Raufu Mustapha: Remembering A Gentle Intellectual Giant, By Matthew Hassan Kukah
Raufu was a painfully diligent and meticulous scholar who looked at every angle and dimension of any subject he undertook. Each title of a Raufu work is a loaded gem that was carefully crafted; he combed through the details, anxious for precision but was also honest not to hurt or overlook sensibilities.
How time flies. It is one year today since the great man passed on to eternity. I am mean our dear Raufu Mustapha, an outstanding scholar and the former professor of Politics at Queen Elizabeth College, and the Anthony Kirk Greene Fellow at St. Antony’s College, Oxford, who died on August 8, 2017. I have had to wait for one year to remember a public intellectual who combined academic and ideological honesty with deep patriotism.
It was in the year 2000 that we connected again in what would become a life-changing story of my encounter and friendship with a truly great scholar, patriot and friend. My friendship with the late Tajudeen Abdulrahman had made it difficult to establish closer relationships with other friends in Oxford and London. I knew Raufu, but at that time, we were therefore not really close. Then, we reconnected much later.
Towards the end of the year 2000, as we were rounding up our work at the Oputa Panel, Dr. Kayode Fayemi and I met up in London. I told him rather excitedly that I had finally been offered a slot by the Presidency at the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS), Kuru, Plateau State. I had always wanted to go to NIPSS since its inception. Strangely, Dr. Fayemi did not seem to share in my excitement. “What are you going to do in NIPSS?”, he asked cynically. Before I could speak, he asked again, “Have you considered a Rhodes Fellowship at Oxford?” I told him I did not know anyone in Oxford and truly the thought had never crossed my mind. He said, jeeringly, “But Raufu, our friend, is in Oxford. Let me speak to him and get back to you.”
Three or so days later, I was on my way to Oxford where, incidentally, some event was going on and Dr. Fayemi had scheduled the meeting there. Raufu was genuinely pleased to see me. He went straight to the point: “Kayode has told me about his suggestion to you. We will want you here because it will be an honour for us and you will love it. However, there is a gentleman who is the boss and I will formally introduce you to him. I have already told him about you and we are all excited at the prospects of having you here.” He introduced me to the gentleman he called his boss, Professor Williams Beinart, the Rhodes professor of Race Relations and director of the African Project at St. Antony’s College. We had coffee, chatted and spent the better part of an hour together.
Not long after that, I got an offer of a Senior Rhodes Scholar position at St. Antony’s College. I was equally offered a fairly extended stay, but there was the problem of funds because the fellowship was for just for three months and they said they wanted me to stay much longer. I then shared the thoughts with another good friend, Dr. Adhiambo Odaga who was then head of Ford Foundation in Nigeria and a very proud Oxford alumna. She very graciously offered to fund the period of my stay at St. Antony’s College. The rest as they say is history.
Oxford had not really been my beat and I had to rely on our informal Nigerian diplomat in Oxford, the inimitable and enigmatic Shehu Othman, who quickly set about finding me an accommodation. When I returned to Oxford, Raufu took me round both St. Antony’s and Queen Elizabeth’s Colleges, the former being his own College. He introduced me to his family, his wife Kate and their two lovely children, Asmau and Seyi. The wife Kate told me she was Catholic. Shehu had told me that when they met, Raufu was not really a practicing Muslim and that it was Kate who actually persuaded him to return to his faith! I would become an occasional guest in their house. To make Raufu understand that I believe that Kate was still Catholic, I gave him a rosary to deliver to her.
One of my most memorable days was when I got to the house for lunch and found the whole family waiting for me. I think Kate was preparing lunch, while Raufu had been reading a newspaper. After exchanging some pleasantries, we all sat down. I had barely settled down when I asked Asmau if she really wanted to look like an African woman. She nodded and then I made the strange offer to braid her hair. She willingly and innocently came and sat at my feet as I got to work. I did not know that Raufu had gone upstairs and fetched the family camera. Next all I heard was click, click, click. I turned to look up and saw that Raufu had been taking photographs. He mischievously said to me: “I am going to send these pictures to the Vatican to let them know that one of their priests knows how to braid.” Raufu taunted me over these photographs, refused to give me a copy because each time I asked he often said he would have to hand them to me during a special ceremony, whenever the whole family was together to visit me.
He was a fine scholar, refined in thought, prodigious in intellect, a gentleman to the core, a man of selfless sacrifice, a patriot and dedicated to the fine principles of humanity beyond the false corrosive boundaries of faith and ideology.
Raufu was a silent, unobtrusive teacher, both in word and deed. He was a fine scholar, refined in thought, prodigious in intellect, a gentleman to the core, a man of selfless sacrifice, a patriot and dedicated to the fine principles of humanity beyond the false corrosive boundaries of faith and ideology.
Raufu was permanently in debit, as far as our friendship was concerned. The reason was what I considered his stealthy entrances and exits into Nigeria, which I often picked up from some of the usual suspects – our common friends like Professor Hashimu in Bayero University. Whenever I accused him, his emails were always full of contrition. Take one on March 6, 2016: It read: “Allah ya ja zamanin Bishop. Tuba ni ke for not being in touch. I have been overwhelmed by work recently, and I am behind on all fronts, including the book on northern Nigeria. I hope you are fine and well.
Kate and the clan are fine. She still commutes to London 3 days a week. Asmau is currently travelling through Southeast Asia and Australia. She started in January and insha Allah we expect her back home in June. She is currently in Laos. Seyi is in the second year of his PPE degree in Oxford. We – the whole family – plan to be home this July/August. If you are in town, we will consider putting Sokoto on our travel plans. Na ka, Raufu.”
We agreed that during this visit, I would receive my famous photograph of me braiding Asmau’s hair.
Later in the year, I celebrated my 40th ordination anniversary on December 19, 2016. Raufu picked up the information somewhere and sent me an email on December 21, 2016 which read: “Ran Bishop namu ya dade. Ameen. Insha Allah I hope to be in Nigeria in early January (having again failed to turn up with the family as promised!) – hopefully from the 5th. Are you likely to be in Abuja then? It would be nice to meet up. Kate and the kids send their felicitations on your 40th Priestly Anniversary and 4th Bishopric anniversary. A Merry Christmas and a Happy and Healthy 2017. Ameen.”
It is tragic and sad that a number of the most illustrious sons and daughters of this country, who gave up comfort and made so much sacrifice to see this country move out of this horrible condition of inhumanity have passed on with the country coming nowhere closer to the goals we set for ourselves. Where have all the heroes and heroines gone?
Raufu heeded Shakespeare’s wise words in “Measure for Measure”: “O, it is excellent to have a giant’s strength; but it is tyrannous to use it like a giant.” Raufu had a giant’s strength, but he was a gentle servant. He has left a fine legacy, a lovely dutiful wife, an excellent scholar in her own right and two children with big dreams.
When Raufu and his colleagues got the grant to undertake research on Boko Haram in Northern Nigeria through the Swiss Embassy, he approached me to serve as a senior consultant to the project. I protested that I did not have much time and would not like to sign on and be unable to do my duty. Raufu pleaded as if the project depended on me. “It will be a huge boost for our confidence to have you on this project”, he said, rather extravagantly. I conceded. The result of that fascinating work and his research can be seen in the subsequent publications that have followed. The first, Sects and Social Disorder: Muslim Identities and Conflict in Northern Nigeria and the second, Creed and Grievance: Muslim Christian Relations and Conflict Resolution in Northern Nigeria.
Later on, as he prepared for the second publication, Raufu approached me with a proposal: He wanted me to write the Prologue for the volume but I had protested because he came and launched the first volume without inviting me or calling to say he had been in town. The next time he visited Nigeria, he did get in touch and I invited him to the Kukah Centre for lunch. Over lunch, he handed me two copies of Sects and Social Disorder. He said one copy, which he autographed, was for me, while the other was for the Kukah Centre Library. I hugged and told him I was happy to accept the bribe!
For some time I did not hear from him. He sent me the manuscript to review but also said he would let me know when he needed the Prologue. Later in the year, I wrote to find out what was happening. His response was very interesting but a reflection of the quality of his mind and scholarship: In the same email of December 21st (incidentally one of his longest), he wrote: “I am really sorry I have been tardy with my communication. Too much work and too little time to catch one’s breadth. The current volume we are working on covers Muslim-Christian conflicts – ‘Creed & Grievance: Muslims, Christians & Society in northern Nigeria’. I had invited you to write a Prologue for this volume, but since then we have been re-structuring the content. I have also realised that a number of contentious issues – from both Muslim and Christian perspectives – will need to be put on table of public discuss. I worry that some in the audience may decide to shoot the messenger instead of addressing the message. My colleagues and I have been debating these issues, and I apologize that I had not raised them before now. We are still working on the volume, and hope to be ready in the next few months. A Merry Christmas and a Happy and Healthy 2017. Long may you continue to be the asset for our country that you are. Na ka, Raufu.”
Raufu was a painfully diligent and meticulous scholar who looked at every angle and dimension of any subject he undertook. Each title of a Raufu work is a loaded gem that was carefully crafted; he combed through the details, anxious for precision but was also honest not to hurt or overlook sensibilities. It was the measure of the kind of man that he was: A teacher with all the hallmarks of rigour and measured tenderness. His email suggested that no matter how long it took, he would be ready to wait till all the grey areas of his work had been clarified.
He was a scholar with his feet firmly on the ground committed to bringing the periphery to the centre. He told ordinary peoples’ stories with passion and a sense of moral urgency.
Raufu heeded Shakespeare’s wise words in Measure for Measure: “O, it is excellent to have a giant’s strength; but it is tyrannous to use it like a giant.” Raufu had a giant’s strength, but he was a gentle servant. He has left a fine legacy, a lovely dutiful wife, an excellent scholar in her own right and two children with big dreams. May the Lord look after them, as only He knows how to.
Matthew Hassan Kukah is Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Sokoto.