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Tribute to a friend

I want to thank the organizers for the privilege of speaking at this event. I do not take it for granted. There are many eminently qualified persons, many in this hall, who are perhaps more familiar with Professor Abudlraufu Mustapha and his work and who can speak about his life more authoritatively and much better than myself. Besides, there is nothing I can say about the life of this extraordinary person that has not already been said or written about by his multitude of friends, colleagues, associates and indeed family.

Nevertheless, like many of you here, I was privileged to call Raufu a friend. A friendship that spanned practically our entire lives from the time we first met as young boys at Federal Government College Sokoto in 1971, when himself and his bosom friend Yahaya Hashim used to shield me form bullies, until the very last minute on August 8th 2017 when I had the extra-ordinary privilege of being by his death bed along with Kate, his widow and two children, Asma’u and Sheyi and another friend of ours Prof. Kamar Adeleke and praying for him as he peacefully drifted away. I call this extraordinary privilege, because truly it was!

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I had traveled to Katsina, I believe it was on August 6th 2017, to pay a condolence visit to the family of a friend who had passed away. I was extremely exhausted after very strenuous local travels. During the trip, my mind had at various times flashed to Raufu. In recent telephone conversations with Kate, I had gotten the message that it would be nice if I could visit Raufu whose condition had obviously began to decline. Raufu had expressed his desire for us to meet and indeed in my last conversation with him, I promised that we would visit. But I was planning that for end of August.

The following morning, on 7th August, 2017, I had another engagement to speak to law students at Bayero University Kano. I believe it was whilst at that function at Bayero University that I noticed several missed calls on my phone from Prof Kamar Adeleke, a professor of medicine and a mutual friend. I immediately returned the call. Prof Adeleke then said to me in a very stern voice, “AB we have to go to Oxford. I have just spoken with Kate. Our friend is not in good shape” I immediately called my travel agent in Lagos and said “please could you get us two tickets to London for tonight?” I headed to Lagos from Kano that evening. I arrived Murtala Mohammed Airport to meet Prof. Adeleke already waiting. I had a shower at the airport lounge and a change of cloth. We boarded the British Airways overnight flight to London. It was then Prof. Adeleke, briefed me about his assessment of Raufu’s medical condition. From then onwards, the mood was somber. We practically said little to each other. We arrived London in the early hours of August 8th. The plan was for us to check into a hotel in Paddington, drop our luggage and perhaps have a shower and then head to Oxford. Fortuitously, our rooms were not ready. Prof. Adeleke, looked at me and said: “AB let us go”. We headed for the train station and by 11.30am we were in Oxford at 45 Divinity Road, Kate and Raufu’s residence. We met Kate and the children, Asma’u and Sheyi! Raufu was lying in bed upstairs. I am not sure he knew we were there. Kate was trying hard to exude her usual confidence. She seemed determined to deflect us from what obviously looked somewhat grim. Looking at Prof Adeleke who, as a medical doctor had encountered this situation several times, I could tell it was serious. He said to me, AB “speak to him”; I tried to! After a while, the visiting nurse had come to check on Raufu. We went down stairs, I suspect Prof. Adeleke was clear in his mind as to what was going on. However, I was still optimistic that some miracle could still happen and Raufu would turn the corner. I could not bear the thought of losing Raufu. A little later, after the nurse had left, Kate had gone upstairs, she hadn’t come down for a while. We all then went back up. Looking at Prof. Adeleke, he said to me, “AB pray for Raufu.” I immediately went to perform my ablution and came back and sat in the room. In my confused state, I said the little prayers I could muster and watched as our friend drifted away.

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Raufu was a very God-fearing Muslim. Often before embarking on his frequent dangerous road journeys in Nigeria I would see him put a ‘tasbaha” (praying beads) in his pocket. And he would say, “Atoh, in case something happens, at least they would know I am a Muslim”.

Raufu was special to many people and many families. His love, affection and support flowed like liquid glue between the crevices of many friendships and family members, bringing people together, repairing and bonding relationships. It was remarkable that though he had lived abroad practically since 1996, yet he   maintained close relationships with us his friends often remaining the bond between many of us who lived either in the same city or often within a few hours from each other. Every time he spent in Nigeria during his numerous visits was carefully and delicately balanced between doing his academic work, his field work, interviewing people for numerous research work and visiting family and friends across the country. But his visits to friends or family were not fleeting visits. They were deep and genuine engagements. He would connect with the problems or difficulties of families and friends and often mobilize resources or networks to assist in solving them. He touched the lives of all those he maintained relationship with in very special ways, whether in providing financial support, job search, counselling or career guidance, educational placement, mentoring young people, you name it! In my family’s own case, each and every one of our five children had a special relationship with Raufu. He or Kate or both of them attended every single important family event, every single graduation, including those that both my wife and I were unable to attend. Raufu answered every SOS our children sent during their schooling years whether in the UK or elsewhere. I remember, one evening our daughter, Zubaida had arrived England to begin her studies at Sheffield. Foolishly, unlike us, we had been persuaded by the school that all arrangements would be made to receive her from the airport and settle her down. No need for either of us to travel with her. Then suddenly, I think it was almost approaching mid-night, when I received an SMS from Zubaida. It simply read: “Abba Call me, now!” I knew something was wrong. I called her immediately. I could sense she was in distress and almost in tears. She had arrived Sheffield in a cold winter night. And although she had been given a room in the student hostel, no other arrangements had been made. No beddings no heating, no food. I immediately called Kate and Raufu. Within minutes, the problem was sorted. Raufu had called a family friend who rushed to Zubaida’s rescue. In a couple of days Raufu and Kate were in Sheffield to see Zubaida and reassure her.

Raufu was an exemplary and inspirational person. He was one person I was always delighted to meet. And indeed I always looked forward to meeting. He strengthened my faith in our common shared values. In the Nigerian environment remaining faithful to the core values that we have been brought up on like honesty, integrity, hard work, plain-dealing and tolerance is often very difficult. For many of us it is a life long struggle. You often question yourself, especially when many including your 7 peers seem to get ahead not by upholding those values, but by precisely undermining them: by being ‘smart’, by taking advantage of others or being out rightly dishonest or fraudulent or simply being crooks. And it is these sorts of people that the society often celebrates! In these circumstances, it is always a struggle to maintain ones faith in these enduring values. You need people around you who strengthen rather than undermine those values. Raufu, was one person who consistently reinforced those values and positive feelings and helped you to remain on course! In my low moments, whether in my individual personal struggles, or in my faith about my country, I often would look forward to a conversation with Raufu. His sharp intellect, deep understanding of Nigerian politics and society had on countless number of times helped put things in perspective and assisted me to remain faithful to our shared vision for a better Nigeria!

Raufu’s work as we would hear in the course of today, are profound not just in their academic excellence, in the critical reasoning and rigour that he brought to analysis of issues, but beyond that I think it was in his ability to translate theoretical knowledge to practical application, to influence policy and action and impact on people and society. Thus he spent a great of his time developing and disseminating policy documents arising 8 from his research work. This way, his research work had relevance and practical meaning and could be appreciated by a wide range of stakeholders from academics, bureaucrats, professionals and even ordinary people.

Raufu as an Oxford academic had the option to live a settled comfortable life with his Canadian wife and two lovely children in the serene lovely city of Oxford pursing his career and academic work. Yet he chose to be embedded in the affairs of his country and indeed the continent. He started everyday even in Oxford by reading all the major Nigerian Dailies online. He was abreast with every details and developments in his country. I often got to hear about new events or breaking news from him. He followed political events and was always eager to try to shape things in his country. In the run up to the 2015 general elections, he was deeply concerned about events in Nigeria. He was convinced that the Jonathan Administration was totally inept and incapable of rescuing Nigeria from the precipice it seemed headed to. He had hopes, as many of us did, that Muhammadu Buhari offered new possibilities for the country. During one of his visits before the election, he wrote a cheque of N50,000 and asked me to deposit it as his contribution to Buhari’s campaign. I doubt he had at that time ever met Buhari. And of course he was never a member of any political party.

Raufu spent his last years not only pursuing his numerous research work: understanding Boko Haram, politics of Islam, writing “Creed and Grievance”, one of the books we are launching today, but he was deeply concerned about the building the next generation of Nigerian academics and scholars. Sometimes in 2015, in the course of our conversations, he asked me if there was a way we could mobilize support to increase the number of Nigerian and African students in Oxford by making available scholarship opportunities. He was concerned that Africa is the least represented continent in one of the World’s most influential citadel of knowledge, the University of Oxford. The idea then came to us to try and interest Alhaji Aliko Dangote to support an endowment for African Students and mid-career Nigerian Academics to study in Oxford. I approached Alhaji Aliko. As a first step, we persuaded him to undertake a visit to Oxford. We traveled together in February, 2016 and had a most engaging visit: meeting with top ranking University leaders and the senior level academics in the University and the Oxford Department of International Development where Raufu taught. However, the highpoint of the visit was a town hall-style meeting with nearly two hundred African Students with one of Africa’s foremost entrepreneurs, a man from Nigeria, a country known in Oxford largely for all the negative qualities!

That was one of Raufu’s proudest moments in Oxford. As fate would have it, Raufu’s last visit to Nigeria in January of 2017, was in pursuit of this partnership. In December 2016, Raufu had taken ill. He came to Nigeria on a research visit only managing to cope with his schedules. The thought at the time was some kind of food poisoning from a previous trip to Senegal. He was undergoing tests but no firm diagnosis had been made. He returned to England still nursing his illness. Shortly, at the end of January, 2017 he had to return to Lagos along with Pro-Vice Chancellor Prof. Nick Rawlins and a Ms. Frewyeni Kidane, a Senior officer at the Development Office of the University for meetings with Aliko Dangote Foundation. I joined them in Lagos, traveling from Ibadan. I had been in touch with Raufu on telephone. I realized he was very ill in his hotel room. He was unable to eat anything beyond small amounts of yoghourt and portions of banana at a time. As I approached Lagos, I had summoned my doctor friend Prof. Adeleke to join me in Raufu’s hotel. Raufu managed to come down to the lobby. He had lost a lot of weight and was walking with some difficulty. Looking at him as he approached us, Prof Adeleke said “Raufu you are very ill”. You should not have come on this trip. Raufu smiled and said “it is okay”. I will leave tomorrow after our meetings. Besides, “it was not possible for me to stay back. Many people had  worked hard to arrange the trip and we even convinced the Pro-Vice Chancellor to come” Prof. Adeleke said ”since you are going back to the UK tomorrow, there is no need to subject you to any hospitalization or further checks, you continue with your medication but see your Doctors immediately on return.”

The next morning, we spent the whole day in Lagos meeting with the Aliko Dangote Foundation and its officials and discussing the partnership with the University. We later visited Alhaji Aliko who gave us lunch in his house which of course Raufu could not participate in. Throughout the day, Raufu who was obviously weak and struggled hard not to allow his ill health and pain to get in the way not even the fun part of the trip which was cruise on Aliko’s Yacht around the Lagos Lagoon. Raufu and his colleagues left later that night back to London. His next journey to Nigeria was to return his body to Lagos for his burial at Ilorin on the 13th August, 2017. Both Prof. Adeleke and I were at the Murtala Mohammed Airport in the early hours of that morning to receive the body along with Kate, Asmau and Sheyi.

Raufu’s dream was to ensure that the next generation of Nigerian and African Scholars had the kind of opportunity he had. He struggled very hard and made huge personal sacrifices and as you could imagine endured personal pain up till the last minute to realize that dream. The partnership with Dangote Foundation has not yet been finalized. But the Foundation has committed to it and only two months ago Senior officials of the University were in Lagos to flesh out the discussions which we remain hopeful and optimistic will come to fruition.

We have indeed lost a friend, a patriot and an extra-ordinary person. When I broke the news of Raufu’s death to my wife, she broke down in tears. She said somberly: “We have lost a part of us!” She was absolutely right!

It is delightful that Premium Times has taken up the task of popularizing Raufu’s academic works and making them accessible to Nigerian scholars and others interested in some of the defining issues of contemporary Nigeria. I congratulate all those who have put this together and for the opportunity to speak in honour of our friend and brother. May Allah grant him Aljannah Firdausi!

Thank you for listening.

A.B. Mahmoud, SAN, President, Nigerian Bar Association


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