Prof Abdullahi Smith: The Scholar who founded the History Dept at ABU Zaria

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Prof Abdullahi Smith was a renowned scholar and Professor of History who founded the History Department at Ahmadu Bello University (ABU) Zaria and supervised many pioneer Ph.D. theses, including those of Sa’ad Abubakar, Yusufu Bala Usman, Kyari Tijani, Mahmud Modibbo Tukur and many others. He was also the Pioneer Director of the Arewa House Centre for Documentation and Historical Research in Kaduna.

Birth, Education and Career

Abdullahi Smith was born Henry Fredrick Charles Smith on 5th May 1920 at Somerset, England. After Army service in India during the Second World War, he went to the University of Cambridge for his first degree. On completing his University education, he joined the education service in the Sudan.

In 1955 he was recruited by the Department of History, University College, Ibadan, where along with Professor K. O. Dike they developed the teaching of African History in the University from the scratch. He was a founding member of the Historical Society of Nigeria in 1955. He had served as its Honorary Secretary from 1956-1969.

In 1962 he moved over to Ahmadu Bello University (ABU) Zaria, to establish the Department of History. He developed the Zaria School of History, which became well known in Nigeria. In 1970-1980 he moved over to Kaduna to establish the Centre for Documentation and Historical Studies, popularly known as Arewa House, ABU, Kaduna.

ALSO READ: Mahmud Modibbo Tukur: Legacy of an Iconic ABU Scholar

He had supervised 19 Ph.D. and 3 MA Theses in the period 1960-1980; indeed he supervised the first Ph.D. thesis of Ahmadu Bello University by Saad Abubakar in 1970. He converted to Islam when he was the Director of Arewa House. He died in 1984. The lecture theatre at the faculty of art, Ahmadu Bello University is named after him.

The Abdullahi Smith Centre

The Abdullahi Smith Centre for Historical Research was conceived in 1986 by Yusufu Bala Usman, M. D. Yusufu and George Kwanashie. It was named after Prof Abdullahi Smith, the renowned Professor of History who came to Ahmadu Bello University from the University of Ibadan to found the History Department at A.B.U.

Abdullahi Smith was born Henry Fredrick Charles Smith

He was also the Pioneer Director of the Arewa House Centre for Documentation and Historical Research in Kaduna. Together with his students, he built the History Department at A.B.U. into the premier history department in the country.

Their path-breaking researches into the history of Nigeria have influenced the way historical processes have been conceptualized, in opposition to colonial historical frameworks that distorted the true history of Nigeria. The Abdullahi Smith Centre sponsored a number of important historical studies and publications whose influence has been critical in the subsequent study of Nigerian History. The Centre continues to support and publish important historical research. Some of its publications are listed on this website.

However, the founders of the Abdullahi Smith Centre soon realized that a broader research institute focusing on social scientific research was needed in order to develop solutions to the many contemporary problems in the country including the issue of deepening democracy and empowering citizens to claim their legitimate place in the governance of the country.

Hence, CEDDERT was founded for this purpose. Abdullahi Smith Centre and CEDDERT are thus sister institutions, with some overlap in personnel, and work hand in hand to achieve their objectives. Indeed, Dr. Bala Usman was the founding Director of Abdullahi Smith Cente and founding Chairman of CEDDERT.

You can get a copy of his biography titled; A Giant of a man : tributes to Professor Abdullahi Smith (1920-1984), scholar and teacher 

Credit: ceddert.org


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