He impacted many lives across different walks of life. From family members, colleagues, friends, students and the general public, everyone has a story to tell of how he transformed their lives for the better. The outpouring of incredible tributes and encomiums on Professor Wakili is a testimony to how well he lived.
“Carve your name on hearts, not tombstones. A legacy is etched into the minds of others and the stories they share about you.” ― Shannon Alder
I am writing this with painful tears of sorrow over the unimaginable loss of my dependable teacher, mentor, colleague, father-figure, benefactor, friend and supporter, Professor Haruna Wakili. Until his body was interred on June 21, I was still hopeful that he would somehow miraculously resurface. He fought one of the bravest cancer battles I’ve witnessed in my life. Until his demise, he was the deputy vice chancellor (administration) at Bayero University, Kano. Apart from his reputation as an honest man with peerless integrity, he lived an illustrious life of commitment to scholarship and public service. A brilliant and forward-looking historian, Professor Wakili was a gentleman extraordinaire and an epitome of the scholar-administrator tradition. He was a good listener who spared time for relatives, friends, colleagues and students. A perfectionist to the core, Professor Haruna Wakili was the very essence of empathy, kindness, honesty, courage, self-discipline, meritocracy and philanthropy.
He impacted many lives across different walks of life. From family members, colleagues, friends, students and the general public, everyone has a story to tell of how he transformed their lives for the better. The outpouring of incredible tributes and encomiums on Professor Wakili is a testimony to how well he lived. In a moving tribute, Dr. Nuruddeen Muhammad, the former minister of state for Foreign Affairs, described his last encounter with him as the most impactful, as it relates to his journey towards self-growth and discovery. His colleague, and former vice chancellor, Kogi State University, Professor Mohammed Sani Abdulkadir, also described him as a renowned scholar and administrator.
I first met Professor Wakili in 2003 when I took his Comparative Historical Methodology class, which he jointly taught with Professor A.G. Saeed. I was immediately struck by his intellectual stature and penchant for multidisciplinary history. He did not only make the class intellectually vibrant through his engaging tutorial sessions, but also exposed us to the comparative advantages of history across the social science and humanities disciplines, which significantly boosted our morale and self-confidence in a climate of utter public disdain for the pursuit of History as a career. Students were challenged and encouraged to think beyond the traditional boundaries of History and to incorporate the methods and theories from other disciplines. That was the origin of my passion for critical and theoretical history!
Our second, perhaps most decisive, encounter was at a departmental postgraduate seminar. I had just joined the History Department as a graduate assistant and was grappling with my Master’s degree proposal on the intellectual biography of the late Yusufu Bala Usman. As a proponent of multidisciplinary historiography, Professor Wakili was quick to recognise the intellectual merit of my attempt to study historiography from a biographical perspective. He offered a constructive critique and comments on the proposal, which reassured me that I was venturing into a promising area of historical studies. Henceforth, my relationship with him blossomed into that of a strong mutual academic admiration.
One outstanding quality of Professor Wakili was his capacity to straddle scholarship and administration without compromising standards in both. As the director of the Aminu Kano Centre for Democratic Research and Training, Mambayya House, he nurtured a viable institutional culture in line with the philosophy of his predecessor, Professor Attahiru Jega. Under Professor Wakili’s leadership, Mambayya House transmogrified into a pivotal intellectual rendezvous for public discourses, seminars, conferences, workshops and policy dialogues on critical national issues, bringing together the town and the gown in very profound and productive ways.
My first involvement in Mambayya House was at the instance of Professor Wakili, who invited me, alongside Malam Ismail Bala and Dr. Haliru Sirajo, to serve as research assistants in a high profile research project on the biography of the late Babba Dan’ Agundi. The other members of the team were all senior professors. Highly impressed by our performance during the fieldwork, he commissioned each of us to draft chapters of the work, irrespective of our ranks as junior colleagues. Professor Wakili was that meritocratic! After the completion of the Dan’Agundi project, he continued to involve me in research projects and major committees of the Centre.
Following his successful tenure as the director of Mambayya House in 2011, Professor Wakili was made the Head of History Department, BUK, where he brought his extraordinary administrative and scholarly acumen to bear, transforming the Department within the span of six months before His Excellency, Sule Lamido, former governor of Jigawa, appointed him as the State’s Commissioner of Education, Science and Technology. One of the legacies of his brief tenure as HoD was inspiring his younger colleagues to enroll for the PhD programme, preferably in universities overseas. His logic was that this was necessary to expand and deepen the intellectual tradition of the Department through collaboration with and exposure to different academic cultures across the world. He went out of his way to initiate contacts with his colleagues overseas. Thus, after successfully defending my Masters thesis, he immediately introduced me to his good friends Steven Pierce and Steve Howard of the University of Manchester and Ohio University respectively. Although the School of Arts, Languages and Cultures accepted me with partial funding, I could not make it to Manchester because the tuition fee was exorbitant. However, my prospective supervisor, Steven Pierce, read and improved my doctoral proposal. Professor Wakili did his best to assist me secure local funding to go to Manchester. I eventually got admitted to the University of Cape Town (UCT) with generous funding support from the Social Science Research Council in New York. As if his interventions and efforts were not adequate, Professor Wakili went out of his way to offer me generous financial support throughout my doctoral years in Cape Town.
As commissioner for Education, Science and Technology in Jigawa State, he was a strong pillar of Governor Sule Lamido’s Jigawa renewal agenda. He accomplished a lot during his tenure, thus blurring the imaginary gulf between academia, public administration and politics. He was among the most-performing members of the cabinet, described by Sule Lamido as “a true symbol of loyalty, hard work, and commitment”. It was during his term as commissioner that the idea of Jigawa State University (now Sule Lamido University) was conceived and successfully executed. Professor Wakili was also instrumental in the establishment of the famous Jigawa State Academy for the Gifted in Bamaina. His other accomplishments include the conversion of the College of Agriculture Hadejia to a state polytechnic. The College of Islamic and Legal Studies Ringim was also converted to College of Education and Legal Studies, receiving full accreditation from the National Commission for Colleges of Education to start the National Certificate of Education (NCE) and diploma programmes for law students. Under Professor Wakili, there was unprecedented massive recruitment of teachers and the renovation of schools in Jigawa State. He was also a passionate advocate of girl-child education, who believed that no nation would develop without educating its female population.
Following his successful tenure as commissioner in 2015, he resumed his professorial position in the History Department, BUK, which coincided with my return from doctoral studies in Cape Town. We were assigned to jointly teach Comparative Historical Methodology and the experience of collaborative teaching with him was quite instructive in terms of mentorship. I am especially indebted to him for most of my latest books on historical methodology. Between 2015 and 2020, my relationship with him blossomed into an intimate personal and family friendship.
In 2016, he reluctantly accepted another appointment to serve as the director, Mambayya House. The management of Bayero University was convinced that another term of his stewardship would make remarkable difference and take the centre to greater heights in view of his stupendous record of performance. As the director of the centre, he demonstrated administrative and intellectual perspicacity. His accomplishments are too numerous to mention here but I will only highlight a few of them. One of the illustrious projects he coordinated at Mambayya House was a U.S. Embassy sponsored project on the “Role of Religious Leaders in Combating Corruption in Nigeria”. The project was completed successfully and the centre declared a balance of three million naira from the awarded grant. This unusual gesture of transparency and accountability attracted accolades and commendation for Mambayya House from Washington. Based on its record of integrity and productivity, the Centre was approached by MacArthur Foundation to apply for a one million dollar grant to work on a project on anti-corruption through inter-faith platforms in Nigeria. The project has been very successful under his coordination. Professor Wakili has bequeathed a legacy of transparency, teamwork, and hard work and to the Centre that will last for a long time.
In 2018, he was unanimously appointed as the deputy vice chancellor (Administration), Bayero University. Similarly, he brought with him a package of cutting-edge initiatives and ideas on university management and administration. In his wisdom and foresight, he conceived a brilliant initiative for the establishment of an ultramodern Institute for Historical Studies at Bayero University, Kano to grapple with the challenges of historical studies and the preservation of primary sources of history. Professor Dalha Waziri, the current head of the History Department, once marveled at Professor Wakili’s rare administrative wisdom and capacity for original thinking.
Professor Wakili was not only an excellent scholar, he combined scholarship with administration in the most productive manner possible. Despite the enormity of office work as the DVC, he still insisted that he should be assigned courses to teach and students to supervise. He remained very active at departmental seminars, offering constructive comments on students’ projects. He spared adequate time to read students’ dissertations and made extensive comments and corrections to them. We jointly taught “History of Political Ideas” in 2018, following the retirement of Professor Dahiru Yahya, who invented and taught the course for decades. Professor Wakili gave me the latest books on the subject. He edited a book on the social and political thoughts of Malam Aminu Kano, which was published last year, and was truly looking forward to completing his second book on Hadejia titled “Hadejia: A Century of History”.
The autobiography of Sule Lamido is another important project, which was quite close to his heart. As principal coordinator of the project, which includes Dr. Nu’uman Habib, Mustafa Chinade and myself, he steered the team with great scholarly sagacity and leadership. In fact, we had already held several marathon meetings and engaging discussions with our principal, Sule Lamido, and the project had reached an advanced stage before the beginning of Professor Wakili’s health travails and eventual referral to India for further medical care.
In Abuja from where he departed to India for medication, we had the most emotional tête-à-tête about life’s challenges. As if he had premonition of his impending journey to the great beyond, he counseled me on critical life decisions and choices in his typical candour and fatherly love. His condition was fast deteriorating and I was so despondent that I broke down in tears at the airport. He tried to calm me down but he ended up in tears as well. As they boarded their flight to India, he sent me a touching message that still resonates in powerful ways.
Professor Wakili was one of the strongest men I have known in life. Even on his sickbed in India, he constantly checked to ask and push for the progress of ongoing projects. He would send lengthy emails stipulating implementation roadmaps, believing that his absence should not affect the progress of our projects. In one of our last communications while he was in India, he wrote:
“Dear Dr. Samaila, How are you feeling now? I hope you are ok. As for me I am getting much better. I am writing to bother you again. First, I would like you and Dr. Shehu to resume work on my edited book on Hadejia. My plan is that when I return we take a week to review and finish it. I know you have a lot on your table but it’s doable and I know you have the capacity to make it happen. Again, where are we on Isa Alkali’s Abba Institute of Historical Studies? Remind the HOD”.
That was Professor Wakili, even in his most distressful moment – hardworking, emphatic and committed to service. His unwavering belief in my capacity has been most inspiring and encouraging throughout my career. He returned from India in a critical medical state. He was further hospitalised in the Executive Wing of the National Hospital Abuja. Despite his condition, he did not relent in his usual altruistic responsibilities and support to relatives and friends. He remained exceedingly kind and committed to the wellbeing of others.
When I visited him on Friday June 20 at the National Hospital, he could barely talk or move, but he stared at me with eyes full of empathy. He muttered to his son, Ahmad Wakili to tell me that he was getting better, but I knew he was just trying to assuage my fears, knowing how emotional I could be after he saw me break down at the airport. I immediately left the room in tears unknown to me that Professor Wakili had less than 24 hours left to live. It was the last time I saw him alive. I left the hospital traumatised but still optimistic that he would win the battle with cancer and bounce back to life. But as the Almighty Allah destined, I received the heart-shattering news of his demise in the early hours of Saturday morning, June 21, while I was getting ready to go the hospital. Professor Haruna Wakili, the man who had greatly inspired and tutored me to become a better person, was no more! I left my hotel immediately and headed to the hospital. The eleven-hour journey from Abuja to Hadejia, driving behind the ambulance conveying his body, was one of the most horrible and sad moments of my life. We arrived in Hadeija, his hometown at midnight, in the presence of hundreds of mourners waiting to receive the body of the deceased. His funeral is adjudged to be one of the largest in the history of Hadejia. It was a life well spent and so impactful!
May Allah (SWA) comfort his family and all of us who are deeply bereaved and saddened by the demise of this great scholar-administrator. He is survived by his two wives and ten children. He will be sorely missed and remembered for his fearlessness, honesty, dedication to duty and courage, not only at BUK but the Nigerian intellectual community as a whole. Allah ya gafarta ma, Sir!
Samaila Suleiman is a lecturer in History at Bayero University, Kano and deputy director (Training) of Mambayya House.