Mahmud Tukur: A true patriot
Dr Mahmud Tukur who died recently in Abuja held many prominent offices of state but no post defined him like his spirit of nationalism and patriotism. In his adult life, he was Principal Secretary Northern Nigeria Civil Service; Principal of the Institute of Administration, Kongo, Zaria; an affiliate College of Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria; Principal and later Vice Chancellor of Bayero University Kano and although appointed Vice-Chancellor, University of Lagos, he refused to accept the post on account of impropriety and violation of the rules. He was also Minister of Commerce and Industry in General Buhari’s government of 1984-85.
Mahmud Muhammad Tukur was born in 1939 in Yola to Aishatu (Adda) and Muhammad Tukur, Wakilin Chamba, District Head of Jada, who played a prominent role in ensuring that the Northern Cameroons plebiscite went Northern Nigeria’s way. His mother taught him to read and recite the Qur’an. His father taught him discipline.
By his elders account, he grew up as a brilliant and precocious young man. It was not a surprise, therefore, that he topped the class in Bauchi Secondary School coming out with a Grade 1 in the West African School Certificate in 1957.
I first set eyes on Mahmud Tukur in August 1958 when a group of us were assembled in Kano to be flown to the UK for further studies. The Sardauna, Premier of the North (may ALLAH rest his soul) personally selected six boys, all top of their class in their respective secondary schools: Mahmud Tukur, Tiamiyu Salami, Abubakar Alhaji, Augustine Yange (now Abdullahi Yange), Shehu Ibrahim and myself were told to drop whatever we were doing and prepare to go to England.
We were taken to London, thence to Bournemouth and placed in Bournemouth Municipal College. The Sardauna’s instruction was that we were to be given a “liberal education”. The subjects in the curricula were: History, Geography, English Literature, Latin, Logic and Mathematics. We enjoyed our studies although Mahmud complained that Logic was jolly uninteresting. He and I shared rooms in our digs and have been sharing views, advocating causes and defending interests ever since.
In quick succession, Mahmud passed his O and A levels and was admitted to Aberystwyth campus, University of Wales, where Prince Charles, the eldest son of the Queen of England also studied. He came out top of the class there too being awarded the Elizabeth Morris memorial prize. He graduated with Honours Degree in International Relations. His tutor, the distinguished academician, Professor P. A. Reynolds held Mahmud in such high regard that on occasions he would ask Mahmud to review a new book and would present it for publication under his name. No higher praise from a teacher to a student.
His academic performances were outstanding, proceeding to the University of Pittsburgh, US and to North Western University to do a Masters Degree in International Relations. There he was with an old friend, Professor John Paden, author of books on Nigeria including biographies of Ahmadu Bello (1976) and Muhammad Buhari (2015).
On returning home from America, he joined the Northern Nigeria Civil Service with stints in the Premiers Office as District Officer (D.O.) in Niger Province and at the newly created Ministry of Water Resources. He learnt the rudiments of government under great civil servants like Ali Akilu, Liman Ciroma and Sunday Awoniyi.
In view of his academic leanings, the Northern Nigerian Government seconded him to ABU to head the Institute of Administration, Kongo, Zaria. There he shaped the themes and curricula of the College to suit the developmental requirements of the North.
It was in fact at Kongo that he came into national prominence by organizing prestigious seminars on the state of the nation and future course of development and politics. The seminars kicked off with major contributions by Ahmadu Coomassie, Dr Ishaya Audu, then Vice Chancellor of ABU and Ali Akilu. From Lagos, Allison Ayida, Philip Asiodu and Ime Ebong, the celebrated and influential so-called super Permanent Secretaries in General Gowon’s government were regular participants over the years.
Mahmud Tukur undertook the task of systematizing all the aggregates of viewpoints and proposals into workable policy options and forwarded the conference consensus to Federal and State Governments.
After the war, the Federal Government appointed him Principal, later Vice-Chancellor of Bayero University, Kano. Mahmud Tukur brought to bear his intellect and energy to fashion a university, which will be in harmony with its environment. The idea of a University differs from society to society. Mahmud Tukur believed that a university in Northern Nigeria must adapt and conform to the overall theme and direction of the founders of the Sokoto Caliphate: Shehu Usman Danfodio, Abdullahi Gwandu and Sultan Muhammadu Bello. He avidly read and taught books of these great masters.
Alas his tenure in BUK was cut short as a result of a bizarre decision by General Obasanjo who abruptly posted Mahmud Tukur as Vice-Chancellor of Lagos University and Professor Akinkugbe to ABU. Mahmud refused and resigned his offices.
This abrupt end did not result in complete distance from the Academia. Mahmud set to work and adapt his Doctoral thesis to write his stupendous “Leadership and Governance in Nigeria: the relevance of values.” It was a major work of scholarship and understanding.
During, in between and even at the end of his formal public service, he was called upon to assist the Government in different ways. He was a member of, first the Adebo and then the Udoji Salaries and Wages Commissions after the Civil War, he helped draft many of the recommendations in the two committees. Both Adebo and Udoji held him in high esteem.
We served together in the Constitution Drafting Committee set up by General Murtala Muhammed in 1975 under the Chairmanship of the veteran lawyer Rotimi Williams. Mahmud Tukur always argued during deliberations that a Constitution should not be just an abstract, not to say abstruse, legal document but a living document in tune with the social system of the polity. That way, we were able to simplify and clarify many opaque chapters of the Draft Constitution. This 1976-77 draft is what is currently in use today with few major changes.
Throughout my 60 odd years of knowing Mahmud, I never knew him to shirk an assignment or duck a challenge. He was forthright, honest, a stickler for doing things in the right way. A student of society he believed in the traditional institutions of Northern Nigeria and in the oneness of Nigeria. He championed the cause of the North and Nigeria. He was a true patriot and a scholar for the ages.