He was born in 1936 in Kano. He attended Gidan Makama Primary School, after which he proceeded to Kano Middle School where he studied along with Hafizu Wali (B. 834), Dahiru Mohammed (B. 905), Ibrahim Waya (B. 936) and Murtala Kurawa (B. 941). They were all in different class sets at Barewa College because they took the entrance examination at different times. Hafizu Wali was admitted in 1950, Ibrahim Datti Ahmad (Datti) in 1951 with school number B. 906 and Murtala in 1952.
Barewa College had a strong influence on him like many other students. It was a well-organised institution with discipline, but there was no bullying unlike the Middle School. It was a school with a mission, sense of purpose and vision for the society. Students were aware of the successes of the alumni of the school.
One important thing about the Barewa alumni of the early generations, including his generation, was their community spirit and patriotism. This was because excellent and erudite Muslim scholars such as Malam Bello Kagara and Malam Baba Ahmad trained them at the school and they also had good home training of parents not corrupted by materialism and hedonism.
During his time at Barewa, most of the northern government ministers were alumni of the college. Students were trained to be leaders.
Some of the students proceeded to University College, Ibadan, for higher studies; for example, Liman Ciroma (B. 514) and his nephew Adamu Ciroma (B. 853). Before it was the turn of Datti and his classmates the arrangement was stopped. The British education officers had advised Alhaji Ahmadu Bello (Sardaunan Sokoto B. 87), Senior Minister and Leader of Government Business, that the environment at the University College was corrupting northern students. Hence students like Malam Mukhtar Dan Amu (B. 635) did not take the examination.
Datti and his classmates also did not take the examination until later when they were recalled from home for extension at the college after their graduation. Malam Mukhtar Dan Amu was very delighted and he gave Datti his books. They took the examination and Datti was the only one who passed in Northern Nigeria in one sitting that year. Hence he was featured in ‘Gaskiya Ta Fi Kwabo’. Wherever he went in Kano people were pointing at him, especially when he rode Alhaji Bello Maifitila’s (his elder brother’s) bicycle to buy bread for the latter from Sabon Gari. At that time the bakeries were all located in Sabon Gari.
Datti was admitted to University College, Ibadan, and he took the train from Kano and another Barewa colleague took it from Zaria. They both travelled to Ibadan in good spirit.
He had his first experience of religious discrimination, which he never experienced at Barewa. The person who received them at the railway station was a northern Christian medical doctor, who was resident at the University College Hospital. His face changed when he saw his Christian brother with a Muslim colleague. He was very unhappy to take Datti in his car.
Fortunately, when they reached the college Datti got the best available accommodation while his other colleague did not get it, so they left and went scouting for an alternative.
At Barewa College, during Datti’s time, Biology, Chemistry and Physics were taught in General Science, not as separate subjects. At the University College they had to take A-Level courses in the three subjects and he never told his colleagues that that was the first time he was studying them as separate subjects because they were going to laugh at him.
He was successful and he passed the A-Level examination. But all of them were told that they would not be absorbed into the Faculty of Medicine. He travelled to Lagos and complained to his cousin, Alhaji Inuwa Wada (B. 225), the Honourable Minister of Works and Survey, who in turn spoke to his colleague, the Honorable Minister of Education. The issue was resolved and all of them were admitted.
Datti graduated in 1965 and he started his working career with the Northern Regional Government. He was the second medical doctor from Kano. The first was Dr. Abubakar Imam (B. 480), an alumnus of Barewa College who studied in the United Kingdom. The third was Dr. Sadiq Wali (B. 1047), also an alumnus of Barewa College.
Dr. Datti did not last long in the public service. He established his private clinic, which later became Asma’u Memorial Hospital. It was a very big private hospital before he sold it to the Kano State Government during the administration of Malam Ibrahim Shekarau and it was converted to Abubakar Imam Urology Centre. It has since become one of the few specialty centres in northern Nigeria.
After disengaging from full-time medical practice, Dr. Ibrahim Datti Ahmad became fully engaged in community service.
Before this period he had also been involved with the Kano Emirate Council. This was after the post-1966 Local Government Reforms when Native Authorities were replaced with Local Government Authority. He was a Member of the Council while His Highness the Emir, Alhaji Ado Bayero, was the Chairman. They carried out many development projects relating to primary education and primary healthcare, as well as minor works, especially at the District level.
He once informed me that it was after the 1976/77 Local Government Reforms that the emir became completely disenchanted. When his friend and cousin General Murtala Muhammed (B. 941) took over power, in his characteristic coɓandour, he called and informed him that he should take care of the home front (Kano) for him while he was in Lagos.
He was a member of the Constituent Assembly where he met leading politicians such as Malam Aminu Kano (B. 317). He was, however, closer to Alhaji Maikano Gwarzo (Bauran Kano).
The National Movement was nurtured in the Constituent Assembly and most of the Northern politicians where members, including Malam Aminu Kano (B. 317), Alhaji Shehu Shagari (B. 394) and Chief J.S. Tarka. The Northern politicians had agreed to be in one party. But this was not feasible because of ideological antecedents from both sides. The radicals did not want Malam Aminu Kano to remain there while the conservatives also did not want him.
Dr. Datti’s exchange with Malam Aminu Kano at a meeting in Kano was a major catalyst that made the latter to leave the group. Malam Aminu’s followers prevailed on him after completing their arrangements for the establishment of the Peoples Redemption Party (PRP).
Dr. Datti decided to take the first shot at the presidency when he aspired for nomination to be the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) presidential candidate in 1979 along with other alumni of Barewa College. The other alumni aspirants were Alhaji Shehu Shagari (B. 394), Alhaji Yusuf Maitama Sule (B. 463), Professor Iya Abubakar (B. 674), who was particularly close to Datti, and Malam Adamu Ciroma (B. 853); they were all his seniors. Other non-Barewa aspirants were Dr. Olusola Saraki and Chief J.S. Tarka. Alhaji Shehu Shagari, won the nomination and subsequently became the first Executive President of Nigeria from 1979 to 1983, and was re-elected in 1983.
There was widespread disenchantment with the NPN-led Federal Government and some Northern intellectuals accepted the idea that Chief Awolowo could be the ideal candidate. Dr. I.D. Ahmad was one of them. They were later tagged as “NPN Mai Barewa”.
I asked him the philosophy behind their acceptance of Chief Awolowo, despite the latter’s presumed anti-Northern disposition. He replied that the northerners misunderstood the Chief and that he was not anti-Islam because, for example, he even established a Pilgrims Welfare Organisation in the Western Region before the Northern Region. Similarly, his education programme had remained a reference novelty in Nigeria.
Dr. Datti had first hand experience of how the Southwesterners remained forever indebted to the Chief, first as a student at the University College and secondly when he served as the Chairman of the Governing Council and Pro-Chancellor, University of Ife (later OAU) where he once asked a professor and member of the council why they continued to revere the Chief. The professor told him that without the Chief’s free education he would have been just a palm wine processor like his late father. He also emphasised that their group did not give the Chief a blanket support; he had to accept their terms and conditions for support. But the Chief did not achieve his presidential ambition.
General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida’s administration decided in 1992 that Nigeria must have two parties, and it established the National Republican Convention (NRC) and the (Social Democratic Party (SDP) for the politicians to join. Dr. Datti joined the SDP and was a presidential aspirant but was not successful.
It was his last partisan political outing. Thereafter, he concentrated on community and religious activities. He was a member of the Board of Trustees of Inuwar Jama’ar Kano, which was established by the leading elite of Kano, with Alhaji Magaji Dambatta as the Chairman and Shaykh Na’ibi Sulaiman Wali as Vice-Chairman. Other distinguished personalities were members, including Professor Shehu Galadanci, Professor Ibrahim Umar, Alhaji Sulaiman Baffa, Professor Auwalu Yadudu and Malam Ibrahim Shekarau.
When we started the Kano Online, one of the first community-based online enlightenment platforms, Datti made the Inuwar Jama’ar Kano to provide a grant, which we used to pay for honoraria of commissioned authors. The collection of the essays produced by the group was later published in 2010 as ‘Perspectives on Kano’, with Abdalla Uba Adamu and Ibrahim Ado-Kurawa as editors.
Nigeria returned to democracy in 1999 and General Olusegun Obasanjo, who was Dr. Datti’s friend, was elected President. They had a group of friends of the President that usually met with him, but it was later discontinued.
When Alhaji Ahmed Sani Yarima, the Governor of Zamfara State, launched the Shari’ah, there was widespread agitation in other Northern states, which compelled the governors to follow the footsteps of Yarima. Dr. Datti and other Muslim scholars from all over the country decided to establish the Supreme Council for Shari’ah in Nigeria (SCSN). He was elected as the President-General of the organisation. The scholars provided intellectual support, making the Shari’ah movement to become a powerful voice in Nigeria. This was at a time when there was staunch anti-Shari’ah propaganda by the southern dominated news media organisations.
The SCSN, as a credible Muslim organisation, was always responding to their malicious attacks. Thus he became one of the most influential Muslim leaders in the world. He was included in ‘The Muslim 500: The World’s 500 Most Influential Muslims 2022’, published by the Royal Islamic Strategic Center, Amman, Jordan.
In his citation, the editors explained:
“Dr. Ibrahim Datti Ahmed is the President-General of the Supreme Council for Sharia in Nigeria (SCSN). The SCSN is the focal Islamic religious institution that deals with Sharia in Nigeria and is also a representative body of Nigeria’s Muslim scholars. Recently, the SCSN has petitioned for fair treatment of Muslim military officers and has spoken out against prejudice and violence against Muslims. He has also been touted as a mediator between Boko Haram and the government” (p. 126, 2022 edition).
Many secular oriented Muslims were puzzled that Datti was associated with the Sharia’h, since he was a medical doctor. But as earlier noted, he had given up every activity and devoted himself to the service of Islam.
When CNN contacted me to get Governor Ahmed Sani Yarima for their Question and Answer programme, I could not get him. They insisted they wanted someone “who is conservative”. I said Dr. Ibrahim Datti Ahmed was available. They asked, “Who is he?” I replied that he was a medical doctor, one of those who debated the 1979 Constitution, a former university Pro-Chancellor and possessor of the national honour of the Officer of the Federal Republic (OFR).
They were pleased to have him. His closing argument was powerful. He asked: “Why is CNN concerned about Shari’ah in Nigeria? Is Saudi Arabia not practising the Shari’ah, a great friend of the USA and the CNN?” That ended the encounter without a reply from his interviewers. He was interviewed in the programme along with his friend, President Olusegun Obasanjo.
For over twenty years, Dr. Datti concentrated on Islamic devotion, propagation and philanthropy. He was involved in arranging negotiations between the state authorities and Boko Haram, as noted by the editors of ‘500 Influential Muslims’, but when he realised the lack of commitment he withdrew.
He contributed to many mosques and Islamic charity organisations. He was the Chairman of the Uthman bin Affan Islamic Foundation of Gadon Kaya Mosque and school complex. He was a companion of the mosque (sahibul masjid) as he frequented Shaykh Aminudeen’s mosque, from where he moved to Umar bin Khattab and finally to Al-Furqan Mosque where his Janaza prayer was led by the Imam of the mosque, Dr. Bashir Aliyu Umar, on December 30, 2021. May Allah bless his soul and grant him eternal peace.