Tribute to Dr Saleh Abubakar

He’s everything to me. I acclimatise the climate of his thoughts/ideas and actions. His intrepidity in me is immeasurable. Allahu Akbar, Bappa breathed his last on May 21, 2022. I have never seen a university lecturer more contented with times of Salaat, who couldn’t be distracted by the dare punctuated academic schedules, a man with ever-extending readiness to fulfill obligations, like Dr. Saleh Abubakar. As a devout Muslim, his struggle to keep it neat with Allah has come to a fulfilling end. Beautiful words from many of his funeral attendees attested to the fact that Mallam is not, by his behavioural traits, that ‘Dan Boko’ you could imagine. He’s widely understood to have accustomed himself with sound norms and values of the society, a darling care to relatives and neighbours as well as sweet-and-soft words to disciples, kids and young ones. Indeed the Imam who led the funeral prayer couldn’t get lost of, or even misplace the fact that:

“Dr. Saleh Abubakar, he said, ‘Salaat, Salaat, Salaat, is anything to him that he can’t miss!.” His sense of caring about the happenings of others is extraordinary. His warm reception to ‘rain showers’ and ordinary ‘Bako’ is entirely human. He’s a man, who can’t give you wrong words. He advises with care anything that would remain a life-living testimony to all-and-sundry. His genorousity not only materialises a living but also gives one the courage to pursue entrepreneurial skill that could be harnessed into a bearable industrial career. He demonstrated this by giving out sewing machines to just married females whose future he predicts, tends to become more vulnerable with unbearable challenges.

Born in 1948, Bappa had his early education in Government Secondary School, Yola, Adamawa state and became the Principal of the College of Preliminary Studies, Yola (1989 to 1991). He was Acting Registrar, Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB) where he served from 1996 to 2007. He was appointed chairman, Interim Joint Matriculation Board (IJMB) Task Force Unit of the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria (1986 -1989). He served as Provost, College of Education, Jalingo, Taraba state (1991 to 1994). He was a delegate to the National Constitutional Conference (1994 – 1995). His academic designation as a ‘still-Senior-Lecturer’ in the the Department of History, Ahmadu ABU, Zaria, was not surprising as teachers-and-scholars before him had also chosen not be wrapped in the cotton-wool of academic mediocrity. The likes of the late Dr. Mahmud Modibbo Tukur and Dr. Bala Usman were an attestation to the mood.

In all the positions he held, Dr. Saleh, believed by many, had never chosen to wrangle in, or slither with public fund. His principle, narrated by associates, was that, you must not be lazy and you must be paid accordingly. If as it happened he became answerable to the authority of others, he either followed legitimate process free of extortions or resigned for Allah’s sake! Simple as contented as he remained, a fountain of inspiration to all of us. Part of his incorruptible way could be located from his ‘shooting match’ with the authorities in JAMB and I quote him in his 2020 latest expose( lamenting that:

“As a Chief Executive, I was sadly deficient in other skills, not least those needed to keep the bosses happy and that created serious issues for me.” Taking the stock of the quantum of developments recorded by JAMB in the now 43 years of its existence and the chaos that characterised the annual sale of application documents of the then University Matriculation Examination (UME) and the Monotechnic, Polytechnic and Colleges of Education (MPCE), the late Dr. further apprehends that:

“In the course of time, it became obvious that banks were pulling a fast one on the Board with respect to the sale of these application documents. This was because they had turned the forms into a commodity whose value was more than its declared price. Therefore, hoarding and diversion of forms became the order of the day as a lot of money accrued to the banks while critical stakeholders such as parents and candidates received the short end of the stick. To put a stop to all that, I insisted that banks must pay upfront for all the forms they needed and that the board would not accept so-called unsold forms back. That was to ensure that the board received the revenue due to it while at the same time eliminating hoarding and diversion of forms to other states.” Such was the red-line the filthy dog crossed between him and authorities there.

As cool as a cucumber, quite a number of his late generation students might have thought that “Baba Saleh”, as we seemed to have sparked the bright of his ageing simplicity, was just a simple diet with average academic standards. So much has this assumption read in our minds that many of us did not bother to search for or read his master PhD treatise on “Birnin Shehu: The city of Sokoto” which he bagged in 1982. Not even his excellent academic papers/journals, wherein his rare exceptionality in the analytical approach to scholarship boldly printed itself, had been so interested to be read by many of our generation. The exactitude of his liberating art of thoughts, the uncommon spark of his inquiry which has always been lenient and gentle but often brain-cracking, the mastery of his language communication and of course, the personality of a distinct and extra-careful scholar—all could be traceable in his some ‘still-improving’papers: “Population Movements and the Formation of Communities in the City of Sokoto in the Nineteenth Century”, “Contemporary Africa and the Middle East: The Challenge of the Moment” and numerous others in form of articles and chapters published in journals and books. However, the two papers cited above, have not, compared to other published ones, been so widely circulated.

While acknowledged that he, Dr. Saleh, trained a good number of sound academics including Dr. Kabir Chafe, Prof. Mustafa Muhammadu Gwadabe, Dr. Salisu Bala, Mal Idi Ronke and several others, he still did not choose to put much ink in scholarly historical writings as his colleagues and disciples tend to have done. Going by his narration (and I am careful not to misinterpret his words), he told me that he did not write much in historical scholarship but more in poetry—a practical writing skill he had nurtured going back to his elementary school days! I have access to the draft collection of his poems and I’ll put effort in making them available to readers in history department and elsewhere. This is something that many don’t know about him and it has explained the fact that in terms of the number of scholarly academic writings, Dr. Saleh was more of a poet and of course, still not less a historian. This has also proved the fact that his extraordinary English skills and language communication was not by accident. He indeed meant it as his stay in the department of history became a busy time for proof-reading, correcting and improving the English of so many academic theses and dissertations including those of his colleagues and seniours.

The friendly line was at the beginning simply not friendly! “This man, you write and he cancelled and asked you to write again … wahala all dey with this Bafullata”! Typical of us students, such were the kind words we expectorated, explaining how our reactions disagreed with his perfectly vetting style of our projects at undergraduate level. It turn out all to unending thanks and gratitude to a man from whose mastery supervision and insightful comments, my F9-rate English began to take a new shape! It was later I had realised that it was deliberate when, the then Project Coordinator of the Department, the late Toure-Kazah-Toure assigned my proposal to him. I must improve my English, the late Toure must have said in his mind and thank God it’s all love. It was really fortunate that I had the two (and may His mercy shower on their graves) agreed on treating carefully, my future with kid gloves!

While taking a fence with smuggling hatreds at the twilight of our graduation, he, Dr. Saleh called our attention that our projects be made available and someone must have reached him at home for signatory. Being the male in our group and the two other females: Khadija Abdullatif and Nafi’u Basirat had to give their copies to me for submission to Kaduna. Unknown to us, he had been sick at the time and so he couldn’t be in Zaria for all intent purposes. The God-fearing man you know couldn’t let me take the transport burden and so he paid back to-and-fro and even added with some cash! Such was the man I under-rate calling him a mentor but ‘my father’ rather, is all I can submit.

Many who have seen my facebook announcement of his death thought he’s my real father. While agreed to have said ‘NO’, this assumption however, was not far from correct. This is because, beyond academic mentorship, to Dr. Sale, I’m a ‘son’ full of privileges to be welcomed at anytime, entered his house with, or without permission, slept, woke-up and took my bath. I would eat, rest and die there if I like! When recently I was writing my thesis, his computer couldn’t be disowned from my hand until I came the round end. He once told me that he had never thought I could keep in contact and become so closed, perhaps, he said, more than many of his students. I really get contented by his dear utterance and I thank God for the luck I have to witness his demise and closer indeed, I got to his grave after the funeral prayer, which I unfortunately missed!

On my eyes, Dr. Saleh was an industrious father who, by his business plans and other project drafts might have overtaken Dangote in seconds giving his ‘never-die-hurstles’ and bet-streaming ideas which, in my ruling sentiment, were unbelievable and immaterial at his age. I took part in his panorama of setting up business this, business that. Severally, I had been in Kano for working out a liaising agreement. Some day I was on the closed-border with Niger for another purpose. Domestically, he engaged in incubating and hatching eggs of variety of birds. He also engaged himself dutifully in the production of ‘kilishi’, dried pepper, coconut cake and sundry. “Misbahu’, he would say, ‘let’s go to the market’, ‘there’s a message: we need guinea-fowls’. Tomorrow it was a phone call, ‘Misbahu go to Kano, we need LDP leather’and so on and on. Until now, I couldn’t have realised that he was digging up more niches for his children, ushering their ways to carry all along, their future with commitment, their Deen with proper fulfilment of obligations, supplications and ‘taqwa’, their life with simple diets and self composure. May Allah have mercy on him and forgive his shortcomings.

Dr. Saleh died at a ripe age of 74 living 12 children alive including those of his late wife who died by accident barely two years before him. Words of condolence to his family: Sister Nafisa, Fauziyya (a poetess), Officer Ammar, Mal Ibrahim, Barrister Umaima, brother Uthman and their darling siblings Nana, Umar Faruk and all who have not been mentioned including his relatives: Gidado, Abdurrahman, Lankwan and all-and-sundry. I owe my mentor everything prayers and I’ll not hesitate because, even for nothing, he was a man who had never said ‘NO’ to my request. ‘Yes’ had been his answer to me even if that may turn away apart. Pure and gentle is your soul Sire!

Musbahu writes on behalf of the head of department of History ABU, Zaria, Kaduna state.

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