From Allah we come and to Him shall we return! My father – Alhaji Dauda Birmah, OFR, a former Minister of Education and Sarkin Gabas of Adamawa passed on at the platinum age of 80. He had always prayed to Allah for a peaceful transition and never to become a medical liability to those around him. And from all indications, his prayers were answered, as Baba died after a brief illness and with his “mental faculties” intact.
Upon the extremely painful demise, as customary, we received tremendous show of sympathy, affection, support and condolences, without exaggeration, from the four corners of the globe. The most re-occurring words of tribute were “he was a great man”.
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A great man indeed! Baba possessed outstanding attributes too many to mention. It is my intention however to extol a few in this piece as a glowing tribute to a man worthy of example, who led a very happy and fulfilled life.
Baba had a phenomenal and superhuman capacity to do good for good’s own sake. He did this with a sense of mission and deliberateness. Baba dispensed favours and extended a helping hand to those in need as if he had a divine calling to do so. Numerous examples come to mind, but one of the most instructive is the role he played in my upbringing.
In August 1986, before I turned three years old, I lost my biological father. God-sent Baba stepped in to fill the void and prevented me from being an orphan, vowing to bring me up in a way that will enable me “fulfil the dreams that your father had before he died.” And Baba pursued and prosecuted his voluntary self-promise passionately and tirelessly, without fatigue or compromise.
For my nursery, primary and junior secondary education, Baba enrolled me into some of the best private schools in a bid to provide me with a good academic foundation. Thereafter, Baba informed me that he will be “transplanting” me to my home states of Jigawa/Kano for further education in order to afford me the opportunity of getting to know my people. Baba was trying to ensure I did not suffer an identity crisis in the future.
Typical of Baba, he undertook the transplantation project with unbroken commitment and dedication. In the year 1997, he personally took me from Abuja to Government College Birnin Kudu, where we met the then principal, Malam Dahiru Abdulkadir, a gentleman per excellence. That day Baba got the support of Baba Dahiru (as he was popularly called) for the “transplantation project”. Consequently, I gained admission into the college where I studied between 1997 and 2000 for my Senior Secondary School education. It was within this period that Baba became the Minister of Education. Nonetheless, he kept vigil on my progress, ensuring that I was happy, learning and getting along with my peers to achieve his goal of integration.
For my undergraduate education, again, Baba took me to the then Vice-Chancellor of Bayero University Kano, where I eventually gained admission and studied law. Upon completion of law school, I was posted to Abia State for my National Youth Service in 2008, and Baba insisted that I remained there and served, and did not seek relocation.
Post NYSC, Baba kept striving to make me better. In a bid to secure a foreign scholarship for my post-graduate education, Baba personally travelled a long distance by road to visit the then Governor of Jigawa State and interceded on behalf.
When it was time for me to get married, Baba planned and executed the entire gamut. He also did the same thing for the naming ceremony of my son, whom he encouraged me to name after my late father.
With every step I took forward in life and every progress made, I could see and sense the happiness in Baba. His motivation was clearly that of the “joy of empowering me to grow” for the sake of Allah.
My personal salvation story can never be fully explained, expressed or dwelled upon. I will, therefore, proceed to speak on other shining examples which underscore the greatness of Baba.
Baba was very courageous and to an extent a fearless man. He seemed to always comport himself without unnecessary worries or fears. I recall sometime in the year 2006 when we were waylaid enroute Yola, the Adamawa State capital, around the Savannah before Numan. Baba boldly confronted the bandits in dialogue, refusing to lie down despite literally having a gun pointed at him by the bandits, instead choosing to teach us a lesson in courage by urging us not to show weakness to the full hearing of the bandits, whom as a result became intimidated by Baba’s heroism and fled into the bush. An unarmed aging man scaring a group of heavily armed bandits by sheer strength of character. Incredible and amazing!
Baba was a very devout Muslim and an ardent worshipper. In my relatively young age, I have never seen or heard of any person who worshipped harder than him in recent time. I have always known Baba to bridge Maghrib and Isha prayers with intermediary adulations and supplications. He will stay behind after the congressional prayer and continue individually till when it was time for Isha. He avoided every form of distraction or temptation and religiously pursued this routine for the most part of his life. This meant that Baba made himself unavailable for worldly and mundane things roughly between the hours of 6pm and 8pm for the better part of his life. This he did even during his very busy days and when he became old and less strong.
In addition to his evening devotion, Baba also performed Qiyam Al Layl every night not just during Ramadan. Regardless of his engagements or tiredness, he will stand at night before going to bed and pray a number of Rakats averaging another two hours every night. Baba will also stay behind after Subhi and pray till day break consistently and repeatedly every day.
Baba was endowed with a powerful intellect. He was well educated, well read and well-travelled. He had memorized the Quran, mastered English literature – able to relevantly quote Shakespeare with ease whenever he needed to, and had a graphic account of Nigerian, African and world history amongst other things. Baba had a deep knowledge and understanding of sociology and culture. He could speak at least three Nigerian languages fluently (Bura, Hausa and Fulani).
Nigeria has indeed lost an illustrious son; a patriot, nationalist, detribalized figure whose friendship and association cut across ethnic and religious lines. He remained passionate about Nigeria’s unity and development until he died. He always advocated for education and investment in human capital as fundamentals for our advancement into peaceful and prosperous nationhood.
Baba has gone, but the lives he has touched positively will remain worthy ambassadors for the virtues he stood for in his admirable lifetime. His legacies will continue to contribute to the betterment of humanity as a whole.
May Allah grant Baba Jannah Firdausi and continue to bless his family.
Hamza Ahmed Gudaji wrote from Abuja FCT.