Umaru Saro: A Telescopic Illustration of Generous Philanthropy. By Prof Katibi Ibraheem Adeola

Date: 2021-02-08

Let me, from the outset seek forgiveness from Almighty God who commanded that charity and goodness should be done discreetly such that only the beneficiary knows what has been done.

This is explicably preached both in the Holy Bible ( Mathew 6:1-4 and Hebrews 13:16) and the Qur’an/Hadith. Better still, it is even better to conceal the source of the gesture from the beneficiary but for him to take the goodness only. This is probably safer and better in our clime where poverty is pervasive (Olowo kan, otosi mefa) and undue publicity of goodness or generosity could actually have negative rebound consequences.

I also seek profuse forgiveness from the deceased, and by extension, his heirs and family for having to share this privileged encounter with this great and uncommon man with deep reach and suave, Late Alhaji Umaru Saro, the Sardauna of Ilorin. I know for certain he would have objected to sharing the information with the public because he took precise and mechanistic steps to achieve secrecy and non-publicity while executing each and every of the agendum.

Indeed, I learnt a lot personally from him in this regard. But as Yorubas would say, "mo se, logun momo"! Once the action is done, somehow, someday, it will come out.

The Sardauna is gone. Gone too soon but gone forever! We are however consoled by the verse of the Holy Qur'an (63:10-11) which says; "And spend [in the way of Allah ] from what We have provided you before death approaches one of you and he says, 'My Lord, if only You would delay me for a brief term so I would give charity and be among the righteous'. But never will Allah delay a soul when its time has come. And Allah is Acquainted with what you do."

We are also very hopeful that, In sha Allah, we shall meet again in Aljanat. He came, he saw and he conquered. He left so many indelible footprints on the sand of time. Up and until the sickness that consumed him, he was still working, trying to make the world a better place and touch the lives of the people around him.

Late Alhaji Umaru Saro, CON; OFR, the Sardauna of Ilorin Emirate was an enigma and an icon who lived a legendary life between August 10, 1940 and January 31, 2021, in which abounds copious lessons for those who can decipher. A cosmopolitan and international figure who attained greatness purely through dint of hard-work and resilience. He was also well known, all over Nigeria where he wielded enormous influence, in addition to the respect and admiration he enjoyed from his hometown, culminating in his conferment with the covetous royal title of the Ilorin Emirate, the Sardauna of Ilorin by the current Emir of Ilorin, Mai martaba, Sarkin Ilori, Alhaji (Dr) Ibrahim Sulu-Gambari, Aiyelabowo V. CFR.

The revelations hereunder, are therefore non est bonum to him but to those of us still alive. Perhaps and per chance, we shall pick one or two lessons from the great Master of the art; business mogul, consummate administrator, moving encyclopedia, deep thinker, problem solver, humane philanthropist, consummate gentleman, revered culturists, dependable father, loving husband and most importantly committed in-law. This write up is therefore pro bono publicos.

I like to share with you, my diary of events in the last one month before the demise of the great man in question. The last actual communication we had was on the 29th of December, 2020. This communication did not require any answer and as such, I was not perturbed by lack of response. Where such communications required an answer, he usually would call as soon as the message is read, most times instantaneously. I must commend the sharp intellect of late Sardauna if you engage him on issues considering his age. He was very lucid, factual and deep in his response to issues and affairs that you can not but agree with him at the end of the day.

Certainly, he had a way with figures and years to the admiration of his listeners.

On Jan 16, 2020, I had sent a similar routine message to him, but this time, not only did I not get a response but the message was actually not read, days after it was delivered. This was very much unlike him and for me, that was cause for concern as a frontline Clinician in a Covid-19 rampaged world, particularly with the behaviour coming from an Octogenarian who had all the risk factors for severe and debilitating Covid infection checked.

To say I was worried was an understatement. I was actually emotionally and psychologically tortured because two weeks earlier, in a communication with him, I had requested the impossible from God since I belong to the school of thought that there is virtually nothing that is impossible for God to do- Kun faya kun. I had asked God to take him back to age 50years so that he can have many more years to continue the service to humanity.

Back to the original narrative, when I did not see any sign that he indeed, read my message, I put a call to him three or four days later in order to clear my doubts and worse still, an Octogenarian neither picked a doctor’s call in a Covid pandemic nor returned it. I became even more apprehensive as the only other possibility was, if he had evacuated to another house outside the country to evade the challenges of staying safe in Nigeria. Even at that, Late Sardauna Ilori would normally return my call, from anywhere in the world he was. Specifically, the last Umrah he performed a little over a year ago. We spoke almost every other day, including muting the idea that I should come and join him in Saudi Arabia. Unfortunately, my schedule of work did not allow me.

Subsequently, I travelled to England through Lagos on the 21st of January and was determined at belling the cat through catching a glimpse of him while in Lagos, by calling his telephone number again before going to the airport. Again, Olowo ti n f'owo saanu would not pick and I could not therefore, book an appointment to see him.

Shock, dejection, stupor, disappointment and utter inadequacy are few but inappropriate words to express my feeling on receiving the unfortunate news of the demise of late Sardauna on Sunday, 31st of January, 2021 while still in England. I did not bother to ascertain or refute the social media news because of what I have personally observed. I only needed to confirm where the sad event occurred from a friend who should know and he did confirm.

Enough of how Sardauna of Ilorin died. A lot has been written about that anyway. I like to dwell more on the personality and personae of the man of timber and caliber that we have just lost and who, it shall take a long while before we can find a replacement.

Sardauna was exceptionally lucky, having been successful very early in life and endowed with uncommon wisdom, intellect, prowess and smartness, particularly in the business world. He was around, famous, influential and endowed very early in life for well over five decades and was able to remain relevant up and until the point of his death. His was like the case of the proverbial wine, getting sweeter as it aged.

For his age and business engagements, he also enjoyed reasonably good health, for whatever limitation he had, did not scratch his thinking faculty in any way.

Weeks before his unfortunate recall by his creator, he can sit you down for hours and tell you stories you have never heard about Nigeria and important personalities within Nigeria, backing it up with references and associations.

My first contact with the business mogul was sometime in 1992 as a Medical Officer at Kelu Specialist Hospital in 1004 Estates, Victoria Island, Lagos. My boss and Medical Director then, Dr Bimbola Ogunkelu, The Luabi of Ijebu land and who is still alive was his Physician and friend. Dr Ogunkelu was later to become Hon Minister of the Federal Republic. I am particularly loved by my boss, even up till the present day, such that anytime I am on duty with him and Sardauna was visiting the Clinic, he would personally get up from his seat and requested Alhaji to meet one of his children/aburo working with him in the next room. I can never forget the recurrent gesture and the import sank in me permanently. For an Umaru Saro of this world to come to my consulting room as far back as 30 years ago, in company of my boss, greet me familiarly and exchange pleasantries with me? Fondly, he will ask me about Late “Baba Alalubosa” in my family. Certainly, I can-not remember him giving me money at those instances but he gave me what was far more than money and of course loads of money many decades later as you would read here shortly!

The recognition, fraternity, familiarization and goodwill gestures were all that I needed to be resolute to succeed in life as a world class Cardiologist that the likes of Umaru Saro will like to see tomorrow. In Medicine, every patient has his preferred doctor just like every doctor also has his patient followership. No hard feelings at all. Indeed, I remember the MD of African Re, an expatriate, who, even when my boss was available and on seat, would insist his file should be brought to my consulting room.

Permit me to digress a little bit for you to understand the point I am trying to make here and for the younger ones to also understand how things work in real life. The relationship at this point was only Salam alaykun Sir and that is it, because I had the likes of Baba Alfa Belgore and Engineer Olatunji Babakobi in Lagos then who took me to their bedrooms, listen to me and solve all my worldly problems; To them, I remain eternally grateful.

At this juncture, it is important to stress that our relationship was purely emirate and "for the love of our people" as, on no occasion did I have the opportunity to prescribe even Panadol for the eminent man. I must emphasize that, at this stage, the relationship started and ended at Kelu Specialist Clinic. I neither asked for his telephone number nor the address of his house, even though he lived in Ikoyi and had become an uncle that I see regularly while at my duty post in Victoria Island.

Thereafter, we lost contact for several decades because I not only left Kelu Specialist Hospital, but Lagos as a whole to pursue postgraduate medical qualifications in Ilorin, Ibadan, Lagos and Glasgow, UK.

The next time we saw was years later when we were on the same plane from Lagos to Kaduna. He told me he had a house in Kaduna that is big enough to accommodate both of us and I needed not stay in the hotel booked for me as a board member of the National Eye Centre, Kaduna. I succeeded in maneuvering out of the accommodation offer but we drove in the same car out of the airport upon his insistence. Naturally, we dropped him off first in his house where he introduced his children that were in the house to me and the driver proceeded to drop me at my hotel. I can also categorically say that there was no exchange of money or gifts at this point in time but sincere and genuine affection to a lowly-placed brother from the Emirate.

Subsequently, we met on few occasions in Ilorin and related nicely.

On one other occasion, sometime in 2006, we all assembled at the Agba dam residence of another man I continue to respect, even in death; down to earth, pragmatic, realistic, frank, bold, courageous-Alhaji Akanbi Oniyangi, erstwhile Minister of the Federal Republic. This was for his Janaza prayer. After everything was ready and all the Imams were on guard, we were told to tarry a bit and wait for one man to arrive from Lagos before the janaza prayer was started. Lo and behold, it turned out to be the Late Sardauna who was a very close friend and confidant of Late Akanbi Oniyangi, Walin Ilori.

However, the real close relationship for which the late Sardauna was unique and outstanding and from which I learnt a lot of lessons started when, after my Professorship at the University of Ilorin, I had the onerous task of combining my busy research portfolio and clinical responsibilities with the Chairmanship of the University Muslim Community. The Muslim Community needed an extension of the Jummah Mosque because the population of staff and students has grown astronomically from about 5,000 to 45,000 people, particularly since the University is the most sought-after University in the country for almost a decade now.

The onus is on us to ensure that the graduates from the University are not only academically sound but also well rounded morally and spiritually. The Community commissioned the design of an ultramodern center for Qur’an recitation and memorization as an extension of the central jummah mosque. I visited Kano to enlist for support from individuals who have donated similar centers to Bayero University, Kano. It was from Kano that I was referred back to Late Sardauna of Ilorin. The proponents deposited that he was capable of building anything we wanted for us and we did not have to come to Kano.

Back home, I booked an appointment with the Sardauna and he was excited to see me the next time he visited Ilorin. I specifically remember him requesting me to come alone when he called to invite me over to his famous GRA house-simple but elegant. But as a community leader, I am wise enough to know that you don’t attend such meetings with rich man (olowo) alone because it could easily be misinterpreted. I invited two others and together, we went with a 3-D model of the architectural design of the center. It was a very successful meeting but there are important lessons to be learnt.

Up until that night, nobody divulged the story to me that this same late Sardauna single-handedly financed the dome and Imam residence of the current Jummah mosque in the University.

The Imam's residence has provided shelter to hundreds of less endowed students of the University over the years who have now graduated as doctors and engineers feeding their families and other dependents.

The Similarly, as you drive through the University round about today, one of the most beautiful and commanding edifices to behold is the Jummah mosque.

We all work, but certain people are blessed exponentially and we wonder why or how? They have also invested heavily in the ways of Allah and are only been rewarded. Allah said in the Holy Qur'an ( Chapter 57:18);

"Surely the male donors and the female donors and (those) who lend to Allah a fair loan, it will be doubled for them, and they will have an honorable reward”.

At the end of the meeting at this auspicious night, he brought out a bundle of Naira notes (certainly in hundreds of thousands of Naira) to dash us. As the Chairman, I reminded him that we have come for support to establish a center estimated to gulp about half a Billion Naira. We would be more comfortable if he sleeps over our request without giving us anything that night. We therefore left respectfully without collecting the money.

I hope you are following the narratives and not getting bored. It has to be long because we are chronicling the life encounter with an enigma, a well tutored and cultured man spanning over decades. The next encounter was the most dazzling and I want you to follow the story very well. It all portends destiny, luck, believe, chance, trust and dependability.

I was invited by the King of Saudi Arabia to join an expert panel from the middle East and Africa to discuss contemporary management of Heart failure at the Royal Military Hospital, Riyadh. All the expenses were borne by the King of Saudi Arabia and the visa was similarly sent from Saudi Arabia directly to my email. I made up my mind immediately that I was going to stop over in Makkah and Madina to perform Ummrah, the lesser Hajj at the end of the expert panel meeting, no matter what it took.

Expectedly, I would fly to Lagos to board Emirates to Jeddah airport and as luck would have it, olowo ti n f’owo saanu was on the same Lagos flight from Ilorin heading for his base in Lagos. I was the first to sit next to the door and he came to join me unexpectedly. We greeted and got talking.

He sat briefly to rest at the baggage claim area as an elder statesman and saw my boxes popping out on the conveyor belt making him to probe further where was I heading to. I answered Saudi Arabia. He retorted; for Ummrah? I said secondarily yes but first and foremost is the expert panel scientific workshop on heart failure at Riyadh. He said, if I had mentioned this to him before today, he could have asked his boys to pick me up from Jeddah airport and give me all the necessary logistic support and assistance. I replied that wouldn’t be necessary because Saudi Arabian Government has already arranged for everything, including a five-star hotel accommodation, limousine airport pickup and business class ticket. It was on that trip that I also got to know that he has some business investments in Saudi Arabia as well, just like UK.

For those who knew him, he is not used to giving up quickly! Sarcastically, he asked me when was my flight and where was I going to stay in Lagos? I answered that I have hotel reservation in Ikeja here to ease my boarding tomorrow morning. Anybody would think that was the end of the discussion. The Sardauna asked for the name of the hotel and honestly, I did not know the name of the hotel off hand but I have it on the phone. He said please when you get to the hotel room, whatsapp to me the full address of the hotel and your room number. I was jittery but certain of one thing; there was nothing between the two of us to warrant him being after my life or monitoring me. Lo and behold, we landed at the airport about 7:30pm, left the airport about 8:30pm, drove through old Ikeja GRA over another hour. I got into my hotel room about 9:30pm, freshened up and sent the hotel name, address and room number to the late Sardauna around 10pm. He called to say he will be sending an errand to me that night. I thought this was impossible and unnecessary but behold, at exactly 11pm my room telephone rang following a call from the receptionist to say that I have a visitor. I went downstairs to meet the visitor at the private lounge of the hotel, only to be met with a message from Late Alhaji Umaru Saro, olowo ti n f’owo saanu. The message was a sealed personalized envelope from the Sardauna containing brand new notes of the highest denomination of Saudi Arabian Riyadh running into thousands.

I have no doubt in my mind that the person who conveyed the envelope didn’t know what was inside. For my own safety, I wouldn’t disclose the amount here but one thing I know for sure and remember very vividly is that that year was my best Umrah ever in my entire life. I stayed in a suite in Makkah and Medinah close to Haram, I prayed Magrib directly behind the Imam in Makkah Harram, I spent about two hours in Rawda in Madinah Harram and also observed Isha’I prayer on the first row in Rawda and also had the privilege of sharing in the incense being sprayed on the tomb of the Holy Prophet in between prayers.

Specifically, I recall my cap was jocularly dropped in the incense pot and put back on my head by one of the descendants of the Holy Prophet. Of course, I prayed for the late Sardauna who God used to simplify the journey for me and requested Allah to let all of us meet and be friends again in Jannah. Every prayer I made on that trip has been answered and I therefore believe that God answered my prayers for him as well.

In spite of the luxury I treated myself to during the Umrah, I still have the unspent part of the Riyadh currency because it was a copious gift. The Umrah is the last I have observed because Covid-19 pandemic broke out thereafter. Late Alh Saro was lucky to have been able to perform another Umrah after mine and just before the Harrams were sealed as a result of the pandemic.

IMAM KATIBI'S MOSQUE, OKEKURA, ILORIN. Imam Katibi's mosque in Okekura is an ancient one. The mosque is now about a century old. It serves as an Arabic school for memorization of the Holy Qur'an and a worship area for about Five Hundred Muslims living in the area and observing obligatory five daily prayers and other ceremonial events at the mosque. It was first built in the early Twentieth century during the reign of Sheikh Abdulkadir dan Shuaybu Bawa as the then Emir of Ilorin and a direct descendant of Sheikh Alimi bin Fodio from Sokoto Caliphate, Nigeria. The Al-Katibi family was among the early learners of Arabic language and memorizers of the Holy Qur'an in the community such that they used to write important official letters for the then Emir and produce copies of beautifully hand-written Qur’an for the King to be presented as gifts and souvenirs to important visitors from around the world to the Emirate. Thence, the then Emir gave the name AL-KHATIB to the family, which today parades about Ten Hafizul-Qur'an and Four Doctorate Degree holders in Arabic and Islamic studies. This historical mosque was demolished for re-construction and modernization in March 2019. It was however built in the early Seventies and has therefore served the community for about Forty-five years before demolition for modernization.

The older version before the demolished one was built around 1920 and has produced several revered Mallams and Sheikhs whose tombs became a monument after death and reference point in history till tomorrow. The mosque was completely pulled down for complete re-construction, even though the committee had less than five million Naira. I remember I was the highest donor at the first public outing on the mosque but I was conscious of the fact that the sum I donated can not go far at all. I retreated into my private study one Sunday and did some strategic writing and solicitation for the mosque to be completed.

Typical of the late Sardauna, he responded to my call and gave me a sum, as a donation to the mosque project but warned me that I should not disclose his identity.

I delivered the money to the Project committee, demanded a receipt in my name and submitted same to Late Sardauna. Up till tomorrow, the mosque committee does not know Sardauna contributed a penny, let alone showing appreciation. That is accountability without disclosure.

The entire mosque took us just a little over one year to complete. The second most fascinating thing Sardauna did was that I invited all the major donors to the commissioning ceremony of the mosque eminently led by Imam Imale of Ilorin. I sent the picture of the edifice with the invitation.

Sardauna was impressed with what we have done but noticed that we have not provided for the rug to compliment the tiled floor. He asked me for the square meter or the number of rows and that is the end. All I know is that on the day of the commissioning, the prayer rugs were in place without the beneficiaries or my humble self in the know of where they came from and on whose authority. I have objective intelligence report to believe that they came from the Sardauna but the beneficiaries are still in the dark up till tomorrow.

These are but only few of the descriptive characteristics of the great man we have just lost, the Sardauna of Ilorin.

Though he appeared to have suffered stroke years back but made excellent recovery and was trudging on with life excellently. I marveled at his cleanliness and personal hygiene each time we sat together. He took his medications religiously and was looking very cheerful and bright that I had hoped he was going to be around for another Fifty years.

Alas, God knows best and I pray that we meet and remain friends and "alabase" in Aljanat Firdaus. Katibi Ibraheem Adeola, MD(Glasg), Cert (Harvard), FWACP, FACC, FESC, FNCS is Professor of Medicine and Chief Consultant Physician/Cardiologist.

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