Prof. Haruna Wakili: The Passing of a Great Scholar-Administrator By Samaila Suleiman “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 tribute with painful tears of sorrow over the unimaginable loss of my dependable teacher, mentor, colleague, father, benefactor, friend and supporter, Prof Haruna Wakili. Until his body was interred on 21 June 2020, I was still hopeful that he would somehow miraculously resurface. He fought one the bravest cancer battles I’ve seen. Until his demise he was the Deputy Vice Chancellor (administration) at Bayero University, Kano. Apart from his public 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, Prof Wakili was a gentleman extraordinaire and epitome of scholar-administrator tradition. He was a good listener who spared time for relatives, friends, colleagues and students. A perfectionist to the core, Prof 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 Prof Wakili is a testimony to how well he lived his life. In a moving tribute, Dr Nuruddeen Muhammad , former Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, describes his last encounter with Prof Wakili 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 Sanni Abdulkadir, described him as a renowned scholar and administrator.
I first met Prof 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 posture 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 within 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, initial encounter was at a departmental postgraduate seminar. I had just joined the History Department as a Graduate Assistant and was grappling with my Masters proposal on the Intellectual biography of late Yusufu Bala Usman. As a proponent of multidisciplinary historiography Prof Wakili was quick to recognize the intellectual merit of my attempt to study historiography from biographical perspective. He offered 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 a strong mutual academic admiration.
One outstanding quality of Prof Wakili was his capacity to straddle scholarship and administration without compromising standard. As Director of the Aminu Kano Center 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 Prof 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 Prof 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 Late Babba Dan Agundi. The other members of the team were all senior professors. Highly impressed by our performance during the fieldwork he commissioned us each to draft chapters irrespective of our ranks as junior colleagues. Prof 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 Center.
Following his successful tenure as Director of Mambayya House in 2011, Prof 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 State, appointed him as Commissioner of Education, Science and Technology. One of the legacies of his brief tenure as HOD was inspiring the younger colleagues to enroll for PhD program, preferably in universities overseas. His logic is 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, Prof Wakili went out his way to offer me a generous financial support throughout my doctoral years in Cape Town.
As Commissioner for Education, Science & Technology in Jigawa state he was a strong pillar of 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. Prof Wakili was quite instrumental to 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 NCE and diploma programs for law students. Under Prof Wakili, there was unprecedented massive recruitment of teachers and 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 Director Mambayya House. The management of Bayero University was convinced that another term of his stewardship would make remarkable difference and take the Center to greater heights in view of his stupendous record of performance. As Director of the Center he demonstrated another 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 was a US Embassy sponsored project on the “Role of Religious Leaders in Combating Corruption in Nigeria”.
The project was completed successfully and the Center declared the balance of three million naira from the grant. This unusual gesture of transparency and accountability attracted accolades and commendation for Mambayya House from Washington. Base on its record of integrity and productivity the Center 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. Prof Wakili has bequeathed a legacy of transparency, teamwork, and hard work and to the Center that will last for a long time.
In 2018 he was unanimously appointed as 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, current HOD History, once marveled at Prof Wakili’s rare administrative wisdom and capacity for original thinking.
Prof 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 DVC he 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. We jointly taught “History of Political Ideas” for which he developed a comprehensive course outline, lectures notes and gave me the latest books on the subject. He edited a book 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 Prof 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 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 candor and fatherly love. His condition was fast deteriorating and I was so despondent that I broke down in tears at the airport. As they boarded their flight to India he sent me a touching message that still resonates with in powerful ways.
Prof Wakili was one of the strongest men I have known in my life. Even on his sickbed in India he was constantly checking 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 any project. In one of our latest 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 Prof Wakili even in his most distressful and unproductive moment– hardworking 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 and was further hospitalized at 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 20th June 2020 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 broke down at the airport. I immediately left the room in tears unknown to me that Prof Wakili had less than 24 hours left to live. It was the last time I saw him alive. I left the hospital traumatized but still optimistic that he would win the battle and bounce back to life. But as Almighty Allah destined it, I received the heart-shattering news of his demise in the early hours of Saturday morning, 21 June, while I was getting ready to go the hospital. Prof Haruna Wakili, the man who had greatly inspired and tutored me to become a better person is 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 of 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!