Widely Read Magazine in Nigeria

Al-Ansar University Maiduguri: Passport to the Future


Anytime soon, thousands of young men and women in the north east will become pioneer students of the first ever private university in Bornu state, Al-Ansar University Maiduguri. By the time they graduate four/ five years later, they will not only be the first alumni of the institution, they will have fulfilled an indisputable maxim on and about education. “Education,” Malcolm X famously said, “is the passport to the future for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today.”

Many of them will take up appointments with the state government or the private sector post-youth service. Some will be self-employed. Some may take up industrial farming. Some may even teach in the same school they graduated from and, in the process, make accessible to generations to come passports to their own future.

It is such a rosy future, different from what it is today, painted by none other than one of the state’s most prominent citizens, Dr. Mohammed Kyari Dikwa, supported all the way by none other than the state governor himself, Professor Babagana Zulum.

Both men have been in or around government in the state for some time. Both of them are well-regarded educators in Nigeria. (Zulum was Rector of Ramat Polytechnic and pioneer commissioner Ministry for Reconstruction, Rehabilitation and Resettlement. He is known to also appear unannounced in schools in his state for on-the-spot assessment of teachers and their wards.)

As with other discerning senior citizens in Bornu, Zulum and Dikwa know too well it is far easier for young men or women leaning on walls bemoaning their fate, angry with themselves and everyone else to be carried away by the seductive spiel of someone like Abubakar Shekau than a self-aware, educated individual who has a mind of his own.

If, for instance, 500 students enroll and graduate from Al-Ansar every year, that is 500 possible recruits turned away from being gullible disciples of hate-preaching religious zealots who will even kill to spread their message. Most important of all, Bornu state government would have made the ultimate investment once the school starts. “Our greatest natural resource,” Walt Disney long ago declared, “is the mind of our children.”

At the foundation laying ceremony of Al-Ansar University recently, Governor Zulum said as much, insisting that “we are very much willing to support any individual or group willing to partner with the state government in order to provide the much needed qualitative education to our children at all levels.”

To that end, Prof Zulum has already allocated 100 hectares of land to the school, complete with a C of O, constructed 2.3 kilometres of road in the campus. A low aquifer borehole has already been sunk at the permanent site, with the governor backing all that up with instructions to the Ministry of Higher Education, Science, Technology and Innovation to liaise with the founder of the school and administrators for the necessary support.

Therefore, Governor Zulum was only too delighted on that day to lay the very first block of Al-Ansar, some government officials and aides in tow, many of them properly masked up as the founder Dr. Dikwa watched keenly his long ago dream coming true. In one interview last year on his sixtieth birthday anniversary, Dikwa said that “setting goals for myself and pursuing them with patience and perseverance have actually been part of me since childhood.” Al-Ansar University is one of those goals, and it is right there in Maiduguri.

It is very possible Dr. Dikwa would have started the school long before now. But he only recently retired a year ago when he turned sixty, after a very busy career with the World Bank, his state and federal government in various plum positions at various times in more than three decades as a public servant.

Now, as anyone would imagine, he has time on his hands and so he can, with unblinking concentration and undivided attention, participate in the affairs of what began as a germ of an idea. The Al-Ansar Masjid Foundation of which he is chairman runs radio and television stations in Maiduguri and Abuja, not to mention religious centres in both cities and humanitarian interventions in parts of the north east. Al-Ansar University is the foundation’s most recent project, an ambitious one at that.

Along with the state government’s unalloyed support, Dikwa let on that “some prominent Nigerians have also pledged one project or the other when construction starts at the site.” For now however, some structures are already on the ground at the permanent site: College of Arts & Management Sciences, Library, Senate Building and, of course, a mosque.

Al-Ansar University will admit students in diverse disciplines in the first academic year starting, according to the Foundation’s projections, this year. With the permanent site already secured and approved by the state governor himself, completed planning documents submitted to the Nigeria University Commission (NUC), and formalities necessary for starting off a private university in Nigeria done with, the institution is as good to go.

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world,” the incomparable Nelson Mandela mused. Nothing can be truer in the case of the new and first private university in the entire north east. And if any region needs changing, especially educationally, the north east is a prime target.

For instance, there are more out of school children there than the other five geopolitical zones in Nigeria. Boko Haram’s strong aversion for any form of Western education has not made things any better. With Al-Ansar, the narrative is sure to change in the coming years. What’s more, Al-Ansar is an institution for both Islamic and Western education – sorry o Shekau – among other disciplines.

Filled with the inner pleasure the realization of a dream come true elicits in people, Dikwa pointedly commended the governor at the foundation laying.

“Let me start by expressing our sincere appreciation to the governor for his show of love and concern to the Al-Ansar Foundation since its inception,” Dr. Dikwa began his speech on that unforgettable day at the site. “The Foundation is happy and proud to identify with this kind hearted man, selfless leader, a man of peace and compassion, the man that history has already revealed, a charismatic politician, academician and great leader whose actions has already inspired the youth, women, vulnerable and impacted positively to the lives of people of Bornu state and beyond.”

It isn’t that the capital of Bornu or the state itself is short of institutions of higher learning. There is University of Maiduguri, for example, Ramat Polytechnic and several other such places for learning. More than any other chief executive of the state, Governor Zulum built more schools in at least 13 local governments in his first year in office. They are all public schools. Al-Ansar is the first to be run privately and promoted by an indigene of the state, Dr. Dikwa, recently retired super perm sec, minister, a renowned accountant and one of the brains behind implementing TSA accounting system in Nigeria who also had a spell with the World Bank.

To the discerning, starting up institutions like Al-Ansar is a coup on its own, a masterful coup against the rising insurgency in a region most troubled by it without firing a shot. One of the surest ways to decimate the ranks of Boko Haram terrorists, those in the know now insist, is to deny them membership, put potential members in schools – whether public or private. Al-Ansar’s broader objective is not far from this – to turn young men and women in the state to responsible citizens and individuals and not pawns in the hands of religious demagogues like leaders of Boko Haram.

Drawing from history, Bornu (the very core of Kanem Bornu Empire) had a well-fostered reputation as the citadel of learning in precolonial Nigeria round about the fourteenth century. It was the first port of call for Arab scholars, traders, missionaries and slave raiders who hoofed it across the Sahara in camel caravans long before European galleons berthed anywhere in the Bight of Benin a century or so later.

For years, Kanem Bornu continued as a pacesetter as far as education was concerned in a vast territory that would become Nigeria, home to Islamic scholars and travelers mostly from North African countries like Egypt, Morocco, Libya, etc. It was the choice place to go for Islamic studies the same way Ivy League universities anywhere in the world draw students like moths to light.

But then, empires rise and fall. It was so with Kanem Bornu and, in the process, lost some of the educational legacies from centuries back. Boko Haram’s denouncing of Western education did not improve things, either. But with the proliferation of primary, secondary and tertiary institutions in the state, and the founding of the first private university, the north east is bound to reclaim some of the lost educational glories in no time.   

Before the foundation laying ceremony, Dikwa in his position as chairman of Al-Ansar Foundation led a delegation to Nigerian Universities Commission (NUC) Abuja to submit completed planning documents of the school: application forms, evidence of payment of processing fee, academic brief, draft master plan, environmental impact assessment report draft university law. They were received by Executive Secretary of NUC, Professor Abubakar Adamu Rasheed who described Dikwa as “a courageous, proactive and committed patriot with an uncommon passion for education.”

Dikwa himself is a product of both Islamic and Western education, having attended both in his formative years, urged on by a father who wanted his son to be knowledgeable in both. Now, the youngster of yesteryears is giving young people in Bornu state the same opportunity from Dikwa Senior.

Thus equipped with Islamic and Western education in his younger years, Dikwa easily became one of the best students in primary and secondary school, as attested to by one of his classmates, Alhaji Modu Korambe aka Kauris. On the occasion of Dikwa’s diamond jubilee last year, Kauris told an interviewer that “Mohammed was very intelligent and performed very well in class. His position was always between first and third…I always looked up to him to catch up while he was always working hard to be first.”

Of course, it is not hard to see youngsters like Dikwa, years from now at Al-Ansar easily trouncing students from other schools – thanks to the free hand extended to them to pursue knowledge either in Islamic studies or the Western variety or both.

Above everything is the school’s covert mission for the entire north east, for as Simon Bolivar, the revolutionary leader who tried but failed to make all the countries in South America one, has said: “an ignorant people is the blind instrument of its own destruction.”  

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