Whatever Has A Beginning…they say, will surely have an end – life, wealth, and Saturday Column by Bala Muhammad. Today is the Valedictory Appearance of this Column under this name. It has been a wonderful journey of FIFTEEN UNBROKEN YEARS during which Allah made it possible for me to send in ‘something’ for every single Saturday of these 780 or so weeks. I did not miss a single week wherever I was – Bangkok, Moscow, Obudu, Sokoto, Dubai, Beijing, Zinder, Nairobi, Lagos, Maiduguri, Kumasi, Freetown, Ouagadougou; and even from a hospital bed. Alhamdu lilLah.
How It All Began…was when, sometime in 2006, Daily Trust Chairman and then Editor-in-Chief Mallam Kabiru Yusuf called me up and invited me to take up this Column (after having written regularly freelance for the titles, especially the then Weekly Trust). Thanks to especially two distinguished ladies who reinforced the Chairman’s invitation: my sister and co-columnist Aisha Umar-Yusuf (‘Another Dimension’; ‘Al Bint’); and my then Weekly Trust Editor Zainab Okino who made the first recommendation of me to her boss. (Both are now close family friends, ma sha Allah).
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A Journey So Long…began so long ago – right from primary school where I was ‘Class Reader’. And then the ‘prophesy’ (rather the du’a) of Abdurrahman, the neighbourhood washman in Gyadi-Gyadi, Kano who, in the mid-1970s, uttered “Wannan yaro sai ka je BBC!” (He had noted my propensity for listening and interpreting the news on his transistor radio while he ironed his clients’ clothing). And, by Ikon Allah, two decades plus later, I was at the BBC in London. And so it came to pass that Abdurrahman Washman was the first person I would interview on the BBC. And he went ‘viral’ in the whole neighbourhood!
All The Other Media…were also there although, by far, the Daily Trust was my longest sojourn. Before Trust, I had been with the BBC; DW in Kano, Cairo and Durban; Impact International in London; Al Ahram Weekly (English version of the famous Arabic newspaper) in Cairo where Gamal Nkrumah was my then Editor; the Caravan at the American University in Cairo; the Mail & Guardian in South Africa; James Ibori’s DIET newspaper; the Triumph of Kano; and the Lagos-based Guardian whose then Editor-in-Chief Eluem Emeka Izeze was so supportive. Through my contributions to the Guardian, many (much older) people made my acquaintance – late Bola Ige even visited me in Kano.
On Those Helpful Mentors…led by Professor Auwalu Yadudu and Barrister Muzzammil Hanga. Yadudu introduced me to the Guardian in the early 1990s, and Muzzammil would come to my home, wait on me (literally breathing down my neck) till I turned out an article or two, and he would then deliver it to Yadudu, who would in turn deliver it physically in Lagos to Editor Izeze (email was a rarity then). At that time, I was a rather lonely Northern Contributor on the Guardian’s Opinion Page. Even though I had started writing quite early in life, it was definitely Yadudu and Hanga who ‘pursued’ me to ensure I never wavered or gave up. May Allah reward them.
And The Generous Appreciators…led, no doubt, by late Emir of Kano Alhaji Ado Bayero (who ordered that I collect the articles in book form – the idea fizzled out when he died in 2014). Naturally, as a writer, one would only know who reads him from the feedback he gets. While all others would email a comment (as I never put up my number on the page), whenever the late Emir wanted to ‘send’ his own feedback, he would summon me to the Palace for a ‘Private Audience’! In those meetings, he would tell me he sometimes laughed and sometimes shed a tear after reading a piece of mine. And then he would repeat, “How is that book coming up?” Allah Ya jikan Sarki!
And More Generous Appreciators…led by Professor Muhammad Sani Zahradeen, Grand Imam of Kano; then Mallam Ahmed Joda (who particularly liked ‘A Letter from Freetown’); current FCT Minister Mallam Muhammad Musa Bello; Sokoto State Governor Right Hon. Aminu Waziri Tambuwal; and Alhaji Lawal Idris, kind philanthropist who used this Column to change the lives of many whose sad stories we narrated. But on top of all was Senator Mallam Ibrahim Shekarau who, as Kano State Governor and my then employer as Special Adviser/DG Societal Reorientation (A Daidaita Sahu) in his government, permitted and encouraged me to continue writing. In fact, he would have some of my articles photocopied in hundreds and distributed all over. And then my ‘sparring partner’ – Sulaiman Ibrahim Katsina of the BBC. And Abbati Dankanti Gumel who would send a comment almost EVERY week.
On Our Worthy Successors…the Media Trust Board did an excellent job recruiting this current crop of writers, some of whom are quite close to me: my long-suffering Editor AbdulKarim Baba Aminu (who would finish all his paper’s processes and would only be waiting for my column before production, Allah Sarki; but I still await the herbal HBP concoction he promised me); then Audu Bulama Bukarti, student, friend and associate from MSS and BUK and Dar Al Andalus (and from whom I still expect a legal opinion on ‘Gifting While Alive’); then ‘Blossomer’ and ace writer Abubakar Adam Ibrahim (who still owes me a cut from the $$$ he won as an author); and current Editor-in-Chief Naziru Mika’ilu (my own student at University and junior colleague at the BBC).
On My Worthy Successor…Fatima Damagum, who will be writing this page from next week, has already cut it with ‘A Physician’s Diary’ of which Prof Yadudu says “I enjoy and look forward to every week.” Though she may not know me, her late father was one of the best people I have been associated with; a real Mutumin Kirki. A senior brother at the MSS and the Ummah and everything Islamic, he it was who hosted the 2002 Buhari Think Tank meetings to recruit the current president into politics. May Allah forgive him. He, incidentally, was part of the team that made Daily Trust what it is today. So ma sha Allah for worthy successors. We are confident they will do better than us in sha Allah, but they should not forget my passions – Islam, Almajiri, Divorce, Drugs, AK47, Restructuring, President Buhari’s Rashin Lafiya…
Being An Old-Fashioned Columnist…my Column never had a dedicated online presence. Most of my readers were of advanced age (like me?), so I left it hardcopy. Many of my students attempted to get me online via a blog or Facebook, etc, but when I remember late elder statesmen such as Mallam Magaji Dambatta, Mallam Imam Wali and Mallam Haliru Gwarzo clutching the hardcopy and coming to my office for debate, comment and a cup of tea, I stayed offline. But who knows the future? And one other thing – I relished the joy and latitude of weekend writing; a Travelogue today, an Obit next week, Laughter the other week, some Theology, some Politics, some Economics. I really mixed the grill!
So May Allah Accept…this our little contribution, and may He place it on our Mizan as Hasanah. May Allah reward all those who have contributed on this half-a-generation journey. His Eminence the Sultan of Sokoto must be the proverbial icing on the cake for, at top-level conferences and meetings, he would say: “As Bala Muhammad said in his Column last Saturday…” What better endorsement? To so many people I couldn’t mention, NA GODE! (And should you seek some archival footage of this Column, you may try here: https://dailytrust.com/topics/saturday-column)