I slept with a light heart on the night of Wednesday, July 29, 2020 with the expectation that the next day would be the Day of Arafah. In the words of Prophet Muhammad peace be upon him (pbuh), “There is no day on which Allah frees more people from the fire than on the day of Arafah” related by Muslim; and in which non-pilgrim Muslims are enjoined to fast because Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) also said “Fasting on the Day of Arafah expiate the sins of the past year and the coming year”, related by Muslim. Alas, the light heart became heavy when I received the shocking news of the demise of a friend and brother in faith, Mallam Yusuf Chinedozi Nwoha at 7:14am on Thursday 30th July, 2020. I was stunned and caught up in a tornado of self-confusion.
My relationship with Mallam Yusuf Nwoha started over a decade when I served as Private Confidential Secretary (pro bono) to the late Dr Abdul-Lateef Adegbite, the former Secretary-General of the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (NSCIA) at several meetings under the auspices of the NSCIA. I met the late Mallam Yusuf when the late Dr Adegbite had a parley with some of the leaders of the Igbo Communities in the Southeast. Mallam Yusuf was very quiet and humble at the parley. He talked only when the need became necessary for him to elucidate a point. He was also very intelligent and eloquent.
Mallam Yusuf Nwoha was a grassroot Igbo Muslim leader who had the interest of his people, both Muslims and non-Muslims at heart. He was a detribalised Muslim who respected both the young and elderly people so much so that he earned the respect and love of the Igbo Communities, especially in Owerri, Imo State. What made him stand out among his contemporary was that Mallam Yusuf was a principled person, just in his dealings with people of different walks of life and had zero tolerance for injustice. In a conversation I had with another Igbo revert who worked in Owerri few years ago, while commiserating with me on my WhatsApp wall, he said, “The demise of Alhaji Nwoha was saddening because Alhaji Nwoha was a very great figure in the Southeast Islamically.” He further remarked that, “Alhaji Nwoha was well accepted by the Imolites on both sides of the religious divide because of his conduct and character.” My Igbo revert Muslim brother concluded his remarks by saying that the late Mallam Yusuf Nwoha was, “A rare gem compared to the lots of the Igbo Muslims in Owerri.”
The late Yusuf Nwoha also had a successful civil service career where he retired as Deputy Director of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) despite the rough terrain he passed through. He was an accomplished civil servant who never allowed religious bigotry to come between his official assignment and religious obligations. He balanced the two assignments and did not sacrifice one for the other. In his usual characteristic, the late Mallam Yusuf was always conscious of his responsibilities and also mindful of time management. I recalled a day we both observed our Friday prayer at Nasfat Central Mosque in Utako District, Abuja. Mallam Yusuf was four rows in front of me. He did not know that I was seated behind him. So, after the completion of the prayer, he quickly dashed out of the Mosque and I suspected he was trying to catch up with an appointment. As I also rushed out to intercept him, he was out of sight. I was wondering how he quickly disappeared.
We eventually met again the following weekend on Sunday 16 February, 2020. As the Commissioner representing NSCIA on the Board of National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON), he accompanied the Chairman/Chief Executive Officer of NAHCON to a meeting which I facilitated between the latter and Chairman of Jaiz Bank Plc in Maitama, Abuja. Providence brought us together within a week. I queried him for his spontaneous exit from the premises of the Nasfat Central Mosque after the prayer. He responded with equanimity that he had an appointment with the Secretary-General of NSCIA and, “Would not like to bother him with the task of searching for him in the midst of congregation while coming out from the Mosque.” He said he, “Preferred to be the one looking out for the Secretary-General, NSCIA and not the other way round.” Those remarks reminded me of the words of an American author, Ray Bradbury that, “First, find out what your hero wants, then follow him!” That was how simple, humble and duty conscious late Mallam Yusuf Nwoha was in his life time as the Director of Administration of NSCIA.
Mallam Yusuf was a workaholic and selfless in service. I also recalled during my days as the Executive Director of Zakat and Sadaqat Foundation, Lagos, when we went to distribute Zakah in Imo State, he voluntarily offered to serve as the chief host. Before our arrival in Owerri, Mallam Yusuf had done more than 85% of the ground work which made the exercise a success story. He mobilised all the Zakah beneficiaries from every part of Owerri as well as the rank and file of both the Muslim and non-Muslim leaders to grace the occasion. While on another mission of Zakah disbursement in Imo state as the Executive Secretary/Chief Executive Officer of Jaiz Zakat and Waqf Trust Fund between 2016/17, Mallam Yusuf Nwoha did a great job for us. Inspite of the heavy demands of his official responsibilities, he was not on ground physically with us but served diligently in absentia and ensured that the Zakah exercise was a huge success. He supported us in mobilising the cream of the Muslim Ummah in Owerri as well as the former Executive Governor of the state, His Excellency, Mr Rochas Okorocha, who was represented by High Chief, Dr Rodney Tony Ajaelu, the Commissioner for Youth and Sports & Public Safety. We did not feel his absence because he had put in place a formidable team that was constantly in touch with him till the exercise ended. Some of the indelible attributes he possessed were organisational skills, team leadership and team-player, excellent inter-personal and communication skills, and emotional intelligence. These qualities manifested in the way he related with his junior and senior both in the spiritual and administrative realms.
My last conversation with the late Mallam Yusuf Nwoha was on Thursday 7 May, 2020 when I called and asked him to oblige me some data about some prominent members of the NSCIA. Without any hesitation, he responded positively. That has been his trademark. He was always ready to offer assistance within his ability. Neither myself nor him was aware that that conversation was the last that would take place. The exit of the late Mallam Yusuf Nwoha is indeed a great loss to his family, the Igboland Muslim Community, Imolites, NSCIA, the Nigeria Muslim Ummah and the country in general.
As painful as his demise is, the Ummah take solace in Allah, the Creator of Yusuf Chinedozi Nwoha for taking his soul in the best days of the month of Dhul Hijjah. According to Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), “There are no days in which righteous deeds are more beloved to Allah than in these (ten) days” related by Abu Dawud. I pray Allah, the Most Exalted forgive his sins, shower His mercy on his soul and admit him into Jannatu Firdaws.
Dr Abdullahi Shuaib
CEO, Jaiz Charity and Development Foundation