Abubakre: Quintessential academic, administrator and mentor
When Razaq Deremi Abubakre, the first Muslim Professor of Arabic in Yorubaland, was born on January 20, 1948, in Iwo, Osun State, the humble parents would not have believed if they were told their son would become Nigeria’s foremost Professor of Arabic, teacher of teachers of a global language and a strategic transformer of administration.
Even though he did not attend a secondary school, he studied on his own and secured distinction in Arabic and Economics to gain admission to into the prestigious University of Ibadan.
Abubakre has taught many leading national icons, including Prof. Ishaq Oloyede, present Registrar of JAMB, Prof. Muhammad Shafi’u Abdullahi, Registrar of National Board for Arabic and Islamic Studies (NBAIS) and Prof. Amidu Sanni, the immediate past Vice Chancellor of Fountain University. Others are Abdul-Rasheed Na’Allah, Vice Chancellor of the University of Abuja, Professor K.K. Oloso and Prof. Muhibbu-Din Opeloye, who were formerly commissioners in Oyo and Osun states, respectively.
A scholar par excellence, Abubakre was awarded a Commonwealth Scholarship to pursue his doctoral studies in Arabic Literature at the School of Oriental and African Studies, the University of London, from 1977 to 1980.
He was a hardworking lecturer and personality dedicated to his passion so much that in 1989, he was made a Professor of Arabic at the University of Ilorin. Professor Adeoye Adeniyi, who immediately before he became Vice Chancellor of the University of Ilorin was Chief Medical Director of the University of Ilorin Teaching Hospital, having recognised the talents and capabilities of Professor Abubakre, nominated him to represent the Vice Chancellor of the University of Ilorin on the University of Ilorin Teaching Hospital Management Board (1990-1993) under the Chairmanship of Dr Atta, a seasoned physician and a retired permanent secretary of the Ministry of Health.
It is instructive to note that Prof. Abubakre was chosen to be the Chairman of many ad-hoc Committees. These committees include an investigation on the supply of a 12KV generator, an inquiry into telecommunication contracts and a committee on harmonisation of staff placement in the new salary structure, which he dispensed all excellently.
He served as the Chairman, Governing Council of the Oyo State College of Education, now Osun State College of Education, Ila Orangun, between 1986 and 1989. During his tenure there, he completed the School of Arts. He started from scratch and completed the School of Science patterned on the best of any leading University infrastructural edifice. He also commenced the building of the administrative block. He brought it from Foundation to the Damp Proof Course (DPC), leaving behind an avalanche of building materials such as blocks, cement, iron rods and roofing sheets to complete the project.
As part of his visionary streak and commitment to climate change mitigation and aesthetics, he organised a massive tree-planting exercise involving him, council members, staff, and students. This vision of Abubakre made the College attractive as a takeoff site for the Federal University of Science, Ila-Orangun. During his tenure, he gave the highest honour the College can confer to both the Royal Host, late Oba Williams Adeyeni Ariwajoye, the Orangun Ile-Ila and the Foundation Chairman of the College Council, late Hon. Justice Shehu Tijani Bola Babalakin for their dedication to societal leadership.
Abubakre later became the Chairman of Governing Council, Muftau Lanihun College of Education, Ibadan, 2002-2006. While there, in a bid to secure the requirements of accreditation for a diploma-awarding college of the University of Ibadan, Abubakre, during his visit to Cambridge for a conference, withdrew all his savings in the Barclays Bank Russell Square London WC1 to enable him to purchase the encyclopedia Britannica, the shorter encyclopedia of Islam and other books to guarantee accreditation.
The founder of the College, the late Alhahi Muftau Ajadi Lanihun, refunded part of the costs, while Abubakre wrote off the balance as his contributions to the College. When the College decided to be affiliated with the National Council for Colleges of Education for the award of NCE, Abubakre realised that the kind of structures available, which are classroom sizes, would not be suitable for accreditation. He got the Council to start the construction of a block of offices through innovative strategic fundraising initiatives without bothering the founder.
The structure on the three floors is distinct from the ones put in place by the founder. The accreditation for the NCE achieved during his tenure is another testament to his consistent pedigree of turning adversity into opportunities and having the audacity to unlock scarce value against the odds.
Abubakre was Head of the Department of Religions, University of Ilorin 1992-1995 and Dean of the Faculty of Arts, University of Ilorin from 2001-2003. As Head of the Department of Religions, Abubakre organised a lecture on religious understanding, bringing Cardinal Arinze from the Vatican to give the talk. Earlier, he brought Shaykh Adam Abdulah Al-Ilory to launch his book Bayan in Arabic rhetoric in 1989.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that he was the founding editor of the Journal of Arabic and Religious Studies. Abubakre, as Chairman of the Library and Publications Committee at University-wide, revamped the University’s central journal, the Centrepoint, which had become moribund. He gave the journal a facelift by reshaping it to the standard size of a journal. He also introduced the journal issuing for the two main disciplines of the University, which are science and humanities, each producing its Centrepoint.
Abubakre participated in forming the World Assembly of Muslim Youth as National President of the Muslim Students Society of Nigeria from 1974 to 1975. He participated in the last conference of the International Islamic Federation of Students Organisations (IFSO) held in Turkey in 1975, the membership of which formed WAMY. In the same year, Abubakre organised the third Islamic World Conference at the University of Ibadan, which coincided by accident with the time General Murtala Muhammad took over the government in Nigeria.
Abubakre, during his tenure as President, did not inherit a kobo from the previous executive, but he left behind for the MSSN a sum of 16,000 after holding the World Conference. He set up a Board of Trustees headed by the Foundation President of the MSSN, Dr Lateef Adegbite as custodian of the fund he attracted to the Society.
The articulate scholar also has participated in several international conferences. Abubakre has supervised many professors’ doctoral theses and has served several times on the National University Commission’s (NUC) accreditation body. He also served on the Committee of the NUC for writing the academic benchmark for courses in Nigerian universities.
He served as President of the Nigerian Association for the Study of Religions (NASR) from 1988 to 1994. While in office, he edited many books for the Association and supported the regular production of its official journal. He attracted a grant of five hundred thousand naira from the military President, Ibrahim Babangida, which was invested in the proceeds used to produce books and journals for the Association.
He attended the prestigious confab of the International Association for the History of Religions (IAHR) in Rome in 1991 and helped to shape the discourse through his active participation. He was the first African to be elected to be on the Committee of the IAHR and a member of its editorial board, which publishes NVMEN, the International Review for the History of Religions, published by E.J Brill in the Netherlands. Due to his sterling ability to influence others without dominating, clear vision and passion for work, first among equals intellect and experience, decisiveness and commendable capability to chair meetings, Abubakre was honoured to preside over the official opening IAHR Conference held in Harare, Zimbabwe.
Abubakre was twice a Fellow of the German Academic Exchange Programme (DAAD) from May to July 1987, visiting Bayreuth University, Germany and from May to July 2006, visiting Ruhr University, Bochum, Germany. He also participated in local African activities giving papers at the DAAD conferences in Cameroon and Kenya. As a result, he was issued a certificate of honour by DAAD.
He was appointed Vice Chancellor Al-Hikmah University, Ilorin (2008-2010). While he was at Al-Hikmah University, he hit the ground running on January 20, 2008, when he realised that the NUC reports had served the University a warning letter indicating that the structures of the University were unfitting for a tertiary institution, that if the situation did not improve during the next visit, the institution might be closed down. He girded his loin and visited the WAMY office in Jeddah to solicit support for the University as a co-founder.
The trip yielded results, and funds started flowing in from which a block of offices consisting of 160 rooms and a female hostel of 150 rooms were completed during his tenure. Locally, Abubakre visited Kano to meet Ibrahim Shekarau, who was his junior MSSN member and who had respect for him as his former National President. Ibrahim was asked to donate to the construction of the School of Science, which he completed with six laboratories and a block of four floors.
He furnished it and provided chemicals. The laboratory was named after him. Abubakre, while addressing students under the tree, with him standing on the step, he invited parents who agreed with him to pay a levy with which a 2000-seater auditorium was built. Abubakre invited the NUC to come for accreditation during his two-year tenure there. He presented ten academic programmes, eight of which were given full accreditation. At the same time, two secured interim certifications-These are lofty and unprecedented achievements based on his grit, determination and transformation prowess.
Abubakre was Chairman Contact Committee of the National Board of Arabic and Islamic Studies (NBAIS), Kaduna, from 2007 to date.
He led this academic body in its voyage for government recognition for secondary schools specialising in Arabic and Islamic Studies. He led the defence of the NBAIS memorandum at the Joint Consultative Committee on Education (JCCE) Reference Committee Meeting at Uyo in May 2010, JCCE plenary meeting at Jos in September 2010 and at the zenith meeting, which is the National Council of Education meeting at Sokoto in January 2011 where the educational activities of NBAIS were recognised. Professor Abubakre led NBAIS to the public hearing of the draft law of NBAIS at the House of Representatives, secondary education committee at Abuja, to push for enacting the law of NBAIS on October 11 2022.
Abubakre served as the Federal Commissioner for the Public Complaints Commission in charge of Osun State (2012-2018). Here, he demonstrated his trait in scholarship by initiating a monthly publication of the Osun Ombudsman, where policy decisions to aid governance were discussed. He was also the Chairman of the Publicity Committee at the PCC headquarters. In addition, he got annual reports of the PCC published under his watch.
Through his work as a Federal Commissioner, he partook in investigating, dealing with complaints, examining violations at all levels and disseminating ample and critical information. Thus, he championed good governance, national cohesion and nation-building through his work in resolving conflict, ensuring equity and fairness.
As a distinguished academic, he has over 70 journal articles and chapters in books and full-fledged books published in Nigeria, Europe and the USA to his credit.
This is in addition to delivering commissioned papers at various national and international fora.
The Emeritus Professor edited an over 2,000-page book in two volumes entitled ‘Shaykh Adam Abdullah al-Ilory in the Tableau of Immortality’ in 2012.
Abubakar also presented a commissioned paper on Hajj’s organisation at the Grand Annual Hajj Conference in September 2016 at Makkah, which was exceptionally well received and culminated in a visit to the King of Saudi Arabia.
Abubakre chaired the Committee of 28 scholars to review the Qur’an translated into Yoruba, and they came up with a 1013-page of the revised meanings of the Qur’an in Yoruba with modern orthography, appropriate Yoruba accent marks and generous annotations which depict his flair for Arabic rhetoric.
As part of his excellent individual citizenship and his commitment to investing in the next generation, he announced one million naira (N100,000.00) in total endowment for ten years beginning in 2023 of N50,000 per student for the best student in Arabic and N50,000 for the best overall graduating student in the Faculty of Arts.
The endowment is called the Professor Razaq Deremi Abubakre Best graduating student for the Department of Arabic, Faculty of Arts, University of Ilorin, and overall best-graduating student in the Faculty.
Also, Professor Abubakre, as President of the Iwo Progressive Group, had earlier left an endowment of one million naira for scholarships to deserving Iwo students before he left office in 2019.
As a testimony to his capabilities and expertise in Arabic studies, the retired professor is still being called for assignments and engagements in his professional space.
A recent case was in November 2022 when the King Salman Global Academy for the Arabic Language based in Riyadh, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, commissioned Abubakre to lecture on the History of the Arabic Language in Nigeria.
He had earlier been commissioned by the King Faisal Foundation in Riyadh in 2010 to give a lecture on the position of Arabic in tertiary institutions in Nigeria.
Adegoke Adetunji, a president of the National Association of Osun State Students (NAOSS), described Abubakre as a huge asset to Osun State. He added that the emeritus professor is a national and global brand in academic scholarship and excellence in ethical leadership.
Abubakre’s short period as Vice-Chancellor was so phenomenal that he was proclaimed and acclaimed by the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) as the best Vice-Chancellor in Nigeria.
In recognition of his vast intellectual endowments and selfless service to humanity, various bodies and organisations have conferred honours and awards on him.
These include the Leadership Excellence Award for Exemplary Leadership and Service to Humanity by the African Institute for Leadership and Good Governance on December 2, 2014.
He was nominated as one of the 50 Most Eminent Alumni of the University of Ibadan on August 2, 2013, by The Guardian Newspapers, and Best Lecturer of the Year 2013 by Vision Africa Gold Communication Limited on July 15, 2013.
Abubakre was Laureate of ‘The International Socrates Prize’ in the Field of Education on December 12, 2011, by the Europe Business Assembly, Oxford, United Kingdom, under the auspices of the Oxford Summit of Leaders, Oxford, United Kingdom.
Besides, he had been recognised as a ‘Man of Integrity’ in a Special Report of The Guardian Newspapers on September 25, 2011, and one of Nigeria’s ‘Exceptional First Class Degree Holders’ in a Special Report by Thisday Newspapers on October 19, 2011. He was also listed in the Newswatch’s Who is Who in Nigeria in 1990 and 2000.
The American Biographical Institute Inc. lists Prof. Abubakre in its International Directory of Distinguished Leadership 8th Edition, 2000.
He was recognised by the International Biographical Centre, Cambridge, in its Outstanding People of the 21st Century. Professor Mahfouz Adedimeji, Vice Chancellor of Ahman Pategi University, has the following to say about Prof Abubakre.
“Prof. Abubakre is a quintessential man of many parts. In other words, he is one man playing many roles in many people’s lives.
“He is a university don, a seasoned education specialist and advocate, a religious scholar, an exemplary Muslim, a prolific author, a seasoned administrator, a community leader, an interfaith practitioner, a bridge builder, an academic mentor, a resourceful personality, an amiable gentleman and ultimately an accomplished family man.”
Professor Hamzat Abdul-Raheem of Kwara State University, Malete, says Prof. Abubakre is “an academic icon of our time, an epitome of moral integrity and a humanist par excellence.”
He further referred to Abubakre as “an academic giant whose description in a few pages by an individual may not do justice to his prowess, for he is like an elephant to a blind person who can only be described at the point where the describer is standing or touching.”
As for his philosophy in life, apart from being a religious person, Abubakre said he made honesty the cornerstone of his life.
According to the professor who made First Class in Arabic at the University of Ibadan, “Nobody can offend me as long as one doesn’t lie to me.”
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