Of all the good qualities passed on to me by my academic mentors and tutors, the four cardinal principles of life, which are by extension, the embodiments upholding both the spiritual and physical manifestations of our humanity happened to be the biggest, but surely, the invaluable socio-political and economic inheritance bequeathed to me by Professor Dahiru Yahya. These cardinal principles are; intellectual honesty, ability to conquer fears without tears, dedication beatified with vigor and prudence and above all, the unquenchable light of hope, which originated from sound moral and spiritual values.
Throughout my stay with Professor Dahiru Yahya, not only as his student, but also as his disciple and friend, I have known him to be a good listener, a reliable person (in secrete and in public), humble in the truest meaning of the word, forgiving even at the face of the greatest provocation, a dogged fighter against injustice and conservatism, a guide to thousands of people irrespective of their social status, and above all, trustworthy.
In a lengthy and radical letter if not a petition, he wrote on the 26th of October, 1976 to the Head, Department of History, Bayero University College and its Principal, Dahiru Yahya lamented bitterly about both moral and intellectual decay of the educational system with particular reference to corruption, promotion of mediocrity at the expense of people with great ideas and alacrity, nepotism and favoritism. This he did without fear or remorse for surely, he was convinced that he was fighting for the truth even at the detriment of his personal progress as a lecturer in the institution.
In the opening part of the letter he made it clear that ‘l am writing to you to express my concern and the concern of most members of staff in the Department of History, Bayero University College and our students over the deteriorating administrative machinery and cumulative administrative excesses and management that now threaten the academic integrity of the Department. I am writing with the hope that you will take prompt measures to restore the confidence of the members of academic and our students in the leadership and re-establish a more respectable administrative machinery in the Department so as to ensure a conducive atmosphere for academic pursuit and progress’. In the four paged letter, he drew the attention of the management to four serious development that if allowed to continue will spell doom for the progress of both the institution and the teaching profession. These four cardinal issues were (1) appointments (2) promotion (3) Renewal of Contract (4) Curricula Development and (5) Administrative Management.
Poor administration encouraging favoritism in both appointments and promotions even at the mercy of competence, will not only destroy the quality of education, but will surely compromise national development as well. Dahiru Yahya further argued that, ‘Scholarship is our interest and we are here to develop it. Most of us are here simply to earn a living and get promoted-these are secondary side issues. If the Department is not ready to move on, there is no hope that serious scholars can be attracted here or retained’.
‘The study of history’, he observes, ‘has reached such heights that modern historians cannot be satisfied with the official concept of history at Bayero University College. Our official concept is stale and negative. We cannot build a modern institution entirely on medieval ideas’. In the concluding part of the letter however, Dahiru Yahya succinctly posited that ‘Finally, I would like to make it clear that, I am not writing because I feel I have a special responsibility more than any other member of staff in the Department. We are all equal colleagues gathered here by same interest in academic pursuit, learning and scholarship. In my principle, I have a personal conviction to point out to all concerned any matters that I believe may constitute danger to healthy development and to the service. I try with all sincerity to translate what I exactly feel within myself without emotions and I hope measures will be taken in the same spirit to arrest the deteriorating situation’. He concluded by stating that ‘Until and unless the present situation improves, I resolve not to accept any further promotion in the Department of History, Bayero University College’.
Born at Dawakin Kudu town of Kano on the 30th of June, 1947 to the scholarly family of Malam Yahya Al-Naffakh, Dahiru Yahya was trained in the same fashion. His father was a great Islamic scholar, a writer, a poet, and a philosopher. Though his father died when he was very young, he had the privilege of receiving his rudimentary knowledge of Islam, which is deeply rooted in an unadulterated love for the prophet and his family from his father. He also studied under his mother. From 1960 to 1965, he completed his primary and secondary school education at Dawakin Kudu Junior Primary School and Birnin Kudu Secondary School respectively.
He later received a B.A in Modern History in 1970 from Abdullahi Bayero College, which was then affiliated to Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. In 1971, he applied for an M.A at the Centre of West African Studies at the University of Birmingham, England to which late Professor J.E. Lavers was his referee. For his intellectual capacity, the University upgraded his dissertation to a doctoral thesis, which he defended in 1975 under the title ‘The Making of an Independent Foreign Policy: Sa’di Morocco up to the Death of Ahmad Al-Mansur (1509-1603)’. In 1981, the work was published by Longman Publishers. According to them, ‘The perspective, which he affords on European diplomacy is entirely new’.
Way back in 1965, Dahiru Yahya worked as a Social Welfare Assistant under the Northern Regional Government of Kaduna. He was also an Administrative Officer, Kano State Government in 1970. He later joined the Abdullahi Bayero College in 1970 as Assistant Lecturer and rose through the ranks and became a Professor in 1986. At the College, which later became Bayero University, Kano, he specializes in the teaching of the Sokoto Caliphate and the Philosophy of History apart from the two major courses he introduced and taught as well; History of the Mediterranean World and Political Ideas. As the former dwells largely on inter-ethnic and multicultural foundations of the Mediterranean and Sub-Sahran Africa, the latter introduces students to the dynamics of the intricate, but gradual rise and fall of ideas.
Dahiru Yahya’s intellectual acumen, deep sense of history shrouded by the common sense of science, especial amongst his contemporaries was no doubt unrivaled. Apart from being one of the pioneer indigenous historians drilled in the western fashion, Dahiru Yahya’s contributions to scholarship were profoundly insightful. He has published widely nationally and internationally. His greatest academic contribution of all was his ability to mentor generations of historians among whom are professors and Doctors.
While writing on Dahiru Yahya’s historiographical approach for instance, Dr. Samaila Sulaiman, one of his students, observes that Yahya’s historical discourses ‘can be seen as representing a unique version of the romantic protest against the western worldview and historiographical tradition. While most African historians’ reactions to western conceptions of African history were construed within western epistemological parlance, Yahya remains committed to a trans-mundane view of the past. His approach to historiography is based on the quest for the underlying principles and the meaning of historical events as opposed to their apparent manifestation.’
Part of Dahiru Yahya’s contributions to higher education, were his roles as a founding member, Governing Board of Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (1977-1979), Chairman Governing Council, National Institute for Medical Research, Yaba, Lagos (1981-1983), Member, Governing Commission, National Universities Commission (NUC), Chairman, Committee of Governing Councils of Federal Polytechnics (2000-2001), Chairman Governing Council, Federal Polytechnic, Kaduna (2000-2003), to mention, but a few.
For his unwavering nationalism, Dahiru Yahya was appointed a Member, Constitutional Review Committee (1987-1988) by the Federal Government of Nigeria and a Member, Constituent Assembly (1988-1989). From 1994 to 1998, he was also appointed as Chairman, Kano State Steering Committee for Constitutional Conference and a Member, Kano State Committee for the Review of the 1995 Constitution in 1998.
At the international stage, Dahiru Yahya participated in a study tour sponsored by the Commonwealth American Current Affairs Unit of the English-speaking Union to Brussels in 1972. From 1990-1993, he was also nominated for a Fact Finding tour to the United Nations by the Nigerian Government to look into the fight against Apartheid Policy in South Africa.
For his meritorious service to education in 2011, Bayero University published an edited book in Dahiru Yahya’s honour entitled ‘Resurgent Nigeria: Issues in Nigerian Intellectual History’, which was borne out of an earlier festschrift organized by the institution to appreciate his contribution, particularly in teaching and research. The book was a collection of researched papers by various Nigerian academics.
Personally, the death of Dahiru Yahya on the 3rd of February, 2021 seems to have paralysed the veins in my body. It also marked the end of an era separating a moral past and a delusive present. Meanwhile, writing a tribute to a colossal scholar of Dahiru Yahya’s caliber is either a high bar for a student of history like me or a ‘dangerous’ academic adventure.
A young colleague at the Department of History of Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria where Prof. Dahiru Yahya rounded up his glorious academic career as the Occupant, Yusufu Bala Usman Professorial Chair, notably, his tenant and neighbor, Malam Mohammed Abubakar Nasiru, describes Prof. Dahiru Yahya as ‘a spiritual strength, an honest, generous and nice human being to know and to live with’. May Allah in His intimate mercy, forgive Prof. Dahiru Yahya and make him one of the dwellers of his Paradise.
*Mr Nasidi writes from Department of History, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria