The memory and legacy of the late Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem is alive in Funtua, Horace Campbell discovers during his first visit to Abdul-Raheem’s homeland. Impressed by the extraordinary work towards providing education through Hauwa Memorial College and the Pan-African Development Education and Advocacy Programme, Campbell calls on Pan-Africanists everywhere to provide support to keep the projects going.
Thoughts of how Tajudeen had always invited me to visit Funtua when he was alive swirled in me as I travelled up to Funtua from Abuja a month ago. Tajudeen always invited me to visit Funtua in order to see his community and to see the initiatives that he was spearheading. Every time the invitation was issued, I told Tajudeen that there was still time. As I travelled to Funtua, in Katsina State, I could not help reflecting on how I had been telling Taju that we have a lot of time to go to his community in future. I told him he was still young, and that there would be so much to do. Little did I know that Taju would not be with us for too long.
I visited Funtua courtesy of the transportation laid on by Jibo of the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD) in Abuja. Both CDD and Pan-African Development Education and Advocacy Programme (PADEAP) coordinated my visit to Funtua.
But as with everything in that vigorous society, the trip was not without its own drama. One hour outside of Abuja the alternator of the hired car packed up. At first, we were unsure, and believing that it was a battery problem, we started to push the car for about a mile but then the driver said that the alternator was not working. After thirty minutes, the driver and I were picked up by a young entrepreneur who was on his way to Kaduna. I was grateful for his generosity and he dropped us off in Kaduna where we looked for alternative transport. I went into another hire to try to reach Funtua before noon; the headmaster of Hauwa Memorial College had arranged for me to address the assembly of the school and I did not want to disappoint the students. I arrived in Funtua at around noon and went directly to the PADEAP office in Funtua.
HAUWA MEMORIAL COLLEGE
We proceeded from the PADEAP office to the school that was founded by Tajudeen, the Hauwa Memorial College. The school was founded in 1998 and named after Taju’s late mother. Tajudeen had studied in the Government Secondary School in Funtua as a youth and understood the importance of a decent education for the youths from the oppressed classes. In the period of militarism and neoliberalism, all such services as education, health and sanitation have deteriorated in the society. There was a dire need for decent education for the working poor.
Tajudeen was unable to return to Nigeria at the time of the passing of his mother. This school was a testimony of his love for his mother and his view that community self-help schemes can be the basis for educating the youths.
The headmaster gave me a brief history of the school and how he was recruited by Tajudeen. He introduced me to the teachers (all university graduates), and took me to the classrooms. While we were on the tour he told me that one day before Tajudeen passed, they had taken possession of the new plot of land that had been bought by Tajudeen as a permanent site for the school. The school was now looking for the resources to develop the plot.
The facilities in the Chemistry classroom told the story that the school survived based on the sacrifices and commitment of the teachers and the administrators. Here were classrooms where the availability of basic utilities for teaching – electricity, water and access to telecommunication services were minimal or non-existent. Yet, this school – through the sheer will of the teachers – had in place an educational programme aimed at fulfilling the secondary education objectives as required by the West African Examination Council (WAEC) and the National Examination Council (NECO).
The motto of the school is ‘KNOWLEDGE IS POWER’, and I could see that the high motivation of the teachers was infectious and alive among the students. The teachers were aiming to create a learning environment free from the stresses of religious, gender and ethnic divisions. Teachers beamed as they related the successes of the students and their participation in regional examinations and competitions, placing the school firmly in the consciousness of the people of the region. The school had been placed 7th in a national Mathematics competition.
I briefly addressed the assembly of the school, conveying greetings from the wider Pan-African world and from the international community. During the question and answer session, both teachers and students asked if the friends of Tajudeen had forgotten Hauwa Memorial College. I was told that over 78 per cent of the students were on some kind of scholarship, and that the school did not turn away students who could not pay. I listened as the students and staff told of their dreams of building a new college on the land that Taju had procured.
I felt bad that I could have prepared better for the visit. I had travelled with a suitcase of books to donate to the school, but it was clear that the school survived on the commitment of the staff. These students needed much more than books. Such commitment alone could not provide scholarships or pay the salaries. When the headmaster told of his salary, I winced, knowing full well that what he earned for one month, many of us spend on one meal for an evening out. Being careful not to make promises, I told the students that the one thing that I could do was to write about the school and alert the friends and comrades of the important work of the school. We took pictures for the school magazine; the English teacher was proud of the annual magazine of the school that was produced.
When I considered the billions of dollars that were plundered from Nigeria by the political careerists, it was even clearer that decent and affordable education could only come from the political organisation of those willing to make change in the society. It is an open secret that the political leaders and their external allies organise to steal billions from Nigeria and Africa. This theft is so blatant that it is now being spoken of by the chief architects of the theft, the World Bank. I had heard the managing director of the World Bank, Dr Ngozi Okonjo Iweala (a former minister of finance in Nigeria) speak on French TV on the US$40 billion stolen from Africa through bribery, misappropriation of funds and corrupt practices. Although the same World Bank has organised a public campaign called the Stolen Asset Recovery (STAR) Initiative, there is no real institutional or legal mechanism to give teeth to the call to return stolen assets. Schools such as Hauwa Memorial College can only fully be transformed in a society where all children are considered to be equal. The rich and powerful do not have to worry about decent education. Not only do they steal the money but they send their children to schools in Europe to be brainwashed and alienated.
Hauwa Memorial College was established at a time when the dictator Abacha was stealing billions of dollars from Nigeria. As I left the school and drove to the site of Taju’s final resting place I remembered his postcard that said that ‘Corrupt leaders are mass murderers.’ Not only were they mass murderers but these corrupt leaders were denying the youths the opportunities to develop as humans capable of meeting the challenges of the 21st century.
TAJU’S RESTING PLACE
I was on the other side of the Pacific Ocean when Tajudeen passed, and so I could not join Irungu, Thomas Deve, Napoleon, Kayode, Momoh and the other close comrades who had accompanied him on his last journey home. I had vowed to make the journey to pay tribute when I got an opportunity to do so. I proceeded from the school to the graveside of Tajudeen.
His resting place is in this cemetery next to one of the few trees in the community burial ground where his mother, his sister, his brother and other family members had been laid to rest. There was a slab of concrete with the name Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem written on the concrete. I spent close to one hour in silence at this site reflecting on the work ahead and the untimely passing of Taju. I wanted to say so many things but I remained in silence.
On leaving the gravesite I asked Shehu Shuiaibu (PADEAP coordinator in Funtua) if there will be a tombstone built, with appropriate statements on who Tajudeen was and what he stood for. Shehu explained that it was against Islamic traditions to build elaborate tombstones and contributions towards such things as tombstones would go toward the general upkeep of the cemetery.
PADEAP IN FUNTUA
After lunch and booking into a hotel, I was taken on a tour of the offices of PADEAP to be shown the extensive work that they were doing in Funtua and Katsina state. Oftentimes one reads the promotional material of non-profit organisations and one can see the differences between the promotional material and the actual work. This is the case for so many international nongovernmental organisations in Africa but the public statements of PADEAP do not come close to describing the actual reach and activities of that small organisation inspired by Tajudeen and coordinated throughout the UK, Nigeria and Uganda by Christine Tominke Olaniyan. I was familiar with the work of the PADEAP offices in Kampala and its outreach beyond Uganda into the Sudan. I had met Tominke in Kampala in 2001 when we were staying at the house of Taju in Kampala.
The Funtua offices of PADEAP boasted a library and a resource room with books, papers and magazines donated by Taju; this was the space for adult literacy. PADEAP members of staff were particularly proud of the Women’s Community Education Programme. There were programmes for health, outreach hospitals, internet services and general counselling.
PADEAP was also proud of the maternal health counselling; Tajudeen had written a postcard on ‘mothers should not die giving life’ and PADEAP paid special attention to the question of maternal mortality with outreach to the local community and local hospital. The workers at PADEAP were contributing far beyond their remuneration and the MDG goals were used as a mobilising tool to reach into the state and local governments to be able to sensitise and mobilise different sections of the community. This mobilisation and sensitisation reached as far as the ranks of the armed forces.
The tour and visit to the offices of PADEAP was cut short by darkness. There was no electricity because of the frequent breaks in the supply by the electric authorities, and in order to save money the offices were closing early. Some persons were waiting to use the internet services of PADEAP. Shehu told me of the desire of PADEAP to become an internet service provider for the Funtua town and for that part of Katsina state. With a small investment of US$50,000, this organisation could become financially self-sufficient and provide services to complement the basic internet service that is tabled as ICT training in Funtua.
VISITING TAJU’S FAMILY
From the offices of PADEAP, Shehu took me to visit Tajudeen’s family and to bring my condolences after one year. I was first taken to the street where he grew up as a lad before he went off to study in Kano and later in the UK. I was introduced to the elders who sat as community arbiters. Tajudeen’s father had been a respected elder and the compound was well-known and respected. I was introduced to the second wife of his father who was still alive. After this brief visit, I was taken to the new compound where Tajudeen kept his flat in Funtua. It was a compound where all the brothers lived with their families. The older brother of Tajudeen took me from door to door, introducing me to the family members. I was shown the seven trees that were planted by Tajudeen in the compound – he loved trees and nature.
It was in this discussion that we learned of the history of the family. It was reported that the railway had attracted the older brother of Tajudeen’s father who had moved from south western Nigeria to Funtua in 1943 in the midst of the Second World War. Tajudeen’s father moved to Funtua in 1950 and it was then that the family sought to develop both as artisans and workers. Tajudeen’s father was a tailor and his mother was a home-maker as well as a trader. The family had instilled a deep respect for others. Although Tajudeen’s parents were Yoruba, they were culturally Hausa. Tajudeen spoke the languages of the North as well as Yoruba and he was a follower of the Islamic faith.
Okello Oculi had written elsewhere of the trans-ethnic identity of Tajudeen and when one listened to the history of this working family, it was clear that there was no hint of religious or ethnic chauvinism within this community. Tajudeen had excelled at school and his parents supported him to be whatever he wanted to be.
These reflections brought out the multi-dimensional life of Tajudeen and the many offers that had been made to him by top bureaucrats and politicians who believed that he could be bought. We were told about the job offer by President Obasanjo and the polite refusal by Tajudeen. Tajudeen belonged to the working people and he had placed his knowledge and training at their service. Class consciousness was not an abstract phenomenon for Tajudeen. His involvement in the Pan-African struggle and his close relationship with movement of working people had a sound foundation in Funtua. While organising for peace and democracy in numerous organisations such as Justice Africa, CDD, the Global Pan African Movement and many others, Tajudeen was not waiting for change in the future, he was organising to impact the lives of the oppressed while organising at national and international levels. Although Tajudeen had been trained at Oxford University and had hobnobbed with the ruling classes of Europe and Africa, he never lost his clarity on the struggles of the working people.
There were reminiscences of the visit to Nigeria in 1993 when the Abacha forces wanted to silence and imprison him when the Pan-African underground had to be set in motion to sneak him out of the hands of the dictators.
Tajudeen’s presence in the community was so overwhelming that many of the children continue to report sighting of Tajudeen. Some of the younger ones do not believe that he is actually gone and believe that he will return one day. So traumatic has been the sudden departure of Tajudeen that some of the brothers say that his flat and quarters have been left untouched since his passing.
MENTORING THE YOUTH
The next morning before leaving for Abjua, I met another group of youths who worked for PADEAP. They told me that Tajudeen was their mentor and that their job was to organise the youth in the North. This discussion gave me a better appreciation of the work that was being done behind the cover of realising the Millennium Development Goals. These activists had used the goals of the United Nations to shame the local government officials and use the platform to create spaces for political mobilisation and educational work. The Stand Up Against Poverty campaign had been a tool for mobilising people and for bringing people out to raise their consciousness. In 2007, Tajudeen had used his position as the deputy director of the UN MDG offices in Africa to mobilise over seven million to stand up against poverty and exploitation. The local organising in Funtua had been preceded by a two-day intensive training and sensitisation workshop. This workshop was another means of identifying new cadres who would not only work against poverty but against the political and intellectual poverty that placed the poor to fight against each other on ethnic and religious grounds.
These workshops brought Christians and Muslims, men and women, youths and other workers together. These activists were brought together along with community leaders, religious leaders, community based groups, women group, government agencies, politicians. Politicians who were anxious about any form of political mobilisation outside of the political structures watched these mobilisation campaigns jealously, but PADEAP was carving out a space for meeting and educating the youth. It was from these young activists in PADEAP that one could understand the commitment to real change in the society.
REMEMBERING THE FAMILY AND THE WORK TO BE DONE
Tajudeen had many families. His immediate family lived in London with his two beautiful daughters. Tajudeen was devoted to this family and there is now a foundation being established to ensure that the children of Tajudeen and his partner Mounira will be cared for. One step in this direction was initiated earlier this year when the Daily Trust of Nigeria, named Tajudeen as the African of the year for 2009. This honour was accompanied by a prize that was awarded to his family. It is important that there is a more systematic way to support his families, both the London family and the wider family that can be found in the Hauwa Memorial College.
Those who can visit and support should do so.
You can write to the headmaster of Hauwa Memorial College at the following address:
HAUWA MEMORIAL COLLEGE
P O Box 9, FUNTUA, Katsina State
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* Horace Campbell is a peace activist who is working to realise the dream of the late Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem of building African unity by 2015.
* Please send comments to [email protected] or comment online at Pambazuka News.