My Father Wanted Me To Become An Islamic Scholar- Human RIghts Activist, Wahab Shittu Reveals
Human Rights activist and lawyer, Wahab Shittu revealed in this interview he granted some years ago how his father wanted him to become an Islamic scholar as he subscribed to Arabic education than the Western School as he was not enrolled into any school till he was 10 years old, but was attending Ile Kewu (Arabic Lesson) till then.
BlackBox Nigeria brings you the excerpts from the interview below as the renowned lawyer, who is also a lecturer at the University of Lagos clocks 55years today…
What inspires you to comment on national issues?
I can say it is as a result of my background. I was raised up in an atmosphere of openness and I was given the right to express myself unfettered from childhood by my parents. I was also taught by them to appreciate issues and events around me as they affect humanity. So, all what I am doing now; my concern for humanity, my desire to fight for others, my abhorrence for cheating in all forms and corrupt practices, as well as my desire to contribute to the welfare of others are all elements that emanate from the training and background I received from my parents.
Was any of your parents a lawyer?
None of my parents was a lawyer. In fact, none was educated in the Western sense of the word. My father was a vulcaniser and my mother was a petty trader. But they had native intelligence in abundance, especially in my father‘s case. They emphasised such ethical values as hard work, integrity, honesty and they preach unity and were the type that would encourage you to be live in harmony with other people in your the community. They are people who subscribed to very strong values.
Did you ask your dad why he was not educated?
He was not lettered in the western sense because he did not have the opportunity to attend school. My grandfather was a prominent hunter and he lacked the funds to send my father to school. My father also subscribed to Arabic education. Indeed he would have been happier if I had ended up as an Islamic scholar. Up till the age of 10, my father did not enroll me in any western school; I was attending local Arabic school, Ile Kewu.
Where were you attending the Arabic school?
First in Ghana. I was born in Ghana and later, when I arrived in Nigeria. It was when we came back to Nigeria that my brother, who was not living with us in Ghana took me to Kano in 1970 and enrolled me in primary school.
What was your father doing for a living in Ghana?
He was practising his trade as a vulcaniser. He learnt it through apprenticeship and he later established his own business in Ghana in the area called Dafo. He was born in Nigeria, but he travelled to Ghana in search of greener pastures. He went to Ghana probably for adventure and maybe, felt he would be able to improve his standard of living. You know, in those days Ghana attracted many Nigerians before the Busia government came in 1969 and ordered a massive deportation of Nigerians. That was why we came back.
Did your dad meet your mum in Ghana?
They met in Nigeria. My father was initially working with Nigerian Railways before he went to Ghana. So he came home to Offa for a brief holiday and met my mum and they later got married.
Was your mum his only wife?
My mother was the first wife. There were other wives who bore children for him, but my mum was the first. Some other two women he married had children for him.
Can you recall how it felt growing up in Ghana?
I was about eight years old, or so, when we came back to Nigeria. I remember that life in Ghana was very peaceful. Ghanaians were very friendly people and they interacted with one another in an atmosphere of absolute trust and honesty. Ghanaians were very hardworking and very open. As far as I could recollect, life in Ghana was sweet. I have fond memories of that country.
Didn‘t Ghanaians run to Nigeria in those days to escape poverty?
No, in 1969, the Ghanaian economy was very buoyant and you will recall that it was when Busia found out that Nigerians who were coming to Ghana in droves were dominating the economy of that country; he deliberately decided to expel foreigners living in Ghana, including Nigerians, in 1969. It affected my dad too. In fact as I am talking to you now, our house is still in Ghana because we had settled there and my father had acquired a lot of property through his vulcanising trade over the years by dint of hard work. Some of our people still visit Ghana from time to time. The property still belongs to us.
How did the relocation from Ghana to Nigeria affect you?
It affected us a great deal because we came into a new environment. We had to try to adapt. We lacked accommodation. A place had to be hurriedly prepared for us in the family compound and we had to join hands together in raising resources to build a house in the portion allocated to my father by the family. We had to learn how to relate with Nigerians whose ways of life were slightly different. In terms of openness, the Ghanaian society that we were used to had more honesty, integrity and we saw each other as our brother‘s keeper. But we came to meet a slightly different environment in Nigeria. Some of them were not too open, there was a certain degree of hostility and we had to adjust.
You came back during the civil war and everybody was trying to survive.
Yes we came back when the civil war was still raging, but generally coming to an end. The war could be responsible for our treatment, but the perception I had and still have is that Ghanaians are more friendly, more open, and more hardworking and honest in their dealings.
Was there any change in your dad due to his loss in Ghana?
He came to Nigeria with an open mind. He was too trusting, ready to accommodate everybody and he felt that he was in his old environment. But as a result of his openness, he was shocked by the discoveries he made here. He was not used to people relating with one another in an atmosphere of secrecy.
How do you mean?
You could keep your money with a Ghanaian for ten years and when you come back you will still meet it because he would not touch it. I won‘t say they took his money in Nigeria, but he found that in the Nigerian society not much importance was attached to hard work.
You dad was much older than your mum; would you say that this affected the level of intimacy in their relationship?
No, they were a strong and unified couple who raised their children under an atmosphere of discipline and strong values. You would not even know that they were husband and wife; you were more likely to get away with the impression that they were brother and sister. They related with such intimacy. There was a lot of love, affection and simplicity.
What is your position in the family?
For my mother, I am the last born. Number six. Four of the five others before me are females. I was the only one who had the benefit of having a degree. The four women that came before me were not exposed to western education, but my brother who put me in school attended Offa Grammar School and afterwards, he joined the services of the Barclay’s Bank. He was the one who exposed me to western education. He was in Nigeria all the time we were in Ghana, so the first time I met him, I clung to him. he later took me to Kano and enrolled me at Ansar-UD-Deen Primary School, Abegi, Sabongeri, Kano.
In school, I was always on top of my class. In those days, you had to finish primary school in class seven. But when I was in primary five, I had already secured admission into secondary school. By 1976, I was already in Ansar-UD-Deen College, Offa, Kwara State. I came back home for my education and I also finished there with a Grade 1 result. I must also state that I was also involved in sports.
I played table tennis very well. I represented Kano State in various states and national competitions. And at a time, I was in the national team with the likes of Sunday Egbo, Atanda Musa, and Gbenga Omotosho, the current Editor of The Nation. He was representing Western State then and later Ondo State in Table Tennis. I played Table tennis from 1972 to 1998.
Later, I went to Kwara State College of Technology for my A levels. Afterwards, I went to the University of Lagos for a degree in Law and came out as one of the best students in the class. I went back there (UNILAG) for my Masters degree and I emerged as the best post- graduate student with a distinction and I lecture there, apart from my practice
Who sponsored your education?
I was a product of communal effort; my father played a great role and my elder brother also played a prominent role in my education. In secondary school, I had won a Kwara State scholarship due to the fact that I was playing table tennis. Also some allowances and other fees that I got from playing tennis helped. My sisters also contributed and I must tell you that it was tough.
Which of your parents was harder on you?
Definitely I will say it was my father. And it was for the better. In terms of affection, it was my mother. In fact, I named my first building after her. Unfortunately I did not have the opportunity of staying with her most of the time. She died in 1972.
I think she had an attack on her breast.
Was it cancer?
I don‘t know. She was not medically diagnosed with cancer, to the best of my knowledge. But I think it had something to do with sickness. They took her to hospital and all of us rallied round, but she died.
Who became you motherly figure when she died?
It meant that I was deprived of mother‘s affection. My brother was there for me and my sisters, but none could play her role.
What about your father‘s other wives?
Some of them were not living with my father permanently. Some of them were traders and they were always travelling to Ghana. So we did not have much interaction.
How did the little time that you spent with your mum impact on your life?
For instance, I learnt kindness from her. My mother was extremely kind to all kinds of people. She was always willing to help with the little she had.
What did she do for a living?
She was a petty trader. She sold small-small things; all sort of things. She was not rich, so I will say I wasn‘t from rich background.
But you were brilliant.
My father was brilliant, in spite of the fact that he was not educated. I took after him. He had incredible talent for recalling past events. He was full of wisdom. Even my sisters who were not sent to school have developed themselves. You can see that that intelligence also impacted on my first son who is a medical student at UNILAG. He scored about 13 Alphas in his school certificate examination. All my children are always on top of their classes. I think it is the family gene at work.
How come you chose to study law?
Naturally I hate all forms of injustice and cheating. I believed that law would give me a credible platform to pursue my belief. That was why I was also comfortable with human rights law, although I am a general practitioner.
What was your dad‘s disposition to studying law?
He would have wanted me to be an Islamic scholar and when he discovered that I was pursuing law, I could see a lot of light in his eyes. After all, his son would end up a lawyer. It was believed then that there were two princely courses; if you were science inclined you had to become a doctor and if you were art inclined, you went for law. But if I had not read law, I would have settled for mass communications.
Was he not alarmed at your involvement in public commentary and human rights issues, especially during the periods of military rule?
There was no cause for that. I was not somebody that you will call a hard core human rights activist. I am a libertarian; all the things I do, human right, public commentary, I am always balanced. l am also very liberal and moderate in my actions. I don‘t play to the gallery. If government is right in my opinion, I will say so and if government is wrong I will also say so. I am neither anti nor pro establishment. I take cases for both individuals and government. I am an EFCC counsel. My own activism is not rigid. I believed that the society must be transformed.
Was yours a polygamous family?
Polygamous in a limited sense; the two other wives, who had children for my father, were not staying with us permanently. But it was a polygamous setting, nevertheless, because my uncle also had five wives.
So it is possible that you might emulate them?
No I will never embrace polygamy. I don‘t pray to divorce my wife, because it has deep implications for the family in the future. I am not saying this because Islam did not oppose to polygamy. But with a caveat; you must be able to treat them equally and as for me it is impossible. Besides I am not buoyant enough to manage marriage crises.
Was there any crisis then?
In any polygamy, there must be crises. Even though I will not say I was a victim, I believe that there could be squabbles over a man‘s properties after he has departed this world. These are hallmarks of polygamy. It does mot mean that it is not in monogamy. But they are reduced to barest minimum.
So he was a politician?
But he participated politics?
He showed very strong interest in what was going on in his community. In his days in offa, he was a strong admirer of Chief J.S. Olawoyin who was a disciple of chief Obafemi Awolowo. He saw in him somebody who was championing the course of the people.
What do you remember you parents for?
I remember them for integrity, for hard work, for discipline, for unity they promoted, for being generally cohesive and for teaching and demonstration love for people. To me they are the best parents in the world. If I come into this world a million times, I would still love to come through them because they are role model. I still miss them.