This tribute should have come earlier. I have tried to write something about Mallam Ali Garba several times, but it always ended in a stalemate. Not that I can capture the essence of Mallam in a few paragraphs, but I, nevertheless, will share what Mallam meant to me.
It is trite to discuss the mutual distrust between the few Western-educated elite and the remaining populace of the Muslim North. The condescending looks the former harbour for the latter has inadvertently led to animosity, disdain, estrangement, and suspicion. This mutual distrust has stalemated the needed cultural and social changes and transformation for growth and development.
For long, the ordinary populace cannot find reasons to associate with the educated elite; the elite, on the other hand, cannot understand why the public views them with utter cynicism. In my view, the effortless meandering of this contradiction tells the essence of Mallam.
Mallam was educated in Kent up to PhD level, published books and articles in reputable journals, worked in some elite organizations and finally settled in Bayero University Kano (BUK), Department of Business Administration, until his demise. This impressive resumé only made Mallam more courteous, down-to-earth, and humble. So, how did he surmount what appears to be an insurmountable challenge? I will come back to that later.
I first met Mallam in 2014 at Kano Central Hotel. I was selected for a workshop on entrepreneurship by Hajiya Amina Ado Kurawa. Mallam was one of the resource persons. Given how Hajiya Amina praised Mallam Ali, we waited with bated breath for this all-important resource person. We were not disappointed. Mallam delivered a flawless presentation. I could not wait to engage him after the presentation, only for Mallam to excuse himself for another engagement. I later searched for his name on Facebook.
Mallam interspersed his discussions, teachings and writings with ‘barkwanci’ (humour). This invited a lot of traffic to his wall; it also made his students and followers feel at ease in his presence which thus facilitated two-way communication. You would feel confident asking Mallam anything.
Another charming trait that won Mallam many hearts was the extent to which he would reach to correct you without belittling you or making you look/sound foolish. This all the more made him endearing and welcoming.
Mallam knew he had a lot to share, and we were not making better use of his knowledge and experience. He looked at us (Tijjani, Marzuq, and I) in one instance and said: “Use me.” In another instance, during our first visit to his house, he invited us upstairs, introduced us to his wives, and finally told us: “This is your house. Come whenever you want.” We were not alone. He did this to many. This unassuming and welcoming personality made Mallam a darling to many and led to the birth and polishing of innovative business ideas. Maryam Gatawa’s Gatmeals is one example.
Muslim North has no shortage of brilliant minds bristling with excellent ideas that can transform its economic prospects into reality. However, I suspect that the knowledge of how to harness and translate these innovative, transformative ideas into reality is in short supply.
One way of achieving this is to bridge the gap of access between the two aforementioned mutually distrusting classes. This is the essence of Mallam Ali Garba. And this was what Dr Waziri Junaidu cautioned us against in 1971: “Let not your degrees, research and publications be an excuse to feel haughty amongst your own people. Knowledge is at best when it is universally useful, and the best scholars are those whom the ordinary man fears neither to encounter nor to address.”
Adieu, Professor Ali Muhammad Garba.