Most tributes are written to eulogise the dead and not the living. I often ask the questions: Must our guardians and mentors die before we honour them by commending their outstanding qualities and exemplary lifestyle as enduring lessons? How sure are we that we would not leave before the demise of such beloved ones, as we constantly defer or procrastinate about giving honour and expressing appreciations when due?
My father, Imam Abdulhameed Shuaib Agaka is very much alive, continuously playing a major role in my life, and generally being a source of wisdom for life situations in our very regular chats. I sincerely can understand the deep sense of loss of those who have lost their parents; some too early in life.
As a significant part of the reflections on my 51st birthday today, I wish to celebrate this courageous and resourceful man of God and father of mine.
With ancestry from the Kanuri nationality of the great Kanem-Bornu Empire, whose vestiges survive in the present Borno State, Imam Abdulhameed was born into the family of Imam Shuaib Said, a renowned Quranic teacher and Islamic leader in Agaka, a community with close proximity to the Emir’s Palace and the Central Mosque in Ilorin Emirate of Kwara State.
Apart from teaching the children of the royal families and artisans about Islamic knowledge in the ancient city, the family’s Quranic Centre hosted one of the oldest handwritten Quran, reputed to be over 200 years old. Imam Said sponsored his male children to the best Arabic and Islamic Schools in Nigeria, with some of them attending Markas in Lagos and the Arabic Teachers’ College in Sokoto. My father attended the School for Arabic Studies (SAS) in Kano before proceeding to Bayero University Kano, where he obtained a Ph.D in Quranic Morphology and Arabic Grammar.
In the tradition of our family, my father ensured that we, his children, went to the Quranic Madrasa at tender ages, the Islamic School for secondary education, before permitting us to pursue other fields of endeavour at the tertiary level. Constantly showering us with gifts, especially when we performed well in schools, and applying the cane – the traditional African discipline enforcer known as Bulala and Koboko – when we misbehaved by performing woefully. He nevertheless allowed us to play, not only for fun but also for physical exercise, and raised us to be strong and fearless when it comes to calling a spade by its name. He still teaches us about the power of prayers and fasting, and the significance of “being our brothers’ keepers” till date.
In my father’s sojourn in Kano, he was the Head of Arabic Studies departments of top institutions of learning, including the School for Arabic Studies, the Women Arabic Teachers College and Aminu Kano College of Islamic and Legal Studies, among others. He has equally been a guest lecturer and Islamic preacher at various higher institutions, and during notable Islamic events. Even while ever busy as a scholar who regularly travelled when we were young, he has always been an overprotective father, closely monitoring our progression in life. He provides us a sense of physical safety and emotional security, with words of encouragement and assurance, and citing mostly verses from the Holy Quran and Hadith.
Due to his deep commitment to scholarship, he turned his homes at Kofar Nasarawa and Kofar Dukawuya in Kano City to semi-hostels for accommodating relatives and students from far and near, who come to school in the ancient city. Apart from facilitating the admission of some of the students into different institutions, he provided them with free meals, and paid the tuition of a number of indigent students, many of who grew close enough to become extended members of our family.
It wasn’t until I came into adulthood that I realised that many of those who I called ‘brother’ and ‘sister’ were not my father’s biological children, due to his non-discriminatory attitude among all of us. Although, back in the day, out of childishness and unfathomable jealousy, I once asked him if the equal treatment he meted out to everyone was necessary. He replied that: “You will be treated the way you treat others.”
When cakes were not yet fashionable, he had special ways of ‘spoiling’ us on our birthdays, with specially prepared Tuwo and Amala, which came with assorted meat. Also, preparatory to Islamic festivals, he purchased and distributed large yards of clothing materials to family members, relatives, neighbours and even the poor in the community. I enjoyed participating in cutting the yards of materials and labeling them with names of beneficiaries. On Sallah Days, we helped him in distributing minted coins of ‘Kobo’ to kids and the needy from currency pouches.
After the demise of our grandfather in 1996, my father, Dr. Abdulhammed Shuaib, voluntarily retired from the service of the Kano State government and accepted his appointment as Imam in Agaka, within the Ilorin Emirate in 1998.
He has committed his life to the service of God and humanity, as he facilitates the establishment of worship centres, offering educational scholarships to indigent students, providing guidance and counselling to the distressed and sponsoring Islamic moral teachings in radio programmes through a foundation named after him.
Even though in old age, with its attendant health complications, he remains in good humour and is persistently cheerful. A thoughtful jokester, my dad lifts our spirit and makes us smile and laugh a lot about life. He once asked me, “Where can we find a medic who will recommend sweet drinks and tasty meat for healthy living?” Also at the peak of the coronavirus infection curve, when elderly people were yielding to the infection and becoming victims of the pandemic in drones, he asked if we could pray for him to ‘depart the stage’ during the holy month of Ramadan. We obediently refused, and the mercy of the Almighty Allah has spared his life to survive till this moment, and very hopefully for many more years to come.
While he stands behind me, as a strong moral pillar and prayer warrior who boosts my courage and confidence, he always tells me that ‘tolerance and compromise are not signs of weakness but tools for peace and relationship building.’ As an Islamic scholar, he buttresses his points in relation to various issues, while citing copious verses of the Holy Quran and the Hadith in fascinating acts of story-telling.
I’m still proud to be referred to as a “daddy’s pikin,” though devoid of the connotations of a pampered offspring. I will forever cherish his tutelage and guidance. In fact, after his initial reluctance, he ultimately supported me in the choice of a career in communication, which is also a channel for public outreach on a purposeful and virtues-driven experience. Apart from his unfaultable counsels on my family, works and matrimonial relationship, he guided me in making good investment decisions, such as in acquiring my first pieces of land in both Kano and Ilorin Emirates for residences.
Dr. Abdulhameed Shuaib, our very dear patriarch, an honourable father, friend, and community leader, is an exemplar of good conduct, a reliable confidant, moral teacher, spiritual healer and my superhero. He is not only one of the friendliest dads ever, he also provided motherly care when it really mattered, easing the burdens of his children and saving us from pain.
Alhamdulillah, I am proud and blessed to have Imam Shuaib Agaka as my father as I pray to Almighty Allah to continue to bless him with good health, peace of mind and the uncommon wisdom that crowns decades in the service of God and mankind.
Mr Shuaib, an author and PR practitioner, writes from Abuja.