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Sulaiman Muhammad: The chief mourner goes home

Before these two distinguished gentlemen began to send me Friday messages, in the last few years, my first and second ‘jumu’ah Mubarak’ texts always came…

Before these two distinguished gentlemen began to send me Friday messages, in the last few years, my first and second ‘jumu’ah Mubarak’ texts always came from my ‘younger brothers’ Barrister Danlami Wushishi of Minna and Barrister Musa Saleh of Abuja. Danlami’s usually comes first at about 6 am and still does, while Musa’s will come anytime later. But they were unfailing and I greatly appreciate them and the many other brothers, sisters, nephews, nieces and friends who remember me every Friday, and beat me at the game of text greetings, because I always end up a replier.
Yesterday, I got no Friday message from Sulaiman Muhammad for the simple but painful reason that he had returned to his Creator the day before. I was on the phone with him exactly two days earlier, when I called to make enquiries in connection with my editorial board duties. I was pleased to find out that a problem I had raised with him some time ago had been solved. I put off my phone very pleased with the quiet but efficient way he had solved the problem. Indeed quiet and efficient are two words that sum up Sulaiman’s attitude and dedication to work.
I was on my laptop last Thursday around 10.30 am when my husband stood at my door and announced that he had some bad news for me. When I raised my head to ask what it was, nothing prepared me for what he had to say. He disclosed as easily as was possible in such circumstances that Sulaiman, the managing editor, had slumped while talking to some people a few minutes ago. He had now been pronounced dead at a hospital. I was so shocked that all I could say repeatedly was ‘innaa lillahi wa innaa ilaihi raji’un.’
When I finally found my voice I said to my husband that I was on phone with him just two days ago. His reply was ‘I prayed with him at the mosque just yesterday. Afterwards I joked with him about his new car.’ In short, no one who saw Sulaiman those last few days had any premonition of death. So shocking was his death on Thursday that it brought the office to a stand-still. Between those who went to Keffi with the body to attend his funeral to those left behind to draft the sad story, everyone moved with a sense of sorrow and disbelief. And it wasn’t just the fact that as managing editor he was so central to the workings of the company, it was also that he was at work that morning and had perfected all arrangements for the editorial board meeting that takes place every Thursday.
As secretary of the editorial board Sulaiman was the one permanent feature of the team. Only on two occasions could you find him missing from the board, when he was on annual leave and when he was on a condolence journey. For, he was the official chief mourner whenever an editorial staff member died or lost a relation. On behalf of the company Sulaiman had travelled to many parts of this country to visit bereaved families, sometimes along with the personnel manager and other times all alone. On the day of his death he had typed his editorial topics and their bullet- points and printed the copies. In fact he had everything ready except the tea things and snacks. He was reported to have gone to the bank to withdraw money in order to buy those before the meeting commenced at 11. Alas an hour to the meeting he was pronounced dead.
The closest I had been to Sulaiman was when as general editor I worked in the office next to his. I discovered what a quiet, dedicated and efficient worker he was. He was so calm and matured in his dealings with demanding editorial board members and lazy or truant editorial staff that I marvelled at how I had never heard him raise his voice. When Dr Muhammad Ndagi observed that he had never seen him angry , I quickly concurred that after working with him for 15 years I had never seen Sulaiman lose his temper. He was honest, humble, kind, humane and ever ready to be of service.
After reporting from the State House Abuja for eight years, one would have expected him to be chummy with top politicians and eager to hobnob with them but not Sulaiman, whom no one ever heard dropping a name or boasting about his ministerial connections.  Indeed we have heard about how politicians from his native Nasarawa state, including a governor, had invited him to be their press secretary but Sulaiman had turned down such offers in order to remain a journalist.
Many would have jumped at the chance to chase a ‘better life’ by hanging in the corridors of power but Sulaiman’s quiet dignity and proven integrity will not allow him to be at the beck and call of any political office holder. He decided to be true to himself, and lived in Keffi from where he commuted daily to work, in order to avoid Abuja’s exorbitant rent and school fees. He was content to live according to his means while doing the job he loved. Such was Sulaiman’s contentment and austere lifestyle.
If his dedication to his profession seems legendary, his commitment to his family wasn’t any less so. I was at the meeting, way back in November 2004 when our MD/Editor in Chief (now Chairman/CEO) announced to Sulaiman the decision to move him to Lagos as bureau chief. Sulaiman immediately asked for a re-think, citing the fact that his aged mother, who lived with him cannot bear the thought of him living so far away. The MD quickly promised him a plane ticket every fortnight to enable him travel home to see his family. That was what convinced Sulaiman to go to Lagos. By the time he left Lagos three years later, he had so sanitized the affairs of the bureau that the aim of sending him there had been thoroughly achieved.
Luckily for him his mother outlived his Lagos years and had the joy of living under the same roof with him again until less than two years ago when she passed away. Though he had only four children of his own Sulaiman was a guardian to several nephews and nieces, who were children of his late brother and widowed sister. We once talked about buying Sallah shoes for children and when he told me how many pairs he was planning to buy I had to wonder aloud how he managed to have so many children. That was when I got to know about the many orphans in his care. Yet, with all this extra burden, Sulaiman was content with his lot in life. Though he had been to many advanced countries of the world, in the course of his career, he still preferred to remain behind the desk in his Media Trust office, gently guiding and mentoring the many young reporters under him, than the glitter of life on a politician’s campaign trail. 
By all standards on which a human being is judged, Sulaiman is an irreplaceable brother and colleague. May Almighty Allah grant him a place in Aljanna Firdaus, amin.

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