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Baba-Ahmed: How a Mauritanian built a Nigerian dynasty

Surviving scions of the Baba-Ahmed family are presently 22. The family has lost its patriarch, and 11 sons and daughters over the years. Members of the family have established themselves in the Nigerian public and private spheres, with the size of the family making their presence felt in various sectors of the nation. In Zaria, Kaduna State, the family is known for Islamic scholarship, courtesy of the founder’s acknowledged firm grip of Islamic jurisprudence, which earned him a place in the Zazzau emirate council as counselor for two emirs in Shari’a and Islamic jurisprudence. 

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Despite Baba-Ahmed’s possession of Islamic knowledge and his status as a scholar in a typical Hausa community, he did not only enroll his wards in Western schools, but encouraged and supported them.

As a Mauritanian cattle-trader, Zaria enticed Baba-Ahmed as the city was recognised as a hub of Islamic scholarship. He decided to migrate to the ancient city, and succeeded in building a dynasty. 

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Aside Mahmoon Baba-Ahmed, Mahadiyya Baba-Ahmed is the eldest surviving child of the family. She told Daily Trust that all the 33 sons and daughters of Baba-Ahmed were either born at their family house at No. 17 Baba-Ahmed Road, Tudun Wada, Zaria or in the staff quarters of Barewa College, Zaria. 

Mahadiyya said: “I attended Elementary School, Tudun Wada, Zaria the school that is now known as Baba-Ahmed Model Primary School. I did my senior primary school in Babban Dodo, Zaria. From there I got married and I am blessed with children. After my husband died, I went back to school, where I obtained Diploma in Shari’a Law at the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. I have been involved in humanitarian activities, particularly assisting women and children. I have a school for that purpose. The school has been established about 30 years ago. The school has many sections; nursery, primary, secondary, Qur’an memorisation, Islamiyya and adult classes for women. The school is known as Baba-Ahmed Foundation for Higher Islam and Science Education. I am now about 68, as I was born in 1949.” aliyukwaifa@dailytrust.com

Malama Mahadiyya said she grew up to see her father teaching in the famous Barewa College in Zaria. Some of his wives, she said, were living in Barewa College, while others were in Tudun Wada. She explained that the children that were in Barewa had to come down to school in Tudun Wada. She said one of the attributes of their father was his passion for giving sound training to his children. Before enrolling into Western school, Baba-Ahmed’s children had to first of all take Islamic lessons at home, from age four to six.

Aside going to an Islamic school that is now known as Nurul Huda, Baba-Ahmed’s wives also taught his children from books on Islamic jurisprudence. Mahadiyya said: “Another interesting thing we learnt from our father is the fact that he doesn’t believe in sorcery. He referred every sickness to hospitals, even in those days. This has really informed our perception of things. We developed the culture of believing only in Allah.”

She continued: “I think he imbibed that culture because of the fact that he was an Islamic scholar. In Mauritania, his country of origin, seeking for Islamic knowledge was compulsory on every citizen. Therefore, virtually every citizen has fair knowledge of Islamic jurisprudence. When he came to Nigeria, he did not portray himself as a scholar. He concentrated on his business. He supplied meat to the Depot Nigerian Army in Zaria, and other institutions. Because of the fact that one cannot hide knowledge, he therefore couldn’t hide his scholarship. It was on that ground that he was requested to teach in Barewa College, and eventually made the Imam of the school.”

Baba-Ahmed’s erudition of Islamic jurisprudence attracted the attention of the Zazzau palace. The first to invite Baba Ahmed to the palace as advisor on Shari’ah and Islamic jurisprudence was Emir Ja’afar Dan Isiyaku.

Mahadiyya said: “I also know when he was made a counselor on Shari’a and Islamic matters to the late Emir of Zazzau Alhaji Muhammad Aminu. Our father was a scholar, but he was not the type that flaunts it.”

Baba-Ahmed moved to Zaria through Benin and Ghana. He developed an interest in migrating to Zaria following the then-trending reality that put Zaria as a centre of learning. “He’d been hearing of the prominence of Zaria on Islamic scholarship,” Mahadiyya said.“He developed interest in Zaria in order to interact with some of the scholars. Our father finally came to Zaria after some people had failed to pay him back his cattle money. He used to transport cattle from Mauritania to Benin and Ghana. Therefore, when his customers in Benin failed to pay his money, he decided to move to Zaria.”

She added: “Before then, our father used to visit Sokoto, before eventually coming to Zaria to settle. He has revealed to us his ties with the then Wazirin Sokoto, Malam Junaidu, the grandfather of the Waziri that died recently. When our father came to Zaria, he met a culture where women were not allowed to acquire education. Therefore, when he married our mothers, he educated them himself. This allowed them to also teach his children. Our father came to Zaria alone, and got his wives, and bore all of us here.”

Another attribute of Baba-Ahmed was encouraging kinship, and he taught his children to love one another irrespective of the polygamous nature of his family. A child from wife A, for example, would grow up in wife’s B care, and so on. This saw his children grow up without the drama that typifies many polygamous homes.  

Mahadiyya said their father doesn’t have any relations here in Nigeria, making him stress the importance and need for his children to be their brothers’ keepers. “Another attribute of our father is his emphasis on hierarchy of seniority exists in the relationship of his children. In our family, an elder brother or sister is always respected, no matter what. We respect each other. To ensure that, he made us eat from one dish when we were young. He only separated boys from girls, but we all ate together.

“This is why we are still united. Brothers like Dr. Hakeem see us as mothers, and listen to whatever instruction I dish out. Mahmoon is my elder brother, but because of that training, we don’t call him by his name, we say ‘Baba Mahmoon’. The impact of that training is still in our blood.”

Baba-Ahmed gave birth to 33 children. He died and left 30 behind. After his demise, 10 have died, leaving 20. However, if a number would be put to the Baba-Ahmed, the number would run in hundreds. Mahadiyya said: “Even on my own side alone, I think we should be more than 50, if children, grandchildren and great grandchildren are to be taken into account.”

The Baba-Ahmed family generally remember their late patriarch for his desire to impart knowledge on them, and the general community. “Any interaction you have with him, you are likely to learn new things,” Mahadiyya said. 

Many members of the Baba-Ahmed family have become prominent, earning the family name fame around Nigeria, and beyond. Nafi’u is a lawyer, who became prominent with the late General Sani Abacha’s failed-bank crusade, and led the investigation that resulted to arrest and jailing of many offenders.  Abdulmalik is the present General Manager of Alheri/DITV Radio and Television, Kaduna. There is Muftahu, who has worked with now-defunct NEPA. There is Datti, who was a Senator and presently the proprietor of Baze University, Abuja. 

Also, there is Abdulsalam, who was once a Zaria local government chairman and commissioner in different ministries of Kaduna State; There is Abdulrashid, who is a twin brother of Abdulsalam. He is now a director in the Ministry of Justice. Mahmoon’s profile rose after his exploits in the coverage of the Maitatsine crisis in Kano as the correspondent of the Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria (FRCN), Kaduna. Dr. Hakeem is described by many a fount of knowledge and talent. He was a former Permanent Secretary, INEC Secretary and now Chief of Staff to the Senate President. There are others, like Sa’idu, Shafi’i and many more. 

Also noteworthy, is the late veteran broadcaster and media mogul Khallifa Baba-Ahmed.

Mahadiyya told Daily Trust that the family converges once in a year, in a meeting they have dubbed ‘Taron Gona’ (Hausa for ‘Farm Meeting’). “Everyone would come with children and grandchildren. We used to meet at an actual farm, but we were advised against that because of kidnapping fears. The gathering used to be a very large one, where we have lectures, sports and other activities. The children’s event usually takes the form of an inter-house competition, with houses named after our late father’s closest friends, like Abubakar Sahabi, Shafi’i, Hamidu, Abubakar Imam, Emir Aminu, among others. At the end of the competition, the winner is presented with a trophy.”

Football matches between Baba-Ahmed club and the host village, where the farm is located, used to be part of the annual meeting. 

Despite the family’s large – and growing – number, even grandchildren recognise one another, many thanks to the Taron Gona. 

Mahadiyya said their father experienced a bit of discrimination in his early years in Nigeria, but he endured. “That is why we are where we are now. We grew up in the midst of friends, and up to now we see ourselves as one. To cap it all, our father was the first Imam of Haruna Danja Juma’at mosque. And as I said earlier, he was one of the counselors of some emirs of Zazzau. His host community recognised him as a scholar, and entrusted him with the task of teaching Islamic education. What else can a people do more than entrusting you with their religious life?”

Baba-Ahmed died when he was about 95, on the 5th of November, 1987, but his name and legacy live on. 

 

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