He is an embodiment of humility and humanity with a depth of intellect. Prof. Andrew Haruna, the Vice Chancellor, Federal University Gashua, Yobe State, is a consummate academic and passionate researcher of international repute. He shares his grass-to-grace story with Funke Olaode
The sun was blowing hot and the mid-day harmattan breeze blew relentlessly. Unperturbed, both father and son dared the unfriendly atmosphere as they walked briskly under the scorching sun. On a lonely dusty road, the young Andrew trod the path with his father in search of his destiny. The duo’s consolation lay in a flourishing future for the poor but ambitious lad. This was 50 years ago. Prof. Andrew Haruna, the Vice Chancellor of the Federal University Gashua, Yobe State, has a story that underlines the virtue of perseverance, resilience, hard work, and providence. He had earlier taken a common entrance examination to secondary school in 1970 which the examiners claimed he failed.
Recalling his childhood, he said, “It was a long road to academic accomplishment. I hail from Bauchi State, Alkeleri Local Government, in a small village called Gar, which is very close to Yankari Game Reserve.
“I had my primary education in Gar Local Education Authority Primary school. I sat the common entrance examination which I was told at that time, I failed. So, my father couldn’t just leave me at home, he took me to his friend’s place at Zalanga, (a distance of about 120km) which is along Kari road from Bauchi.
Speaking further, the professor narrated, “While repeating the primary school, in Zalanga … a few weeks later, my dad came with a letter in his hands, that information came to the headmaster of my former primary school in Gar that I had passed my examination, and I was sent to Government College Maiduguri, at that time Maiduguri was the headquarter of North-eastern states.
“Being a poor man, my father had no money. So, he walked half the distance between my village to Bauchi so as to save the little money with him to enable him to travel to Zalanga.”
“From Zalanga,” said Haruna, “we travelled with my father to Maiduguri.”
He recalled that in those days, only lorries were available to make such a journey.
“It was a journey of three days from Bauchi to Maiduguri. That was my trajectory to Maiduguri, and my school was Government College. There I started my secondary school education,” the language scholar added.
For him, tough times don’t last, tough people, do and this he exemplified through hard work resulting in outstanding academic achievements. Thus, he proved that the future belongs to those who dream big and give their all to achieve their dreams.
After his secondary education at Government College Maiduguri, he gained admission to the University of Maiduguri where he bagged BA in Linguistics in 1981.
“Ironically, at Government College Maiduguri, my father wanted me to study the sciences so that I could read medicine in the university,” Haruna acknowledged.
“His idea as a cleaner in a small dispensary made him engage me in helping him clean wounds of patients. My father did that thinking I would be more interested in becoming a medical doctor. He did all he could to encourage and persuade me to study medicine.
“Though during my secondary school days I had started studying the sciences, my interest was to study the arts.”
Prof. Haruna admitted that he would not be fulfilled if he had become a medical doctor or study the sciences.
Even at that the language professor could not for a certainty whether his preference was a product of childhood aspiration.
“I am not sure that it was my childhood dream to study languages,” he disclosed. “It seems it was so, though my father wanted me to study medicine in school. I developed a strong interest in languages later in life because I found out that, language is a display of the human spirit. It is a means of expression through which the soul of a particular culture comes into the material world.”
Subjects like Hausa, Arabic, and French were his favourites.
“I can simply say that I took my destiny in my own hands. Since I cannot see the future, I cannot tell where I was to be and should be, especially with the kind of background I came from,” he said.
Today, his life story could be summarised as ‘Alherin Allah,’ meaning a life lived under the grace of God.
Like a soothsayer who sees tomorrow, Prof. Haruna predicted his glorious future in academics as his decision to follow his heart paid off. Having earned his BA from the University of Maiduguri, in 1981, he proceeded to the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) of the prestigious University of London for his MA and PhD which he completed in flying colours winning academic laurels in 1990 when he was barely 33.
Again, for his outstanding performance, he won two awards: recipient of the award of the University of London Laura Soames Prize for the best PhD in Phonetics and recipient of a cash award by the British Science Academy for the best PhD in Phonetics, SOAS, and the University of London.
With a deep sense of modesty and humility, he reflected: “I cannot say I am a gifted child because I can’t see this in me. I am just an ordinary village boy who grew up in the village. I am one who always wanted to study and learn new things for the sake of knowledge. Nothing in my background to warrant the kind of opportunities the children of today have. So, I cannot say I am a gifted child. My father just taught us to be hard-working, disciplined life, content, honest, and respectful.”
In a philosophical tone, he said further, “You must remember, ‘Life may be tough at few points, but destiny is not created by the shoes we wear but by the steps we take’.”
Then, he said, “I was very happy that I won these prizes. I saw it as a reward for hard work under the grace of God upon my life. I did not see anything racial about the reward as a black man. My discipline taught me that all human brain is the same everywhere and anywhere. I am a human being.
“To start thinking about race and some of these abstract things, to my mind is to think ‘inferior.’ It is a distraction.”
Prof. Haruna has been a professor for past 12 years with over 35 years’ teaching experience culminating in the execution of several research projects, both locally and internationally with world-renowned institutions such as the Dino Leventis Foundation, University of London; SFB Special Research in the Savanah North-East Nigeria between Johann Wolfgang Goethe Institut, the University of Frankfurt and the University of Maiduguri; German Research Foundation, Germany; German Academic Exchange Services Overseas, Bonn, Germany; Austrian Science Fund, the University of Vienna, amongst others.
In 2016, he became the VC of the Federal University Gashua. Since his assumption of office, Prof. Haruna has worked assiduously to see the budding university experience unprecedented growth.
His relentless efforts in that direction are yielding tangible results.
The university boasts of a connection to the national power grid. There are ongoing road projects in the school that when completed, will open up the landscape and lead to the rapid expansion of infrastructure on the campus.
Other projects include a central laboratory, office complex for three faculties, entrepreneurship centre, student dignity projects, 3-kilometre internal roads, 300- and 150-capacity lecture theatres, recreational facilities, solar-powered boreholes, overhead tanks and reticulation, acquisition of new buses, amongst others have reached advanced stages.
With over 20 years of traversing European universities. Why did he return to Nigeria?
“I returned home to contribute my quota. Remember, the Nigerian taxpayers’ money was used to pay for my education abroad and not my father’s money. The greatest respect for Nigerians is to return and serve them. Many communities were denied basic amenities so that I could be trained and have a quality education. Now that I have been trained and educated, I should not be selfish.
“Any education that turns one to be selfish is not good education. Since my return to Nigeria, I remained in the job I know well and love doing well. I tried to remain within my constituency, which is the academic environment. There are greener pastures everywhere in the country,” said Haruna.
He explained further, “It is left for each one of us to determine what they consider greener pasture and go find it. My word of caution is, don’t let others determine the so-called greener pasture for you.”
Haruna’s staying power is patriotism.
“My staying power is simple: my love for my country.”
Besides that, he also finds fulfilment in academics.
“I am not sure that I have achieved so much. I just love doing what I love doing best, which is teaching and sharing knowledge, particularly with the youths. My principle in life is to share the best I have with others and to celebrate their success,” stated the scholar.
“I just try to be a good human being under the grace of God and also try to be good and to be a source of blessing to others. I am fulfilled as a teacher. I invested and devoted my life to my students because they are the ones to take over from me. I see my students as the ladder upon which one climbs to success in life. My life is all about them. One cannot afford to waste the brain of any child because no one knows what a child would be in the future.”
Then, he paused momentarily.
“Look at me for example,” Haruna continued with the past and present reflected in his eyes.
“I was once a cobbler mending shoes in front of the post office in Maiduguri. By the grace of God today I have a PhD. I am a professor and a vice chancellor. I taught in many universities in Europe for many years and in Nigeria too.”
Though his father was a pastor at the Evangelical Missionary Society, Haruna said, “I won’t say the idea of being a pastor never crossed my mind. My father taught us that, to be a pastor does not mean heading a congregation or being ordained as a priest or wearing the garment of a priest.
“He taught us that we are pastors in everyday actions of our life and in whatever we do. In other words, we must walk the talk. The best side of every man’s religion is seen in his actions and not in his words.”
Happily married, Haruna recounted how his path crossed that of his wife.
“I met my wife during our primary school days. Her father was my headmaster and her mother was a friend of my mother. Our friendship began during that time and continued until my university days. It was a child kind of love. I can say we had been in the relationship for 14 and a half years before we got married in April 1983.
“We got married when she was in school to obtain a National Certificate of Education (NCE). She started teaching in primary school with a Grade Two Teachers Certificate. We supported each other to study until she got her PhD. Now she is a senior lecturer at the University of Jos. She is a humble and peaceful lady with an excellent disposition. I can tell you, she is an exceptional human being. If there is another marriage in heaven, I will marry her again.”
Prof. Haruna’s endless travels and meetings never stopped him from cherishing his wife and children who are trailblazers.
He explained: “My first daughter is a lawyer. The second holds a doctorate and lectures at the university. She is the one following my footsteps closely and that of the mother. The day she got her PhD she called me and said, ‘Prof., it is your junior colleague speaking!’
“I laughed. It was the laughter of joy. The third child is a male and he read Computer Engineering. The fourth is a female and she read Mass Communication and the fifth has yet to finish her senior secondary school.”
As life is not a bed of roses, does Prof. Haruna have any regrets?
“There is no reason to regret my childhood even though it was tough,” he stated.
“Remember that I was once a cobbler who specialized in mending shoes. As a matter of fact, this is the best story of my life which I love to share with anyone and particularly my dear students. I am not ashamed of this early history of my life. My life has always been that of showing gratitude to God.”
Haruna dared poverty. He hoped against hopelessness and trusted in providence to achieve his dreams.
But his life’s episodes aren’t without disappointments.
He said, “I have had disappointments from people who wrestled my position because of my ethnic background. But in the midst of human chaos, I learnt the art of forgiveness because it gave me peace and happiness.”