Isa Wali : The Man

Isa Wali (1929-1967) was a Nigerian diplomat from Kano who served as the Nigerian ambassador to Ghana during the independence period. He was known in the Northern region as a critic of religious and political suppression during the pre-independence period. He was in support of opening more doors of employment to the less privileged classes of people in the native authority.

Wali was born to the family of the Muslim cleric and Wali of Kano, Wali Suleiman, and was a brother of Na’ibi Wali. After his father’s death in 1939, he was raised by his uncle Abubakar Wali, a mallam well versed in the Arabic language. By then Wali had read the Qu’ran; he then went on to attend the Kwaru Primary School, Kano Middle School and the School of Arabic Studies where he excelled in academics. In the Arabic school, he concentrated on studying the Hadith and Tafsir.

After completing his studies, he became an interpreter in the Northern Nigerian regional House of Chiefs and the House of Assembly and later was an assistant clerk. He then became more known among the intellectuals circles in the North for his modernist views on women especially after writing an article in the Nigerian Citizen on ‘The True Position of Women in Islam’ and minorities in the region and also for reforming the court system, reducing the emir’s salary and bringing the native authority under civil service regulations. However, many of his views caused controversy and he left Kaduna for Lagos to join the Foreign Service.

In 1958, he was appointed as the Nigerian representative to the United Nations. Isa Wali was also an associate of Amina Kano.

What He Said

‘Islam has secured equal rights for men and women in various fields of endeavour. They have been given complete freedom to claim and pursue those rights; the right of opinion, the right of action and the right of belief.’ The Nigerian Citizen, July 18th, 1956, on the rights of women in islam;

‘Custom has been confused with religion. As a result the former has been gaining an upper hand. For example the majority of Muslims in the region believe quite fanatically that customs like ‘Kulle(purdah), polygamy and concubinage are some of the necessities of Islam, while in fact , the reverse seems to be the case.’

“But are women, in any case, the only sex that are required to preserve their modesty in such a way? Surely not. Men, too, are required to “retrain their eyes” from women, as women from men, and to “preserve their modesty” in the same manner.”

“Seclusion or veiling was meant to be a compliment rather than a restraint, an honour rather than degradation, and protection rather than domination.” The Nigerian Citizen, July 28th, 1956, on the misconceptions about islam;

“These (misconception and widespread ignorance), however, need to be cleared away immediately and urgently and our womenfolk in Northern Nigeria must be assured of a reasonable future, if our country is to take it’s rightful pace among civilised nations of the world.”

This country too…cannot afford to leave half of our population unproductive. The religion of Islam itself does not condone such extravagance. The Nigerian Citizen, August 4th, 1956, on the disenfranchisement of women.

What They Said

The most remarkable remark made by M. Isa during the day spent with him and his wife, is almost the most typical. He said, ‘please don’t call me a Northerner. I prefer to be described as a Nigerian.’ Susan Cronje, in the African Horizon (1960) on the person of M.Isa Wali himself;

“His drive wisdom and high intellect won the admiration of his colleagues just as his never failing courtesy and consideration for tohers ensured their co-operation.” E.O. Ogbu, permanent Secretary, Ministry of External Affairs.

“Had he lived, no doubt he would have contributed much to the solution of our national problems.” Ahmadu Suka, Nigerian Consul General , Newyork.

“We shall all remember him for his energy, his wisdom, and above all his friendliness.” Jess & John Juother, Australian High Commission, Ghana.

“Alhaji was an outstanding leader, and his foresight and understanding will be sadly missed by all who know him.” John B. Mandillas, lagos

“It was that he was a man of outstanding intelligence and transparent probity who was contributing much an would, I am certain, have contributed much more to his country, to Africa and indeed to the world as a whole.” Robert Silvey, the British Broadcasting Corporation

“His friendship and understanding during my tenure in Lagos meant a great deal to me, I shall always regard him as one of the truly great figures of Nigeria.”Joseph Palmer II Assistant Secretary of State, Washington DC

“I respected and admired him more than I can say and spoke brilliantly in the Fourth Committee of the U.N. He had friends right across political and racial boundaries, which in this difficult time I think is one of the greatest tributes to him.”Rosemary Bishop, 2nd Secretary, UK Mission at the U.N.

“So young, yet so mature in the conduct of his affairs, Isa made no small contribution to the progress of his country or the pursuit of African Unity; he played a part out of all proportion to his age and was really one of the greatest sons Africa ever produced.” Ruth & Kojo Botsio, Frankfurt

“Although I feel bereaved, but I also feel very proud that the man who has achieved so much in this short span of life, is my brother.” Dr Sadiq S. Wali

“His drive, wisdom and high intellect won the admiration of his colleagues just as his never failing courtesy and consideration for others insured their co-operation.” E.O Ogbu, Permanent Secretary, Ministry of External Affairs

“Isa Wali was a tireless worker, sincere friend and above all a true Nigerian.” Ambassador Olu Jolaoso, Nigerian Embassy, Bonn, West Germany

“Isa will live long in the memory of those of us who are his friends and who knew his high qualities and contriutions he made so courageously to the progress of our Country in this time and age.” J.T.F Iyalla, Permanent Mission of Nigeria to the United Nations

“Isa was a good and generous friend and I shall always cherish pleasant memories of the days of our friendship, both in Washington and in Lagos. He was a kind and thoughtful father. He was a practical and effective envoy of his country and I know that his place will be hard to fill in our Foreign Service.” C.O Ifeagbu, Nigerian Embassy, Moscow

“Those of us who know Isa Wali during his life time had great regard for his sincerity, honesty, courage, faithfulness, magnanimity and honesty of purpose. His sudden death has robbed my association of an active and staunch member who believed in all that the association stands for.” Alabi O. Masha, Muslim Association of Nigeria

“He was cherished by all his friends in the diplomatic, in the adminsitrative and in the academic world for he had an instinctive kindness, a charm, intelligence and an ability which made him the centre of the diplomatic world in Accra.” Martin J. Dent, University of Keele, Keele, Staffordshire.