By Sa’ad Abubakar Zongre
In his lifetime, Dr. Yusuf Bala Usman epitomized the ideal scholar; hardworking, dedicated to scholarship, knowledgeable in other disciplines, uncompromising in standard and principles, progressive minded, nationalist to the core and strived to achieve excellence in whatever he was doing at all times.
Bala Usman was simply a scholar per excellence, a fiery social critic, the most brilliant Prince ever produced by Katsina royal family and a model to aspiring scholars, nationalists and the progressives.
Today is exactly Fourteen (16) years since his demise on Saturday, 24th September, 2005; which has created a wide intellectual vacuum particularly in the Department of History, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, Northern Nigeria, Nigeria, and Africa as a whole.
Present and former senior History lecturers of the university such as Dr. Kabiru Tsafe (one-time Minister of State for Petroleum), Dr. Mustapha Gwadabe and Dr Alkassim Abba (Bala’s closest disciple and former Vice-Chancellor of Adamawa State University, Mubi) may be having the intellectual potentials to fill this vacuum, but matching his charisma, elegance, eloquence, oratory, work-rate, grace, courage and fearlessness appears unachievable.
Dr. Bala Usman’s impact and influence (deservedly earned on the basis of his towering intellectual achievements) particularly in the then famous Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences- FASS in the 1970s up to the mid-1990s when the faculty was split into two-Arts and Social Sciences respectively, were quite unprecedented.
He was such a reference material and a hot-cake, whose presence in any intellectual meeting; be it in the faculty of Law, Social Sciences, Administration or Arts guarantees a full house as captured by Adagbo Onoja, while writing in the Daily Trust of 26th September, 2005, thus;
“It is probably the boldness of his formulations that made him a natural choice for the lead paper in most of the seminars and functions, straddling Economics, Political Science, Sociology even when his own discipline was History”.
Throughout his teaching career, Dr Bala Usman was among the only few scholars in Nigeria who had remained faithful to their ideals till death. He was steadfast in championing the cause of the emasculated ‘‘talakawa’’ (masses) while putting off all sorts of attempts by successive governments (military regimes and civilian alike) and their apologists to lure him into the bandwagon.
Even when he briefly served as Secretary to the Kaduna State Government in 1981 under former Governor Balarabe Musa of the radical Peoples’ Redemption Party (PRP), he maintained the close-knitted link with the masses that elected them by initiating and implementing people-oriented programmes and not elite-oriented ones that alienates the masses as is mainly the practice nowadays.
In the few months he served as SSG, transparency and accountability-attributes of the Due-Process were truly adhered to as against the largely decorative status attached to them these days.
Likewise, in his books such as, ‘‘For the Liberation of Nigeria’’ (1979), “Nigeria against the IMF: The Home Market Strategy”, (1986), etc., and paper presentations during seminars and debates such as the one at the Max and Africa Conference at A.B.U Zaria in 1983, the Nigerian Economic Crisis debate with Yusuf Bangura (a Political Scientist) in 1984, etc., Dr. Yusuf Bala Usman was on the side of the oppressed masses within the context of a truly functioning Nigerian State.
He serially condemned incompetent and corrupt leadership and attacked pro-capitalist scholars for providing covers to imperial and colonial handover within independent African states like Nigeria.
His belief in the Nigerian State and the capacity of Nigerians to lift the nation from its under-developed status to a developed one is very clear and even his critics will not dispute this.
His respect for the Nationalists who gave in everything in the struggle for the achievement of independence, especially the “Zik” of Africa, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe (whom he regarded as the founder of modern Nigeria), Sir Michael Imoudu, Mal. Sa’adu Zungur etc, pointed to his Pan-Nigerian disposition.
His love for Nigeria and her people made him rejected lucrative offers from other reputable universities in other parts of the world to stay here in Nigeria despite all sorts of hazards and deprivations.
Interestingly, in spite of all his valuable contributions to knowledge and the development of Nigeria, he still felt he could have done more.
When i was his student during the 1999/2000 session, the renowned historian often told us in the course of tutorials in his office, how he wanted to do further research on this issue or that issue. At times, he went to the extent of enjoining us to come back after our first degree in order to carry-out additional research on an issue he had already covered but which he felt needed to be updated.
He was, indeed, a man of many projects which were then co-ordinated by the Centre for Development, Democracy, Research and Training-CEDDERT, Zaria. A centre he spearheaded its establishment.
Sir, your demise had really robbed your immediate constituency-History Department, A.B.U, Zaria, the academia, Nigeria, Africa and the whole of mankind, a worthy representative and torch bearer in the struggle against oppression, injustice, corruption, gross opportunism, segregation, exploitation, tyranny, laziness, class domination and falsehood.
You had been and you will continue to be an inspiration to your former students, colleagues, family and associates. You may not have produce a PhD holder like yourself in your 33 years of teaching, but in Bala Brought Ups (BBUs), you had given the nation a set of dynamic, productive, vibrant, purposeful, focus and patriotic minds capable of liberating it from the trauma of bad leadership and mis-governance.
You might have gone, but the echo of your resonate and resolute voice could still be heard murmuring, “Nigerian Risorgimento”!
May Allah continue to comfort you in your grave enroute guaranteeing your easy passage into Aljannatul Firdaus on the Day of Judgment, ameen!
Written by Sa’ad Abubakar Zongre