Sunday, October 4, 2015 5:07 pm
By Adagbo Onoja.
I had no plan to write own tribute to Hajiya Bilkisu Yusuf, one of the many Nigerians who perished in the stampede in Saudi Arabia last week. I thought that the one done by the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Center, (CISLAC) last week captured Hajiya’s multiple involvements so well, leaving nothing more to be added. I only had to do this when I asked and learnt that Alhaji Bako Mohammed aka “Stranger” died several years ago. He would have been the person to do the most informed tribute covering the experience of the two of us under Hajiya’s editorship of The Sunday Triumph.
In early 1986, Emmanuel Yawe, the Group News Editor of the Triumph Publishing Company re-arranged the reportorial corps of the newspaper which left Bako and I attached exclusively to The Sunday Triumph which Hajiya was the editor. In other words, our essential concern was to bother about the sort of stories which made a weekly. In plain language, they must be exclusive to the paper in addition to certain other minimum journalistic qualities.
As the head of the newsroom, Yawe was in a position to know the abilities and inabilities of each and every reporter and where s/he was most suitable. But I felt there was a problem in my own case. So, I headed for Hajiya’s office to argue my unsuitability for the posting and request an adjustment. Of course, she was all ears and heard how, unlike Bako, my geography of Kano City was zero, my knowledge of the cultural and religious protocols even worse and then the poverty of my Hausa language. Although I had worked in Radio Kaduna, it was the scandal there that fuelled the feeling that I needed time to get used to Kano.
And what was the scandal? I had come straight from the secondary school into journalism in Radio Kaduna. One evening before the major bulletin at 6 pm, someone called the newsroom. I was the only person at that moment to pick the phone as the Duty Editor was busy putting finishing touches to the bulletin and the others were doing one thing or the other. I picked and could hear caller saying, among others, “ina wuni” to which I said, “ina wuni is not around”. In those days, there were four persons who could call the newsroom in the run up to the bulletin. Dahiru Modibbo, the Zonal Director, was one; James Audu, the Director, News and Current Affairs, was another though he rarely did; Mohammed Suleiman, the Manager, News and Current Affairs and then Abdulaziz Oladumoye, the Controller, Editorials. Alarmed by what she was hearing and the possibility that it could be any one of these big guns, Hauwa Dangogo who was the Duty Editor, took over the phone and finished the conversation before continuing with the burden of hitting the studio with the bulletin early enough for the pre-broadcast rituals.
The way the typists and everyone else were laughing uncontrollably suggested to me that I had misfired. It was later that I learnt that the caller was only curtseying yet and that “ina wuni” is just a greeting. Since then, it is rare for me to be caught speaking Hausa unless I must. More so that what I said to a conductor in a shuttle bus from the New to the Old Campus of BUK in later years could have resulted to a fight if the Husseini Abduls and Naseer Kuras were not there to take over from where I stopped. I later found that what I said to the conductor amounted to a threat rather than the information I thought I was giving. The feeling that I might be saying the wrong thing has always remained overpowering since these creases. It is much, much better now but the memory of those moments linger, notwithstanding working, and later studying in Kano and living in Jigawa for six years. Blame it on the FRCN Kaduna disaster.
The long and short of it is that I went to Gezawa, came back and did a story which made the front page. I would have loved to punch and read that story again today if Google had been born then. Hajiya did return to the issue. Her poser was: how are you going to make progress in speaking the language or knowing this place if you remain in the newsroom? You have to learn how to break barriers. Yes, that was her concept, a concept I was to find helpful much, much later. She did break my withdrawal to my shell as I began to take more outside assignments. With Bako Mohammed, we plotted to monopolise the lead story week after week and, by that, exclude out station reporters from the prestige of that club. It was never possible but that was the sense of competition. Our name for a straight forward lead story was ‘dynamo’. Every Monday, we would set out for a ‘dynamo’ most of which ended as inside page story. But we braced up and started all over again the next week. All these increased my going out and mastery of the language. As the more languages you speak, the more human you become, Hajiya made a contribution to my life, socially.
Professionally, it was even more. In 1991, I landed in TSM, (The Sunday Magazine) ran by Chris Anyanwu and where barrier-breaking journalism was the game in town. Jide Ajani, an editor at Vanguard now, was the acme of barrier-breaking journalism as eulogised in TSM. Ely Obasi, the late editor of TSM had sent Jide with his card to a function General Domkat Bali was attending. But Bali’s bodyguards would not allow Jide penetrate the security cordon and access Bali. Jide bided his time and eventually manoeuvred himself into Bali’s presence, got an appointment and, subsequently, an interview in which Bali dropped not a few bombshells damaging of the embattled IBB regime but made TSM more famous. I could become a graduate of barrier-breaking journalism, a concept I encountered much, much earlier from Hajiya. I fitted in very well, writing a cover story too soon after joining TSM. It was on how Moses Adasu, the Catholic priest governor of Benue State, was setting the state on fire, as the sensational cover title ran. It was a quintessential TSM story, I was told.
When I conducted a field research in 2012, Hajiya was very helpful and the most forthcoming respondent. In her Wuse 2 office in Abuja, she placed so much before me, enriching my understanding of the subject matter empirically. It was only then I discovered that she was also a member of National Inter-Religious Council, (NAREC), making five, her domains: media or journalism; civil society/advocacy; gender activism; international networking encompassing several fronts and conflict management. She was so informed in her analysis of the geopolitics of conflict reporting that I had to joke that she had moved to the upper crust and left some of us downstairs. Of course, that was something she was bound to protest by saying “ina?” It was a genuine protest because Hajiya was not about becoming in class or material terms.
With Hajiya, you saw no pretension to class or sophistication although, as Mohammed Haruna showed in his own tribute, she was always married to someone from the upper crust and could comfortably exhibit posh and sophistication. She chose simplicity, concentrating more on broadening the space as much as possible. She was not a loud crusader in doing that but she made her point, be it in her advocacy journalism or activism broadly. As mentioned above, she did this on many fronts simultaneously and tirelessly.
The pace of life today is such that there is so much quantitative but very little qualitative interaction. The mechanical ‘Hello, Hello’ of the GSM, email, What’s APP, conferences and all manner of workshops have taken the human touch from much of such interactions. So, the news of the death and the thought that one would never ever see the dead physically again induce the heavy sense of loss that one feels in the case of Hajiya Bilki, for example. 2012 was our last physical contact. The rest was the exchange of seasonal greetings. The assumption is that there will always be time to meet more. No one would have that opportunity in the case of Hajiya Bilkisu again. She certainly had more value to add to society if she lived but, as they say, it was her time to depart. May we have more Hajiya Bilkisu type of women, and men too!