Prof. Yusuf Sa’idu:  The tragic demise of an icon

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By Yahaya T. Baba PhD

Allah (SWT) is indeed the ultimate source of human life and to Him shall we all return, and at His appointed time. It is a promise from the supreme being that every life must taste death. All human beings, regardless of the belief system they hold, recognize the sanctity of death. Life without death makes no meaning. However, the meaningfulness of death to mankind, fits only few logically justifiable circumstances. These circumstances may include but not limited to old age, terminal illness and death sentence for capital offenses. Other than these and similar circumstances of transitional nature of human life, human beings are fond of describing death as tragic, sudden, untimely, devastating and even  destructive.

The nature of ill-feeling about death makes mourning habitual to mankind. Across cultural divides, therefore, the dead are mourned regardless of the natural or unnatural circumstances surrounding their death.  People who are at their prime times and full of life are usually heavily and severely mourned after their death. This is because their death is considered sudden, premature and even truncative to their path of personal growth and development as well as their contributions to the growth and development of other people, communities and humanity as a whole. This explained why mourners always refer to these kinds of death as tragic and devastating comparable to even disasters of monumental scales.

Someone’s death could mean the creation of a vacuum, difficult, and sometimes impossible to fill. This kind of feeling after death is more common with teachers and scholars, particularly in sane societies. The death of scholars and intellectuals truly creates vacuum difficult to fill. This is why rational societies pay great attention to the livelihood, safety and security of their teachers and scholars for long life in anticipation of prolong and continuous service to humanity. In Nigeria, however, this category of people are among the least catered for. A good number of them in Nigeria, out of sheer neglect, die in mysterious circumstances, unacceptable in modern societies. Some had succumbed to death from common, avoidable, curable and manageable ailments. Others are victims of epidemics, pandemics, traffic accidents, plane crashes or violent crimes such as armed robbery, terrorism, insurgency, communal clashes and armed banditry.

The Usmanu Danfodiyo University, Sokoto, has in recent times lost a number of its top and seasoned academics to some of these unnatural causes of death. The long list of the deceased Professors in the University, in recent times include among others Prof. Usman Argungu of the Biological Sciences, Prof. Aminu Isiyaka Yandaki of History Department, Prof. Y.Y. Ibrahim, Islamic Studies Department, Lawal Abubakar, Nasiru Muhammad and A.I. Yakubu all of whom were Professors  in the Faculty of Agriculture. Others include Prof. Bello Agaie of the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Prof. Majeed of Biological Sciences and Professors Nasir Mukhtar Gatawa and Shehu DanHassan both of the Department of Economics as well as Prof. Mamman Audu Wasagu of the Faculty of Education, who died in a ghastly traffic accident. The last but one in this count was Prof. Muhammad Sani Sagir of the Physics Department in the Faculty of Physical and Computing Sciences.

All of these seasoned and veteran scholars passed on in the last five or six years. In all of these episodes of recurring deaths, the University community was thrown into mourning and bewildered by the seeming value deficits of academics in Nigeria, particularly because of the circumstances of their death. Some actually died from protracted illness while the death of others has been termed as sudden and devastating. Some of these veterans succumbed to the Covid-19 pandemic while others died as a result of the complications of their health condition during the ASUU prolonged industrial actions of the 2020 and 2022.

All of these professors died at a point in their academic career considered to be evolving, prime or even the most productive in their professional cycle. All of them left behind indelible marks in their respective disciplines in the areas of teaching, research, mentor-ship and community service. Since the year 2020, year after year and sometimes within intervals of few months the academic community at the Usmanu Dnfodiyo University has been grieved and saddened with deaths of not just its members but some of the finest and academically most productive elements among them. Since this tragic cycle of recurring deaths of scholars from this university, I dedicated a little time in the past and paid tributes through short but glowing testimonial of the deceased to show respect to people who served the knowledge industry with enthusiasm and dedication. However, instead of this sad moments to be irregular, it is almost becoming recurring. At a point, my pen dried up and the appetite to literally  bid our veterans farewell diminishes as a result of one death too many.

However, this short break of tributes ended with the shocking news, abruptly of the tragic death of Prof. Yusuf Sa’idu, who was until his death, the Deputy Vice Chancellor Research, Innovation and Development of the Usmanu Danfodiyo University, Sokoto. From the time the news of his death was broken to the confirmation of the news up to the period of his funeral and the third day Fiidda’u (prayer) in his remembrance, I have been engulfed in sober moments of reflections on his life, career and relationship with the people. My encounters with him at different times over the years and the testimonies of various people about his life influenced my decision to bid him farewell with a tribute befitting of his personality and the life he lived. The caption of this tribute reflects truly well, my understanding of Prof. Yusuf Sai’idu and the peoples’ testimonies about him. He was indeed an icon of scholarship and an embodiment of humility that has been tragically and suddenly lost to annihilators, breaded by structural injustice, aided by insensitive and incompetent rulers and officials at all levels of politics and governance in Nigeria.

The dying moments of the afternoon of Monday, the 24th day of June, 2024 were moments of intense grief for  the family, colleagues, relatives, friends, students and well-wishers of the late iconic scholar and humble personality. For those who got the news earlier, their hearts melted with shocks and bewilderment. The news thus spread quickly like wildfire. It eventually became a Black Monday in the Usmanu Danfodiyo University, Sokoto and indeed the academic community in Nigeria. There were calls everywhere probing the sources and spuriousness of the news. All callers were anxiously hoping that the news could be fake or a mistaken identity, but to no avail. It eventually dawned on all of us that the devastating news was real and the worst has happened. How I got the message was quite grieving and tormenting.

It was some minutes after the Hour of 3pm, I had a hard knock and a bash on my door at the same time, while I was busy with my laptop. I furiously looked up to see who was, without courtesy, gatecrashing into my office. It was my Deputy Dean, Prof. Jimoh Amzat (the Great JAO), as we fondly call him. He asked frantically,  wearing grief and shocks in his face,  is it true that the DVC Research, Innovation and Development is killed by bandits? At a stretch, I couldn’t even figure out what he was asking or what sort of strange enquiry he was making. He repeated himself furiously with a sad voice and weak gestures. Only then my senses reconnected and I said how, why, where and by who? He responded that it was a post on the RI&D WhatsApp platform by Prof. Aminu Bayawa. Again, the shocks in me increased, as Prof. Bayawa was a close friend of the deceased and works directly under his office as the Director Research, Innovation and Development. I however quickly checked the ASUU WhatsApp platform to fact-check the story, but there was no such post at that moment. Moments later, I saw the information posted by Prof. Sahabi Mahuta, another close friend and colleague of the deceased in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. That was enough confirmation of the tragic loss of a complete gentleman.

After the confirmation, Prof. Jimoh lamented over and over again that “ this is not how to die, Prof.” But the worst had already happened and the reflections of the life and times of the humble Professor continued between us before we were joined by Prof. Ibrahim Dankani who came to fact-check the news. All of us were deeply mourning and stressing the good character of our colleague. We all were unanimous on two of the most obvious traits of Prof. Yusuf Sa’idu, scholarship and humility. As if these are not the trademarks of intellectuals, but our understanding of these two qualities of him deserved special mention and acknowledgement because of his embodiment of these virtuous attributes. If there is anyone, in my assessment, I should attribute the trait of humility to, as his personality, I will hardly skip Prof. Saidu. This attribute has become an ascription that really made his personality. The testimonials of this claim are justifiably overwhelming from across different categories of people that are familiar with our deceased colleague. As teachers and scholars, who are expected to symbolize the trait of humility, as a guiding principle of knowledge production and advancement, Prof. Saidu has thrown a huge challenge to all of us. He did his utmost best and lived to that expectation of an iconic scholar and symbolized humility as an indelible trademark of a scholar. This is because knowledge and humility are inseparable. Thus to be a scholar is also to be humble. This is a global cultural heritage of scholarship and teaching profession.

 It is often said that knowledge and humility are intertwined. Humility is the path to acquiring useful and quality knowledge. Most scholars are humble, because humility increases the cravings for new knowledge. Many scholars imbibe humility only as an inevitable virtue of knowledge seeking individuals. Thus in the process of advancing scholarship, students and scholars are guided by the principle of humility. However, there is a world of difference between humility in the pursuit of knowledge and humility as a way of life. This is where Prof. Yusuf Sai’idu was exceptional and noteworthy.  He stood out conspicuously tall among his colleagues. He wore the trademark of humility naturally in his disposition and in relations with people around him and with other people he meets even at first instances. This is a quality attested to, by everyone that knew and interacted with prof. Sa’idu.  Unlike other categories of scholars who are only humble in their path to seeking knowledge, Prof. Sa’idu carried with him the trait of humility in all ramifications of his relations with the people.

At every contact with him, regardless of your status, low or high, he welcomes you with smiles and accommodation, he maintains such smiling postures and accommodation throughout the conversations and bids you farewell with such smiling, grinning and cheerful facial expression. Everyone that meets him want to meet him again. This is regardless of the issues at stake of the conversations. This humble nature of Prof. Sa’idu didn’t compromise his steadfastness in upholding truth, rules, regulations and guiding principles in formal and informal engagements and activities. He was not economical with the truth but very diplomatic in telling the truth and insisting on the truth. If he had studied Political Science and/or Diplomacy, we could have had an excellent diplomat that could solve complex gridlocks and stalemates. A lot of facts about his life proved the naturality and originality of his humility.

From the brief biography of the late revered Professor of Biochemistry, he graduated top of his class in 1990 earning him the Northco Holdings Prize for the best graduating student of Biochemistry. However in one of my direct conversations with him, he related to me how he took up appointment as a teacher in secondary school because of his passion for the knowledge industry. He didn’t at that time pushed for an appointment with the University or any Higher Institution of learning but humbly pursued a career as a teacher in secondary school. He told me that he was posted to Kontagora as a teacher and gradually began to build a career as a teacher. To prove his greater thirst for knowledge and humility, he enrolled for M.Sc programme at the University of Jos and completed with outstanding result at the University of Jos in 1994, while teaching at secondary school. He waited until 1998 when opportunity presented itself for appointment at the Usmanu Danfodiyo University, Sokoto in 1998.

This adventure was the countdown to a glorious academic career that came to an abrupt end on Monday,  the 24th day of June, 2024, tragically so through a mysterious incident that all of us have the government of this country to blame for being insensitive ineptitude and incompetent in the management of the affairs of the people for whom they govern on their behalf. Personally, I had interacted with him officially and unofficially for different purposes. As a member of the University Fellowship Committee, which he coordinated, as a member of the University Journals Committee and on matters of tetfund National Research Fund  (NRF)and Institutional Based Research (IBR) as well as on different other official and unofficial matters.

In all of my interactions with him, I saw in him a near perfect gentleman. His humility drives smoothly every aspect of the work he led. It is therefore not a surprise that he became the scholar that he was until his death. He is widely published and won numerous research grants, which he successfully coordinated and executed. All of us know how difficult is it to work with colleagues, particularly on research grants, but for him it wasn’t an issue of much a concern. He was among young Professors in the Usmanu Danfodiyo University, Sokoto to have presented their Inaugural Lectures. As a Nutritional Biochemist, Diabetics Not a Death Sentence was his topic. It attracted huge scholarly attention and instigated series of other inaugural lectures from young Professors in the university.    This trademark is thus a great stride to emulate for academic excellence.

The humble nature of our late colleague is not only noticeable in the business of scholarship. Even beyond the university, Prof. Sa’idu’s marker and identifier was humility. The congregation that attended his funeral attested largely to this fact. Although, members of the University community populated the congregation, it was nearly divided between people in gown and the people in town. The community in which he lived outside the university appeared to even mourned him severely and dearly compared to his colleagues. Their testimonies about him, his humility and generosity were outpouring among them, as they claim to have lost one of them that has no equal among them. The choice of his residence is even a clear testimony of the claim largely made by the members of the community. He built his house in a deep local community, reminiscent of a slum. The location of his house is even deeper than the community inhabitants. His idea was to melt in the community and contribute to the livelihood of the people of the community. He did just that.

At his residence, he built a mosque and an Islamic school where community members attend and their children are educated. He also provided support for the education of many children in the community whose parents are reluctant to educate their children because of poverty. At the funeral, I met one local person who lamented bitterly about the loss of Prof Sa’idu. He argued that he is a living beneficiary of Prof’s humble gestures. He said he supported him to establish his company and volunteered as a director of the company and was always supportive of the growth and development of the company. They built excellent relations so much that he trusted him with many of his personal dealings. This is really humility beyond scholarship. Many of such similar conversations and testimonies were countless to the credit of this great person who left us at his prime time and when he was full of healthy life.

This tribute is indeed from one that barely knows him. I have not been a close person to him but only had opportunities to have interacted with him in some few official and unofficial occasions. Even at that, I learnt a lot from him and his death teaches me good lessons in my career as an academic and as a human being. Let me, therefore, use this opportunity to  offer additional condolences to the family of Prof. Sa’idu. He left behind three wives and twenty-one children. The grief of his loss is very heavy in your hearts. He was indeed a good and caring husband and father. You all have to take solace in the fact Prof Sa’idu lived a humble, generous, productive and exemplary life. All of you should be proud of him. Undoubtedly, the good he has done in life will come back to you indirectly. But you should follow in his footsteps and continue to fly the flag he raised of humility and hard work. Your obligation to him now is prayers for Jannatul firdaus to be his final abode. For his parents, the pains are enormous but returning all matters to almighty Allah will comfort you. Yours is continuous prayers for his gentle soul to earn the highest place in Jannatul Firdaus.

For the Vice Chancellor, Prof. Lawal Suleiman Bilbis, no one except his immediate family is equal to you in terms of the pains of the departure of your maintee. You typically raised him as an academic son, from undergraduate days to his maturity as a sterling scholar and at various levels of academic and professional development. You provided all the necessary support for him growing up and he has been supporting you loyally in many of your academic, professional and administrative endeavors. This huge loss is for you but shared with many within and beyond the university community. Sir, your efforts, investments and sacrifices for Prof. Yusuf Sa’idu are not in vain. You built someone that built communities. You should be proud of what you did and be proud of your product. To the entire university community and indeed, the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), to which the deceased had been a loyal and committed member, the grief and sorrow is for us to endure and be energised to continue in the struggle for a decent and improved conditions of service as well as a favorable and serene environment for academic excellence.

May the Almighty Allah grant  the soul of Prof. Yusuf Sa’idu eternal rest, may Jannatul Firdausi be his final abode and may the family he left behind be protected, guided and provided for by the grace and mercies of Allah Subhanahu Wata’ala, amin Ya Rabbi

Adieu and rest in peace our dear brother, friend and colleague.

Yahaya T. Baba, PhD is of the

Department of Political Science

Faculty of Social Sciences

Usmanu Danfodiyo University, Sokoto

yahaya.baba@udusok.edu.ngtkbabayaha@yahoo.com

08035043305

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