By: Saikou Lamin Jobarteh
Dr. Jah, now Associate Professor, left the shores of the country on Saturday, 19 November 2016, for international appointment. After serving the University of the Gambia for more than a decade since 2002, Dr. Jah finally bid farewell to the University of the Gambia community. Many, including students and lecturers sounded his academic prowess and the qualitative services that he has delivered to the U.T.G all these years. Dr. Jah is both a seasoned administrator and an academic who wrote many academic papers earning him recognition in the world of academics. Dr. Omar Jah was the Deputy Vice Chancellor Administration and Finance. He is recently appointed by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation as Pro-Vice Chancellor, Islamic University of Technology (IUT) Dhaka, Bangladesh. IUT is a Subsidiary Organ of OIC. Its main objective is to build capacity amongst its member states in the fields of engineering. Shortly before Prof Jah left the country, I visited him in his office in Kanifing and interviewed him on his new appointment and many other issues. I started the interview by asking:
Can you tell me your story? Who is Dr. Omar Jah?
Dr. Omar Jah, is a man with a humble beginning and currently a humble status, born to two parent farmers in Fass Omar Saho, a village in Lower Niumi. My parents came from a Daarah background and did their best to also inculcate in me the cardinal virtues of daarah (quality education based on revealed knowledge) which designed my road map and shaped my thoughts all together.
Can you tell us something about your educational career?
My educational career started with the recitation and memorization of the Holy Qur’an in my village, Lower Niumi, under the supervision of my father. I ended by memorizing the Holy Qur’an at an early age in Touba Belel, Senegal. I later attended Muslim Senior Secondary School where I obtained a secondary school certificate. I proceeded to Algeria where I learnt French and obtained a diploma in techniques of Islamic propagation, and to Egypt where I obtained an A Level, and BA from al-Azhar University, combining the Shari’ah and Law in classical Arabic in 1992. I later obtained Masters in Comparative Law (MCL) specializing in public International Law with a thesis on the Law of the Sea in 1995 and a Ph.D. in 1999 both from Malaysia, both the thesis and the dissertation were written in English
Can you tell me how you journeyed to the University of the Gambia?
I joined the University of the Gambia in 2002 upon an invitation sent to me in Malaysia where I was part time lecturing at the International Islamic University (IIUM), I received the invitation from the first Vice Chancellor, the late Donald Ekong to join the young University, and I positively responded.
Upon my arrival in the country, I was appointed as lecturer (I) in the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences where I proposed to establish a department of Islamic and Arabic Language Studies, which was accepted. I developed the curriculum and headed the unit for 6 years. For over ten years, I have handled full time teaching, community service and research loads, publishing a number of articles and a book in peer reviewed journals and worked closely with both Vice Chancellors: Ekong and Steigen particularly in their late days and worked very closely with the third Vice Chancellor Muhammadou Kah in his entire tenure, the combination of which did allow me acquire enough academic and administrative experience and to gradually and meritoriously attain my present academic and administrative ranks.
Furthermore, I have served my technical supervision roles over all Deans and all administrative units for over five years, reporting directly to the Vice Chancellor, I have also been an active member of both the University Senate and Governing Council since 2006 participating in formulating different policies. During the period, I have chaired many technical committees, supervised many collaborative projects such as the African Virtual University (AVU and the Erasmus Mundus KITE) and many more.
Since the university was built on three fundamental objectives: teaching, research and community service, I did compliment these three fundamental principles with my inherent social traditional role of community service activities by giving public lectures and becoming a regular guest speaker at GRTS and for some years now, I have been sending different articles to leading newspapers, prominent among those articles are: “Democracy: Is it in a Dilemma?” , the Iraqi Scenario; Is it an Islamic or Secular Fundamentalism? Mastering both Arabic and English languages with a reasonable ability in French equipped me well in contributing to the society.
Can you brief us about your New Job?
As the subject indicates, I am now a Pro-Vice Chancellor of IUT, equal to an overall deputy vice chancellor supervising all academic, administrative as well as financial activities. IUT is specialized in different fields of engineering aimed at building the capacity of member states. The position was advertised last year across the member states of the Islamic world, competed to by many candidates, I applied and after a rigorous scrutiny I was shortlisted with one professor from Senegal, we were called for an interview in Jeddah June 1 2016, with the grace of Allah, I was able to secure it for the Gambia.
Before going any further Mr. Jobarteh, let me seize this opportunity to first and foremost thank the almighty Allah for giving me the strength to contest all this far and my parents for their sympathy and intellectual preparation of myself, I will also use this opportunity to thank H E President Jammeh for giving a “no objection” to OIC for my appointment which was a condition precedent for the validity of the contract. I will ever remain committed to participate in whatever makes the Gambian proud especially in the intellectual and religious enlightenment of our youths through fostering collaborations with the UTG especially with the new Vice Chancellor who may face many challenges ahead.
My short interaction with the new Vice chancellor while submitting my handing over note and briefing him about the University and the way forward, his response and composure shows that he is up for the job. He is a good listener, flexible and very stern too, he seems to be determined to reclaim the role of a strong Chief Executive Officer, which was gradually perishing, and there is more hope now.
Having travelled the world far and wide and experienced in many aspects of life; can you tell me the essential values leading to your success?
Oh! Success goes with risks and failures and no success without planning because failing to plan means planning to fail. But before I give you the essential values as you put it, let me stress here that I prefer using the term virtues than values. Secular materialism has reduced many worldviews into superficiality by substituting certain metaphysical terminologies with physical ones. I can say that my successes and failures have been shaped by the following four main virtues:
(a) humility (b) self-reliance (c) self-criticism, and adoption of a role model in the person and living Sunnah of the Prophet Muhamad (SAW) who was the embodiment of all virtues and who designed the philosophy of the “power of now” rather than the power of “wait and see.”
This is an interesting Q&A but let me finally know your views on politics: Are you a politician Dr.?
Yes, I am a politician by nature and a politician by functional household politics. I have a family and engage daily in functional household politics as exposed by classical thinkers like Ibn. Sina (Avicenna). The sociologists defined man as “rational animal” or “political animal.” But I define politics as “arts of governance” and whether we like it or not every man and woman is either positively or negatively affected by political activities. Nonetheless, I am not a functional city politician. Reading through the literature, originally, city politics was strongly attached to a bill of etiquettes, however, as time unfolds politics became detached from that bill of ethics and morality caused by individuals like Machiavelli. Machiavellian politics means giving false promises to rule. Apart from few world examples, all functional city politicians act the same.
The difficulty of returning politics to its metaphysical nature emanates from the difficulty mainly of achieving three things:
(a) Difficulty of striking a balance between political realism and idealism,
(b) Difficulty in keeping up with “genuine sphere of political power” and to elaborate on this point, let me explain what I meant by genuine sphere of power. There are two legal maxims, one of which says “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” I believe that this maxim is largely true but partly untrue, the other one goes “might is right,” this maxim is largely untrue and partly true. Between the two, there is genuine sphere of power. The Holy Qur’an repeatedly tells us that genuine sphere of power is important and necessary. It is power that is used to assist and rescue the weak amongst us.
(c) The third one is the difficulty of striking a balance between using power and not using it. When power is used by whosoever is powerful, power exhausts and when it is not used by him it will be used against him and the techniques of using it and not using it at the same time is where the real difficulty lies
Until city politics are re-attached to its metaphysical roots, apart from exercising my right to cast my vote in an election, I prefer the pursuit of academic life to be part of the intellectual restoration of such values rather than involving in organic functional city politics,
Your final words before I conclude this interview Prof
Ok. I have few things to conclude with, I want to thank the entire University administration for their colleagueship during my stay at the U.T.G and the entire student body of the University of the Gambia for making my life memorable and valuable at the U.T.G. I encourage everyone be it a citizen or a foreigner to take up something meaningful and avoid everything that will sway them from their goals and surely by God willing we will meet somewhere in the best interest of the Gambia and Africa at large. Finally, I want to thank you for sparing part of your time and making efforts to have me on this interview.