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Abdul Raufa Mustapha

Abdul Raufa Mustapha and progressive scholarship

Feb. 22, 2018

By: Jeff Grischow

A colleague recently sent me a link to a 2014 interview with Dr. Abdul Raufa Mustapha. A renowned Nigerian scholar, Dr. Mustapha passed away from cancer on Aug. 8 2017 after a distinguished academic career at Amadu Bello University (ABU) and the University of Oxford. He is remembered as a first-rate scholar and a committed activist whose work gave voice to marginalized people and communities in Africa. Raufu (as he was known to students and colleagues) was born in Aba in eastern Nigeria but he was fluent in the country’s three major languages (Hausa, Igbo and Yorubu), and his work on Nigeria attempted to bring together the divided populations of the north and south. Raufu studied at the Federal College in Sokoto and then took an MA and MSc in Political Science at ABU (1974-9), where he taught until moving to Oxford in 1996.

At Oxford, Raufu was tutored and mentored by Gavin Williams of St. Peter’s College. Williams taught at St. Peter’s from 1975 to 2010. Williams’ work on peasants and rural development in Africa, including Nigeria, has been extremely influential among Africanists since the 1970s. In Williams, Raufu found an ideal mentor and colleague.

After completing a Masters and DPhil at St. Peter’s, Raufu taught Politics in Oxford’s Department of International Development from 1996 until his death last August. His research focused on African democratization as well as the politics of identity and ethnicity. Raufu’s scholarship sought to bring rigorous scientific analysis to issues of social change, providing a foundation for combatting marginalization and improving the lives of ordinary people. But he came from a generation of progressive, radical scholars who also acknowledged the dangers of identity politics and its threat to democratic societies. In this context, Raufu published on the question of identity politics and Nigerian democracy, and, perhaps more importantly, his later work included two edited books on Boko Haram and religious identities in Northern Nigeria. His work on identity politics will perhaps be Raufu’s most lasting legacy. In the words of a tribute by Jibrin Ibrahim in the Review of African Political Economy:

Raufu’s burning desire over the past few years was the imperative of understanding the insurgency so that we could begin the difficult process of addressing the core issues of poverty, inequality and the crumbling social order, all of which have wreaked havoc on Nigerian society and are dismantling the nation. Ultimately, his concern was the construction of a peaceful united country with a progressive social system that would address the needs of all its citizens. His numerous, relations, friends and comrades will continue to miss Raufu.

At a time when the progressive left is being increasingly under vilified in North American universities (including Canadian institutions), we would do well to remember Raufu’s towering intellect, his focus on shining a light on social marginalization, and his humane, progressive commitment to democracy in Africa. His work should be widely read, now more than ever.

Selected Publications

  • Adekeye Adebajo and Abdul Raufu Mustapha (eds), Gulliver’s Troubles: Nigeria’s Foreign Policy After the Cold War, McGraw-Hill, 2008.
  • Abdul Raufu Mustapha (ed), Turning Points in African Democracy, Oxford University Press, 2009.
  • Abdul Raufu Mustapha (ed), Sects & Social Disorder: Muslim Identities & Conflict in Northern Nigeria. Boydell and Brewer, 2014.
  • Abdul Raufu Mustapha and David Ehrhardt (eds), Creed & Grievance: Muslim-Christian Relations & Conflict Resolution in Northern Nigeria. Boydell and Brewer, 2018.

The video mentioned above is available at

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