The time was around 8pm on this fateful night almost 40 years ago when Hajia Hadiza Uba Gaya decided that the fever enveloping her required urgent medical attention. She thought it was just stress, and she could shrug it off and feel fine the day after, but somehow the fever was intensifying. She then informed her husband, Malam Mohammed Uba Gaya, about how she was feeling, and asked for his permission to stroll to Nassarawa Hospital in Kano to seek medical attention.
The chief medical director of the hospital, an Indian, was her neighbour, and the hospital was located a few minutes’ stroll from her residence in Nassarawa GRA in Kano metropolis. But the husband suggested he took her to the hospital in his car, a suggestion she turned down, saying he also needed some rest, as he only returned home from work moments earlier. She, therefore, suggested that the second wife, Hajia Sahalatu, should accompany her to the hospital. The husband agreed, and the two of them, in company of two young children of the first wife, left for Nassarawa Hospital.
It was fate, a cruel one at that, at work. They trekked for about 15 minutes and arrived at the crossing leading directly to the main entrance gate of the hospital. While waiting to cross the road, they saw from some distance, a white Peugeot 504 speeding in their direction, and all of a sudden, Rabi, the young daughter of about five years old decided to cross the road. By then the speeding Peugeot was within their reach. Strangely, in crossing the road, young Rabi stopped right in the middle. It was so obvious that the speeding Peugeot would crush her if nothing was done. And then a mother’s love for her daughter was triggered in the heart of Hajia Hadiza.
Within the very few seconds remaining for the car to knock down young Rabi, the mother, who was bearing her youngest son, Abubakar on her back, made a dash for the road to rescue her daughter. At the same time, her co-wife, Hajia Sahalatu, made a similar dash for the road. The senior wife was heavily pregnant at the time and naturally slower, and so it was the junior wife that reached Rabi first and dragged her from danger. Sadly, by the time the pregnant senior wife reached the spot, the oncoming vehicle knocked her down and the driver sped off. He was pursued by sympathizers who witnessed everything but was never apprehended. And even though the police tried their best to uncover who the hit-and-run driver was, they never succeeded.
Back to the scene of the accident, Hajia Hadiza was rushed into the hospital, and the chief medical director saw that the accident victim, who, in spite of fractures all over her body, was still breathing, was his next-door neighbour. He and other doctors immediately took her to the theatre and spent nine hours battling to save her life. But at that time once a victim had a spinal injury, that was it. In her case, her spinal-cord had broken in two places, her lower back and her neck. And a few minutes after 5am the next day, she passed on.
Hajia Hadiza died leaving behind her husband and five children, with Rabi being the youngest. I, the writer of this piece, was her first son.
About four years before that accident, my father had taken a controversial decision to enroll me, my younger brother, as well as his own younger brother (our uncle, though contemporary by age) in a Christian boarding primary school. It was an idea my grandfather resisted, but my father convinced him to allow the decision to be, as he was preparing us for the challenges of survival in a multi-ethnic, multi-religious Nigeria. The fear that we could be converted to Christianity was unfounded as there were tens of Muslim children who were also students in the school. In fact, very strangely, at a time, there were more Muslims in the school than Christians, and in no time the missionaries that owned the school found it expedient to allow Islamic Religious Knowledge to be taught in the school.
So, we were in school when the accident happened, but were not informed. We were surprised, however, to see our father coming to pick us from school when it closed for vacation. He usually would send his driver. And we were further shocked when, after he met with the headmaster, we saw our head teacher crying. We only got a hint of what happened in Kazaure, a major town on our way to Kano, when the wife of our senior uncle condoled with us. She, however, did not finish when our father stopped her.
On reaching home, however, all hell was let loose when we didn’t see our beloved mother. We added two and two together to discern that something terrible must have happened to her. We now confronted daddy and insisted in knowing what was happening. And the man with the heart of a lion burst into tears before breaking the news that became the most devastating in my 10-year-old life.
It was one death that changed the destiny of the entire family. The chief matriarch was gone, and my father was in such a state of shock that he cancelled his decision to proceed to the United Kingdom for his masters and PhD programmes. He never pursued these courses of study up to his death 38 years later, exactly two years ago. It was the end of a sad era in the family of Malam Muhammad Uba Gaya.
We carried on with life without a dotting mother, though the new matriarch, Hajia Sahalatu, had tried her best to complement our father’s efforts to fill the void. We lacked in virtually nothing. In those days, a civil servant could live very well within his salary. And I remember that our father would each weekend go with us to UTC, a major departmental store of those days, for shopping. He would ask us to pick anything we wanted, and I recall that Musa, one of my younger brothers, would always pick one neck-tie or the other. He would also sing different songs for the tie.
This is the story of a man who was all out to deploy his legitimate means to ensure the very best for his children. We were so self-sufficient that in secondary school we were as comfortable as children of the rich and the mighty. I recall that, as house prefect of Murtala House in 1985/86, one of my room- and classmates was Sayyu Dantata, now a multi-billionaire and owner of MRS Petroleum. His mother, Hajia Mariya Sanusi Dantata (also mother to the richest African, Alhaji Aliko Dangote) would always pay him a visit in school and bring him provisions, consisting mostly of expensive edibles from abroad. She in no time became so fond of me that she would also give me my own provisions and some money. I was a beneficiary of her uncommon grace and generosity from that early age. But I recall at that time that I was mostly rejecting those gifts because I hardly needed them.
Such was the fairly comfortable life that Nigerians living on the middle rungs of the ladder of life were enjoying, within their legitimate earnings. Fast-forward to about 30 years later, when life in Nigeria is something akin to short, hellish and brutish, with the most basic things beyond the reach of even the middle class (that is if at all it exists anymore).
The family house in Nassarawa GRA became something of a ghost residence for us. It was there we had lived for years with our beloved mother, and now she was no more. And it was owing to the pressure we mounted on our father that the family had to relocate to Gandun Albasa, at that time a suburb in Kano metropolis. There, he purchased a small house that the family moved into. Later, he bought a bigger one, which is still standing.
It was from our father that we learnt the virtue of selflessness. Though he was never a rich man, he led, in company with his close friends, excellent people like Alhaji Nasidi Mohammed, to form an association that caters for widows and orphans in Gandun Albasa and environs. They ran that NGO by squeezing themselves to make life better for the indigent members of society. It was also through their limited earnings that they joined other excellent people like Alhaji Adamu Gadama, Barrister Umar Faruk Danlasan (now Hakimin Warawa in Kano State), the late Alhaji Auwalu Garko and Malam Ibrahim Zoro, Alhaji Abdulmumin Yelwa and Malam Musa Mai-Mai to build a mosque that has since become a rallying point for people living in the area.
With earnings that were becoming so limited, occasioned by rising inflation and terrible economic policies of successive administrations that made life difficult for the ordinary Nigerian, my father saw us through different schools, and he also got us our first job in the civil service of Kano State.
It was now our turn to pay back his kindness, but the old man would have none of that. We practically had to force gifts on him, and could only ensure foodstuff and other goods were taken to the house when he was not at home. His logic was simple: life was difficult for everyone in the country, and we should use the little we had to take good care of our own families.
From my father, also, we learnt that it pays to be decent. When he was the director of studies at the Kano State College of Education in the 1980s, he once had a major issue with the then provost, who needed the cooperation of his director to shortchange the system. My father resisted. And that led to major problem between the two of them, leading to hot exchange of memos. Eventually, the students got wind of what was happening, and they wasted no time in taking sides with my father. Things got to a head that the then Military Governor of Kano State, Colonel Idris Garba, had to personally intervene. He rewarded my father with a posting to his office as Director of Finance and Supply in charge of Public Accounts.
Years later, the same governor would become my godfather when, at age 19, I became the youngest son of old Kano State to author a novel in English language. It was Colonel Idris Garba who went with me to Dodan Barracks in Lagos and introduced me to the First Lady, Mrs. Maryam Babangida. The elegant women was so appreciative of what she called my intellect that she regarded and treated me as her own child, up to her sad demise 10 years ago.
Unlike those of us that are overly-ambitious, my father as much as possible detested the lures of this world. In 1983, when late Audu Dawakin Tofa became the governor of Kano State, he offered to appoint my father commissioner of agriculture, but he turned it down. Years later, when Jigawa State was created, its first executive governor, Barrister Ali Sa’ad Birnin Kudu, offered him the post of secretary to the state government, he also turned down the offer. One lesson that showed the need to be kind to those one meets on one’s way to the top was the fact that it was my father who personally enrolled Ali Sa’ad in primary school. The young pupil grew up years later to become governor, in the same civil service in which my father, his former benefactor, was just a director.
Having lost my mother at a very young age, my father became my major pillar of support in the journey of life. Whenever I ran into any hitch, it was him that I always turned to. In 2017, I was contesting for the high post of deputy president of the Nigerian Guild of Editors. Very strangely, in spite of my frontline contributions to the survival and wellbeing of the guild, including procuring for it what has since become its biggest asset till today, some powers that be decided to resist my aspiration with everything they had. They went to town with all sorts of false stories, trying desperately to discredit me and drag my name on the mud.
I was very popular with ordinary members of the guild, who were the leading editors in the print, electronic and the wire services of the media. And I had the full support of compatriots like Mr. Tony Akiotu (GMD, AIT), who rallied round other men and women of very deep conviction to support me throughout the campaigns. But a day to voting, some of my campaign managers grew so afraid and intimidated that they asked me to withdraw from the race. Virtually everybody that was somebody in the guild was supporting my rival. But I had God and the electorate. When the pressure was becoming much, it was to my father I turned, asking for his prayers. He urged me to go for it, promising to spend the entire night praying for my success.
During the election the following day, just when it was looking like I was going to lose in a humiliating manner, I won by one single vote when the counting of votes was done. The massive celebration by editors was beamed live by some television stations across the country, and major newspapers reported the miraculous victory. I joined the likes of Henry Duke, who defeated Liberal Harold St. Maur in the city of Exeter in 1910. In the same year in the United States, De Alva Alexander edged Charles Smith by a single vote for the New York congressional district. There have been a few other cases where one vote decided the fate of winner and loser in major elections, and that of the Nigerian Guild of Editors in its 2017 biennial convention in Lagos will somehow remain etched in history.
Barely a year after that landmark victory, however, my father was struck down by diabetes, an ailment he was carefully managing for over two decades. I was in my house in Kano when Abubakar, who was born three years after the death of my mother, and whose name was a replacement for my younger brother that was killed with my mother, called me profusely crying. Before then my father’s ailment had taken a turn for the worse. He was in so much pain that he could no longer utter any audible words. The family tried to give him the best medication, but the Living God had discerned that his sojourn on this earth had come to a sad conclusion.
On the morning of February 28, 2018, exactly two years ago, we had an early morning meeting to decide whether to try traditional medication, but opted to return the old man to hospital. Abubakar’s call came through moments after this decision was taken. I took the call with serious fear and trepidation. And when I heard the way he was crying, asking me to come home immediately, I needed no one to tell me that the man who did his very best for me and my siblings, who sacrificed his comfort to make life easier for the less privileged in the world he lived in, had passed on to meet with His Maker. Malam Muhammad Uba Gaya died at 8.26am on February 28, 2018, leaving behind one wife and a large number of children, out of who I am the eldest.
I felt that the whole world was crashing on my head, with my one and only real pillar of support gone. To the Glory of God, however, the family members are now a study in unity and brotherhood, a lesson he also imbibed in us. In our little ways, individually and collectively, we have continued to live by his example of selflessness and integrity, though we are far away from fully emulating him or stepping into the big shoes he had bequeathed. May his soul rest in peace.
Supreme Court as an institution of national pride
It was President Barack Obama who has always emphasized that Africa could only get it right when it strengthens its institutions, not just the individuals driving the institutions. As a Nigerian, I am becoming more and more proud of our judiciary, especially the Supreme Court, whose judges have continued to show national interest is far and above every other consideration in their judgements.
When the PDP and its gubernatorial candidate in Bayelsa, Senator Duoye Diri, took their APC counterparts to court in late 2019, I was one of those who dismissed the effort with a wave of the hand. The APC that they were reporting was the party governing at the centre, and Bayelsa governorship was a big prize, especially for the ruling party. Given our type of politics, Bayelsa is economically more important than at least five northern states put together. Which means, in terms of party financing, a governor of that state could contribute singlehandedly more than five of his counterparts in non-oil producing states. The APC has majority of governors in Nigeria, but in the entire South-South, it has only one governor, that of Edo State.
So, when APC was announced as the winner of the governorship election that took place in November 2019, and PDP felt cheated and wanted to get it back through the judiciary, I concluded they were wasting their time.
But on Thursday, February 13 instant, I was present at the Supreme Court when the panel of five judges snatched victory away from the APC and literally handed it over to the PDP. And, like play, the following day, the PDP candidate was sworn in as the fifth executive governor of the state of Bayelsa.
But all of a sudden the APC came up with something I found curious and strange. It decided to ask the Supreme Court to review that judgement and return victory to it. From then onwards, I learnt that the judges of the Supreme Court were subjected to all kinds of pressure to favour the APC.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) decided to intimidate the woman who led the panel of judges by resuscitating an old case of corruption in which her husband was said to have been involved when he held sway as governor of Rivers State almost two decades ago. Again, I concluded that there was no way the judges would this time around wriggle out of that and exercise their independence.
But the men and women of deep integrity defied every odd to stand by the truth. Only two days ago, they reaffirmed the PDP candidate as the duly elected governor of Bayelsa State and chided the APC for submitting before it a frivolous petition.
With the renewed attitude of judges of the Supreme Court, it means there is real hope for the common man to get justice in Nigeria. It is a new day for our country, and we look forward to the sustenance of that independence on the part of judges of the highest court in our land.