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Tribute to a humble journalist, Garba Aliyu Zaria

We surely belong to Allah and to him we shall return. It was with great shock that I received the information about the passing away…

We surely belong to Allah and to him we shall return. It was with great shock that I received the information about the passing away of a senior colleague, mentor, father and friend.

I received the information from Jamilu Umar Matazu, a close friend and colleague, who said Zaria suffered a brief illness Saturday morning while he was at work in his office but managed to go back home.

Matazu added, “I met him in his house in Agege and we discussed, although his voice had changed. He suffered from high blood pressure. His wife brought some food and roasted meat, popularly called suya and we ate together. He ate well and we continued our discussion.

He told me that he could not see. And when it was about 9pm he asked his wife to turn the television to the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) as he wanted to listen to news. 

When I wanted to go, he stood up and wanted to see me off, but I told him not to bother as he said he could not see. I left, only for his wife to call me on phone three hours later, saying he was no more. He died around 1am on Sunday, aged 65. 

 Before his death, Zaria was a veteran journalist who spent 41 years in practice. He even practised 12 hours to his demise. He was a humble and easygoing man, always ready to serve people. 

He always called to ask of me. The only day we did not talk on phone was the day he fell seek.

During his lifetime I had attend several assignments with him within and outside Lagos. There was a time he drove us to Ile-Ife in Osun State to cover an event at the palace of the Ooni.

Zaria started his journey as a journalist in Radio Nigeria, Kaduna, where he served as a correspondent in Maiduguri, Borno State. He was once the chairman of the Correspondents Chapel in the state. He also served as a correspondent in Minna, Niger State, Abeokuta, the Ogun State capital, Ibadan in Oyo State, and finally, Lagos State. 

He spent 28 years as a correspondent in Radio Nigeria, Kaduna before joining the Radio France International (RFI) as a freelancer. He rose to the position of a deputy editor-in-chief after he got a permanent appointment. He worked in Radio France International for 13 years, during which he introduced and anchored lots of programmes. He remained one of the remarkable voices in the organisation’s Hausa Service.

Bashir Ibrahim Idris, the editor-in-chief of the Hausa Service of Radio France International, said he had shared office space with the late Zaria for a decade.

“I recall that as an ardent radio listener in my teen years in the 1980s, the signature tune of Zaria was among the many that hit the airwaves between 7am and 10pm everyday during a programme known as Barka da Yau, and sometimes political programmes, such as Alkawari Kaya, Dandalin Siyasa, A fada a cika, and many more.

“I still remember some of his contemporaries, such as Muhammed Yelwa Gavi; Mohammed Ibrahim; John Adukwu; Musa Aliyu Keffi; Lawal Abu Galadanchi; Abubakar Abdurrahman; Bashir Ahmed; Onyekachi Kelechi; Yahaya Maiyaki; Musa Usman; Sahabi Aliyu; Mahmoon Baba Ahmed; Buhari Awwalu and many others, who were supervised by the likes of Gambo Ibrahim, Halilu Ahmed Getso, Bashir Mustapha, Rabiu Isa Keita etc.

“It was in 2007 when I joined the RFI Hausa as an editor-in-chief that I met Malam, Garba as I always called him, through our colleagues, the late Ladan Ibrahim Ayawa of the Voice of America (VOA) and Umar Shehu Elleman of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC).

“During the years we shared office, I saw him as a very confident and resourceful person, always determined to succeed. His style of presentation was unique as he always carried his colleagues and listeners along,” he said.

He continued, “He was a disciplined, committed and loyal staff who went an extra mile to cover the lapses of others. He was a bundle of humility. And he  never complained or sought favours at work.

Idris continued, “Because of the kind of respect he had for me, Garba never called me by my name; he simply said, ‘Allah Saini.’ And I always replied with, ‘Malam Garba.’ I was used to calling him Malam Garba, such that sometimes even when we were anchoring live programmes together, I would be carried away, forgetting that we were on air.

“Throughout those 13 years we shared the same office and worked together as editor-in-chief and deputy editor-in-chief, we never quarreled, although sometimes we would disagree on policies and presentations.

“He was one of our staff who lived far away from the office. Those who understand Lagos traffic and Mallam Garba’s daily journey from Agege to Ikoyi would understand the kind of stress he went through.

“Last week Friday was the last time we shared office. He usually produced his weekly magazine, ‘Mu Zagaya Duniya,’ which focused on the major stories of the week. On that fateful day, I supervised the news production and presented the 9pm news because the person assigned to do the presentation was sick. 

“We worked until after the news presentation at 9.30pm when I left him, without any inkling that that would be the last day we would work together.

“On Saturday, he presented the news at 7am, but I did not have the opportunity to listen to him.” 

He further said, “One of our ardent listeners, a former senator sent a text message, asking me what was wrong with Garba that day. In the message, he stated that he wasn’t coherent in his news presentation, but he was fluent in the magazine he produced, which was aired at the same time. 

“As usual, I forwarded the message to him. Later, around 10am, our driver called to inform me that Baba Garba was sick and he offered to take him to hospital but he declined.

“I directed him to inform Michael Kuduson so that they could take him to a doctor. Kuduson said he approached him on the need to see a doctor, but he declined, insisting that he had taken his medication, so we allowed the matter to rest.

“When I arrived the office at 2pm I met him lying down on a chair. He told me it was high blood pressure but he was recovering. I insisted that we either took him to hospital or home since his family are here. He later agreed to go home and we asked the driver to accompany him. That was our last encounter with Malam Garba.

“Early Sunday morning, around 4am to be precise, I missed a call from our driver but saw a text message informing me that Malam Garba was no more. I immediately called his eldest daughter and heard her crying. Before she confirmed her father’s demise I was confused for some moments before informing our head and colleagues in order to prepare for the burial, which was slated for that morning.

“We certainly miss a colleague, confidant, hard working man, and above all, a courageous journalist.

“Since his demise, every day at work I expect to hear him say, ‘Allah Saini ayi hakuri da mu,’ but that would never happen again.

“For the last one week, the kind of eulogies we have had about him from colleagues, community leaders, emirs, politicians and many more, confirm to us that Malam Garba lived a peaceful and rewarding life.”  

Also, Ramatu Garba Baba, a journalist at DW, who worked with the late Zaria before moving to Germany said, “Although we met through work, our relationship was like that of a father and daughter because he shared the same name as my late father, whom I cherished more than anything. 

“I never called him by his name. I called him Baba. And as long as I can remember, he addressed me also as ‘Ya ta,’ meaning my daughter. When I announced my move to Bonn he started calling me Angela Merkel. 

“That’s the kind of person Garba Aliyu was. He was one of the funniest people I have ever come across in any newsroom I have worked. As shocking as his death was, my memories of him are of rib-cracking jokes, both on air and off air. 

“Garba Aliyu was as classic as his sense of humour. You can only relate to what I am saying if you had the privilege of meeting and working with him. 

“I choose to remember him with those beautiful qualities that stand him out as a veteran journalist, more of an entertainer, but above all, a fine human being. 

“May you be granted rest in death that you desired in life. May peace be with you.” 

Zaria will be deeply missed. May Allah in his infinite mercy grant him Aljannah Firdaus and take charge of his family; amin.

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