Professor Abdul Raufu Mustapha 1954-2017

It is with deep sadness that we announce the death of Abdul Raufu Mustapha, Associate Professor of African Politics at the department and our much valued and respected colleague, teacher and friend.

Raufu passed away yesterday in Oxford, after battling with cancer for several months. Our deepest sympathies are with Kate, Raufu’s wife, their children, Asmau and Seyi, and Raufu’s family in Nigeria.

Raufu was a distinguished and original scholar, whose prolific work on Nigeria will leave an enduring impact in the field of African Studies. He was a fantastic teacher and a source of inspiration to his many doctoral students. He made an enormous contribution to the strength and excellence of our MPhil and DPhil programmes, both of which he helped to shape from their inception. He was incredibly supportive and encouraging of younger scholars. Most of all, Raufu was generous, warm, kind, big-hearted and always wise and fair. We celebrate the lasting mark he left on the department and shall cherish his memory with great affection and admiration.

We have set up an online book of condolences so that those who knew Raufu can leave a message or memory.

A tribute to Raufu by Oliver Owen and David Ehrhardt

Raufu’s family roots were in Ilorin, Kwara State, a region in which the cultures of south-western and northern Nigeria mix, but he was born in Aba, present-day Abia State in south-eastern Nigeria. This fed into his orientation as a pan-Nigerian scholar who addressed issues on a national basis, rather than feeling limited to one particular ethno-regional subject or perspective. Raufu believed he was 63 but this was a subject of conjecture as his birth records were destroyed in the aftermath of the Nigerian Civil War. He studied Political Science at Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, when that campus was a centre of left-wing thought and activism, before proceeding to St Peter’s College, Oxford, where he earned his doctorate on ‘Peasant differentiation and politics in rural Kano’ under Gavin Williams in 1990. Before becoming a faculty member in Oxford, he held teaching positions at Bayero University, Kano, and Ahmadu Bello University.

At heart a political sociologist, his academic interests encompassed environmental management and agrarian transformations, ethnicity, religion, federalism, conflict and conflict resolution, and democratisation. Within these fields and outside he edited three major books, more than 35 academic articles and book chapters, and more reports, working papers and newspaper editorials than we can count here. As the Council for the Development of Social Research in Africa (CODESRIA) has put it, ‘his rich intellectual legacy will remain relevant, widely discussed, cherished and avidly utilized. This is because Dr. Mustapha’s work captured the lived experiences of Africans in diverse ways.’ 

In ODID, Raufu was a core part of the MPhil and DPhil programmes from their beginnings, and taught on the MPhil’s core courses as well as on his specialisms of rural and agrarian politics and the West African region. He also lectured to politics undergraduates and postgraduates. He supervised a huge number of theses for the department, and also on occasion for other courses across the university, such as the MSc in African Studies. On several occasions, he served as the departmental Admissions Tutor and held the posts of Course Director and Chair of Examiners for the MPhil in Development Studies as well as Director of Doctoral Research.

He was the Senior Researcher (West Africa) at the Centre for Research on Inequality, Human Security and Ethnicity (CRISE), led by Frances Stewart between 2003 and 2010, and afterwards set up the collaborative ODID-anchored Nigeria Research Network with support from the Foreign Ministry of the Netherlands. He was also a stalwart co-convenor of the African History and Politics seminar which ODID hosts on Mondays. At his college, St Antony’s, Raufu was a member of Governing Body from 2001, and served at various points as both Dean and Admissions Tutor. He was the patron of the student-run Oxford University Africa Society from its birth through a series of increasingly successful conferences and programmes.

Raufu took ethics seriously in the academic process, from research to dissemination to impact. He was open-minded and sought and took insight and advice, as well as dispensing his own considerable advice and sharing his experience. He was also committed in his personal politics, as evidenced by his career-long union membership and role as departmental representative of the University and College Union (UCU).

Raufu had both an intuitive grasp and a precise theoretical exposition of African, and especially Nigerian, politics. He was clear to himself and to the world that although problems, malfunctions, patronage and corruption recur, the nation-building and state-building projects of African states are real, viable, and to be taken seriously; and this was an orientation he communicated to his students. 

He was a scholar of great integrity, but chose to preserve his values and the integrity of his work not by keeping it apart in an ivory tower, disengaged from the world, but by taking it out to do battle with real-world issues and processes. In doing so, he managed to engage in policy processes in which, despite their limitations, he was always able to preserve his voice, freedom and values, earning widespread respect.

He knew the constraints of the political game in Nigeria and mastered the art of engaging in it while keeping his independence and integrity intact; so much so that his students and colleagues often asked for his advice when attempting to do likewise.

Raufu’s professional career was in the UK but he never disengaged from active participation in Nigeria. He was on the Board of Trustees of the Kano-based Development Research and Projects Centre (dRPC), and the editorial board of the Premium Times newspaper. Policy-makers in Nigeria, in the UK and further afield sought his opinion on current issues of public policy, and he had a high public profile in Nigeria, as attested to by the immediate announcement of his passing in the national media. He also brought Nigeria to Oxford on many occasions, as with the landmark conference on Nigerian Foreign Policy after the Cold War, which he co-anchored in 2003.

Outside Nigeria, Raufu’s academic citizenship was pan-African, as a member of editorial advisory groups for the journals Review of African Political Economy and Africa, and especially in CODESRIA, where he variously served as Director of the 2002 Governance Institute, as a member of the Scientific Committee and of the internal review committee on CODESRIA’s Intellectual Agenda, and in formulating CODESRIA’s strategic planning agenda. He also wrote reports for the Working Group on Ethnic Minorities, UN Commission on Human Rights, and the project on ‘Ethnic Structure and Public Sector Governance’ for the United Nations Research Institute for Social Development (UNRISD) in Geneva.

Before illness forced him to stop work, he was able to complete his last project, a collaborative project on Christian-Muslim interfaith relations and conflict resolution in Northern Nigeria, shortly to be published as a book by James Currey entitled Creed and Grievance; the title was suggested by Kate, who in this as in many things was not only a life partner but also an intellectual one. Typically, the project brought together a wide network of scholars, both international and African, in a mutual conversation.

His students remember him as someone who gave them the space to be independent and develop their own ideas, while always being there to help in their development. He was willing to bring people in and supervise students from far outside his own research interests and always did so keeping an open mind. As a teacher, he inspired and shaped a lot of people. His comments always had clarity. He was extraordinarily generous with his personal contacts, and made himself available to students as a mentor.