Professor Sabo Bako (1959-2010): Tribute to an Iconic Scholar

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By Kabir Mato

The was in 2010 and the news was as rude as it was shocking because thousands of us his students were taken unaware as professor Sabo Bako was never indisposed and as such never insinuated that anything as near as death was anywhere near this colossus. The news of his death, therefore, hit everyone closes to him in general and me particularly with a bang unimaginable.

I first came in contact with the late professor Sabo Bako in 1983 when I was admitted into the famous Faculty of Arts & Social Sciences as an undergraduate and given the intellectual tradition of the faculty in particular and the Ahmadu Bello University in general. Sabo, then a young academic was an active player in the series of debates that took place between the two major ideological camps within the left in the university.

Professor Sabo Bako and his student Abdullah of (U06IS)
Prof. Sabo Bako & his student Comr. Abdallah of (U06IS).

There was the group referred to as the underdevelopment and dependency group of radical scholars under the leadership of the late Dr Bala Usman with several adherents among whom were young academicians such as Alkassum Abba, Abubakar Siddique Mohammed, Sanusi Abubakar among several others.

The other group was the orthodox Marxists or theoretician Marxists group led by Dr Yusuf Bangura. The group too had a large following within the faculty and the university but prominent among the young firebrands in that ideological camp were the late Professor Sabo Bako and Sule Bello just to mention but two.

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The result of that divide not only increased the flavor of intellectual intercourse in the Ahmadu Bello University but placed the institution as certainly one of the best on the continent of Africa. The intellectual community was enriched by the quality of debate that occurred between the two groups which were famously tagged ‘the Bala-Bangura debate’.

The intellectual interaction was healthy even if both groups held their views very close to their chests. The academic community was vibrant and scholars faced the business of teaching and research as their primary vocation.

The stratification that is today the character of the Nigerian university system was a matter of secondary consideration as academicians were only relevant to the extent of the quality and value of contributions that they could make in advancing the frontiers of knowledge and course of humanity.

It didn’t matter whether one was a professor or not, what was most paramount was the level of contribution that individual academicians were able to make in their various fields and callings.

The implication of that was that a lazy professor was likely to be embarrassed by hard-working younger colleagues on matters of intellectual propriety. Everyone had to either work hard or stay quiet or be disgraced by juniors in the event he tried to raise his voice on matters of academics and currency.

There was this early morning we were going into Abdullahi Smith Theater 1 and I saw Sabo following Dr Bala Usman and challenging him on certain positions he took in one of the papers Dr Bala wrote. I remember hearing Dr Bala saying, ‘look, Sabo go and read, I say go and read.’

Two things could be drawn from this particular situation. One is the intellectual humility of Dr Bala Usman. The readiness to tolerate a much junior colleague raining issues on the intellectual propriety of certain positions he had taken on issues.

Secondly the thirst for knowledge and the extent of investigation that Sabo, a junior academic had done to the extent of acquiring such tremendous confidence in challenging a global academic like Dr Bala Usman.

I think the academic community is more or less moribund if the practices of the immediate past are to be taken as the mirrors of comparison and judgment. So many things are wrong, a substantial number of the senior academics we have today are arrogant, ignorant and lazy while the younger ones are seemingly incapable of going the extra mile to acquire more knowledge for the good of mankind.

Professor Sabo caught the attention of several of us his students for obvious reasons. He wasn’t noisy or may not have much attraction while he delivered lectures in the class. His strength was in his composure and carriage which definitely put him pedestals ahead of most of his contemporaries in the area of intellectual composition, articulation and general theorization.

I confirmed Sabo’s intellectual sophistication as his doctoral student between 1997 and January 2000. I had known him for long even before he taught us Comparative Politics in our second year as undergraduates, and made up my mind on the advice of Professor Ayo Dunmoye that I needed to persevere if I was to succeed under the supervision of Professor Sabo Bako. Professor Dunmoye had a special name for Sabo. Very intelligent he was, according to Ayo.

ALSO READ: Prof Ayo Dunmoye: Kwara students honor one of ABU’s oldest professors

Whenever I was submitting a chapter of my thesis, I made sure I had extras in my bag so that whenever I went to see Prof., and normally it would be among the pile of papers in his office, I would resubmit another one and leave. My friends who were his colleagues would try to be funny on my behalf but I was able to hold them back.

At the end of the day, under professor Sabo Bako, I made a PhD in ABU under three years, between December 7th, 1999 to January 10th, 2010. That was a feat that few Professors achieve. The lesson in this is the hard work, purpose, and selflessness that were in this great scholar in an intellectual world where several senior academics find it difficult to superintend and graduate even Master degree students talk less of Doctors of philosophy.

The meticulous manner in which Professor Sabo Bako carried out his work earned him tremendous respect amongst his colleagues and those who came across him in his sojourn of the academia, an industry that is as critical but neglected by the Nigerian State and society. It is sad that we lost very credible people among those that are groomed within the system and were giving it the desired perspective that it ought to have.

Certainly, all those who knew Professor Sabo Bako as a teacher, as well as some of us who passed through him, were deeply shocked over his untimely demise. We are consoled by the fact that he lived a pious and good life. It was a life of knowledge in its creation as well as recreation. He contributed his own quota.

He departed this very difficult environment, but I am optimistic that the contributions he made to life through teaching and research have continued to earn him the points and mileage of rewards in his grave and the hereafter.

We miss and will continue to miss this intellectual heavy weight who bowed down to the will of mighty God.

May his good works continue to shine. May he be rewarded for all those good things he did while living and be forgiven for the mistakes of his life.

I Personally miss and will always miss my teacher. It is more saddening to me that I didn’t see Professor Sabo Bako for sometime before he passed away. May Allah have mercy on the soul of Professor Sabo Bako.

This article was written by Dr Kabir Mato. Credit to

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