Maulana Noor Muhammad Naseem Saifi was the third Amir and Missionary-in-Charge of Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat Nigeria. He was posted to Nigeria in 1945. He served for twenty years.
Maulana Saifi was a professional journalist and a prolific writer. He was one of the founding fathers of the Nigerian Union of Journalists and the NUJ’s first Vice-President. He founded The Truth newspaper – the first Muslim weekly newspaper in Nigeria – the first edition of which was published on 31st December 1951.
As part of its contributions to the centenary anniversary of Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat in Nigeria, The Truth brings you this two-part series, in which Sheikh Naseem Saifi reminisces on his missionary activities and his contributions to the development of Islam in Nigeria. He also expresses his appreciation to individuals and corporate organisations within and outside the Ahmadiyya community whose support contributed to his achievements.
(To all the citizens of Nigeria, on the eve of my departure for Pakistan, after almost 20years of service in the field of preaching Islam).
When in 1945people asked me “how do you like our country?” I could only answer with a big and a seemingly hearty smile, for I did not know what to tell them. I had just arrived in the country and had known neither places nor faces.Beforecoming to Nigeria I had known practically next to nothing about the country except that we had a mission here. How could I then give my opinion about the people and the country inhabited by them? At times I used to tell them “well, I am a Missionary and I am bound to like the place where my mission wishes me to stay.”
But as everybody can understand, that was no real expression of appreciation.
Now it is almost 20years that I have stayed here and I am preparing togo back to my country and perhaps, this is the most appropriate time for me to answer the question “how do you like our country?”
Well, let me tell you that I like Nigeria almost as much as I like Pakistan, the country of which I was citizen. I have used the word “almost” because to be very frank, East or West, home is the best. But I can assure you that when I say that I like Nigeria almost as much as I like Pakistan, I am saying everything that anybody can say about a country for which he has the greatest appreciation in the world.
I have spent the best part of my life in Nigeria. And not only that much. I have spent three years in the best possible way that a foreigner can do anywhere in the world; had utmost freedom of movement and speech and I am glad to say that I made the fullest use of this freedom.
I can count among my friends some of the topmost leader of the country and their memory will always remain fresh in my mind.
His Excellency Dr.NnamdiAzikiwe, the president, has always given me broad smiles and kind words.”Maulvi is our old friend,” he has said many times. When H.M.Emperor HaileSellassie was visitingNigeria, I was one of those who attended his reception at the State House. There were hundreds of peoplethere. Dr.Zik(this sound sweeter than his full name)hailed on me: “Maulvi come and meet the Emperor” There was the glow of friendship and depth of kindness in his words.
Once the two of us were travelling by sea; we had a fairly long talk and I was surprised to hear him talk about The Truth; he knew almost everything about it, even the press where it is printed. I have indeed many sweet memories of meetings with Zik.
The Rt. Hon the Prime Minister Alhaji Sir Abu Bakr T. Balewa has always been a symbol of Muslim brotherhood to me. At times I have taken my problems to him and he has given me the fullest support that a man in his position can give. Once he told me that his ambition was that when he retires he should make a grand collection of books and get himself busy with them. The very next day I sent to him quite a number of books in the hope that they will one day form a part of his library. I hope they will.
I was a member of a committee responsible to form the Religious and Arabic syllabus for West African School Certificate and I had gone to attend the meeting of the said Committee at Kaduna. I was staying at the Rest House and it came to my mind that I should seize this opportunity of paying a courtesy call to the Hon. Alhaji Sir Ahmadu Bello, the Sardauna of Sokoto. I rang him and fixed up the meeting. In the afternoon I went to his residence and there he was, as if waiting for me. I was accompanied by Mallam Isa Wali who is now the High Commissioner for Nigeria in Ghana.
I had a fairly long discussion with the Sardauna and the subject was “Islam, Muslims and the Arabic teachers.” He made me so much at home there, that I can never forget the moments spent in his company.
Another of my best friends has been the Premier of the Mid-West Region-Hon Dennis Osadebay. So great but so humble – Dennis Osadebay’s friendship always gives a sort of cool and calm feeling that only true and sincere friendship can bestow.
Some people are very lucky in the choice of their friends. I think I am one of them. The people whom I befriended some twenty years ago have all proved good and have risen high. Ayo Ogunseye is now the Director of Extra Mural Studies at the University of Ibadan. M. A. Tokunbo is now the Permanent Secretary of a Federal Ministry. W. O. Briggs is a front Bench Member of the House of Representatives. So forth and so on.
I first meet S. L. Akintola in the small editorial office of Daily Service. He was told that I had come here for an Anglo-Arabic College. The first question he asked me was ‘’we hope you will admit Christian students also.’’ I smiled and said, ‘’Yes, we will.’’ The other day when his car passed by me (I was going to the Mosque for Prayer), he looked at me, smiled and greeted me. I am sure the old memories were refreshed.
I collected some of my articles published in the Press and also some editorials of the National Newspapers in connection with the controversy about Pakistan and titled them “In Defence of Pakistan’’. It was Alhaji Dauda Adegbenro, then the Minister of Internal Affairs (Western Region) (or was the name of his Ministry something else) who wrote a Preface for the book.
All these, and many more, have been very good friends of mine. I have enjoyed their courtesy and kindness. In fact it is this type of people who symbolise the hospitality of Nigeria towards the citizens of other lands who spend some time with them. And of course, I have spent almost twenty years with them. My hearty thanks go to all of them. And I dare say that a country to which these people belong, one cannot but like it.
Another great personality to whom I owe a great debt of gratitude is His Highness Sir Adeniji Adele, the Oba of Lagos. He is a Class by himself. Kind, courteous, generous, reconciliatory and a hundred and one other good things. He has never turned down any of my requests and he has never ignored me on any important functions that are so often held in his Palace. Whenever he had to consult the Muslim leaders, his message came to me spontaneously and he always spoke of my Mission and myself very highly. His love for Ahmadiyyat always compels him to make mention of the early days of Ahmadiyyat in this country when he and others used to go about with Alhaji Maulana A. R. Nayyar like his shadow. He always takes pride in the fact that he was one of those who used to rub the feet of MaulanaNayyar. Only a great man can take pride in the honour that he has given to others to whom the honour is due.
His kind thoughts about me to which he has given expression several times without the least hesitation, will always keep his memory green in my heart and I pray to God that He may reward him from His unending sources of bounty and bliss.
But let nobody gain the impression that it is only people on top (especially in the political field) who have been my friends. I am a man of varied interests and I have moved among all sorts of people and befriended like I had my friends in Pakistan.
I have a large number of friends among journalists. The best of them have been the closest friends and I must say that these members of the Fourth Estate have always pushed their pens more swiftly for me than I ever expected. Their newspapers have given me the greatest support. News from me and news about me has always been received by them with open arms. I have written and published hundreds of thousands of words in their columns and I have written on almost every aspect of man’s life. Some of them have offered their columns for my regular weekly articles. The Daily Service (Islam and You); The Daily Telegraph (The Muslim Forum); The Morning Post (Teachings of Islam); The Daily Mail (Talking to Muslims); The Middle Belt Herald (The Quran Teaches).
Alhaji B. Jose, Messrs. Lateef K. Jakande, B. Onabanjo, Adeseoye, M. Awoyinfa, AladeOdunewu, Smart Ebbi, Increase Coker, Abiodun Oloba, Abiodun Shogunle, Fagbemi, Razak Aremu and an army of others have been my best friends. It is people like these through whose support I was the Vice President of the Nigeria Union of Journalists for many many years. And I was the foundation Vice President. I was also the Treasurer of the Nigerian Press Club and an Executive Member of the Guild of Newspaper Editors. Tell me which other country has ever honoured a foreigner like this?
My hearty thanks to each and every journalist of Nigeria. God bless your pens and may He enable you to serve your country to the best of your abilities.
Coming to the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation. I must say that I owe them a great deal for the popularity that I have enjoyed in this country. I started going on the air in 1947 and since then I have been one of the most regular broadcasters. The N. B. C. has always given due prominence to the news of my work and my movements.
Together with other Muslim dignitaries we planned the Muslim programmes that we sowed in a humble way at our meetings at one of the Muslim institutions, has now grown into a mighty tree. It has been watered by people like Alhaji M. K. Ekemode and Mr. (soon going to be Alhaji) L. A. Egberongbe. ‘’The Islamic Point of View’’ which is considered to be the most important Muslim programme was given to me from the very start and I have done it single-handed for many many years.
Among the N. B. C. friends I can count Mr Victor Badejo now the Director General; Messrs. Emmanuel Omatshola, Saka Fagbo, Marshall, Bisi Lawrence, Sanusi Olagunju and many others. These are the people who have always helped me with everything connected with broadcasting.
I have tried to contribute my humble quota to the progress of education in the country and I have made many friends through this medium. Whenever the Federal Minister of Education Hon. Aja Nwachukwu met me he would address me as “Your Excellency.” Then one day I said to him – andthe two of us enjoyed this joke very much – “Hon. Minister, if you address me as “Your Excellency,” I shall have to address you as “Your Majesty”. He laughed.
From the officials of Education Department I have never had anything but sincere cooperation. When the Council of Muslim School Proprietors was struggling to open the Muslim Teacher Training College, Surulere, and I was acting as the Proprietor of the College in my capacity as the Chairman of the Committee charged with opening of the College, Mr. Ajumogobia was the official we were dealing with. I met him in his office a number of times and every time I met him, his kindness and cooperation seemed to have achieved greater dimensions.
Messrs E. J. Moses and S. B. Dabiri have also helped me a great deal in my pursuits of the furtherance of the cause of education.
Every member of the Council of the Muslim School Proprietors – moreespecially Mr. S. T. Rufai, the President of the Council – alwayshonoured me with his affection and generosity of a sincere heart. They elected me first their Treasurer and then their Vice President. My hearty thanks go to all of them. I shall always remember them and I shall always cherish a desire that they should come to Pakistan and give me opportunity of repaying their hospitality in however humble way I can.
I am very glad to have been given the opportunity of serving the Council as the Chairman of the Board of Governors of the Muslim Teacher Training College, Surulere and they have really done me a great honour in naming one of the Houses of the College after my name.
I am also grateful to everybody who has ever been connected with the Muslim Congress of Nigeria. I was one of those who brought the Congress into existence at Oyo. The members of the Congress were most kind to me to have elected me their first President. This election took place at Ibadan. An overwhelming majority voted for me, but for one reason or the other I had to decline and a second election was held immediately to put somebody else in my place and Alhaji Prince M. B. Ade Lawal was elected the first President of the Congress. Alhaji A. R. A. Smith and Alhaji Y. S. Ola Ishola were always the best companions to work with for the general welfare of the Muslims. It is we three who met the Premier of the Western Region Chief ObafemiAwolowo several times in connection with the re-instatement of the Alafin of Oyo – AlhajiAdeyemi. (I also cherish a sweet memory of meeting Chief Awolowo at his residence at Ikenne where I had an opportunity of having an insight into his grasp of the complicated world affairs. He is a man of wide knowledge and his keen observation seldom misses the implications of what goes on around him.) Although our efforts proved abortive, we always had the consolation that we were doing our best in serving the cause of the Muslims of this country.
At another stage, the Muslim Congress offered me the Chairmanship of the Political Committee which also I had to decline with grateful thanks.
From among the Muslim Societies, the Ansarudeen and the JamaatulIslamiyya have been great friends of mine, Alhaji BaruwaEtti of the Ansarudeen and Alhaji L. B. Agusto of the JamaatulIslamiyya have been honoured friends. The respect they have always given me has been a matter of a pleasant surprise for me. It shows the greatness of their hearts and also their love for Islam and the Muslims, for reverence for me was always rooted in my being a Missionary of Islam.
The Muslim Students Society of Nigeria was born in my hands. Their first circulars and announcements were produced in my office. The Foundation members of this society, though now scattered all over Nigeria, still cherish the memory of those early days. I have watched this society grow from strength to strength and I must say how grateful I am to the Federal Secretary for his very flattering remarks about me which he made on the occasion of the last anniversary held at EbuteMetta.
My hearty thanks go to the members of the Muslim Students Society and I wish to assure them that I shall always continue to take interest in their activities wherever I may be.
For many years I represented the Muslims of Nigeria on the Scout Council. The meetings under the chairmanship of Sir James Robertson and then His Excellency Dr. NnamdiAzikiwe can never be forgotten. Mr. Arthur Brown of the Scout Movement always took kindly to me. And though I knew Rev. Father Adeniyi through the Catholic Herald which he was editing and through which some people used to have friendly religious ‘clashes’ with me, I knew him better through the Scout Movement. I can easily count Rev. Father Adeniyi as one of my best friends, despite the fact that he wrote against me in his editorial columns quite often.
I have mentioned only a few organisations and a few people but the fact remains that I wish to thank each and every citizen of this great country. Many organisations and many of my good friends have been left out, and I am sorry for it. But while thanking the people through the columns of a weekly newspaper, one cannot but be selective.