Sa’adu Zungur: The First Islamic Scholar in Nigerian Politics

Some people are making empty noises about Malams joining politics as if it is a new thing. Despite the lack of tangible achievement by the new Malams of today in politics, their names are hailed to high heaven and the size of their paper qualifications is talked about as if that is all politics is about.

I hereby present to you a Quranic scholar and at the same time western scholar from the North who joined politics and made a difference. His colossal achievements are his merits not merely being a hafiz or a doctor in paper. This is to remind us to focus on what benefits us not what benefits the politicians.

We are to learn to focus on tangible results that affect us not the personality and personal belongings of political Malams.

Sa’adu Zungur was the first Malam or Islamic scholar to venture into Nigerian politics. He had memorized the whole Quran and thousands of Ahadiths and wrote in Arabic, English and Hausa. He wrote in verses as well as in prose. In his time, Sa’adu wrote commentaries on the popular Islamic book known as Risala. He was the author of the popular epic Hausa poem, Arewa Mulikiya ko Jamhoriya, better known as Wakar Gaskiya.

Sa’adu Zungur had only a nursing certificate. However, he was so well versed in western education that when sent to Lagos for further education he found the curriculum too elementary. He ended up being a teacher there. He was no match for Ph.D. holders.

His cognitive prowess was so pronounced that even Southern Nigerians who see northerners as uneducated, respected his knowledge to a great extent. They appointed him the Secretary-General of the NCNC, the leading political party in Southern Nigeria then being led by Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe.

After serving for some time in that capacity, Sa’adu Zungur resigned having become fed up with the unpalatable conspiracy of southerners against the North.

Sa’adu was the political mentor of most of the big names of radical politics in Nigeria who created many political movements. He was the mentor of many radicals like Aminu Kano, Sheik Mahmud Gumi, Tafawa Balewa, etc.

He was a poet, a columnist, a correspondent, a nurse, a politician, a hafiz (Quran memorizer), a sheikh, a freedom fighter, a philosopher, etc. This made him not a passive political appointee brandishing big paper qualifications without tangible achievements. His works and achievements speak for him.

He inspired Malams to join politics. His most prominent mentee was Aminu Kano who along with Sheik Mahmud Gumi were the ones who started proselytizing against innovation at Maru where they challenged some un-Islamic practices like praying without purification. These two inspired the Izala movement.

In the process of political activism, Sa’adu Zungur was insulted, beaten and his life severally attempted on. However, at no time either himself or his followers turned the issue into a religious matter. They did not claim Sa’adu was being insulted or being attacked because he was a Malam who memorized the Qur’an.

His followers never claimed an insult on him was an insult on the prophet of Islam. They had better things to do than hiding in false piety. They had been too busy pursuing practical goals in line with the interest of people to waste time in instigating mob action against political rivals.

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Their aim was to educate the masses to know their rights and responsibilities as well as protect their wellbeing, not to teach the masses how to follow them blindly.

His followers saw and appreciated the concrete results of this struggle. They were not lost in empty admiration of his knowledge and certificates.

In politics he was a politician and was ready to shoulder whatever, good or bad, it brought. He and his followers never cried tears of religiosity when attacked by rivals. He used positive and beneficial results to fight back.

Sa’adu Zungur was indeed the first Malam or Islamic scholar in colonial Nigerian politics. He died before independence and sadly remains unhonoured despite his monumental contributions in both northern and southern Nigeria. May Sheikh Sa’adu Zungur rest in peace!

By Tukur Danmu’azu