If wishes were horses, the numerous people who benefited from Isyaku Rabi’u, entrepreneur, Islamic scholar, businessman and philanthropist would have wanted him to live forever. After all, a saying goes thus: “No matter how old, no one wishes his loved one dead.” But Rabiu was human and humans have a date with death. He had his own taste at a London hospital on Tuesday.
Prior to the demise of the 90-year-old scholar, he suffered a protracted illness but soldiered on till he could hold it no more. Born in 1928 into the family of Muhammad Rabiu Dan Tinki, a Quranic preacher from the Bichi area of Kano state, Rabiu embraced Islamic scholarship at a young age and tutored at his father’s school, learning the Quran and Arabic. He spent four of his formative years in Maiduguri, Borno state.
Rabiu was popularly known as mallam. He later got the title of Khalifah of Tijjaniyya in Africa. He was said to have published all the books written by his late father and memorised them. To fulfill his father’s wish, he constructed 60 houses behind his house in Goron Dutse and donated them to the memorisers of the Holy Qur’an.
HIS BUSINESS EXPLOITS
While still an Islamic teacher in the early 1950s, Rabiu began to engage in business and in 1952, he established Isyaku Rabiu & Sons, trading in sewing machines, religious books and bicycles. In 1958, the firm had a breakthrough when Kaduna Textile Limited was established and it became one of the early distributors.
In the 1970s, the group invested in manufacturing with its first investment being the Kano Suit and Packing Cases Company, a joint venture with Lebanese investors, producing suit cases and handbags.
In 1972, he established the Bagauda Textile Mill, producing woven cloths for uniforms, from where he established more series of ventures in different segments of the economy including frozen food service, real estate, sugar and a motor vehicle and parts distribution company specialized in Daihatsu products.
HIS BATTLE WITH ANOTHER ISLAMIC LEADER
The story of the deceased is incomplete without his clash with Dahiru Bauchi, a notable Islamic cleric in the north. Both men struggled for leadership of the Nigeria branch of Tijjaniyya Muslim sect. The problem started when some leaders of the Tijjaniyya movement in Tunisia anointed Rabiu as the Khalifa of the sect in Nigeria but Bauchi kicked against it, saying he remained the overall leader in Nigeria.
In a tribute to the deceased, Mahmud Jega, deputy editor-in-chief of Daily Trust, shared an experience he had with Bauchi.
“One day in 1995 the editor of Sentinel, Malam Adamu Adamu took me to go and see Sheikh Dahiru Bauchi in his Tudun Wada residence in Kaduna. The matter of the supremacy battle came up in the discussion. Sheikh Dahiru spoke at length about it and explained in great detail Tijjaniyya’s hierarchical leadership system,” Jega wrote.
“He later repeated this explanation in Sentinel’s Hausa language sister newspaper. According to his explanation, he outranked Sheikh Rabi’u by far in the sect’s seniority order. He said Sheikh Rabi’u could only be the Khalifa of his father, the late Malam Rabi’u Dan Tinki, also a famed Tijjaniyya leader in Kano many decades ago.”
Jega said probably provoked by the newspaper interview, Rabiu made a major move by writing a letter to the management of Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria [FRCN], Kaduna, telling them to stop Bauchi’s regular sermon on their station. He said as the leader, he had decided to replace him with another preacher, since the slot was meant for the Tijjaniyya movement. The FRCN managers reportedly panicked, as none of them remembered how Dahiru Bauchi came to be delivering the sermon on the station. They were said to have gone to Lawal Jafaru Isa, the then military administrator.
Isa told FRCN to maintain the status quo pending further consultations and Rabi’u was very angry when he heard the decision. He was said to have phoned Isa and said since he didn’t recognise him as the leader of Tijjaniyya in Nigeria, he was coming with one million followers to establish his leadership in Kaduna. The Milad then said, “Thank you very much, Sheikh. I will arrange with the GOC of the One Division to meet you at the Kano/Kaduna states’ border and give you a befitting welcome.”
At that, Rabiu immediately protested the military threat and said he did not mean to cause trouble. Isa said, “Of course you meant to cause trouble. Given the security situation in the country, how can you bring one million people to storm Kaduna? You are from Kano; I am from Kano; the head of state is also from Kano, and we are the ones to mess up one another,” he was quoted to have said.
Sheikh Rabi’u then said ok, he will no longer come with a million people but will instead come to Kaduna in a small plane with eight people. The Milad jumped at that and said he will send a three-member welcome party to the airport.
Isyaku had a large family with many children and grandchildren. If there is one legacy he has obviously left behind, it is a successful family with huge entrepreneurial track record.
One of his sons is Abdulsamad Rabiu, an influential business man and chairman of BUA Group. Abdulsamad was named Africa’s newest billionaire in Forbes’ November 2013 issue. His fortune grew from $670 million in 2012 to $1.2 billion that year, according to Forbes Africa.
While his father was allegedly arrested in the 1980s under Muhammadu Buhari — then a military ruler — on charges including rice hoarding, and Abdulsamad took charge of his father’s business.
Others are Rabiu Rabiu, owner of IRS Airlines, Naziru Rabiu, Quraish Rabiu, Makiu Rabiu, Abdullahi Rabiu, Muhammad Rabiu and Daha Rabiu among others.
He lived in the biggest single mansion in kano
His son, Abdussamad said, “We have lost a father, guardian, teacher and mentor. We hope to be in Kano on Thursday for the burial according to Islamic injunction.”
In a statement issued on his behalf by Garba Shehu, senior special assistant to the president on media and publicity, Buhari said:”No tribute can do justice to the amazing virtues of Isyaku Rabiu.”