The late Nigerian activist, scholar, newspaper columnist, social campaigner and exemplary Pan Africanist Dr. Tajudeen Abdulraheem was last night named as the Daily Trust African of the Year for 2009.
The choice was announced by the Advisory Board at a special dinner and award ceremony at the Congress Hall of the Transcorp Hilton Hotel, Abuja, which was attended by Mrs Winnie Madhkizela-Mandela and the Ghanaian Member of Parliament Mrs Samia Nkrumah, among other prominent guests.
Taju, as he was popularly known among his very wide circle of pan-Africanist friends and associates, died on May 25, 2009 in a car crash in Nairobi, Kenya, where he was based.
Chairman of the Daily Trust African of the Year International Advisory Board Dr. Salim Ahmed Salim, who announced the selection and read the citation, said the choice was simultaneously humbling and inspiring. He said "even in death, Tajudeen still speaks and is recognised for his tremendous contributions to the development of the continent. We are aware that the next generation will not grow up to see Tajudeen, therefore we must work together to create a better society such that we could say to the next generation, this is the world Tajudeen helped to build."
Dr. Salim, who was a former prime minister of Tanzania and former Secretary General of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU, now known as African Union), also said the overwhelming responses and tributes which followed the announcement of Taju's death attest to the impact he made on the lives of all Africans. He also described the African of the Year as a loving husband and father. Taju's wife Mounira, a Tunisian, and his two children, Aisha and Aida, were present at last night's award ceremony.
Dr Tajudeen Abdulraheem was born at Funtua, Katsina State, Nigeria on January 6, 1961. The citation said "although he was born in northern Nigeria, his roots were from South West Nigeria. He attended Government Secondary School, Funtua and then went to Bayero University, Kano where he graduated with a First Class degree in Political Science. After youth service, Taju bagged the prestigious Rhodes Fellowship to Oxford University where he graduated with a D.Phil. he was the first Northern Nigerian to win this award."
Dr. Salim said while Taju could have gone from Oxford to work in any country or company of his choice, he instead returned to Africa to help rebuild it. Among the many inspiring things he did were his appointment in 1992 as General Secretary of the 7th Pan African Congress Secretariat in Kampala, Uganda. He organised a very successful Congress in 1994 with delegates from 47 countries.
The congress was however overshadowed by events in Rwanda, so Taju went with a Pan African Movement delegation to Rwanda for a first hand assessment of the situation. They were ambushed near Kigali and they narrowly escaped unhurt.
After 1994, Taju remained in Kampala as Secretary General of the Global Pan African Movement. Salim said "he inspired an entire generation of Africans and Africanists. Taju was emphatic that the Pan African effort must be coordinated from the African soil."
Before his premature death last year, Taju was Africa Deputy Director of the United Nations Millennium Campaign (UNMC), from which position he kept a vigil over continent-wide efforts to attain the Millennium Development Goals by 2015.
Salim also said "Taju spoke the truth to those in power. He boldly took to task African leaders who did not have the courage of their convictions, including publicly critiquing Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi for the cumbersome and restrictive visa regime in place at the seat of the African Union."
The African of the Year award ceremony was supported by United Bank for Africa (UBA), which donated $50,000 as cash prize to the winner. The bank's Regional Director, Abuja Mr. Dan Okeke said UBA sets aside one percent of its annual profits before tax for a Foundation that is spent in many social projects such as education and health. He said UBA is Africa's global bank because it already has branches in 17 African countries, the most recent one just opened in Zambia. Many more will soon be opened in other African countries, he said.
Among dignitaries at last night's event were former Lagos State Deputy Governor Mrs Kofoworola Akerele-Bucknor, Hajia Naja'atu Mohamed, Professor Bolaji Akinyemi, House of Representatives member Mrs Abike Dabiri-Erewa, Vice Chancellor of Bayero University, Kano Professor Attahiru Jega, Nigeria Labour Congress deputy president Comrade Issa Aremu, the South African High Commissioner and the Chadian Ambassador, wife of the former Kaduna State deputy governor Mrs. Charity Shekari, and the prominent Kebbi politician Alhaji Mai'eka Bello Mohamed.
Also present at last night's award ceremony and dinner were other members of the Advisory Board, including Professor Tandeka Nkiwane of South Africa, Ms L. Muthoni Wanyeki of Kenya, Professor Kwame Karikari of Ghana, Professor Abdoulaye Bathily of Senegal, Dr. Obadiah Mailafia of Nigeria, as well as Professor Okello Oculli, described as "once a Ugandan, now more a Nigerian."