I had both the misfortune and a singular historic privilege of being the one to break the news of the death of Alhaji Yusuf Maitama Sule , acclaimed orator diplomat elder-statesman on Monday last week (at an event) in Lagos. We were at the height of the special Colloquim/ tribute session for both late professors Abubakar Mommoh, former Director General of INEC Electoral Institute and Funmi Adewunmi of University of Ibadan by the staff members and students of Lagos state university and progressive forces in Nigeria. The instant uproar of deep sense of loss which followed the announcement of the death of Dan Masanin Kano, Alhaji Maitaima underlined the fact that both alive and posthumously a mention of Maitaima in the gathering of pan-Nigerian progressive forces would ever evoke respect and admiration given his unparalleled almost a century long service to humanity. Right from his 30s he was in the forefront of the struggle for liberation of Nigeria against century long British colonialism. In 1960 he led the Nigerian delegation to the Conference of Independent African States.
In 1976, he became the Federal Commissioner of public complaints, a position that made him the nation’s pioneer ombudsman. He was appointed Nigeria’s permanent representative to the United Nations during the second Republic and commendably championed the campaign for the struggle against apartheid in both Namibia and South Africa. In this respect the tribute of Dr Patrick Wilmot , former Sociology lecturer at Ahmadu Bello University, (ABU), Zaria, assumed a special importance. In a reported interview with Daily Trust he rightly urged African leaders to immortalise Dr Yusuf Maitama Sule, for his “tremendous work for the anti-apartheid struggle.” According to him the late Maitama Sule, as Chairman of the UN Anti-Apartheid Committee, “played a very, very significant role in the liberation struggles” that eventually led to the release of Nelson Mandela and the dismantling of apartheid system in Southern Africa. Dr Wilmot, lamented that the beneficiaries of Maitama’s anti-apartheid efforts have forgotten him and his contributions in the liberation of their country, and blamed the situation on the amnesia afflicting African leaders and the people in general. “I don’t think (President) Jacob Zuma is going to remember that Maitama Sule was responsible for the liberation of his country,” he said, stressing that without Nigeria and the efforts of people like Maitama Sule, South Africa could still be under apartheid or have (black) puppet leaders.
There was almost unity of superlatives and adjectives on the worth and stuff of the late elder statesman such that observers wondered that it was time we started to honor our heroes while alive instead of posthumous outpouring of grief. I recall how ten years ago similar outpour of printed praised trailed the death of another late elder statesman Chief Sunday Awoniyi late Aro of Mopa. Former President Goodluck Jonathan commendably honored Alhaji Maitaima along with fifty other distinguished Nigerians on the anniversary of Nigeria’s independence recently. He was the pioneer Minister of Petroleum from 1959 to 1966. In his reminiscence with me last year in his house in Kano he told me how the founding fathers in defiance to the British preference went ahead to conceive and build the first PH Refinery as part of the national development and industrialization strategy. He also proudly told me that he never acquired any oil block or even a filling station!.
My notes on the engaging sessions I had with Dan Masanin will form part of a comprehensive tribute to a worthy African. The death of Alhaji Maitaima Sule was a huge loss to the textile union. During the pointed military dictatorships of the 90s, he courageously identified with organized labor and the working people to demand for decent work and life and independent and democratic trade union movement. In 1997 he gave a powerful lecture at textile union’s education conference in Kano where he spiritedly stood in defense of comrade Adams Oshihomole, then the union’s General secretary who was repeatedly persecuted with obnoxious decrees meant to prevent him from contesting for the Presidency of the NLC. He publicly adopted Adams Oshihomole as his “son,” an endorsement not favored by the military dictatorship and in particular the then labor minister, late Alhaji Uba Ahmed. Just recently Alhaji Maitaima was a special Guest honor the last 11 Delegates conference of the Union in Kano (precisely in March 2015) who at that age came promptly with quotable quotes of wisdom and patriotism for the participants. At a time Nigeria seems to be under an attack by misguided local and external centrifugal forces of various hues, Nigeria has indeed lost voice in the departed compatriot and elder statesman.
Issa Aremu mni