Malam Yusuf Chinedozi Nwoha: Tribute to an Islamic icon

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I slept with a light heart on the night of Wednesday, 29 July 2020 with the expectation that the next day would be the Day of Arafah. In the words of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), “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 expiates 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, Malam Yusuf Chinedozi Nwoha, at 7.14 a.m. on Thursday, 30 July, 2020. I was stunned and caught up in a tornado of self-confusion.

My relationship with Malam Yusuf Nwoha started over a decade ago 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 Malam Nwoha when the late Dr Adegbite had a parley with some of the leaders of the Igbo communities in the South-East. Malam Nwoha was very quiet and humble at the parley. He talked only when it was necessary for him to elucidate a point. He was also very intelligent and eloquent.

Malam Nwoha was a grassroots Igbo Muslim leader who had the interest of his people, both Muslim and non-Muslim, at heart. He was a detribalised Muslim who respected both the young and the elderly so much so that he earned the respect and love of the Igbo communities, especially in Owerri, Imo State. What made Malam Nwoha stand out among his contemporary was that he was a principled person. He was 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 Muslim brother, who worked in Owerri a 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 South-East 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 Muslim brother concluded his remarks by saying that the late Malam Nwoha was “a rare gem among Igbo Muslims in Owerri.”

The late Yusuf Nwoha also had a successful civil service career where he retired as a deputy director at the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) despite the rough terrain he passed through. He was an accomplished civil servant who never allowed bigotry to come between his official assignment and religious obligations. He balanced the two assignments and did not sacrifice one for the other. Malam Nwoha was always conscious of his responsibilities and was mindful of time management. I recall a day we both observed our Friday prayer at NASFAT Central Mosque in Utako District, Abuja. Malam Nwoha was four rows in front of me. He did not know that I was seated behind him. After the completion of the prayer, he dashed out of the mosque. I suspected he was trying to catch up with an appointment. As I rushed out to intercept him, he was out of sight. I wondered how he quickly disappeared.

We met again the following weekend, on Sunday, 16 February, 2020. As the commissioner representing the NSCIA on the board of the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON), he accompanied the chairman 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 NASFAT Central Mosque after the prayer. He responded with equanimity that he had an appointment with the secretary-general of the 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 Malam Nwoha was in his life time as the Director of Administration of the NSCIA.

Malam Nwoha was a workaholic. He was selfless in service. I also recall my encounter with him 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, Malam Nwoha had done more than 85 per cent 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 and 2017, Malam Nwoha did a great job for us. In spite of the heavy demands of his official responsibilities, he 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 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 and Public Safety. He put in place a formidable team that was constantly in touch with him till the exercise ended. A great team player and leader, Malam Nwoha possessed excellent organisational and interpersonal communication skills as well as emotional intelligence. These qualities manifested in the way he related with his junior and senior both in the spiritual and administrative realms.

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My last conversation with Malam Yusuf Nwoha was on Thursday, 7 May, 2020, when I called and asked him to oblige me about the data of some prominent members of the NSCIA. Without hesitation, he responded positively. That had been his trademark. He was always ready to offer assistance within his capability. Neither I nor he was aware that that conversation was the last that would take place between us. The exit of Malam Nwoha is indeed a great loss to his family, the Muslim community in Igboland, 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 on one of 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, to forgive his sins, shower His mercy on his soul and admit him into Jannatu Firdaws.

Dr Shuaib is the Chief Executive Officer of Jaiz Charity and Development Foundation, Abuja.

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