Ahmed Rufa’i Ibrahim

IbrahimPolitical scientist, lawyer and journalist jailed in 1984 for writing a satirical column about the military regime

Ahmed Rufa’i Ibrahim, who has died aged 66, was a bright political scientist and lawyer, but was better known as a leading radical journalist on the Nigerian Left — easily among the best of his generation. An alumnus of the University of Ibadan (1971–1974), where he graduated among the top in his set, and latterly Jos (1987–1990), Ibrahim went into journalism, first briefly at the NTA, Jos, and then the New Nigerian, after his one-year NYSC in Oron in the then South–East State in July 1975.

Ahmed Rufa’i Ibrahim, who has died aged 66, was a bright political scientist and lawyer, but was better known as a leading radical journalist on the Nigerian Left — easily among the best of his generation. An alumnus of the University of Ibadan (1971–1974), where he graduated among the top in his set, and latterly Jos (1987–1990), Ibrahim went into journalism, first briefly at the NTA, Jos, and then the New Nigerian, after his one-year NYSC in Oron in the then South–East State in July 1975.

Shehu Othman, who grew up with Ibrahim, but now based in Oxford, England, in his tribute wrote that “Ibrahim was born into power and privilege in both the traditional and modern spheres, yet no one who ever had any dealings with him could fail to be disarmed by his humility, simplicity, integrity, patriotism and unwavering empathy for, and commitment to, the poor and voiceless. His weekly column on Peoples Daily, the national newspaper he co-founded in 2008 and of which he was until his demise its Director and Editor-in-Chief, was aptly titled “For the Masses”.

Othman noted that Ibrahim was originally a Kanuri from Lafia but born in Bauchi, where he spent his formative years before going several places with his high-flyer civil servant father.

Othman’s tribute reads in part: “Ibrahim was a formidably good man, who I’ve never ever known to raise his voice against anyone and yet was fiercely committed to his high principles and convictions — personal and political. I trusted him more than I ever trusted myself.

“Politically, he belonged to the leftist community that was centred and active around the now deceased historian, Dr Bala Usman of ABU, Zaria, where Rufa’i was a Graduate Assistant from October 1975 to May 1976.

“Many came to refer to Rufa’i simply as Malam, following his passionate involvement as an ideologue and activist in the Peoples Redemption Party (PRP)-era politics of the now late Malam Aminu Kano and its splinter grouping around Governors Abubakar Rimi (now also deceased) and Balarabe Musa of Kano and Kaduna States respectively during the Second Republic (1979-83).

“In 1984, he was jailed for nine months without trial, or even the courtesy of a single interrogation, by the Buhari military junta for merely daring to pen a satirical column about the regime. For his sin, the Nigerian Gestapo once hurled him down into a pitch-dark dungeon where he instantly fainted, but mercifully recovered hours later.

“In the period before and after Gen. Ibrahim Babangida’s political transition that ended in fiasco in 1992, Rufa’i joined the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and sought vainly to be its national spokesman.

“Having returned to the Daily Times from 1990-1992 as Editorial Consultant, and qualified as a barrister during that time. He turned his energies to private legal practice and media consultancy to governments and non-state entities, notably, the Nasarawa State Government, the National Population Commission and the Human Rights Violations Investigation Commission (Oputa Commission) until June 2007.

“In 2010-11, Rufa’i led a small band of Nasarawa State citizens in a “Think-Tank” to provide ideas, coherence and inspiration to what many initially saw as a joke gubernatorial pursuit by Umaru Tanko Al-Makura.

“Working largely quietly behind the scenes every weekday, and armed only with bubbling ideas and passion for change, they helped achieve what many felt was well-nigh impossible then — the defeat of an incumbent State Governor by someone on a 10-month-old-party platform barely known in the state — Buhari’s Congress for Progressive Change (CPC).

“In the event, this was the only governorship contest the CPC won in the 2011 General Elections. It was testament to the thesis by the famed American anthropologist, Margaret Mead (1901-1978), about the dynamic of change when she famously wrote: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

“This was Rufa’i Ibrahim’s credo, too. Wherever he went before or thereafter, whether at the New Nigerian (Kaduna), Daily Times (Lagos), The Triumph (Kano), The Guardian on Sunday (Lagos), the Nigerian Standard (Jos), The Analyst magazine (Jos), the Nasarawa Publishing Company Limited, or the Nasarawa Broadcasting Service, he left behind him indelible footprints of professionalism, integrity, personal honour, service and passionate commitment to the best Nigerian ideals.”

Giving an insight into what led to Ibrahim’s death, Othman disclosed that he (Ibrahim) had been diagnosed with a very rare form of skin cancer (Cutaneous T-Cell Lymphoma/ Leukemia Mycoma Fungerids/ Sezary) in October 2014.

He added: “After careful research I arranged for him to receive treatment in one of only half-a-dozen dedicated global specialist centres at the University of Frankfurt Teaching Hospital in Germany. The ailment appeared to have been contained, but he then relapsed and made a second visit in December 2015.

“We all felt he was on the mend, only to relapse again soon after, and died of resulting complications at the Gwagwalada Hospital on Saturday, April 2, following brief therapeutic interventions, where he had taken himself. Up until that moment, he had carried on bravely; he was never really bed-ridden. If you phoned him and he didn’t say it, one couldn’t tell he was in any discomfort.”
Ahmed Rufa’i Ibrahim, born April 2, 1950, died April 2, 2016



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