Nur Alkali at 71 and Borno State University at -5years

Abdulhamid Al-Gazali

In the last few weeks, there have been discussions about the commencement of Borno State University especially since the promise to start it in January this year was not met--with no new date, nor even a formal notice of postponement/change of 'mind'.

I had the privilege from 2010 to 2014 of being very privy of developments regarding the establishment of the university since my late boss, Prof. Muhammad Nur Alkali who could have been 71 today, was the pioneer chairman of the technical committee for its establishment. I have hardly ever joined a long debate regarding it because I knew, unlike many, the university was ready to commence operation since 2012—and that it will start anytime the government wants!

As at the moment, anything said by the government, or will come to say [alert:] is an unnecessary noise. The master plan, academic brief and every other thing for its takeoff were ready since 2012 and that's why I was very surprised—and sometimes you are surprised that you are really surprised—when the committee in 2016 submitted the same thing. The only thing the reconstituted committee may have done was not up to a revision, it probably only changed the cover and dates of the documents--and the government received them, once again, fully aware that it had done same before.

I was directed by my boss to type a letter in September 2012, a copy of which is still handy, wherein he conveyed to the governor the readiness of the university to commence operation January 2013 with preliminary studies and 1000 students spread over five faculties: Arts, Education, Management, Science and Social Science.

The site which was allocated for the university, the ICT Center, already has structures with which to start a university with 1000 students. Yes, the existing structures, the aesthetics in particular, may not have been befitting for a new university especially to concretist politicians who bother more about form than function. Since there was fear that the university could come under Boko Haram attack, it was the more reason 'why so much needed not be invested on structures and aesthetics', he once told me. To him he said, 'if Shekau, a non-state actor, could establish an institution with the mindset to mislead our children, we must save them from him by giving them a platform where they can separate the grains from the chaff'.

Normally, universities are meant to develop over a period of time base on their master plans. To this end, the only request as at the time was clearing of the site in preparatory for physical inspection of the existing structures by the National Universities Commission, NUC.

In the letter, the chairman reported that he had informed NUC, who has studied and given a pass mark on the documents, albeit informally; and that minor renovation and clearing of the site, besides official approval of the governor, were all that was needed to commence the licensing process—which he assured, could be achieved within two weeks.

Hence, I knew, the recent hullabaloo, were all puerile, unweighed media stunts—puerile and unweighed because it would needlessly put the government on the defensive and this it did. All these things for which a lot of media muscle-flexing were thrown up are actually things that are supposed to be silently done, especially since the government's planning team lacks programming or the media team ignores it. The former chairman had gone this far, and few knew that he did as much because he did them, as he should, quietly. A type who sees things from the point of view of their substance, I know, Nur Alkali would not, not just as a matter of humility but as much as of cutting cost, have pulled such a needless large high-powered delegation to NUC just for securing a license—but would nonetheless get it done, even more efficiently.

If the government was serious about the university, by January 2017, what we would have had and celebrated now would have been the maiden convocation of the university. Nur Alkali, it seemed, was actually alone as regarding his concerns and commitment to having the university ready. He was keener about actualizing it than the government who invited him to do the job.

The day he passed away, on August 1, 2014, a draft message retrieved from his phone was meant for the governor in which he was trying to convey to him his resolve to once again meet the Executive Secretary of the NUC, Prof. Julius Okoji on the subject. The text specifically pointed out that he was going to return to Abuja August 4 to sign the report of the 2014 National Confab and use the opportunity to formally invite the NUC for the physical inspection of the university—and therefore he needed the governor's audience to discuss the modalities.

That was even a last resort because within the period, he had sought the audience of the governor through the Chief of Staff and other officials of the state government several times—all to no avail; notwithstanding his position as the Honorary Special Advisor to the government on education. I knew how he was frustrated by the careless, foot-dragging attitude of the government, but he was driven to push on time and again because at the heart of the whole thing was a society left behind in education for several decades.

I am not sure I can stand the hopeless frustrations. I could though remember he was an exceptional breed, divinely packaged to approach things on the point of value creation and value addition. It was the same story in Yobe, but he dared and weathered the storm—and if then we thought he was unnecessarily worrying more and more about such frustrating things, when those who should were actually only interested in the media showmanship, we have now, with benefit of hindsight such as witnessing sons and daughters of the state priding as products of Yobe State University, understood and seen what he saw. To him, it was actually not about what he would suffer as an individual, it was about these proud sons of Yobe, who until then, had no hope for a university education, at least at home—and who would have been the ones to really suffer.

But His Creator recalled him back to rest, to mean that yes, he had done his job—and this was by way of building capacities of quite a large number of people who have already stepped in to take up from where he left. No better confirmation is there for this than his succession by Prof. Abubakar Mustapha, his disciple, in the task of building the university.

While his dream university is -5 (minus five) years today, let me tell him that, out of many others, his disciple, his very own Mal. Bukar Usman, has finally become the substantive Registrar of the Federal University of Dutse, Jigawa, two weeks ago, just as did Dr. Kalli Yusuf Gazali. Prof. Yakubu Mukhtar, another of them, is already making strides as the Vice Chancellor of the university he built: Yobe State University. I am informing you, dear almighty boss, that what you foresaw and really worked towards have been increasingly coming to fruition. This is why we still and will forever celebrate you.