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Aisha Lemu: A Life of service to Islam and knowledge

Aisha Lemu

After living a life fully dedicated to the service of Islam and knowledge, Hajiya Bridget Aisha Lemu returned to Allah (SWT) on Saturday, January 5, 2019. Aged 79, Mrs. Lemu died in Minna and was buried at the Muslim graveyard along Eid road, behind Unguwar Daji, Minna.

Born in Poole, United Kingdom, on October 4, 1940, Hajiya Aisha Lemu attended Uplands School, Parkstone, Dorset, U.K, 1950-1955; Oxford Technical College, 1955-1956; and the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, 1961-1965, where she obtained a B.A. (Hons) degree. Mrs. Lemu also earned a Postgraduate Certificate in Education from the University of London in 1966.

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Aisha Lemu worked at the University of Oxford, 1956-1958; and the University of Toronto, Canada, 1958-1960. She taught at the School for Arabic Studies (SAS), Kano, 1966-1968. She was principal, first at Government Girls College, Sokoto, 1968-1976; and later at Women Teachers’ College, Minna, 1976-1978. She became Islamic Education Trust (IET)’s Director General in 1984.

As a prolific writer, Aisha Lemu wrote dozens of books that focused mainly on Islamic moral themes and education. Her single-author books include “Laxity, Moderation and Extremism in Islam” (1991); :Getting to Know the Qur’an” (2004); “Animals in Islam” (1993); “A Critical Look at the Theory of Evolution” (1980); “Islam and Alcohol” (1979); “A Degree Above Them” (1979); “Islamic Citizenship and Moral Responsibility” (1979); “The Ideal Muslim Husband” (1992); “The Ideal Muslim Wife” (1993); “Students’ Islamic Society Branch Organization”; “Revelation and the Scriptures: An Islamic Perspective” (2001); “Women in Da‘wah” (2001); “ISLAM: One God, One Humanity” (2001); “A Holistic Approach To Teaching Islam To Children” (2001); “Child Upbringing and Moral Teaching in Islam” (2001); all of them published by IET. Her other books published by other than IET include “New Junior Islamic Studies” Series (Books 1, 2, 3); and the “New Senior Secondary School Islamic Studies” Series (Books 1, 2, 3). Her book “Women in Islam” was published in 1976 by Islamic Council of Europe. She also co-authored few other books.

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Hajiya Aisha Lemu co-founded IET and many other organizations within and outside Nigeria. She alone founded FOMWAN in 1985 and became its first Ameerah. She founded Association of Model Islamic Schools in Nigeria (AMIS) and became its first National President (1998-2000). She delivered many public lectures and was a resource person at many several seminars and conferences. Hajiya and I were the two paper presenters at the first FCT skill upgrading workshop in January 2010. She received several awards including Member of the Order of the Niger (MON) in 2000.

Sheikh Ahmed Lemu told me (the interviewer) in an interview he granted to Weekly Trust newspaper in May 2013, that he met Hajiya Aisha Lemu when both of them were students at the University of London. He said “We discovered each other’s virtues and Allah brought us together. Our relationship continued until it ended in marriage”. Sheikh Lemu got married to Miss Bridget Aisha in 1968.

I first saw Hajiya Aisha Lemu in 1976 when, as a Form III student at the then Arabic Teachers College, Minna, I was part of a group selected to attend a Muslim Students Society (MSS) programme at the then Women Teachers College (WTC) Minna where she was the principal. The manner in which her students conducted themselves during the MSS lecture illustrated how, as a principal, she was committed to everything about them. The school environment was perpetually very neat and the students were all the time well-behaved particularly at quiz competitions and during match past on children’s day and Independence day celebrations. Some of us, as teenagers, boyishly described her firm control over her students as too ‘cagy’ and protective.

I was lucky to be one of the pioneer teachers recruited in 1985 by Hajiya Aisha Lemu to teach at the IET Islamic Model Primary School; the first of its kind in Minna. Four months after my graduation with NCE from the Niger State COE, Minna; I heard an announcement on Radio Niger that IET wanted teachers in my subject area. I told my father’s nephew and teacher, Alhaji Yunusa Kenci who was Qadi I and Deputy Grand Qadi to Sheikh Lemu, about it. He spoke to Aisha Lemu and I was invited for interview. Besides the oral interview, the teaching skills of applicants who applied for the teaching job were also assessed through a micro-teaching session organized with a small group of pupils. Few days later, Shaykh Yunusa Kenci sent a message to my father that Hajiya Aisha wanted to see me.

When I arrived at IET, Mrs. Aisha Lemu handed me a letter of appointment; addressed to me in-care-of “Alkali Kenci”. The second paragraph of the letter reads: “Your starting salary is N2, 952.00 per annum (GL7/02); plus N30 per month rent allowance; N22 per month vehicle allowance if you have a vehicle; annual resettlement bonus of N20; plus annual contract gratuity of 10 percent of a year’s salary”. I couldn’t benefit from the vehicle allowance because I had just the 1980 model of Suzuki 100 motorcycle, a.k.a. “Shagari”. It was a huge offer then because petrol was 15 kobo/liter. My father’s joy wasn’t the offer but my working I a Muslim organization.

Dressed in a T-shirt and velvet trousers on the first day I reported for work, Hajiya Aisha asked me why I had no cap on my head. I told a lie and said, “I forgot”. She informed me that cap was part of the dress code for teaching staff as it was for pupils. As a very young man who wanted to look stylish, I found it odd to wear cap on shirt and trousers. To manage the situation, I would put a small white cap in my pocket and wear it shortly before arriving at school.

Six weeks later, Hajiya called me and asked why I was not wearing babban riga even if it were on Fridays. I said I had only one set. She said. “You should be able to afford some sets now since you have started collecting salary.” She took time to explain why the school wanted teachers to appear in dresses that reflected the culture of Muslims in Nigeria. A month thereafter, Hajiya wrote a two-page “Letter of Advice” to me and copied my guardian, Alkali Kenci. That’s the extent to which Hajiya would go to persuade you on a way of life that was symbolic of Islam. I listened and benefited.

Sometime in 2006, Hajiya Aisha sent for me and I went to see her in Minna. She complained about the difficulty students had in passing Arabic in WAEC and NECO. She attributed it to the literature aspect of Arabic language which she said was too bulky. I advised that we needed other colleagues to brainstorm over it. Prof. Z. I. Oseni of Unilorin, Prof. Bidmos of UniLag, Prof. Opeloye then of LASU, and I, were invited to IET. We made recommendations to NERDC on the matter.

I was once few minutes late to keep an appointment to see Hajiya. When I told her I stopped over at a pharmacy to buy anti-malaria drug, she told me she was 72 years old and that she had never taken any anti-malaria drug. She also said she had not taken paracetamol more than once or twice since she arrived in Nigeria.

Hajiya Aisha’s private secretary, Alhaji Aliyu Muhammad Badeggi, who worked with her for 32 years, will deeply miss her. He handled the typesetting of virtually all her publications. Like Alhaji Badeggi, all those who worked with Hajiya will certainly miss a mother and a kindhearted mentor. In July 2018, I was in Minna for an assignment and also visited IET. When I entered Hajiya’s office and found Nuruddeen Lemu occupying it, I guessed age had forced Hajiya aside; necessitating Nuruddeen to take over.

Although Mrs. Lemu embraced Islam in 1961and wasn’t a Muslim by birth, she made contributions to Islamic education in Nigeria more than many of us who are not only Muslims by birth, but who will easily lay claim to Islamic knowledge and scholarship. May Allah (SWT) accept her scholarly contributions as Sadaqatu Jariyyah and also forgive her shortcomings, amin.

Prof. Ndagi wrote from the University of Abuja.

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