By Aminu Alhassan Kuba
Yesterday, education lost one of its most important gurdian angels. Professor Abdullahi Mahdi was arguably the best university administrator and without doubt, the greatest environmentalist Nigeria produced in the last 30 years. As VC, he transformed Ahamdu Bello University (ABU) Zaria into one of the safest and most hospitable university campuses in the country.
In a period of just 6 years, he transformed ABU’s vast land spaces from weed infested farmlands into a scene of beauty, serenity and gardens of roses and woodlands. In our very eyes, he literally transformed the landscape from the brown dusty lands in the dry season and muddy grassland in the rainy season into a beautiful garden of woods, palms and flowers.
As VC, he was like a restless military administrator with a mission. He was everywhere either making sure lecturers were in classes and laboratories imparting knowledge and character, or making sure that no one derailed his green revolution project on campus threatened the peace andsafety of the University communityhe administered.
Within a few years of stewardship, he stabilised the once notoriously unstable ABU academic calendar, ensured teachers taught the courses they were meant to teach at the times alloted. Tests and examinations were conducted as at when due, scripts were marked within agreed timelines and results of all examinations pasted and displayed before the commencement of the next semester. I could remember that, on resumption, the first point of call for any student was the departmental and/or faculty notice boards.
Mahdi was the best VC friend of the Student that ABU had. He was always there whenever and wherever needed. As a student, you could be admiring his flowers or taking a picture in any random place on campus and be surprised with the VC of mighty ABU helping you adjust your pose or position to better capture his beautiful gardens.
He made accommodation administration so seamless and fair that every deserving student got it on a first come first served basis. He made the hostels liveable by deploying adequate sanitation staff and providing water for drinking and sanitation. He turned our hostels into beautiful green gardens and enforced the rules to keep them so.
On security on the campus, ABU felt so safe and tranquil that female students could leave Amina and Ribadu halls 2:00pm and go to their classes unaccompanied anywhere on campus to study without fear of harassment or molestation. The ABU security system became so efficient that Students and the University community trusted them more than any State security agency of the country.
To govern ABU’s huge landmass, he employed the services of hunters to patrol every inch and ensured no one encroached or made its inhabitants feel unsafe. On campus, the University security was empowered to function and deployed the most effective methods to govern the most diverse student collection on campus anywhere in Nigeria.
Within the shortest time possible, he provided adequate water to not only ABU’s numerous hostels and his ubiquitous green revolution project, but its many and widespread staff quarters. The ABU dam was desilted and expanded, the waterworks revamped and expanded, and where provision of water became an intractable challenge like the Suleiman Hall, industrial boreholes were sunk and connected to the water reticulation system.
When NEPA became notoriously efficient in its failure to provide electricity to the campus environment, Mahdi fixed the broken down generators prcured new ones, installed and ran them with military efficiency. Again, they provided lightning to every class on campus and staff quarters. He signed an MoU with NEPA to guarantee power for some hours while generators provided lightning in the absence of NEPA. You could go to the class anytime with the assurance that light was available for your reading pleasure.
On sexual and other sundry harassments by lecturers and other members of university staff, he protected female students to the hilt. The only case that went unsolved was perhaps the one not reported. As Students, we felt safe and protected by Baba Mahdi.
For those that fell in love with themselves on campus, there were always places to go to, to sit and share stories, to take photos and relax without fear. ABU was hard, but it was beautiful, it was a social citadel. We had chairs to sit in every garden and enjoy the beauty and serenity of the campus. The famous gardens around the senate building and convocation square were nicknamed Love Gardens by some and Mahdi Gardens by others.
Public toilets with adequate water for sanitation and hygiene became available in every department, faculty and library. Whenever the need arose, students and staff needn’t rush to hostels to comfort themselves.
As ABUSites, we felt proud to return to campus wherever school reopened. It was always a pleasure to go to the assembly hall or Mamman Kontagora’s convocation center.
Whenever the travails of campus got on the way, the well maintained sports arena opposite Queen Amina Hall was there to admire the beauty of creation and watch volleyball, basketball or just relax. Mahdi made sure that Amina Hostel’s paint was always new, and those saddled with the responsibility of giving accommodation also always ensured that the most beautiful girls were accommodated there.
Mahdi turned ABU Samaru campus to a garden city with paved roads, walkways, trees and flowers. We were proud to tell students from other schools that they could visit ABU, spend a week and return home without walking on unpaved grounds.
Before his tenure elapsed, graduands got their certificates on the day of convocation just students had their results before the next semester commenced.
During his tenure he faced the recalcitrant university unions, including ASUU which he once chaired, with resolve and ensured that their troubles didn’t derail his vision. On a particular day, were inside Kashim Ibrahim Library when violently striking SSANU members clashed with police and teargas was used to disperse them. Many left the library with tears, but Mahdi won.., jacking continued.
When he eventually left, he left ABU many generations better than he met it in every aspect.
In Gombe, he built the State university from scratch to compete favourably with many older federal universities and perhaps, to become the best State university in at least northern Nigeria. Two months ago, I was there on q leisure visit and was confronted with the nostalgia of the Mahdi vision all over again. Even when ASUU had been on strike for months, the green made the campus lively and serene. At the zoo he established, we found the few animals it houses well fed and catered for. We saw families visiting with children enjoying the facilities provided by a man of vision and foresight.
As an academic, administrator and leader, Mahdi accomplished all these with a simplicity of a saint and commitment of a soldier on the battle field. He never sought to be known, he did not crave power, but when he got the opportunity he used it to make life better not just for the people he was responsible for but for environment and everything living within.
And when he eventually left the field and retired, he did not build or bought mansions in Abuja, Kaduna or even Gombe, he retired to the warm embrace of his family, and the community he served most of his life with distinction, Samaru in Zaria.
May Allah in His infinite mercy forgive his shortcomings, have mercy on his soul and grant him Jannah. May He comfort his family, the ABU Community and Nigeria 🇳🇬 deprived of a father, leader and patriot that served with distinction, dedication, honour, love and humility.
Kuba was a former student of ABU Zaria. He writes from Katsina State.