By Tunde Akanni PhD
Even as the Osun State Government is hitting hard to knock University of Ilesa into proper shape, it does appear strongly that the management will find his invaluable experience as a thorough academic and energetic development enthusiast indispensable.
He is barely rounding off his contract employment with the Law Programme of UNIOSUN following his retirement from University of Abuja.
Baked in Madinah, Saudi Arabia, refined in top rated Toronto University in Canada, tested across the entire continent of Africa, Professor Iysa Adebayo Bello clocks 75 today, January 23, 2024.
This globally renowned Shariah expert and scholar with imprint all over Africa is as intellectually inclined as he is committed to Shariah advocacy and practice cutting through domestic and official spheres even at the expense of well-deserved pleasure of an elite with uncommon cosmopolitan exposure that he is.
Professor Bello’s internationalist profile isn’t such of a typical wannabe. He returned to Nigeria in 1986 from Canada on account of his love for his extended family members including this writer, the Nigerian nation and indeed for Africa. Following the completion of his doctoral programme at the prestigious University of Toronto, Dr. Iysa Bello, as he then was, became a most coveted intellectual bride for both the Canadian government and the pockets of muslim communities all over Canada. He was the most sought-after Sharia consultant in town.
Cultivated and nurtured on inimitable culture of value sharing, commitment, loyalty and strong sense of purpose from his witty mother, and legendary father and indomitable father, Sheikh Bello of the New Gbagi Market Ibadan Central Mosque; Imam Ajisafe of Osogbo and the renowned Kano based Tijanniya Sect Leade, Sheik Sanni Awwal, Dr Bello ignored the irresistible allure of Canada and returned to Lagos in 1986 after some 11-year year fruitful sojourn in Canada.
Ever oversubscribed, he took up the unprecedented position of the Africa Representative of the World Assembly of Muslim Youth, WAMY, headquartered in Saudi Arabia. This was in simultaneity with a teaching position offered by the then fledgling Lagos State University, LASU. This made him emerge as the very first Shariah scholar hired by LASU, enabling him to sow the seed of the Shariah Law Programme of the LASU Law Faculty which subsists till date. The Shariah Law programme at LASU happened to be the eye opener for a number of universities in southern Nigeria.
Same way Bello upped the ante for scholarship in LASU, he did for WAMY. This organization had its West Africa secretariat situated on Lagos Island before Bello’s grand return. With a more respectable clout of a continental leader, the cosmopolitan scholar overhauled the entire system and moved it to the highbrow Allen Avenue in Ikeja considered by most stakeholders as being much more accessible.
This Amir’s impact in Nigeria transcended relocating the office. He added historic values of serial groundbreaking and inauguration of programmes and projects as never known with WAMY.
Thus began an enhanced patronage of WAMY by organisations as well as coalitions in addition to leaders from assorted muslim communities at the subnational, national and even continental levels. The enhanced appeal was inspired by the new and trendy programming initiated by Bello ranging from annual youth camping to the robust scholarship initiative.
A particularly generalist, crowd pulling design was the annual Islamic Vacation Course programme which WAMY came to support heavily at a time some schismatic manifestations began to play out within the fold of the Muslim Students Society of Nigeria. With the annual camping as a rallying point therefore, the profile of the muslim youths in Nigeria received a most interesting boost and with this therefore began revivalist campaigns that strengthened muslim youths across the nation. WAMY thus became a greater force to reckon with by subnational and national governments even as it became so inviting for international interests.
With Bello as a polyglot endowed with an endearing personality often distinguished by his intellectual excellence complemented by his sartorial distinction, he was able to navigate the regions, especially the largely muslim northern Nigeria even as the southern, western and the eastern parts of the country equally felt duly appreciated. The entire West Arica indeed benefitted immensely. WAMY actually offered some succor to muslims of Liberia when the civil broke out in that country in the 1980s.
Such was Bello’s Midas touch that when America’s foremost muslim leader, Louis Farrakhan, came visiting West Africa in early 1990s, he found it indispensable to call at WAMY which he eventually found so supportive. That journey has turned out to be the game changer in the lives of some Nigerian muslim youths then, courtesy of the Bello-led WAMY.
But even the rest youths at home found a suitable mentor in Dr. Bello and the many high fliers in different professions that Bello attracted to both WAMY secretariat often as well as the vacation camps he supported heavily. Indeed, that yours sincerely mainstreamed into the community of active muslim brothers in Lagos and beyond till date is the handiwork of my tireless Lagos Daddy.
Back at the domestic level, Bello has, since returning to Nigeria, remained the unbeatable mentor, financier of ambitions, trans-generational destiny helper, inimitable father figure as well as being a teacher of teachers across formal and informal realms including spirituality. Prof, as my wife’s teacher during her undergraduate tenure, actually neutralized the usually knotty social contraptions of in-laws at my wedding. He was father to both the bride and the groom, so, just imagine the smooth sail for me…
For yours sincerely, he provided the ready, extremely comfortable nest as a post NYSC Lagosian with a completely blank idea of the city and its many strange dimensions. Fresh from Imo State where I had served, Bello’s top ranking, elite residence at Anthony Village was where I berthed in a hotel standard boysquarters of the only white house in the hood. Check out the profile of our next door neighbours: Former Head of Service in Lagos State; retired police commissioner, top bankers as well high ranking oil and gas company executives.
Dr Bello as my divine messiah has always had an uncommon broad chest to confront challenges with the least of exhibitionist tendencies. Together with me as dependants on this new arrival from Canada were some other 10 boys and girls. But my inimitably altruistic uncle and his lovely wife, Toyosi, were ever warm, even as dependence on their small family constituted the heaviest burden.
For all the privileges and parental pampering we deprived the then little Tosin and Khalida as well as their caring mum, I hereby offer a most profound, heartfelt gratitude. May the Almighty Allah continue to increase His limitless favour on them all, ameen thuma ameen.
Alfa Iysa as some other mentees would rather hail my maternal uncle, he is one with the kind of selflessness I have never experienced elsewhere. It’s hardly possible again! He endured us all with all efforts including ceaseless prayers and serial motivations. Notwithstanding the non availability of internet then, based on his serial advice to me on the beauty of internationalized credential, I could boast that I knew about Canadian universities more than any of my contemporaries as Dr Bello often loved to fire my ambition with tales of the Canadian campuses.
No less exciting were experiences his visitors from Canada told me from time to time. Through him, I became so familiar with Toronto that I was almost sure it was my turn to be in Canada, as in, emi l’okan.
Alhamdulilah, Khalida, Prof’s first daughter is not only an alumna but recently declared one of the 50 most successful youngsters in the world.
But if Canada was proving intractably difficult or somewhat expensive to explore for me there must be some other windows. In 1990, Dr Bello sought for me a place at Al Manarah International School, Jeddah. Pronto, a female philanthropist also from Ede, Alhaja Mariam Lawal, of blessed memory bought my flight ticket. Just as I was about being signed on after arriving that country, Gulf War broke out! But returning home immediately wasn’t my option. I chose to stay on and plunged into deep prayers. I stayed on to perform additional Umrah and the 1990 hajj and returned November of that year. Signs of Allah’s acceptance of my prayers were unmistakable and played out fast.
January 1991, Concord signed me on and on account of my prolific contributions to the newspaper, my rating by colleagues was pretty impressive. The following year my all-time benefactor, Alhaji Liad Tella became the Chairman of the Osun State Pilgrims Welfare Board. In 1993 therefore, Alhaji Tella appointed me an official for the year’s hajj and off I went to Saudi for yet another hajj, alhmadulilah kathiirah.
Professor Bello’s inspiring leadership most visibly in scholarship perhaps, with many doctoral graduates to his credit, as well as kindness in different forms including material support for the needy, keep manifesting till date. I join him most especially in thanking Allah that he is able to hoist Baba Bello’s flag most conspicuously, serving as Imam intermittently at the Gbagi Central Mosque, Ibadan. I equally pray that products of his loins sustain his values interminably as most muslims would wish.
Happy birthday sir.
Tunde Akanni, PhD, is an Associate Professor of Journalism at the Lagos State University.