Exactly a year ago on Dec. 24, Imam Salaudeen Ariyayo Abdulazeez died at the University College Hospital, the teaching hospital of the University of Ibadan in Orita Mefa, Ibadan after a brief illness and was buried on Monday, Dec. 25, 2017, as Christians were celebrating the Christmas festival.
Today, I pay tribute to a man who I was associated with as a fatherly brother in law since 1976 when he was married to my eldest sister Alhaja Mutiat Olapejo (nee Solanke) until he passed on, a man whose life is a school if you are patient enough to live and study under him voluntarily. I did for most of my youthful and adult life until he died.
Imam Abdulazeez was not just a broadcaster of excellence, he was a scholar-philosopher in Arabic and Islamic studies, almost a Suufi who rose to become the Director of Personnel Service at the Broadcasting Corporation of Oyo State having spent over two decades in the Programme Directorate of the corporation he joined in 1982 after completing is national youth service in Maiduguri.
Shortly after his marriage or around the birth of his first daughter in 1977, he had gained admission to study Arabic language and literature at the University of Jos, finishing the four-year programme in 1981. For most of his years as a youth or young adult, he had been a teacher in various Ansarudeen schools, especially in southwestern Nigeria in such towns and cities as Isiwo and Ota in Ogun State and Ibadan
His real sojourn in Arabic and Islamic scholarship or education started in Ibadan the Oyo State capital the mid-1960s at Karasi Arabic School, a madrasa of equal it with Markaz or Daarul in Lagos. A contemporary of Prof. K.K. Oloso at the madrasa where they started their lifelong friendship, Imam proceeded to the University of Ibadan for an Advanced Diploma course in Arabic language and literature in the early 70s after which he began teaching with the Ansarudeen mission owned schools.
He was not an ordinary teacher but a quintessential scholar, indeed a philosopher with the gift of eloquence and equal mastery of English, Arabic and Yoruba, a distinguished communication expert whose words carry weight in the public.
But he was a man of little words at home as he was always more in reflection and writing, very uncomfortable with petty distractions or vain discussions. His choice of career, broadcasting, was not a mistake, as he combined all the skills and knowledge required in that noble profession.
That the Imam did not attain a doctorate in Arabic language or communication studies is still inexplicable to most people: his contemporaries, admirers and students would attest to his intellectual breadth. Living with the Imam fully from my youthful age, between 1983 when I completed my GCE Ordinary Level /school certificate from Egba High School, Abeokuta through my university years, early career and part of my mid-career period until when I married in 1993, I found him a philosopher-scholar of professorial standing.
He was richly intellectually endowed to pursue knowledge and research in Arabic language and Islamic sciences or mass communication to the zenith. But he stopped his education with an MA, although he continued private research in writing papers and khutbah.
Wine Poems of Abu Nuwas, his thesis for the Bachelor of Arts in Arabic Language and Literature from the University of Jos, was a masterpiece, an illustration for his zest and mastery of Arabic poetry. He also obtained a Master of Arts in the same discipline from the University of Ibadan where earlier in the early 70s he bagged a diploma.
His bookshelves were a storehouse of knowledge, not restricted to Arabic Language and Islamic Studies. You find in them, books of philosophy, history and a medical encyclopaedia. In fact, most of his contemporaries and students he nurtured in the field of Arabic and Islamic studies are notable scholars in universities now as professors and research fellows.
For his openness or accessibility, his library always suffered as many people took his books without returning them. My intimacy with him, however, did not start in 1983. It dated back to 1976 while he courted and eventually married Hajiah Muti. I was then a Primary Four pupil at Abadina. Maami, a trader in raw pepper, Agbodo, Sawa, Crayfish and other food condiments at Dugbe always assisted the new couple to buy raw food items.
As my sister, it was the lot Aunty Kabira or me to deliver these food items at the couple’s residence at the house of the late Imam of Ansarudeen Society in Ibadan, Imam Mogaji under who he grew at Oke Padre. So, no week passed without my sister or I delivering food items to the house. During school holidays too, we were always with them to spend the break assisting in house chores.
When the family changed accommodation to Idi-Ikan, this continued until I was admitted to a secondary school in Abeokuta in 1978. Therefore, when I completed my secondary school in Abeokuta and returned to Ibadan, it was understandable that Maami suggested I go to live with my sister at Iwo Road, their new abode. She did not want me to mix with the permissiveness of Foko.
It was from Iwo Road I gained admission to Baptist High School, Iwo for my HSC and then to UNILAG in 1985. When I completed at UNILAG and was posted to Sokoto, Imam Abdulazeez home remained my base. On return from Sokoto, it was the Imam that sent me to Alhaji Liad Tella, then Deputy Editor, defunct National Concord to fix me up for immediate I employment with the newspaper in Lagos.
While working and living in Lagos and later transfer to Yola as Gongola/Adamawa State Correspondent, his home in Ibadan remained my permanent base. When in later years I came to work as one of the editors of the Ibadan based The Monitor newspaper, I had no other place to call my home than the Imam’s expansive house at Alaafia Estate, Akobo Ibadan.
I was one of his many children before his children from his loins came. Living and relating with the Imam physically and in spirit for over 40 years from 1976, I gained tremendous insight into his emotional and social make-up.
He was a man without private ownership of anything. He was open and generous, a man without a secret. His bedroom was never locked throughout the years I lived with him. His wardrobe was also ever open. He does not know how to hide money.
His wallet was always there on his shelf. His first car, bought in 1984 was always available for anybody to use. He was in the habit of giving out his car key to anybody and joining public transport. His sound system was always there for anybody to borrow. His chequebooks were never hidden and his signature was so simple that any dull head can sign it.
He could trust anybody but it is left for that person to betray his trust. At home, he was a man of very few words. He does not know how to express anger and when your misdemeanour gets to its peak, the most he could utter is ‘can’t you think?’ or ‘didinrin (imbecile).
But he never used them for me. There were quite a number of people who lived with him just like me, but who did not seem to understand him. This is because such people lacked initiative. To live with the Imam and enjoy him, you need to have initiative.
He would never ask you to do normal things which you ought to know is your responsibility. Know when to wake up; know how to take care of the environment without him dictating to you. He was too busy to concern himself with mundane responsibilities. But he also has some special assignments which he can involve you.
For many years, he was a WAEC examiner in Islamic studies. After he has marked the scripts, he could ask you to follow him to the marking centre or collate marks for him at home. You are his friend if you are honest, diligent, intelligent, and studious and have initiative.
This also means you must maintain a company of decent friends. But as youths, many others who lived under him are low-scoring on his unwritten or unstated expectation. So they did not last in his house, as they abused his openness. Some of them stole from him and ran away. They were the losers not him!
Just approach him if you fancy any of his dresses or shoes: He would never object to you taking it. ‘Lo ree mu’ was his usual answer. But I was frail in a frame. Being a man of robust frame, his shoes and shirts were too large for me.
However, each year he participated in Hajj as pilgrims’ guide, he has something very special for everybody, not only his children – my nephews or his wife, my sister. His in-laws, friends and friends’ children, visitors to his home as he unloads were sure to have something. He won’t keep anything special for anyone. Good luck to you if you don’t come at the right time as you may be lucky to have just a tasbih no matter how close you are or the best jalabia if you are an early visitor.
Some people have been lucky to get priceless praying mats, expensive gowns, wrist watches, undies or quality electronics that he should have reserved for his close relatives. He placed little value on material acquisitions. He had no preference of one person over another.
Fair and just in dealing with people, he was a man who believed in equity. If you have initiative and you are very responsible; if you don’t wait for him to instruct you on chores; if you can call his attention to things he could have been negligent about or not count as serious, you will be his best friend because he had a large heart and listening ear to very discerning minds.
This is the life of a man I have known since he courted and married my sister, Aunty Muti in 1976 until he breathed his last in the last days of 2017. He died exactly on the eve of a day Christians were rejoicing the birth of Christ. He was buried at Christmas.
Satisfied with the life , of service and devotion that Imam lived and conscious that Allah never suffers to loss the work of his sincere servants while living, the entire family of Late Imam Abdulazeez family is full of gratitude to all who stood by them in their moment of grief from the Chief Imam of Ibadanland, the entire secretariat of Muslims of Southwestern Nigeria (MUSWEN), the League of Imams and Alfas in Yorubaland, Al-Hujaaj, the Oyo State Pilgrims welfare board, the Ansarudeeen Society leadership and membership of the Federation of Muslim Women Associations in Nigeria (FOMWAN), Oyo State, the management and staff of Broadcasting Corporation of Oyo State, the Muslim Media Practitioners Broadcasting as well as friends and associates.
Hadj Liad Tella, a senior research fellow in Mass Communication at the University of Ilorin is his bosom friend with whom he shared an exceeding passion for the empowerment of Muslim journalists and together with whom the Muslim Media Practitioners of Nigeria was simultaneously pioneered in Lagos and Ibadan. At the Imam’s death last year, one of the most vibrant foreign affairs journalists and political journalists in Nigeria in almost five decades, went poetic as he wrote an ode on the passage of his spiritual and intellectual soul mate:
Dedicated, caring brother and friend of all times has gone to be seen no more
Inna Lillah Wainnailaehi Raajihuna
ByeMr. Plain Heart,
Bye Mr do-gooder,
By service to others,
ByeMr. Frank talk,
Bye Mr personification of love without colour,
Bye, the preacher of peace, love and brotherhood of all faiths,
Bye, the legendary broadcaster.
The world will miss you!
Oh Allah, the Merciful, have mercy on Salahudeen Ariyayo AbdulAzeez.
Grant him peace of the grave and peace on the day of Kiyyamah.
Bye, bye, till we met to path no more.
And I add, I lost a father in the person of Imam Salahudeen Abdulazeez, whose path crossed with mine when my motherly sister was handed over to him in marriage at Ansarudeen Central Mosque Oke Padre in Ibadan over 42 years ago.
Inna lillahi Wainnailaehi Raajiuun.
By Abdulwarees Solanke,
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