10 years after: Remembering Ibrahim Tahir




“Admiration of the great men, living or dead, naturally evokes imitation of them in greater or less degree.” -Samuel Smiles

December 8, is always a day for remembrance of Dr. Ibrahim Tahir, who held the traditional title of Talban Bauchi. It is ten years since he passed away in an Egyptian hospital in 2009.Tahir was born in Tafawa Balewa local government area of Bauchi state in 1938, though he was not a native of that place. His father was at that time the assistant to the district head of Tafawa Balewa village, so that is the reason the locality became his birthplace. All in all, Ibrahim Tahir was a descendant of the famous family of ‘Gidan Alkali Aminu’ in Bauchi metropolis.

Coincidently, in the same year of his demise, the University of Cambridge, his ‘alma mater’ celebrated its 800th anniversary since the establishment 1209 – 2009. As of then, it was unbelievable, if there was any college in the world that has been in existence for the past 800 years as a degree awarding institution. Until when I learned that most of the reputable personalities like Sir Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin, John Milton and many renowned figures of the centuries were Cantabrigian graduates.

Undoubtedly, Tahir was one of the eminent personalities in Africa, not only in Nigeria. He was a journalist, novelist, movie actor, orator, academic and politician. Moreover, he performed an unquestionable feat in all the careers. To put it simply, Tahir emerged among the best students in the best university in the world. Likewise, in 1975 he was conferred with doctorate degree by the same university after producing a plausible PhD thesis.

The geniuses exhibited by Tahir at King’s College Cambridge came as a no surprise to his longstanding friends and acquaintances; even as a student at the famous Barewa College Zaria, between 1954 and 1958, he recorded a nonesuch intellect transcendence in the history of that school.

This scintillating revelation was made by one of his classmates, late Mallam Turi Muhammadu,who in paying his tribute said: “Tahir always came first not only overall but virtually in all subjects. Such was his brilliance that he got a year’s promotion in his third year. He went on to beat everyone in the class he was promoted to.’

Depending on this testimony, his final results is foreseeable, he came out with Grade 1 certificate at WASC. He was among the ‘Who’s Who’ of Africa, not because of the positions he held like; Minister of Internal Affairs, member 1976 constitution committee, Chairman of Nigerian External Telecommunications (NET), Chairman of the NNDC Group of Companies, Chairman task force on High Speed Railway, Member National Advisory Council on Education which gave birth to NYSC program, Board Member Nigerian Universities Commission (NUC), etc.

All of these are not the reasons for placing him as one of the notable sons of Africa. Many people that were nonpareil to his noetic capabilities had excelled better than him in that aspect, due to selfish penchant for mediocrities and wheedlers by the authorities in power. In view of this, I boldly assert that Nigeria had underutilised his vast eruditeness. Despite the fact that in Africa, there were many great men that are either alive or dead who have written their names in gold from diverse sphere, and from among the few I happened to know, I singled out one particular person and likened him with Dr. Tahir in so many ways.

Tahir was a famous radio broadcaster of both Hausa and English service of the BBC, he was also conspicuously appearing in a weekly BBC television program ‘London line’. While staying in London, Tahir authored his first novel ‘The Last Imam’ which unsurprisingly attained an unprecedented international acclaim to the extent that somebody described it as one of the best novels ever written in English.

Frankly, Tahir was a genuine philanthropist who devoted himself to the welfare of the less privileged. That was why no matter how much money he got, he wouldn’t mind sharing owing to the fact that he never had a hank account throughout his lifetime. I recall that during the holy months of Ramadan, Baba Talba openly broke his fast, surrounded by poor people and sharing ‘Iftar’ (after sunset) meals together, without showing them superiority.

In an amusing anecdote, related to his cornucopian generosity, on one occasion, when Ramadan was about to end and the preparation for Sallah durbar has reached its crescendo, then suddenly, ‘Sarkin Taushe’ (Hausa panegyric singer) and his traditional drummers came to Talba’s residence from another emir’s palace. They arrived in order to entertain on part of his entourage during the procession of durbar festival. After the cultural event, Baba Talba lavished them with a variety of expensive gifts and money.

When they returned home, Sarkin Taushe who was the leader of the group took the bounteousand presented it before their emir. Upon seeing the content of the gifts, he then became infatuated and picked out one good-looking and costly ‘Alkyabba’ (cloak) for himself. The emirapparently mesmerised by the beauty of the fabric, told him that; “Wagga Alkyabba tafi karfinka” (this cloak is big for you).

Until now, I’m ambivalent as whether he might intentionally sent the cloak to him as a gift, but chose a tactical way of delivery. Although, others opined that the Emir has usurped it, simply because he considered the status of the recipient as unworthy to wear a such colourful material which supposed to be the pride of the royal kinfolks.

Therefore, I appeal to Governor Bala Abdulkadir Muhammad of Bauchi state to immortalise Dr. Ibrahim Tahir by naming an important edifice, a road, or school after him. For example, multipurpose indoor sports hall, could be renovated and renamed ‘Dr. Ibrahim Tahir hall’ or at best Bauchi State University, Gadau, could be named after him.

May Allah (SWT) grant Baba Talba Aljannatul firdaus.

Al-Mustapha writes from Bauchi

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