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Bala: The Prince, The Scholar

Exactly 12 years ago, radical scholar Dr. Yusufu Bala Usman, whose father was the son of Emir of Katsina, Muhammadu Dikko and mother, the daughter of Emir of Kano, Abdullahi Bayero passed on to the great beyond leaving behind an enduring legacy of scholarship.

My first direct encounter with the name Yusufu Bala Usman was through the work of M.G. Smith, whom I had erroneously thought was the same person as Mallam Abdullahi Smith, Dr. Usman’s tutor and doctoral supervisor. Smith had authored a book in 1957 on the history of Zazzau titled ‘Government in Zazzau’. This book by all measure could easily pass on as one of the most fallacious historical documents ever written. It is a distorted, self-contradictory and dangerous book that has caused uncountable problems in Zazzau. But unfortunately, till date, it has an exaggerated relevance in the discourse of Zazzau Emirate’s history.

We had approached Dr. Bala Usman to give us his own assessment of the book after the late Wakilin Gabas Zazzau, Alh Sani Ahmed Kari (Anytime) was unfairly humiliated and disgraced during a Sallah Durbar for styling his turban in a manner that’s meant only for princes. The reason for approaching him was because those that humiliated the late Wakilin Gabas based their arguments on the historical accounts in ‘Government in Zazzau’.

Dr. Bala in his usual self, critiqued Mr. Smith’s work for lacking adequate substance.
Dr. Usman pointed out an example of a big contradiction that reflected in the genealogical tree of the Bare Bari ruling dynasty of Zazzau, where Emir of Zazzau Mal. Hammada was captured as the biological father of Galadiman Zazzau Dokaje, while Dokaje was referred to as the biological father of Sa’in Zazzau Mazadu. Hammada (Babarbare), Galadima Dokaje (Badokaje) while Sa’i Mazadu is Bakatsine. Also a certain Ohodde, daughter of Makama Yahaya was said to be the wife of Turaki Ali. Turaki Ali in turn was referred to as the son of Makama Yahaya – making him to be married to his own biological sister – going by Smith’s abominable conclusion. These among many others are just tips of the iceberg as far as contradictions are concerned in that horrendous book.

Mr. Smith, according to Dr. Usman, had in most cases failed to provide clear sources of his distorted data. No wonder, Bala Usman until his death remained resolute in his support for the preference of “oral and linguistic sources along with written and archaeological sources” in historical documentation, which Smith’s work evidently lacked. He referred us to Mr. Smith’s wife in the United Kingdom, whom might be privy to the ‘sources’ that birthed her late husband’s questionable historical work. But of course, our sojourn ended there!

The second encounter was through his work, ‘The Misrepresentation of Nigeria’ which he co-authored alongside his former student, Professor AlKassim Abba. It was a book that we were mandated to thoroughly read if we indeed desired to pass the course ‘Nigerian Government and Politics’ as Year Two students of Political Science and International Studies in Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria in 2006. It was an exhilarating intellectual torture that helped us in great measure to grasp the complex nature of Nigeria’s history.

With all these experiences about the inspiring life of Dr. Bala Usman over a decade ago, little did I know then I would be working very closely with his daughter, Hadiza Bala Usman – whom so far, has proven to be a worthy successor, albeit in public service not in the academia!

Despite his princely background, he chose to fight for the liberation of the common man to the path of honour, dignity and social justice even if it meant ruffling the feathers of northern oligarchy that produced him. His story is that of selfless service, courage, modesty, intellect and integrity.

May Allah SWT continue to grant eternal mercy on the soul of one of Africa’s greatest historian. Amin.

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