It was three months to my wedding, and the date was December 30, 1990. I was beginning a career in journalism as a sort of freelancer, shortly after publishing Not Fit To Live, a thriller that earned me a whopping N580,000, at a time the American dollar was exchanging for less than N10. It was a colossal amount (it should be tens of millions of naira in value now) that I made in just a day, after being supported in the publication and launching of the book by the then military governor of Kano State, a foremost patriot named Colonel Idris Garba (who retired as a well-decorated Major-General in the Nigerian Army).
The Kano Edicational Resource Centre had informed the military governor that my exploit had made me the youngest son of old Kano State (including today’s Jigawa State) to write a novel in English language. I was only 19 years old when the book was published, but the launching only took place in 1990.
One of the newspapers I was writing for was The Pen, which the now late Alhaji Bashir Othman Tofa was publishing. With the fortune I was privileged to make at that young age, one of the many decisions I made was to get married. And March 10, 1991, was scheduled for that most important event of my life.
So, when the day drew near, I made a list of very important persons to invite for the wedding, and Alhaji Bashir Tofa’s name came on top. I wrote him a letter of notification, but ended up getting more than I bargained for, albeit, in a very positive manner. I was summoned to Tofa’s office at that time on Post Office Road, where he handed me N10,000 in cash as his contribution to the impending wedding. He also wished me well and promised to attend the event in person. That N10,000 is definitely worth several millions of naira in today’s exchange rate between the dollar and our naira.
A day to the wedding, however, Alhaji Tofa called me to his house, which was located a few houses away from my own father’s house, where he explained that a critical exigency had necessitated he must embark on a foreign trip very early on the day of the wedding. He expressed full regrets but promised to be represented, a promise he fulfilled by sending a delegation of his three topmost managers.
In those days, in Kano, N1,000 was about the highest that was paid for dowry, though a lot more would be spent in other provisions for the wedding. And it was from Tofa’s N10,000 that I paid the dowry for the hand of Maijidda Adamu Gezawa in marriage. The woman of nobility and virtue is still my wife almost 31 years after, and we are blessed with six children, three of whom have graduated from the university and are doing pretty well in the journey of life. I still see that N10,000 as the main sum that has continued to sustain my marriage all through the years, given the value I placed on it.
It was with absolute shock but total submission to the will of our Creator, that Nigerians received the devastating news of the death of Alhaji Bashir Tofa, a philanthropist extraordinaire and patriot of the deepest hue, earlier this week on Monday. It was the sad end of a very glorious era.
As the 13th Emir of Kano Muhammadu Sanusi II pointed out, Kano has lost one of a very few remaining leaders who had the decency to tell the truth to power.
Most Nigerians remember Tofa only as MKO Abiola’s opponent in the June 12, 1993, presidential election, but he was a lot more. Tofa was a passionate and consummate patriot whose love for Nigeria and its people was total. He was close friends with Kano’s governor, Abdullahi Ganduje, but when he saw the governor drifting, Tofa did not hesitate to try to whip him back to line, not minding he stood the risk of falling out of the governor’s favour, which he ended up doing. It started with just the two of them, but somehow the public got to know of it when the governor kept drifting.
For those of us from Kano, the worry is now who will take over from Tofa. Surely, no one is indispensable and we remain prayerful that, among such genuine friends as former governor and now senator, Ibrahim Shekarau, and a few other leaders possessing personal integrity and deep conviction, at least one of them will step in to fill the big shoes bequeathed by Tofa.
My condolences go to his wife, his children and relations, especially Speaker Ghali Umar Na’abba and Mrs. Surayya Aminu Gadama. The late Tofa was an uncle to Surayya, and she is the wife of my childhood friend, cousin and soulmate, Aminu Adamu Gadama, a medical doctor of repute. Speaker Na’abba is also a leader I trust and believe in, as a man of deep personal conviction.
Before concluding this tribute, let me reproduce here another tribute penned by my good brother, Yusha’u Shu’aib, editor-in-chief of PRNigeria, titled “Bashir Tofa: The Publisher with the Finest Mansion – An Internship Experience.” Excerpts:
Beyond his active involvement in politics and the business world, Alhaji Bashir Tofa, who died on January 3 at the age of 74, was a consummate writer, publisher and general perfectionist, whose edifice in Kano city remains one of the finest mansions ever built in the emirate, since the 1980s.
As a teenager in the ’80s, I always desired passing by the magnificent and sprawling mansion, which has been continuously retouched to perfection till date in the Gandun Albashu district of Kano.
As a writer, Tofa’s articles on the socio-economic and political development of Nigeria had appeared in the then major national dailies in the ’70s, including New Nigerian, Daily Times, Nigerian Tribune, The Sketch, and the vernacular tabloid, Gaskiya Tafi Kwabo.
Beyond his journalistic interventions, he was a wordsmith extraordinaire who authored several books and short stories on contemporary issues in both English and Hausa languages. As a deeply religious person, he also set up the Bureau for Islamic Propagation (BIP), which helped to unite Muslims and promoted interfaith dialogues with non-Muslims towards peaceful coexistence.
During my university days in the late ’80s, I admired his literary contributions, which were the source of attraction that led me to seek an internship in his media conglomerate that published Pen and Alkalami newspapers, and whose offices were situated within a tall building along the Post Office Road in Kano.
It was in this media outfit that I met the manager, Mallam Garba Yusuf, who introduced me to the art of media marketing, and Mallam Magaji Galadima, under whose tutelage I was groomed into the vocation of investigative journalism and copy editing for production and publication.
While Garba Yusuf later rose to become a highly influential commissioner in the cabinet of Governor Ibrahim Shekarau, back in the day he was a painstaking worker who always ensured that the editorial team met the production deadlines that made the newspapers available on the newsstands every Friday.
On his part, Magaji Galadima, who later became the pioneer Director-General of the Kano Geographic Information Systems (KANGIS) and currently holds the traditional title of Kachallan Kano in the Emirate, was a very thorough editor who ran a fine comb through our news reports and feature articles for factual accuracy and fidelity to the house style.
Due to the strictness of Bashir Tofa as the publisher, the management ensured that the reports in both newspapers were not only factual and truthful, but also drew from reliable and authoritative sources. Further to this, the publisher made sure that the editorial staff adhered to the core journalism ethics of accuracy, objectivity, impartiality, accountability and an overarching humanism in their work.
Even as the Bashir Tofa ethos was very strict, he still gave the two most senior management staff, who were responsible for the publications, the freedom to manage the newspapers in an independent manner. And although I was just an intern then, I was afforded the opportunity of occasionally going out on marketing drives for advert placements and the commissioning of special reports, alongside my main duty of pursuing investigative stories.
It was during that early phase of my experience in journalism that I met Jarman Kano, Alhaji Adamu Dankabo; Talban Kano, Alhaji Garba A.D. Inuwa; and respected businessman, Mallam Sabiu Bako.
As a publisher who believed strongly in the tenets of a free press, I recall vividly how the Chairman, Alhaji Bashir Tofa, refused to interfere in an investigative report I had anchored over the mysterious death of a Muezzin in a mosque at the Sheikh Isyaku Rabiu Estate in Kano, the outcome of which he was pressured to alter. I had then conducted an interview with the Chief Imam of the mosque and the Divisional Police Officer of Dala District, one B. I. Bayero when concerns were raised on the need for the report to be stopped.
While no attempt was made by the publisher or my editors to restrain me from concluding that piece of investigative journalism, the ensuing story was not only published in the Pen, but also in the Alkalami, the Hausa version of the newspaper.
Apart from the team and leadership building attributes of delegating responsibilities to his staff, also because he travelled abroad often, Alhaji Bashir Tofa was equally a very generous Muslim, especially in the provision of scholarships to students and payment for the health care of indigent people. As an intern, I was placed on a generous monthly allowance and my final year research project in the university in 1992, was funded by his company.
Being a philanthropist with a difference, he made huge anonymous donations to different public support causes on a regular basis. And, since the early 90s when he introduced the Ramadan Kitchen, food items have been provided for families in need during the holy month of fasting, while cooked food is also made available to people for the breaking of their fast and the early morning Sahur, in various mosques and communities.
In addition to that, Tofa recruited dozens of tailors annually to sow clothing in large quantities for the masses in communities surrounding him and also for the needy for festive seasons.
Born to a Kanuri family in Kano on June 20, 1947, the late Bashir Tofa attended the City of London College, before he started a business and later joined politics. He was the Financial Secretary of the ruling National Party of Nigeria (NPN) during the Secondary Republic. At the resumption of political activities in the country during the early 1990s, Tofa joined the then National Republican Congress (NRC), and rose to become its presidential candidate at the June 1993 election, which he however lost to his rival, Chief Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola. The official results were never fully released by the Babangida government.
Alhaji Bashir Tofa was a noteworthy businessman, oil trader, industrialist, politician, author, activist, journalist and a strong contender during what has been declared as the freest presidential election in Nigerian history in 1993. He died in the early morning of January 3 at the age of 74, after battling health issues that kept him at the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) of the Aminu Kano Teaching Hospital in Kano.