Daily Trust (Abuja)

Nigeria: Kongo, Golan Heights and Km 101

column

Two months ago, Professor Rauf Ayo Dunmoye sent a text message asking me to contribute an essay about ABU at 50. He added, "Even though you did not attend our university, I am sure you have some things to say about us." Prof forgot to say what he needed the article for, how long it should be, or even the deadline for submission.

Since I did not hear from him again, I never wrote the article. Yet, Prof Dunmoye was damn correct that I have some stories to tell about ABU. I thought about some of them as I watched the ceremonies to mark 50 years of its founding.

Although I did not go to ABU, a dozen of my brothers, sisters and first cousins did. So also did a dozen primary and secondary school classmates, several dozen townmates, scores of neighbours' children and another 200 or more ABU students that I met during the Students Vacation Job program at the Sokoto State Ministry of Establishments. All of them told stories about ABU, whichadded up to a lot of short and tall tales.

That I did not myself seek to go to ABU was attributable to a chance visit I paid to Bayero University College's [BUC] campus in Kano in 1977. When we entered Form Five, all my classmates scrambled to buy university admission forms. All one had to do in those days was to send N5 postal order and a stamped self-addressed envelope. A week or so later, an application for admission form would arrive in the mail. Most of my mates applied to the ABU's famed School of Basic Studies [SBS], but I sent my application to BUC because I was struck by the beauty of its old campus. The day we got the forms, the boy sitting next to me in class was so excited that he began filling the SBS form while the Mathematics lesson was on. The Maths teacher Mr. Thomas, an Egyptian Copt, came over and snatched the form. He then said, "I swear I will tear this form even if it is the form of the University of London."

Up until some point, many people in the North thought that every university is called ABU. There is this story of a big Northern politician who said, "ABU Zaria, ABU Sokoto, ABU Maiduguri..."

In the 1970s and 80s, ABU students talked a lot about "Shags." My brothers first took me to Shagalinku Restaurant at Tudun Wada in 1976. At that time, it was located in an old one-storey mud building across the road from where it is now. After a few spoonfuls, I could see why Shags was part of the ABU myth.

ABU students told endless stories about their many faculties, institutes, research centres, three teaching hospitals at Tudun Wada, Kaduna and Malumfashi; Senate Building, Kashim Ibrahim Library [KIL], Kennedy Library at Kongo, Institute of Agricultural Research [IAR], Animal Production Research Institute [NAPRI] at Shika, the Cultural Research Center that produced many great Hausa plays; Umar Sulaiman,Danfodio and Amina Halls; Sick Bay, ABU Bookshop, ABU Press, Main Gate, North Gate, Police Gate and Gidan Dewu.

The atmosphere at ABU in the 1970s was decidedly internationalist. The Institute of Administration campus is called Kongo; I don't know why, except that in the early 1960s many Nigerian soldiers did peace keeping duties in The Congo.Two very popular spots at Kongo in those days were the three-storey girls' hostel called Golan Heights and the campus kiosks called Kilometre 101. Both names stemmed from the Arab-Israeli War of 1973.

In those days, ABU was the vanguard of internationalism as well as of ideological battles, African unity, anti-colonialism, opposition to tyranny and military rule, fighting corruption and human rights abuses as well as campus authoritarianism.Secret cults were unknownin those days, not to mention student bodies givingmerit awards to government officials.

The huge Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences [FASS] was the epicenter of the ideological battles. The great Right-wing knight was Dr. Ibrahim Tahir, about the only ABU don in those days who dared to speak in defence of capitalism at public lectures, which were numerous. His great Left-wing opponent was Dr. Yusuf Bala Usman. Both men electrified the ABU scene with fiery speeches and debates. Hundreds of ABU students were tear-gassed in 1976 when they went to launch Bala Usman and Segun Osoba's Minority Report of the Constitution Drafting Committee, which called for a socialist constitution for Nigeria.

Left wing rhetoric received a huge boost at ABU when Mozambican President Samora Machel received a honourary degree in 1977. He delivered a fiery speech that excited revolutionaries all over Nigeria. Years after he left, ABU students were marching all over the country and chanting the closing line of his speech, "A luta continua! Vitoria e certa!" It was the FRELIMO slogan for "The struggle continues! Victory is certain!"

With Dr. Ibrahim Tahir's departure from ABU in 1978, the ideological debate soon shifted to a fight between two Left wing factions. The Zaria Group of hard core Marxist Leninists accused the Bala Mohamed Memorial Committee [BMMC] led by Dr. Bala Usman of "social democratic reformism." The two groups clashed memorably at the Centenary of Karl Marx in 1983. A year later, Bala Usman engaged Dr. Yusuf Bangura in another great ideological debate, and a year later he took up a similar challenge from the Ife Collective. The result was two dozen copious essays.

Whenever I visited the Samaru Campus, my first stop was the ABU Bookshop, in particular its first floor shelves laced with Marxist-Leninist literaturepublished by Progress Publishers.Karl Marx's DasKapital, The Communist Manifesto by Marx and Friedrich Engels, State and Revolution by Vladimir Lenin, Quotations from Chairman Mao [The Little Red Book],On Practice by Mao Zedong, Collected Works of Enver Hoxha, Yusuf Bala Usman's For the Liberation of Nigeria, Walter Rodney's How Europe Underdeveloped Africa and Franz Fanon'sWretched of the Earthwere the left-wing bibles of those days.

Stories of ABU are not complete without mentions of the epic Ali Must Go riots of 1978 and the Ango Must Go riots of 1986. I had accidental advance warnings of both. My late brother Ibrahim's brand new Honda 185 Roadmaster motorcycle was stolen at Kongo in 1978, and one day when he and Abu [Justice Abubakar Jega of the Court of Appeal] went to Tudun Wada station to collect a police report, they saw several dozen anti-riot policemen preparing to storm the Samaru Campus. They overheard one police sergeant telling his mates, "As soon as we get there, I will just fire! I will not wait for any order!"

I also had an advance warning of the 1986 Ango Must Go riots because I arrived at the Samaru Campus from Nsukka on the day that students snatched Vice Chancellor Professor Ango Abdullahi's laundry from his house. They were dancing all around the Senate Building and displaying Ango's white gown. The very next day, there was deadly shooting on the campus.

All of ABU's early vice chancellors, from Dr. Ishaya Audu to Prof Iya Abubakar, Prof Ayo Akinkugbe, Prof Ango Abdullahi, Prof Adamu Nayaya Mohamed, Prof Daniel Saror, Major General Mamman Kontagora and Prof Abdullahi Mahdi had numerous tales told about them by ABU students and lecturers. None probably more than Prof Ango. He was vice chancellor during the golden age of ideological battles and student militancy. Prof Ango was an equal-opportunity punisher of extremism whether of the Left-wing or Right-wing variety. Communists and zealous student activists suffered many casualties [expulsions and rustications] during his era, as did members the Muslim Brothers led by Ibrahim El-Zakzaky. The Iranian revolution of 1978-79 inspired Muslim activists at ABU, who attacked parties and at one time smashed the Kongo Conference Hotel. Prof Ango dealt with them too.

So, ABU, continue to generate more tales and myths in the next 50 years. Only that Prof Dunmoye must find someone else to tell the stories in 2062.

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