Oxford Stands Still for Abdul Raufu Mustapha, By Jibrin Ibrahim
Many of his students spoke about his exceptional skills in teaching but also his capacity to listen to their ideas and the constant support he offered in getting them understand how best they could achieve their research objectives. Many of them said their first impression of him was that of a harsh lecturer, but that they all subsequently came to the realisation that his sole purpose was in getting them to improve…
On Sunday and Monday, the community of scholars working on African related issues organised tributes and a major debate on the achievements of Professor Abdul Raufu Mustapha, who died on August 8, 2017. The Sunday event was a day of tributes by family, friends, colleagues and former students from across Europe. It was anchored by Professor Patricia Daley, a colleague and friend of the late scholar who announced the decision of Oxford University to launch a scholarship in his name for students coming to study M. Phil in African politics in the university. The resources for the fund have already been sourced and the first recipient has just been selected.
Raufu completed his PhD in St Peters College, Oxford under the supervision of the respected scholar and teacher who had previously taught in the University of Ibadan, Gavin Williams. In his remarks, Gavin described Raufu as one of the most thoughtful and thorough scholars they have had in the university. They came to celebrate Raufu, he said, not just for his exceptional scholarship but also because of the dedication he showed in teaching and supervising students. Gavin Williams said that initially many in the university were sceptical about the appointment of Professor Mustapha to the prestigious Thomas Hodgkin lectureship, and he was later promoted to the post of Kirk Green Fellow in Anthony College, where he proved his mettle.
Many of his students spoke about his exceptional skills in teaching but also his capacity to listen to their ideas and the constant support he offered in getting them understand how best they could achieve their research objectives. Many of them said their first impression of him was that of a harsh lecturer, but that they all subsequently came to the realisation that his sole purpose was in getting them to improve and they ended up doing very well because of his guidance. They also spoke about his generosity with his time, as he always created time to listen to and advice them.
The key word from his colleagues and students was the very high level of his academic ‘integrity’. Professor Wale Adebanwi, the other Nigerian don in Oxford recently appointed to the prestigious Rhodes Chair described Raufu as the person who opened doors that allowed the university have confidence in employing African scholars. Raufu’s performance was so exceptionally high that the university is today more open to considering Africans for high academic positions, he contended.
It would be recalled that some of Raufu’s most important research were carried out over the past five years and were devoted to promoting a scientific understanding of the Boko Haram insurgency and seeking pathways to peace. Over the period, he worked with about twenty younger researchers from Nigeria, Niger Republic and Europe, producing a corpus of seminal work…
On the Monday, students and colleagues addressed the academic legacy that Professor Mustapha left behind. Dr. Ukoha Ukiwo, his former doctoral student from Nigeria engaged the theme of Raufu’s contribution to our understanding of the gains and limitations of democratic processes in Africa. He also spoke about the major contributions of Raufu in designing the policy on the countering of violent extremism that has just been launched by the Office of the National Security Adviser in Nigeria. It would be recalled that some of Raufu’s most important research were carried out over the past five years and were devoted to promoting a scientific understanding of the Boko Haram insurgency and seeking pathways to peace. Over the period, he worked with about twenty younger researchers from Nigeria, Niger Republic and Europe, producing a corpus of seminal work that is empirically based and theoretically sound. The work addresses Muslim identities, Islamic movements and Muslim-Christian relations. The research has so far resulted in two important edited volumes: Sects and Social Disorder: Muslim Identities and Conflict in Northern Nigeria, published in 2014; and Creed and Grievance: Muslim-Christian Relations and Conflict Resolution in Northern Nigeria, which has just been published and was launched on Monday.
Professor Paul Clough, my former lecturer in Contemporary World History in the School of Basic Studies, who I had not seen for the decades since he taught us in 1973, was there to identify with Raufu’s work on the evolution of the peasantry in rural Hausaland since the days of structural adjustment. He brilliantly described the transformation of a family in Marmara village in Katsina State through three generations of accumulation, land consolidation and an expanding family size, with 95 members as of last year, in which the expansion of family size initially promotes but later blocks avenues for capitalist accumulation. Clough, who is professor of anthropology at the University of Malta, came to Nigeria as a very young graduate and my generation remembers him for his dynamism and the power bike he had for going into rural Hausaland to do research on the peasantry. It was pleasing to see that he sustained his research interest for the past 45 years. Incredible.
What I found striking was the fascinating new areas of research Raufu encouraged his students to pursue in Oxford. They include Adam Higazi on conflicts between pastoralists and farmers, Sa’eed Husaini on stomach infrastructure and the 2014 Ekiti Elections, Oliver Owen on the Nigerian Police, David Ehrhardt on religion and politics in Northern Nigeria. Others are Stephen Kyburz on democracy and resource-induced conflicts, Hannah Hoechner on Qur’anic students in Kano, Lindsay Whitfield on power struggles in Ghana and Luisa Enria on borderlands in Sierra Leone.
Raufu was very much the product of the radical politics that characterised Ahmadu Bello University during the 1970s and 1980s. He was also a leading cadre of the radical movement and two examples of the role he played then are worth citing – the Movement for a Progressive Nigeria and the Zaria Group. Throughout his undergraduate days in Ahmadu Bello University – betweeen 1974 and 1977, Raufu was one of the leaders of the Movement for Progressive Nigeria (MPN)…
I had the privilege of giving the keynote address at the workshop. I pointed out that for Raufu, the purpose of life was the construction of a better society and he had a clear idea of what a better society meant – more equality, more opportunities for all, access to qualitative and critical education and above all, catering for the needs of all members of society. What was important about his life was that he always believed that – A BETTER SOCIETY WAS POSSIBLE AND WE ALL HAVE A ROLE IN BRINGING IT ABOUT. For Raufu, scholarship was the scientific expression of political values of the researcher. This approach characterised the key themes he engaged with. The promotion of social change on the basis of scientific and critical thought through the pursuit of a progressive agenda that prioritises the interests of ordinary people. Addressing the challenges to social cohesion posed by identity politics – ethnicity and religion in particular. Promoting democratic culture, its values, principles and practices.
Raufu was very much the product of the radical politics that characterised Ahmadu Bello University during the 1970s and 1980s. He was also a leading cadre of the radical movement and two examples of the role he played then are worth citing – the Movement for a Progressive Nigeria and the Zaria Group. Throughout his undergraduate days in Ahmadu Bello University – betweeen 1974 and 1977, Raufu was one of the leaders of the Movement for Progressive Nigeria (MPN), the incarnation of the radical Marxist philosophy and praxis that marked the period. Radicalism for Raufu meant breaking the bond between imperialism and the Nigerian (African) State as a precondition for emancipating the people from oppression and exploitation. Central to this approach was understanding imperialism as a world system with tentacles in the economy, trade, ideology and politics of affected societies. Throughout the period, he worked tirelessly organising Marxist study cells, identifying comrades that could be recruited and trained and above all, linking the activities of the MPN to the key questions of the time – combating apartheid and the racist regimes of Southern Africa, promoting the just struggles of the Palestinian people, organising against military dictatorship at home and activating links between the student and trade union movements. For many in Oxford, they were surprised to find out the other life of Raufu as a Marxist.
Raufu was a major player in the Zaria Group, the Marxist Movement composed of lecturers and intellectuals that provided leadership for radical thought and praxis as well as linkages to the larger Nigerian, African and international struggles. The Zaria Group published a journal, Struggle which, for the purposes of the period, we pretended to be publishing from Ilorin. For years, Raufu would dutifully travel to Ilorin each month to post it to comrades all over the country. One of the occasions to deepen the internal debate among progressives was the Karl Marx Centenary Anniversary Conference, jointly organised by the various strands of Marxists and Progressives in Zaria in 1983. Raufu presented a thoughtful and incisive critique of the Peoples’ Redemption Party (PRP) experience, entitled “Critical Notes on the National Question: Practical Politics and the People’s Redemption Party.” It was a major contribution that provided room to revive the debate on the contending pathways to progressive change.
Raufu had the good fortune of being married to a friend and intellectual soul mate, Kate Meagher, originally from Canada and currently an associate professor in the Department of International Development of the London School of Economics. They are blessed with two children, Asma’u and Oluseyi.