ON our 58th anniversary of independence, let us pay tribute to our founding fathers who secured for us political freedom. Datuk Haji Abdul Wahab bin Toh Muda Abdul Aziz Datuk Panglima Bukit Gantang of Perak is one who deserves special mention.
A lawyer by profession, he was a nationalist of the highest order. Born in Kuala Kangsar on May 4, 1905, he played a leading role in the protest against the Malayan Union in 1946. When Umno was set up in Perak in 1946, he was elected its first president.
He became the country’s first Malay lawyer when he was called to the English Bar in 1930. He practised in Ipoh from 1931 to 1947. Tunku Abdul Rahman once described him as “one of the powerful Malay leaders of the day”.
With the formation of the Federation of Malaya on Feb 1, 1948, he was appointed the first Mentri Besar of Perak. As Mentri Besar, Haji Abdul Wahab was head of the civil service in Perak. He held the post until the nation attained independence.
When I was working at the District Office Kuala Kangsar in the mid-1950s, I saw a directive he issued to all district officers instructing them to avoid places of worship when acquiring land for public purposes. The decision reflected maturity and his deep concern for the people of various races who professed different religions.
Like Datuk Onn Ja’afar, Haji Abdul Wahab believed in non-communal political parties and left Umno in 1954 to form the National Association of Perak. He was its first president.
He is best remembered for his role as a member of the Malayan delegation for the Merdeka talks in London in 1956. As representative of the Sultan of Perak, he burnt the midnight candle along with Tunku and T. H. Tan of the MCA to go through all the memoranda and the draft Constitution.
His untimely death on April 16, 1959 at the age of 54 was a shock to all. The next day, a reference was held at the Supreme Court, Ipoh to pay him tribute. Mr Justice Good, who presided over the Bench, said: “Today this country mourns the passing of one of its most distinguished sons. The members of the Bar mourn the loss of one of their most outstandingly-gifted colleagues. He was widely and deeply read, he loved books and he loved all the arts and had a very genuine appreciation of all the good and gracious things in life. He found time to extend his innate courtesy to all men as well as to devote himself to his numerous activities.”
Great are such dedicated and trustworthy leaders who have left an indelible mark in our minds.