Daily Trust

Raufu Mustapha: Memories of a scholar and gentle ‘giant’

How time flies. It is one year since the great man passed on to eternity. I mean our dear Raufu Mustapha, an outstanding scholar and the former Professor of Politics at Queen Elizabeth College, and the Anthony Kirk Greene Fellow at St. Antony’s College, Oxford who died on August 8th, 2017. I have had to wait for one year to remember a public intellectual who combined academic and ideological honesty with deep patriotism.

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It was in the year 2000 that I was reconnected with Raufu in what would become a life-changing story of my encounter and friendship with a truly great scholar, patriot and friend. 

Towards the end of 2000 as we rounded off work at Oputa Panel, Dr. Kayode Fayemi and I met up in London. I told him rather excitedly I had been offered a slot by the Presidency to the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies, NIPSS, Kuru, Plateau State. I had always wanted to go there. Strangely, he did not seem to share in my excitement. “What are you going to do in NIPSS,” he said cynically. Before I could speak, he said, “Have you considered a Rhodes Fellowship at Oxford?” I told him I did not know anyone in Oxford and truly, the thought had never crossed my mind. He said, jeeringly, “but Raufu, our friend, is in Oxford. Let me speak to him and get back to you.”

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About three days later, I was heading to Oxford where incidentally, an event was going on and Dr. Fayemi had scheduled the meeting there. Raufu was genuinely pleased to see me and said, “Kayode has told me about his suggestion to you. We will want you here because it will be an honour for us and you will love it. However, there is a gentleman who is the boss and I will formally introduce you to him. I have already told him about you and we are all excited at the prospects of having you here.” 

He introduced me to his boss, Professor Williams Beinart, the Rhodes Professor of Race Relations and Director of the African Project at St. Antony’s College. 

Not long after that, I got an offer for a Senior Rhodes Scholar position at St. Antony’s College. I was offered a fairly extended stay, with funding posing a problem. They wanted me staying longer than the three-month duration. I shared this with another good friend, Dr. Adhiambo Odaga who was then head of Ford Foundation in Nigeria and a very proud Oxford alumna. She very graciously offered to fund the period of my stay. The rest as they say is history.

Our informal Nigerian diplomat in Oxford, the inimitable and enigmatic Shehu Othman helped me find accommodation. When I returned to Oxford, Raufu took me round both his own college, St. Antony’s and Queen Elizabeth’s College. He introduced me to his wife Kate and their children, Asmau and Seyi. Kate told me she was Catholic. Shehu had told me that when they met, Raufu was not really a practicing Muslim and that Kate persuaded him to return to his faith! To make Raufu understand that I believe that Kate was still Catholic, I gave him a rosary for her. 

A most memorable day with them, was honouring a lunch invite at their home.  While Kate was preparing lunch, Raufu was reading a newspaper. Chatting with Asmau, I asked if she really wanted to look like an African woman. She nodded and I made the strange offer to braid her hair. She willingly and innocently obliged, sitting at my feet as I got to work. 

I was oblivious Raufu had fetched a camera and was clicking away. When I looked up he mischievously said, “I am going to send these pictures to the Vatican to let them know that one of their priests knows how to braid.” Raufu taunted me over these photographs, refusing me a copy. His response each time was I would receive them during a special ceremony whenever the whole family was together visiting me. 

Raufu was a silent, unobtrusive teacher in word, deed and action. A fine scholar, refined in thought, prodigious in intellect, a gentleman to the core. A patriotic man of selfless sacrifice, dedicated to the fine principles of humanity beyond the false corrosive boundaries of faith and ideology.

I celebrated my 40th ordination anniversary on 19th December 2016. Raufu picked up the information somewhere and sent me an email on December 21st, 2016 which read: Ran Bishop namu ya dade. Ameen. Insha Allah I hope to be in Nigeria in early January (having again failed to turn up with the family as promised!) – hopefully from the 5th. Are you likely to be in Abuja then? It would be nice to meet up. Kate and the kids send their felicitations on your 40th Priestly Anniversary and 4th Bishopric anniversary. A Merry Christmas and a Happy and Healthy 2017. Ameen.”

It is tragic and sad that some of the most illustrious sons and daughters of this country who gave up comfort and made so much sacrifice to see this country move out of this horrible condition of inhumanity have passed on with the country coming nowhere closer to the goals we set for ourselves. Where have all the heroes and heroines gone? 

When Raufu and his colleagues got the grant to undertake research on Boko Haram in Northern Nigeria through the Swiss Embassy, he approached me to serve as a Senior Consultant to the project. I protested that I did not have much time and that I would not like to sign on and be unable to do my duty. Raufu pleaded as if the project depended on me. “It will be a huge boost for our confidenceto have you on this project,” he said, rather extravagantly. I conceded. The result of that fascinating work and his research can be seen in the subsequent publications that have followed. The first, ‘Sects and Social Disorder: Muslim Identities and Conflict in Northern Nigeria’ and the second;

‘Creed and Grievance: Muslim Christian Relations and Conflict Resolution in Northern Nigeria.’ 

Later on, as he prepared for the second publication, Raufu approached me with a proposal. He said he wanted me to write the prologue for the volume but I had protested to him because he came and launched the first volume and did not invite me nor did he call me to say he had been in town. The next time he visited Nigeria, he did get in touch and I invited him to The Kukah Centre for lunch. Over lunch, he handed me two copies of ‘Sects and Social Disorder.’ He said one copy which he autographed was for me the other for The Kukah Centre Library. I hugged and told him I was happy to accept the bribe! 

For some time I did not hear from him. He sent me the manuscript to review but also said he would let me know when he needed the Prologue. Towards the year, I wrote to find out what was happening. His response was very interesting but a reflection of the quality of his mind and scholarship. In the same email of December 21st (incidentally one of his longest) he said, “I am really sorry I have been tardy with my communication. Too much work and too little time to catch one’s breadth. The current volume we are working on covers Muslim – Christian conflicts – ‘Creed & Grievance: Muslims, Christians & Society in northern Nigeria’. I had invited you to write a Prologue for this volume, but since then we have been re-structuring the content. I have also realized that a number of contentious issues – from both Muslim and Christian perspectives – will need to be put on table of public discuss. I worry that some in the audience may decide to shoot the messenger instead of addressing the message. My colleagues and I have been debating these issues, and I apologize that I had not raised them before now. We are still working on the volume, and hope to be ready in the next few months. A Merry Christmas and a Happy and Healthy 2017. Long may you continue to be the asset for our country that you are. Na ka, Raufu.”

Raufu was a painfully diligent and meticulous scholar who looked at every angle and dimension of any subject he undertook. Each title of a Raufu work is a loaded gem carefully crafted. He combed through the details, anxious for precision but also honest not to hurt or overlook sensibilities. It was the measure of the kind of man that he was, a teacher with all the hallmark of rigour and measured tenderness. His email suggested that no matter how long it took, he would be ready to wait till all the grey areas of his work had been clarified. 

He was a scholar with his feet firmly on the ground, committed to bringing the periphery to the centre. He told ordinary peoples’ stories with passion and a sense of moral urgency. 

Raufu heeded Shakespeare’s words in ‘Measure for Measure:’ “O, it is excellent to have a giant’s strength; but it is tyrannous to use it like a giant.” Raufu had a giant’s strength, but he was a gentle servant. He has left a fine legacy, a lovely dutiful wife, an excellent scholar in her own right and two children with big dreams. May the Lord look after them as only He knows how.

Kukah is the Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Sokoto