He is distinguished as a scholar. A compatriot with a Midas touch. If he were to be a businessman, he would be the head of a conglomerate raking in billions of dollars every year giving the likes of Bill Gates and Warren Buffet a run for their money.
He has the vision, ambition and mission even in the ivory tower where he has held sway for many years. Yet he remained humble and unassuming. From Canada to America and back to Nigeria, he has written his name on the sands of time and left an indelible mark. Meet Prof. Abdul-Rasheed Na’Allah, the current Vice-Chancellor, University of Abuja. You may wonder why an academia’s life is intertwined with a Midas touch often associated with business magnate.
His career trajectory says it all.
Prof. Abdul-Rasheed Na’Allah is legendary for his unique ability to attract grants for research and development to universities. As department chair, African-American Studies, Western Illinois University, USA, he attracted a grant of $100m college/university grants for the renovation of offices, conference travel funds, technology innovation and technology funds in 2004.
Also, in his capacity as the chair, Western Illinois University Minority Internship Program (MIP), he attracted $50 million grants from the Illinois Higher Education Cooperating Act grant for minority internship’s intern stipends, overhead, and MIP administration and honorarium (5-University Consortium) in 2004. He further attracted $25,000 grants from Visiting Speakers funds for honoraria, travel and hotel costs for visiting speakers as Director of the Indigenous Africa and Diaspora Discourse Project (IADDP) at the same University.
Typically, Prof. Na’Allah also attracted many funds both internally and externally during his tenure at Kwara State University (KWASU) including the $15.3m budget for the UNESCO Chair in Alternative Energy, established at KWASU by UNESCO in 2011; the $45,701 Funding from SSHRC Insight Development Grant, Canada in 2012 for digitalization of traditional African oral tradition; over N8 Billion in regular, special and high impact intervention grants from TETFUND in 2010 and 2016; and $15,000 grant by Academics for Higher Education and Development to KWASU’s Centre for Innovation and International Studies, amongst many others.
Na’Allah, a professor of Comparative Literature was born on 21 December 1962 in Ilorin, Kwara State. He started his early education at the Demonstration 1 Primary School, Sokoto, where he obtained his First School Leaving Certificate (FSLC) in 1976 and Government Teachers’ College, Birnin Yauri for his Teachers’ Grade II Certificate in 1981.
The young Na’Allah proceeded to the University of Ilorin where he graduated with the Upper Division in B.A. (Ed) English Education in 1988, and in 1992. He obtained a Master of Literature in English from the same University, and a doctoral degree from the University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada in 1999. With many laurels in his kitty as an outstanding scholar, he remains an epitome of humility.
He said, “My personality, home training and exposure as a global person. I always believe that people who have no much to show make the loudest noise and well-endowed people are generally humble and happy to contribute and share views and respect other people and their views.”
For Prof. Na’Allah, his charity begins at home as his early life was influenced by his father and his environment.
“It actually started from home, my very scholarly father and scholarly Ilorin environment, Arabic and Islamic scholarship. My father studied under the popular Shaikh Muhammad Kamaludeen and attended SOAIS Kano for HIS and the then Abdullahi Bayero College and taught at Sultan Abubakar College Sokoto and GSS Koko and later GSS Bachita before he became a judge of the Area Court for years.
“So I had a great scholarly home and admire my intensive scholarly training from my father who was my role model. Then, my Islamic school training, my elementary schools at Ansarul Islam Primary School, Ilorin; Demonstration Primary School, Sokoto; and Malam Salihu Primary School, Koko, all oiled my strong scholarly foundation.”
Having been firmly rooted at home Na’Allah’s post-primary school became a platform for great skill development for him. While his training as a Grade II teacher at GTC Birnin Yauri, now Federal Government College, Birnin Yauri, was incredible.
“I was lucky to have highly talented teachers from all over the world: Britain, India, Pakistani, Nigerian, Ghana, and more! My school was the best of its type, and I was active as a debater and started writing scholarly essays, poetry, and drama sketches published in school magazines. I was an active member of the debating society and represented my schools in inter-school debates and also on debate competition at NTV Sokoto. I was a member of the dramatic society and performed plays in my school and featured our plays on NTV (now called NTA) station in Sokoto. Some of my teachers of English, Arithmetic, Further Mathematics, Sciences, Geography, Principle and Practice of Education, and more were simply among the best you can get anywhere! I was a member of the Boy Scout Movement and became Troup Leader of the 1st Birnin Yauri Troop. I graduated as Head Boy in Birnin Yauri.”
Prof. Na’Allah wouldn’t admit to being a gifted child but self-discovery of the path he wanted to toe accelerated his career journey. Again, he was lucky to have met great teachers who aided his journey and with hard work he conquered his career world.
“After I graduated,” he recalled, “I taught in elementary school for some years before I gained admission into the Better by Far University, the topmost University of Ilorin, and I assure you, it is the best of all, that strengthened in me a solid scholarly endeavor. My teachers included David Cook, Olu Obafemi, Stephen Lubega, Prof. Adewoye, Dr. Gabriel Ajadi, Bayo Ogunjimi and many more.”
As an undergraduate student, he didn’t restrict himself and he was ready to explore. His exploration led him to Radio Kwara where he anchored a radio programme. He wrote frequently for newspapers, including The Herald, New Nigerian, The Punch, The Guardian, and several other newspapers.
“The topics of my newspaper writings were always scholarly apart from occasional poems. I remember such topics as ‘The Africanness of African Poetry.’ I wrote on the oral poets of Ilorin such as Jaigbade Alao and Odolaye Aremu, and on Mamman Shata and Dan Marayan Jos. And often much more on criticism and theoretical frameworks of African literature. I wrote on African languages and cultures.”
He is a teacher with his eyes on journalism but with a vision to be a distinguished scholar. And by the time he arrived for his PhD at the University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada, in the early 1990s he had authored strong scholarly articles published around the world and written books on African oral literature.
But has it always been his childhood dream to be a teacher?
“Yes, it has, given the value set by our parents, as my father clearly told us frequently that teaching was the noblest profession and he wanted us to be teachers. The later training I had both at Birnin Yauri and at Unilorin capped it for me. Whatever I become now, it is my parents, Birnin Yauri, the greatest Unilorin and the University of Alberta, Canada!”
As an undergraduate, Prof. Na’Allah considered studying law which he later jettisoned.
“Actually, after my 100 level, I was encouraged to go into law and almost changed my course to law, then newly introduced at the University of Ilorin. But it just did not feel right in my mind, and Russ Chambers, one of my teachers also discouraged me, insisting that what he had observed in me, it was better I finished my degree in English.
“I never discussed this with my parents or anyone else. I just abandoned the move. I have not regretted this as I am always proud of my teaching profession because as long as I was able to teach and make an impact on the young ones and write my essays and poetry, that was all my ambition, and that would have been what would make me very happy and fulfilled.
“The ice in the cake is becoming a higher education leader right from the United States where I taught for more than a decade and became a full professor. The chance to become the pioneer vice-chancellor of Kwara State University was just a destiny for which I cannot thank God enough. I got the chance to put my ideas, my theories and my development and skills in higher education into practice at the university. As vice-chancellor of the UofA of Nigeria, University for National Unity, the University of Abuja, we have the duty to make it the model University in Nigeria. By destiny of location, the UofA is the number one university in this country and we are all at UniAbuja determined to make it so and since we have the goodwill of Nigerians and the Nigerian leadership and leaders of higher education in this country, and of staff and students of the University of Abuja, no impediment will stop us, by the grace of God!”
Prof. Na’Allah left several legacies in both Chicago where he attracted a multimillion-dollar grant and also Kwara State University where he held sway as vice-chancellor for two terms. You may conclude that his type is rare.
“Well, have I done something extraordinary?” He asked rhetorically.
“For me, humanity is the basis of African values and it is the basis of what I was taught as a child by my parents and my Ilorin, Sokoto, Koko, Yauri and all the cultures abroad that converged into the values that developed me into the person that I am. My life’s commitment is to uplift others and contribute my best to the development of my community. To serve God Almighty and be fair and kind to humanity.
“I am a very lucky person, the opportunities that I have around the world, as I think I have visited all world’s continents and lived with people from virtually everywhere in the world, as a professor at Illinois, I came across students and staff from virtually everywhere and formed strong ties, networks and associations with them, and from this, I know that I have gained rich experience that has made me into the person I am and what I am able to mobilize in the performance of my job as vice-chancellor of the great UofA of Nigeria! A lifetime service in which God Almighty has been very kind to me and my parents and to which I am forever grateful.”
Reeling out his plans for the ivory tower, he assures that the University of Abuja must be a model university in Nigeria as all plans and vision are geared towards achieving that.
“Imagine the massive land we have at the university. The founding fathers then understood that it was a university for the future, and they set machinery in motion to provide a great university that Nigeria deserves at its nation’s capital. That university will bring people and industry and scholars, and researchers and people from around the world to our campus each pursuing what they like to pursue. The UofA must be a tourist attraction apart from being a centre for academic excellence. I see how during big holidays when Abuja residents and visitors have no place else to go apart from Shoprite and the like, they should be able to come to the campus of the great UofA of Nigeria and visit the zoo, botanical gardens, enjoy beautiful mountains, relax in different social and artistic and cultural engagements right on our campus. The UofA will bring businesses and industries that set up joint laboratories and workshops and entrepreneurial stations where our young people, our academics and the industries can innovate and create and contribute massively to national development and advancement of humanity.”
He was in Chicago for over a decade where he became a professor before coming home. Why did he decide to leave the comfort of the US to come back to Kwara as VC?
“I came back to give back to my community. Most of us can remember our elementary schools and post-primary schools and university education. This country has given so much to us, public schools that many of us went through charged no fees, instead, we were given books, clothes, food and even journey money to go home and return during holidays, how can anyone not return to such a nation when a call came asking to give back? It was tough because of family and especially young children, it takes the faith in God and the upbringing of our parents and all the foundation already solidly laid in me to draw me like a magnet from the United States of America back home to Nigeria.”