feelings. He was a man of few words but voluminous action.
Indeed, the loss isn’t my family’s alone. We lost him when we needed him the most, but Allah knows best. We love him but Allah loves him more. It is Allah’s will and we can’t question our creator’s will.
We pray that Allah forgive his shortcomings, widen and lighten his grave, make the hereafter better for him and grant him Jannatul firdausi ‘bi ghairi hisab’… Amina Bello Agaie.”
Aside his virtuous and exemplary qualities which everyone who knew him attested to, I would personally remember Prof Bello Agaie for his uncommon commitment to the cause of the Babba Center for Historical Documentation and Research (BACHIDAR); an intellectual heritage center established in 2016 with the support of His Royal Highness Etsu Agaie, Alhaji Yusuf Nuhu.
Indeed, for every endeavor in which I was privileged to be involved with Prof Bello, I have never found him less dedicated. As a member of the Board of Trustees of BACHIDAR, Prof Bello never missed a single meeting even though he traveled the farthest distance than all other members of the Board to come all the way from Sokoto to attend all meetings.
A meeting was once fixed to hold on a date that coincided with the World Veterinary Day.
As part of activities to mark the day, he was billed to appear on a TV programme in Abuja. Prof Bello arranged to appear on the programme at the Minna station of the NTA to enable him join us at the BACHIDAR meeting in Agaie, which he did.
Tswanku Agaie’s residence in Sokoto was a home to all students of UDUS who came from Agaie. For them, celebrating Sallah in Bello’s house in Sokoto is a privilege they prefer over Sallah in Agaie. When he gave out money to help someone, he never allowed the next person to know.
Prof Bello lived a life of genuine sacrifices.
Like all acts of altruism, only Allah can reward him. Nagya’s death is a colossal loss not only to his family, UDUS and Agaie Emirate in Niger State but has created a big vacuum in Nigeria’s intellectual veterinary community.
While we pray that his knowledge would live after him as Sadaqatu Jariyyah among his students, we ask Allah (SWT) in His infinite mercy to grant him eternal forgiveness and rest, Amin.
Prof Muhammad Umaru Ndagi wrote from Abuja.