Nigerian herdsman obtains Ph.D, becomes a professor

Posted by News Express | 15 August 2021 | 975 times

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•Ahmadu Shehu


His fragile looks and simple disposition belie his intellectual prowess. An articulate scholar, he makes analyses very irresistible. His bedazzled audience often pay rapt attention as he accentuates his presentation with well-timed gesticulation. Dr. Ahmadu Shehu is a leading scholar and a man of many firsts. In 2019, the Adamawa native, a product of nomadic education became the first nomad pupil in Nigeria to obtain a doctorate degree from the University of Warsaw, Poland. Prior to that, he had obtained a First Class degree from the University of Maiduguri where he studied Linguistics. Whilst currently serving as an Assistant Professor of English and Literature at the American University of Nigeria, Yola, Adamawa State, Dr. Shehu’s academic strides attest to the saying- albeit cliché-that tomorrow belongs to those who dream big. FUNKE OLAODE reports.

His appearance contradicts his intellectual prowess: fragile, smallish and soft spoken. It is hard to reconcile his nomadic background with his current status given the negative stereotypes that prevail in the North-east narratives. Dr. Ahmadu Shehu has shattered the glass ceilings by breaking the norm through consistency and zeal to emerge as an academic giant of international repute.

As a child, Shehu has always been a smart kid under the watchful eyes of his parents who were herdsmen. Enrolled at school at the age of six in 1991, he has remained committed to learning and personal development.

Recently, Dr. Ahmadu Shehu was among the panelists at the 13th Wole Soyinka Centre Media Lecture Series held in Lagos. With the overarching theme ‘Remaking Nigeria: Towards a Secure and Valuable Union,’ the event was a roll call of brilliant speakers. Still, Dr. Shehu stood out-delivering his part with the sub-theme ‘Towards a Community Based Model for Basic Education.’ Imbued with eloquence and confidence, he won the hearts of his audience with the power of his spoken words.

Born on October 1st, 1985 to a nomadic family at Mamukan village in Jada local government area of Adamawa state, Shehu embraced a semi-nomadic life. As a pioneering pupil at the nomadic primary school, Mamukan, he divided his early childhood years between school in the morning and cattle rearing in the afternoon, under the watchful eyes of his parents. Recounting his childhood years, he said: “Well, as many people would have known by now, I am that typical Mbororo (i.e. nomad kid) who was born and bred in a semi-nomadic settlement and went through nomadic education. My family was established in cattle herding, and later Islamic scholarship. Coming from a polygamous family, I grew up in a large compound with dozens of siblings and extended family.”

His first day at school was like a torture- he and his brother took to their heels and ran to the bush to avoid being enrolled at the school. After much cajoling, he returned home. The next day, his father enrolled him and his brother in school. Out of over 100 pupils enrolled at the first batch, only six completed primary school.

“We started under the shade of a mango tree which is still standing right in that location. I remember vividly how we fought to sit on the outer roots of the tree and how our teachers struggled to keep the black board leaning on the trunk of the tree. After a year, we were moved to the family shade (called rumpa in Hausa) as class two while the newly enrolled retained the tree shade. In his attempt to get a permanent site for the school, my father had to be in the courts for over six years, as neighbouring clans and ethnic groups claimed ownership of each piece of land allocated by the Local Education Authority,’’ he recounted.

To douse the tension, the school was moved to his father’s farm- not far away from home. The community provided temporary shades made out of grasses. A week later, an adversary set those shelters on fire at night forcing his parents to relocate the school back to the family premises.

“The school was three years old already with three class. Now, there was need for another space. The first set was then moved to a nearby tree just next to the mosque while the two other classes retained the two other locations. By the time we got to class six, our parents had won a verdict at the area court to settle the school on a rocky location few meters away from the village. Most people argued that the location was too rocky and would therefore not be good for that purpose. Our parents accepted the gift from God and built a round-hut as our first classroom. I finished primary school in 1996 on a white stone I picked as my sit, right in that round, open hut, of course without a desk.”

Dr. Shehu admitted that his childhood ambition was to be a lawyer because of his father who suffered constant harassments, intimidation, stereotypes, extortions and blackmail. But he has no regret for pitching his tent with teaching. The communities were in dire need of homegrown teachers.

“The idea was to provide sufficiently reliable workforce for nomadic schools, which were not attractive to the mainstream teacher’s. Nobody wanted to go to the bush to teach nomadic kids. So, it was a sort of explicitly workable alternative.”

Shehu shone through with his intelligence and commitment to his studies. In 1998, he was selected among the 30 nomadic children to be trained as nomadic teachers at the Federal College of Education, Yola, a programme sponsored by the British Department for International Development (DFID). Within the period of two years, he had completed the National Teachers Institute’s curriculum, graduating with the Grade II Certificate in 1999/2000.
“This programme was indeed my defining moment,’’ he continued. “I believe I couldn’t have gone this far had I not gotten that opportunity. That programme basically changed everything in my future trajectory.’’

He was in the first set of nomadic primary school Mamukan, and the first set of DFID’s nomadic teachers training programme. He is equally the first nomadic student in Nigeria to obtain a Ph.D., just as he is the first in his primary, secondary and NCE classes to obtain a University degree, and the first of his university mates to obtain a Ph.D. By hard work and excellence, Dr. Shehu has always graduated on top of his class: First position at Primary School; the best student at NCE; a First Class degree – winning many prizes, including Professor Jibril Aminu’s Best Student in Fulfulde, Professor C.M.B. Brann’s Best Student in Sociolinguistics, among others.

Although he had wanted to be a lawyer, he made a detour after attending Federal College of Education, Yola. Subsequently, he chose linguistics at the University level.
“I remember how furious my elder brother was when he saw me choosing Linguistics/Fulfulde studies. His first comment was; what do you achieve in studying your own language. ‘When I earned my Ph.D. I sent him the certificate with the following caption: ‘you earn this when you love your culture and people.’

At postgraduate level, Dr. Shehu earned Distinction at Master’s degree, and the highest possible CGPA of 5.0/5.0 for his Ph.D. Still, he doesn’t think too highly of himself.

“Well, every child is gifted. It is only incumbent on the society to discover their specialties, peculiarities of their gifts and talents. As far as I am concerned, I am just another ordinary Nigerian doing his best to do the right thing. Although I have never been the second in any set or class, I do not think that I am more gifted than my mates or colleagues. It is just what it is: blessing from God, not just for me, but for everyone,” he said.

A trailblazer, his brilliant performance at the Northern-East ivory tower earned him admission and funding for a Master’s Degree at the University of Malaya, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, graduating once again, with an excellent grade.

Shehu’s diligence, brilliance and studious approach to studies continued to open doors of opportunities. He would later gain admissions with competitive international Ph.D. scholarships at reputable universities, including the University of Florida at Gainesville, USA, and the University of Warsaw, Poland. He chose the latter for his Doctoral studies, which he completed within a record two years, with numerous publications by top ranking publishers and international conferences around the world. He was only 33.

During his doctoral studies, he clinched numerous scholarships at various universities including the University of Hamburg, Germany; University of Cologne, Germany and the University of Vienna, Austria, where he taught courses, presented guest lectures and research reports. Having worked in a research project on African languages, Shehu’s doctoral dissertation was assessed as a breakthrough in the Cognitive Linguistics study of African languages in general.

He later offered to join the American University of Nigeria as an assistant professor.
He is always willing to give back and for three years, he returned to teach at his alma mater and other nomadic schools. Within these thirteen years, he had taught and inspired nomadic kids who have now distinguished themselves in their various fields, including medicine, engineering, education, etc.

An author of many articles in reputable local and international journals, Shehu has contributed to prominent publications by highly ranked publishers, including John Benjamins and Brill. He was one of the editors of the first Qur’an in Fulfulde, a Co-editor of Algaita Journal of Nigerian Languages, Co- editor of the ‘mouth’ volume within the Body and Mind project. Dr. Shehu is also a research partner in numerous European funded projects.

“I am excited to have covered these miles. I understand what it means to sail through to where I am today. That leaves me with nothing other than being deeply thankful to Allah, and being sincerely grateful to my country, parents and all the people that believed in my potentials and contributed to this journey. Very exciting. Struggling between herding and two distinct forms of Islamic and western system of schooling. There were no boring times. No idle moments.”
Patriotic and committed, despite many opportunities abroad, Dr. Shehu still returned to fatherland. For him, there is no pasture greener than Nigeria.

“That is why we have a green flag. This country gave me and most of its citizens what the so-called western or developed countries fail to give their citizens. For the love of Nigeria, for the future of Nigerians and for the greatness of Africa, I cannot hoard the skills I obtained just for myself and probably the comfort of my family.”
He added that he would never be comfortable anywhere in the world with the knowledge that he could help change things in Nigeria – no matter how little.

“Without Nigeria working for the majority of our children no sensible Nigerian will be happy wherever he might be. I also figured out that this task cannot be done on the internet or social media platform, from some sort of a safe haven abroad. I preferred to be on the ground and contribute my quota,’’ he said. Notwithstanding his education, he still considers himself as a herdsman.

“I am still and will always be a herdsman,’’ he said with laughter. “The Nigerian stereotypes, enabled by the very media that was supposed to be the tool of our unity and the third estate of our democracy, is one of the biggest problems this country has seen since independence. We have always said we have never been this divided. But have we asked why? That is because we have been fed lies, propaganda and unhealthy narratives by our political elites through the disorderly, never retrospective media space. Herding is one of the oldest human endeavors and herders are the providers of the most beloved species for consumption. How being this became a problem in Nigeria is scary.”

Regarding the on-going herdsmen issues ravaging the country, he defended his ilk, arguing that herders contribute largely to the nation’s economy, arguably the largest contributor to the nation’s GDP and the largest employer of labor. But he sounded some notes of caution.

“These people need to have whatever privilege that a Nigerian citizen can have, because it is both their constitutional rights and contributory privileges. As to the evil narrative that paints one of the largest, and in fact, the most relevant Nigerian population as “evil”, I say it must stop if we are to avoid the dangerous road to Kigali. We cannot have a genocide that will consume millions of people just because some elements want to drive sympathy through ethnic political chauvinism to gain or retain power and political favors. Nigerians shall collectively say NO to these senseless killings in a way that doesn’t give them in for political manipulations.”

He agreed that times have changed; therefore, there should be new ways of thinking that will make clear the reality that open grazing is no longer practicable, not just in Nigeria, but across the world.

“We are not the only country with open field herders. However, all serious governments have been looking for sustainable solutions for their various demographics. Nigeria cannot be an exception. In fact, many decades– almost a century – ago, the colonial rulers foresaw this problem and developed grazing reserves that were basically enough to transform the livestock sector. Then why are we still here arguing farmers’/herders crises? That is because we have not been serious with policy implementation. And that is the problem that must be solved,” he argued.

At less than 40, Dr. Shehu still has many more fulfilling years ahead of him. However, over his academic pursuits and life trajectory, he has continued to wax strong as this Adamawa native long time ambition is to remain relevant as an academic imparting knowledge and giving back to the society. He founded two non-governmental organizations that focus on education for under-privileged children and conflict resolution in Nigeria.

 (Courtesy, THISDAY:Text, excluding headline)


Source: News Express

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