By Senator Ibrahim Ida, OON, Sardaunan Katsina
If it is painful to lose a friend, it is surely a million times more staggering, bewildering, shattering and confusing to lose a friend, a companion, a non-blood brother, a confidant and someone you have known most of your life.
That was what happened to me during the late hours of Monday, August 17, 2020. That was when Malam Wada Abdullahi Maida (OON), a former Chief Press Secretary (CPS) to the then Head of State, Major General Muhammadu Buhari, a former staff and ultimately Managing Director (MD) of the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN); and until his death, the Chairman of NAN.
Malam Wada Maida and I were at his house in the evening of Monday, August 10 (a week to his death) and it was then that we decided to travel to Katsina by air through Kano the following Thursday. When we reached Kano, we were to visit Mal.
Abba Dabo to condole with him over the death of his father. I was to arrange the flight tickets, and we were both nervous about the trip on account of the COVID-19 threat, because both of us fell within the high-risk age group.
We were together again in my office – a place we shared for upward of seven years – on Wednesday, August 12. It was then that we got our flight tickets to Kano. We agreed to meet at the airport the following day, Thursday, August 13.
Contrary to our usual practice – whenever we were to travel together – one would pass through the other’s house to pick him to the airport, we decided to go to the airport separately. COVID-19-induced physical distancing, you may say! He met me at the airport lounge where we chatted freely with the friends we met there; many of who Wada confessed he had not seen for a long time.
During the Max Air flight to Kano, we sat side by side – Wada on seat 2D and I on 2F. When we reached Kano, we visited Mal. Abba Dabo to condole with him and thereafter moved to my house in Kano where we had lunch.
Wada proceeded to Katsina, and because I had some things to do in Kano, I followed him two days later. We had agreed on some things to do together in Katsina. When I reached Katsina, I passed through his house (quite close to mine) to see some renovation work he was carrying out. He conducted me round.
It was then that he looked into the sky and made a casual remark that people spent time and resources renovating their houses as if they were going to remain in this world forever. It appears to me now as if he had a premonition that his time on earth was coming to an end.
We both laughed, and before I left him, we agreed that he would come to my house and together we would go and condole with Alh. Hassan Kurfi over the death of his wife. I left his house at 01:15pm on that Saturday, and, alas, that was our last face to face meeting on this earth. Although we spoke on phone later that evening and the following morning, we never saw each other again.
As we had different schedules – Wada wishing to return to Abuja and I proceeding to Kaduna for an Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) meeting on Tuesday, August 18, we could not return to Abuja together. We, however, agreed to meet in my office on Thursday, August 20, to conclude arrangements for an event we were planning to hold.
I was in my hotel room in Kaduna on Monday, August 17, preparing for the ACF meeting the following day when, at 10:12pm I received a phone call from Alh. Abdulmumin Bello. When I answered, he gave me the shattering news that Wada had died suddenly and quietly at home that evening after he had said his Isha’i prayer and had even had his usual evening walk. So while shattered by the news, I was consoled by the fact that the true and believing Muslim that he was, he died in his purity. He died with ablution after he had said his obligatory prayer to his Creator, Allah SWT.
Incidentally, very few people know that Wada’s real name was Muntari or Mouktar. Mai Wada is a nickname given to a child whose birth ushers in good fortune to the family. In his case, it was shortened to Wada. The name stuck and completely displaced his real name (sunan yanka). Incidentally, at the cemetery when I asked some of (even) his close friends if they knew his real name, they all confessed that they did not, and begged me to tell them. I told them to wait and find out from this piece.
Wada came from Katsina Town from a relatively large family. He was the fourth of his mother’s six male children. His father was a prosperous artisan who also engaged in farming. Therefore, the family was well provided for. Politically, his father, though not a radical in the present sense of the term, was also not strictly pro-establishment. My father’s elder brother (Wada’s father’s best friend) once told me that when they were in their teens and in their 20s, he and Wada’s father were members of a group that went round to ensure that justice was done to the weak members of society and that the environment remained safe. They were politically soft liners, though more inclined towards the Northern Elements Progressive Union’s (NEPU) ideology. That may explain the origin of the fact that throughout his life, Wada remained slightly on the left side of the political divide. His politics started and ended with the interest of President Muhammadu Buhari. Although Wada was evidently an All Progressives Congress (APC) sympathiser (indeed one of its committed sympathisers), to the best of my knowledge, he was never a card carrying member of that party or any political party for that matter.
Wada was said to be an inquisitive and highly accident-prone child. This explains a lot of the challenges he had. He was said to have had pepper in his eyes, something that almost turned him blind. At another time, he fell off a donkey and broke his arm, which explains why he lost the ability to stretch one of his arms. Another time, he fell head downwards from a stationary truck and broke his nose. Yet another time, he was hit by a car as he was riding a bicycle and had to be retrieved from under the car. And so many other incidents like that, all of which had one side effect or the other on his life.
At school, Wada was an intelligent and committed student. He passed through primary school in a swift (he skipped Primary Seven of Senior Primary School) and at the Secondary School, Katsina (present Dikko College), he started exhibiting journalistic tendencies, even in his early days. He was a member of the literary society, drama club and was the editor of the school’s newspaper. He also showed great interest in carpentry, something which those who knew him will not find strange. He passed out of secondary school in December, 1968, with a good West African School Certificate (WASC) result, and that was why he was able to pursue further education at the various tertiary institutions he attended.
We knew each other from childhood, but were in different schools. We were later brought together at the Secondary School, Katsina, but I was a class ahead. For the four years we spent together, we were in Magaji House and always in the same room.
After secondary, I went to Kano to continue schooling, while he went to Kaduna after finishing a year later. Although in different towns, we never completely lost touch with each other. Our relationship was further cemented through Amina, his wife, because she is a distant relation.
We came closer when we both moved to Lagos and became inseparable. We were always travelling to Katsina, UK, Saudi Arabia and many other places together. Incidentally, his dad was my father’s elder brother’s best friend. They grew up together, so our friendship could be said to have had long standing family connections.
The level of our friendship knew no bounds. Such was how we were that after both of us retired from service we had our offices at the same place for many years. It was with difficulty that Wada convinced me to let him move to his own premises.
Wada was careful, cautious, intelligent, thrifty and quiet. He would not involve himself in things that did not concern him. He was a man of few words but was a prolific writer. However, the good journalist that he was, he never wasted words.
Wada was a caring husband to his beloved Amina and an excellent father to his children: Pharm. Farida, Arch. Fadila, Dr. Aminu, Eng. Nabila and soon to be Dr. Abdullahi. He lost his precious Nusaiba to a protracted illness in 2006. One thing that was always on his mind was the fond memory of Nusaiba. She was the youngest.
He had the simplicity and the ability to make you feel that you were the only friend he had in the world. Every friend was special to him, and he believed that when people came together, especially childhood friends, they would achieve a lot and provide one another companionship and protection. This explains how he and some of us, childhood friends resident in Abuja, came to form an association in the early 1990s which we have since formalised as Abokan Amana Foundation. We take turns to hold monthly dinner in our homes and each member goes with his spouse(s). We use the meetings to discuss issues of interest and contribute money to do charitable works. We have since got our spouses to do likewise.
Wada was the chairman and I, his “troublesome” deputy, always urging him to vacate the chair so that I could step in. I never wanted it the way it has now turned out to be. Oh, Wada, I wish there was a way you could come back to continue to be the chairman forever. I do not mind being the deputy forever.
It was not easy to start writing this, but having started, it has become difficult to, but as I force myself to stop writing, I want to end with a simple prayer to Allah SWT that in the same way Wada left this world peacefully in his house among his wife, children and grand children; having first gone home to Katsina to (even if unknowingly) bid farewell to his place of birth, relations and friends there; and with purity of ablution, may his entry into heaven be smoother and more peaceful. May Allah SWT make Aljannah Firdaus his final abode, along with our parents who had gone before him.
To the members of the immediate and extended families he has left behind; to my friends and fellow members of the Abokan Amana Foundation; to his teeming friends, professional and business associates; and to the journalism profession in all its forms and ramifications, I join you all in mourning the irreparable loss of Malam Wada Maida. The vacuum his death has created will take a very long time to fill; if it will ever be. He was a beautiful soul, a true inspiration to everyone around him and a great loss to all the people who knew him. I know he will be terribly missed and his memory will be cherished forever.
Adieu, brother and true friend!
Senator Ibrahim M. Ida, CON is the Sardaunan Katsina