There are days that will stay with us for the rest of our lives residing in our memory. Some are good while some are everything but. I have vivid memories of both days. In the same vein, there are people who you come across in life and the memories of your times together will never erase from your mind—for good or for bad.
For Sulaiman Bisalla, the Managing Editor of New Telegraph Newspaper who was killed in last Wednesday’s bomb blast in Abuja, I will cherish the moments I have shared with him forever. As I write this, few hours after taking part in the Islamic burial rites to finally wish him good bye, my heart is heavy from the sadness of his passage.
It is not everyday one comes across persons who are as humble or gentle as Bisalla. I still remember the first time I met him. It was just before the 2011 general election. Even though we were meeting for the first time, our reputations had preceded the meeting. Both of us were then Political Editors, Bisalla with Abuja-based DAILY TRUST while I was with THISDAY. Akwa Ibom State Governor, Godswill Akpabio, had gathered editors from the leading newspapers in the country to give his government’s side of the story following skirmishes between his supporters and those of the governorship candidate of the then Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), James Akpandoedehe.
Akpabio had felt that most of the stories about the various clashes between PDP and ACN supporters in national newspapers had portrayed Akpandoedehe as the victim. He wanted us to visit the scenes of the clashes and talk to the ‘real’ victims for us to judge for ourselves. I had my reservations about all that was said by the government and its spin doctors. I felt I could not arrive at a fair decision so long as I did not hear from the other side. I never hesitated in sharing my misgivings to Bisalla. The first thing he did was to give me the phone number of Akpandoedehe, and an appointment was booked for a future interview in Lagos.
I never knew that first meeting would bring me close to a man who I later came to respect for his integrity, commitment to duty and open-mindedness. As a man of very few words, one of Bisalla’s greatest attributes was his ability to listen carefully before taking a decision. Once you are his friend, he will always be there as only a true friend could. He had a way about him that made just about everybody to like him. He was genuine and sincere.
When I heard of his death about two hours after the blast, I was gutted. In the midst of my anger tears swelled up as I tried to be strong and hold them back. I couldn’t. Though a Muslim who believes all things are ordained by Allah, I tried to search for reasons why my friend had to die the way he did, especially because he had such a young family and is at the beginning of a new career and a new phase in his life. Why did it have to come to this? No one really knows why. All I could say was that things happen and we have no control over them.
Bisalla’s death made me question the wisdom in the saying that those who live by the sword, die by the sword. Bisalla died a violent death even when he was not a violent person. He never believed in violence, yet agents of violence became the reason of his death.
As night fell and the reality of what really happened on that fateful day sank in, I, like virtually all Nigerians, have continued to ask why do we have to keep bearing the brunt of the activities of terrorists in our midst. We keep wondering whether our security agencies have the competence to end the massacre of innocent persons whose lives are taken away almost as frequent as the terrorists want. We have watched in pain how our students, hawkers, labourers, women and their children, drivers of taxicabs and their passengers got killed or maimed.
It won’t be out of place to say that we need a change of strategy from our security agencies. The killings have continued for too long, and as one politician pointed out recently, we are running out of excuses. The same way we need more men in the armed forces of Nigeria, we need better equipment that are of global and modern standards to be used by the armed forces. The same way we need volunteers to come forward with information about the activities of deviant persons in their localities, is the same way we need to use local intelligence to help secure our towns and villages.
Three years into his tenure, the spate of killings underscore the enormity of the task facing President Goodluck Jonathan. While it is convenient, as we have seen from institutions like the ruling party, to now mischievously blame the opposition for the deaths all over the land, we must not loose sight of larger problems like unemployment and poverty bedeviling our country. In addition to economic decline among vast majority of the populace, there is increased inequality among the citizenry, a situation that fuels dissent and provides breeding ground for would-be terrorists.
Bisalla was a reporter who reported diligently on all issues affecting the nation. When necessary, he had given his thoughts on how the problem of insecurity could be tackled in the country. He was a devoted friend who cared for the well-being of all persons. In the short but eventful years I came to know him, I have learned many things from him. He was one of a kind and he will be greatly missed.
To me, the biggest, and saddest lesson however, is the fact that losing a close friend at a young age makes one to take stock of his own life. As Madame de Stael aptly stated, “we understand death for the first time when he puts his hand upon one whom we love.” I now know the real meaning of death.
May paradise be Bisalla’s final abode, amen.
Imam is the Special Adviser on Media and Public Affairs to the Speaker of the House of Representatives