I have lost so many people in this Season of Death occasioned by Coronavirus; relatives, colleagues, friends, acquaintances, elders.
Each deserves an elegy from me because, per chance, readers who come across such writeup will say a silent prayer for the departed souls. But in the great competition for an elegy that confronted me among all those I have lost, I today choose a great mentor, Professor Ibrahim Ayagi.
If there was one person Kano, Jigawa and many Northern States should be grateful to and prayerful for, it is late Prof Ayagi, the person with the singular honour of kickstarting science schools in Kano, and hence responsible for generating many generations of doctors, engineers, scientists and academics (laced with Islamic scholarship) throughout the North. (Personally, almost all my children passed through Ayagi’s school – Hassan Ibrahim Gwarzo Secondary Schools, HIGSS).
To some, Prof Ayagi was that eccentric, Kano-born professor of economics who refused to succumb to IMF Conditionalities back in the mid-1980s, and got sacked as Managing Director of then Continental Merchant Bank by the Babangida Administration. For those who remember, Prof Ayagi had religiously kept a newspaper column to educate Nigerians on the evils of the Bretton Woods Institutions – World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) – and the damage they were doing to developing countries. Alas! Bagangida imposed on Nigeria a Structural Adjustment Programme, SAP and, for opposing it, Ayagi lost his job.
To others, Ayagi was that Chairman of the National Economic Intelligence Committee (NEIC) of the Obasanjo Administration who, when appointed, Reuters screamed (on Tuesday 9 November 1999): “IMF CRITIC HEADS TEAM OF ECONOMIC MONITORS!” Ayagi’s NEIC had worked silently behind the scenes to get Nigeria out of its crippling foreign debt, when we paid a $12b down-payment and the rest of the $32b loan was cancelled. Reuters had added “…Ayagi is well known locally as a critic of the IMF and he opposed attempts by former military ruler Ibrahim Babangida to accept an IMF loan…”
So when the time came to get out of that Debt Trap which he campaigned vehemently against, Ayagi did not disappoint. When the deal was done, Ayagi and his colleagues stood back and allowed the President and the Finance Minister to take the credit, the glory and, it is alleged, the commission. To date, many Nigerians do not know the real architect of that credit exit, but they know clearly the commission takers.
To many people in Kano, Ayagi was that courageous and steadfast believer of the Prophetic Saying ‘Whoever dies depending his honour is a martyr’ when he stood against a gang of armed robbers who attacked his home a stone-throw from a large Police Division in Kano City. He refused to surrender anything despite their threat to kill him. As the robbers were literally torturing him to near-death and asking for money and valuables, it was reported that Ayagi repeatedly said “Ba zan ba ku ba! Ba zan ba ku ba!” (“I will not give you! I will not give you!”). The robbers left him for dead. The shamed-faced police, near whose station the gruesome drama occurred, later arrested some of the riff-raff attackers, and the case continued to drag in court for ages and ages.
The HIGSS school itself was named after another great Kano personality, Ayagi’s good friend, the late Dr. Hassan Ibrahim Gwarzo, the state’s Grand Qadhi who died just around the time the schools were being established. Ayagi (and Prof Muhammad Sani Zahraddeen, former VC BUK and now Grand Imam of Kano, a subject for another day) impacted on my life, and I never hesitate to restate my gratitude.
In Ayagi’s case, what happened was that when my first son sat for HIGSS Entrance Exam and was admitted (incidentally from Dr. Hassan Gwarzo’s Ali bn Abi Talib Primary School of the Islamic Foundation), the school fees knocked me off as a junior lecturer at BUK with a paltry, SAP-sapped salary. I had boldly gone to Dr. Ayagi, as he then was, and declared that though I would love my son to attend HIGSS, I was financially handicapped. (I believe I was then the ‘poorest’ parent – others being Emirs, Governors, Ministers, millionaire merchants.) I offered to pay in monthly instalments, not a termly-lump sum. My offer was a misnomer hammer in the schools’ works.
Dr. Ayagi sat me down and asked, “Do you accept it is your responsibility to educate your child?” I was incredulous, but I replied YES, just to see where it would lead. Ayagi then said, “OK. I will personally loan you the first term fees, and may Allah provide you subsequent terms’ fees.” We prayed to it, led in du’a by Ayagi’s associate, the late Alhaji Jijitar (may Allah forgive him). The du’a centred on “Allah Ya hore!” (or, may Allah provide). And alhamdu lilLah from that day, Allah has ‘hored!’ But the icing on the cake was that, when I came to repay that first loan, Ayagi said it was a free gift. For a banker and an economist, that was simply astounding!
But long before HIGSS, Ayagi, as Kano State Commissioner of Education in the 1970s, had set up Kano’s celebrated Twin Science Secondary Schools at Dawakin Kudu and Dawakin Tofa. Products of these two schools became the crème de la crème of medicine and science in the whole of the Northern states, many of which soon emulated that wisdom. Ayagi’s interest in teaching had started long before – he had been a Grade Two Teacher and a Lecturer, culminating as Professor at ABU Zaria. (And Nigeria later recognised him and awarded him an OFR.)
Behind every Professor must be a formidable woman. Ayagi’s wife, the highly reserved but revered Yakumbo, came through thick and thin with him. She it is who caters for the schools’ social and nutritional needs. To her and the children – Zailani and Hadi – we all say Allah Ya jikan Kawu, Ya sa ya huta, Ya ba mu hakuri, Ya kyauta namu zuwan.
May Allah rest the soul of Prof Ayagi, the first of many elegies of my bereavement during this Season of Death.
Inna lilLahi wa inna ilaiHi raji’un!