In his life, the late Malam Wada Maida was synonymous with brilliance, humility, patience, kindness and courage. His thoughts, ideals, views on journalism and life motivated many of us who came close to him and will continue to inspire us.
Here are my remarks as the tributes flow in praise of a good man that he was.
In my early days as an editor at the Triumph Publishing Company in Kano, the late chairman of the Peoples Daily and the News Agency of Nigeria, Malam Wada, was in the forefront, along with a handful of other senior journalists in the country, to revive the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE) that had been moribund for 20 years.
He found me a worthy foot soldier in the mobilisation of the younger generation of editors to support the aspiration of a ticket on which he and the then editor of the Daily Times, Onyeama Ugochukwu, ran as deputy president and president. They were supported by the more conservative and older membership. Running against them was a band of radicals led by the enterprising, younger, louder, even if brash and calculating, owner/publisher of ThisDay newspapers, Nduka Obaigbena.
Having myself been listed as candidate for an ex-officio post in the “National List,” I won along Onyeama, Wada and all the names on that list. Mr. Obaigbena embraced the new team and offered his full support, which he gave. Today, Mr. Obaigbena presides over one of the largest media empires and, as president of the Nigerian Press Organisation (NPO), he is the official head of the country’s media establishment.
From then until his death, Malam Wada did to me what the late Sardauna of Sokoto, Sir Ahmadu Bello, charged leaders “on top of the ladder” to do: extend your hand to those at the bottom and pull them up.
From that innocuous position in the guild executive, I rose to become vice president (North), deputy president and, eventually, president with a gentle push by the late Malam Wada.
The digital newspaper, TheCable, recalled an interview I gave 17 years ago in which I described Malam Wada as my older brother and mentor, and mentioned the fact that he was my link to former Vice President Atiku Abubakar.
As political adviser to the then Vice President, Dr. Usman Bugaje ran a quasi-government organisation full of professionals and intellectuals called the National Development Project (NDP). Among its many departments, there was a media arm named the “Just Cause Advisory Committee,” which was chaired by the late Malam Wada.
He co-opted me at a critical juncture when the Vice President ran into trouble with his primary constituency, Northern Nigeria. In making the provisions of Federal Character, the 1999 Constitution had given the political parties a hint of sorts that when a political party picked a candidate for presidency from any of the southern states, the vice presidential candidate would be chosen from any of the northern states, and vice-versa.
Atiku faced problems at that time because many in the North misperceived him as not being fully representative of their culture and aspirations. They made issues, for instance, of the fact that his loyalty to President Obasanjo went beyond the call of duty.
He was criticized for wearing the Yoruba cap, called at that time “power shift,” and the fact that he didn’t regularly speak Hausa, the language of the majority in the region, on popular radio channels such the BBC Hausa, issues which many might dismiss as being nothing but political attacks.
But the biggest of the problems of the Vice President was the remark he made that states in the North that had adopted the Shari’ah legal system for criminal matters should “revert to status quo.” This put him on the firing line of the Islamic religious leaders and the Imams preached against him in all their mosques.
As rightly reported by TheCable, Malam Wada brought the Vice President, a very powerful number-two leader at that time, sat him down with us where he made the confession that he had a problem and asked that we help him. That truly had an effect on me.
What I then did was to commission a scientific study, and I found an excellent friend and scholar, Dr. Nu’uman Habib, from the Bayero University, Kano, to lead it. First, we needed to know the Vice President’s communications problems and then find commutations solutions to them. We literally held a mirror to the face of the Vice President in which he saw himself and it was clear that he didn’t like what he saw. In my presentation of that report to him, we informed him that, in addition to the changes he needed to make, for his own part, he also needed a “spin doctor.”
When they took office for the second term, I was named in television news as a Special Assistant (Media) in the office of the Vice President. Six months thereafter, the TV news announced that the President had accepted my resignation.
For Malam Wada Maida, an unrepentant Buharist, his journey on the side of his good friend, Dr. Bugaje, in pursuit of the Atiku presidential ambition ended the very moment the then General Muhammadu Buhari decided in 2003 to throw his hat in the ring.
I recall that in those early days, Muhammadu Buhari made those infamous remarks in Hausa, “Kare jini, Biri jini,” meaning “an eye for an eye” or “do me, I do you,” in Nigerian parlance but was badly translated by a poor Hausa speaker reporting for ThisDay from Sokoto as a proclamation of bloodshed and it took the political space by storm.
When the attacks persisted, I called Malam Wada who then had just returned from a foreign trip. The late Wada loved to travel and did so much of it in his lifetime. He accepted my suggestion and went to Kaduna. Over lunch, he raised the issue of the raging controversy with the General who, as the late Wada reported to me, didn’t see anything to it but described it as mischief. He said that the controversy was unnecessary and should be ignored but told his former press secretary, if he felt strongly about the need to do something about it, he should go and meet Malam Mamman Daura, his nephew, a former media guru.
What followed is now history. Christian leaders, including the now Bishop of Sokoto, the Most Reverend (Dr.) Matthew Hassan Kukah, were the ones in the frontlines of those defending General Buhari against the unfair and unfounded allegations of violence. In the Nigerian Press Council, under the late Alhaji Alade Odunewu, AllahDe, in which the late Wada and I were members, an investigation was carried out and, as an outcome, the reporter was indicted for unprofessional conduct.
In the contest for the ticket of the All Progressives Congress (APC) for the presidential election, the several candidates who ran against Muhammadu Buhari and lost congratulated the winner and donated all their campaign assets, including media teams, to the official party candidate.
I, having worked with Atiku as the director of media and publicity, was released to the Buhari campaign and here was I, back with Malam Wada. Thankfully, we ran very respectful and responsible campaigns without the slightest mudslinging. While we waited for the candidate to decide on what to do with us, both Wada and I made separate decisions to go for Umrah in Saudi Arabia, so as to thank the Almighty for seeing us through the primaries.
Just as I was ready to go, Dele Alake, a friend and fellow editor, called me to say that he had a meeting with the candidate and a good chance was that he was going to lead the media campaign. Dele said he wanted me to work with him and suggested that I delay my departure, in case something would come up.
A week and two came with nothing heard from upstairs so I told Dele I was proceeding with my journey.
•Shehu is Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity