By Rasheed Abubakar
The entire Muslim Ummah in Nigeria, particularly the Muslim Community of Lagos State, was thrown into mourning on Sunday, September 24, 2017, following the death of Alhaji Garuba Ibrahim Akinola, the Chief Imam of Lagos and the Chairman, Lagos State Council of Imams and Alfas.
When the news of his death broke, the first thing I did was to confirm its authenticity from a source in the Lagos Central Mosque Executive Council. The source said to me; “Sheikh is dead. Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi raji’un” meaning; “To Allah we belong and to Him we shall all return”.
I quickly did a Google search of his name “Garba (or Garuba) Ibrahim Akinola (or Akiola)” to ascertain the number of mention he had in the media for his contributions to Islam in Lagos and Nigeria at large, or if there is a biography or a citation of his.
There is an “Ibrahim Garba” on Wikipedia, but he is not the late Chief Imam. The Garba Ibrahim featured by the online search engine is a Nigerian Professor of Geology and the incumbent Vice Chancellor of Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. At my second attempt, Google thought I wanted to search for His Royal Highness, Oba Riliwan “Akiolu”, the popular Lagos monarch, not “Akinola”.
Before this time, I have heard people say there is no letter “n” between the letters “i” and “o” in Imam Garuba’s name just as it is for the monarch. Hence, I decided to search “Akiola” in addition to the other names, but it yielded no results.
While breaking the news of his death, some online media also added “Haruna” to his name. I included that in my search, but I doubt if Haruna was one of his names.
After several efforts, I couldn’t find a dedicated news story or interview of the late Chief Imam of Lagos, the fastest growing mega city in the world and the beehive of all major Islamic activism in Nigeria on Google. However, I saw only a few news stories and pictures where he was quoted alongside other prominent guests at events. A practical example is a story captioned: “Adebule, Akiolu, Chief Imam Preach Love, Tolerance”, as it appeared in many media during the 2017 Eid-el-Fitr celebrations in Lagos.
There is yet another challenge; his real age at the time of death. Different media stated widely disparate figures; 80, 87, 90 and even 100, but the majority went for 79, which is correct, verified age at death, but those who wrote 80 are also close because the late Imam would have been 80 by December.
There were also two reported versions of his place of death. Some media claimed Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LASUTH), while some reported St. Nicholas Hospital, Lagos. Others played safe by not reporting his place of death, which is far better than being speculative.
Why the lacunae and inconsistencies
All the inconsistencies in the reports of his death happened because there was no official statement from the family or the Executive Council of the Lagos Central Mosque, coupled with the fact that there was no proper documentation of him online.
It also showed that many of us (especially the Muslims in the media) and by extension the generality of the Muslims, have little or no knowledge about the man who was described as the “leading Islamic scholar in Lagos” by Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, who presented staff of office to him as the 9th Chief Imam of Lagos in 2000, during his first term in office as the Governor of Lagos State.
Within 24 hours of his death, I counted no less than 50 online news and newspapers stories about Imam Akinola, including torrents of tributes from Muslim organisations and political leaders, particularly in Lagos State.
I did not bother to demand for a cover story and/or picture from the print media to honour the late Chief Imam like I did for the late Sheikh Mustapha Sanusi Zuglool when he passed on in July 2017, due to what many of my colleagues described as “a tall order” and “a mission rarely impossible”. Many factors would have been responsible for why the Chief Imam did not get a cover mention in the media, chief of which is the usual practice of under-reporting Islam.
However, unlike the intimidating and powerful biographies of the Late Zuglool that accompanied the media stories of his death, nothing of such has happened for the late Chief Imam of Lagos State. There were no details of his educational background (Arabic and Western), family and scholarly works in all the 50 and more news stories I have read so far.
What I read sympathisers say about his personality is not different from what they would have said if it were to be another reputable scholar of his calibre. Ask politicians; they have ready-made responses for every event. In most cases, the chief press secretary (CPS) will be the architect of the condolence or congratulatory speech, depending on the occasion, even without their principals seeing them.
Although it is the part of our inglorious culture in Nigeria to celebrate personalities after their deaths, ours as Muslims should not be so. We must not wait for our revered scholars to die before they are celebrated. Some would argue that just like teachers, since scholars – especially those who uphold the tenets of the Sunnah – as expected to be rewarded with “Jannatul Firdaus” by Allah; with or without biographies and media mention, celebrating them is unnecessary. I say, that is not in doubt, but it is important for us to have written citations and chronicles of all our scholars, so as to be able to relate their struggles for the Deen (Islam) to our children and the generations that will come after ours.
The Companions of the Prophet (peace be upon him) made efforts to compile the Noble Qur’an more than a thousand years ago. With honesty and sincerity of purpose, they also documented the Hadith, with the generations that came after them classifying Hadith into grades (Sound, Good, Weak and Fabricated), to ensure the guidance of future generations.
We have learnt (via visual, audio or text) the beautiful stories of the best generation of Islam (Sahabah), those who followed them (Tabi’un) and those who followed those (Tabi al-Tabi’un); may Allah be pleased with them all. Who is going to tell ours to our children and the generations that will come after us?
Where are the Muslim Biographers, Journalists and Creative Writers? Are we going to remain idle and watch our scholars and heroes die without writing about them? Muslim columnists, is anything wrong with us? Sheikh Afeez Abou, Sheikh Abdul-Fatah Thanni, Dr Jubril Oyekan, Imam AbdurRahman Ahmad and Sheikh Dhikrullah Shafi’i and their likes are still very much in our midst in Lagos. We have scores of them all over the country – across the states. It is a privilege for us to be learning directly from them now but must we let their lives and times go the way of Sheikh Isa Yagbo-Yaju, Sheikh Al-Arazim Alaya, Ustadh abdulLateef Adebowale, Prof AbdulHakeem Mobolaji and the fearless Alfa Bisiriyu Apalara, who was brutally murdered by a group of blood-thirsty Oro cultists in January 1957.
Although Wikipedia did a brief mention of late Apalara, there is need for a well-researched and detailed documentation of his life and death, and that of others who have gone to meet their Lord; ditto for the living.
At 95, Sheikh Afeez Abou, the Baba Adinni of Lagos is still committed to Islam and the unity of Muslims in Lagos and Nigeria.
During the last Ramadan, a friend of mine narrated how Sheikh Abou stood throughout the ten lengthy rakaahs of Taraweeh, led by three Hufaaz (those who have memorized the whole Noble Qur’an) in his mosque at Bank Olemoh, Surulere. My friend, who is in his early 30s, was about leaving the mosque after the fourth rakaah when he saw the Sheikh at his regular corner standing firm on the prayer. He then asked himself; “What’s my excuse if this old Sheikh (aged over 90) could stand all through the Solat?” He felt ashamed and returned to the safu (row) to continue his Solat. After all, we are all seeking for the same Paradise with Allah. May Allah continue to sustain our Sheikh and his likes upon Haqq (Truth).
The way to go
Therefore, it has become necessary for Muslim organisations to establish research or documentation centres and set up a standard Public Relations Unit that will relate effectively with the media. It is alleged that the Lagos Central Mosque has no official website, not to talk of social media accounts, ditto for other several central mosques and organisations.
Our scholars need to be packaged and showcased to the world through the instrumentality of the media. Every mosque should also start documenting the histories of important personalities that helped to establish and develop their mosques. The Muslim Ummah is blessed with young and vibrant youths who can do all these with ease. Let the leadership of every mosque and Islamic organisation engage them.
After all, if you don’t blow your trumpet, no one will blow it for you.
Brief biography of Imam Akinola
According to thenationonlineng.net, the late Chief Imam Garuba Akinola was born on December 7, 1937 (1356AH) into the family of Ibrahim Ankuri of Isale Eko in Lagos. His father was Alfa Tijani Ibrahim, who was also one of the former Chief Imams of Lagos. Alfa Tijani became the Imam of Lagos 10 years after Imam Garuba Akinola Ibrahim was born. Alfa Tijani died in 1954, six years before Nigeria got her independence. The late Sheikh Ibrahim’s mother was Hajia Ibrahim popularly called as “Iya lle Kewu.”
Imam Garuba grew up on Lagos Island. He attended the Ahmadiyya Primary School Elegbata in Lagos. Thereafter, he moved to Government College, Ibadan, Oyo State, for his secondary school education. He started elementary Arabic and Islamic education under the tutelage of Alfa Abdul Rahman Suyuti, who he joined to visit some cities in Nigeria, Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire. After acquiring sufficient knowledge, he joined the transport company of former Baba Adinni of Lagos, Alhaji Abdul Waheed Elias, called Elias Transport Service.
He later joined the Nigeria Security Printing and Minting Company (NSPMC) in 1965. He retired after 32 years of service in 1997. While in service, he attended series of courses at home and abroad. He became a Senior Manager at the Currency Department of the company before he retired. He was installed the Chief Imam of Lagos on July 4 2000. He succeeded his brother, the late Imam Liadi Alade Ibrahim (OBE), who was the Chief Imam of Lagos between 1959 and 1998.