The call lasted for about 43 seconds, but it was the most dreadful phone call I ever received. Perhaps it was a premonition, but I had difficulties falling asleep that night. I was, thus, awake when the phone call came through around 2am. A phone call around that time is often a harbinger of some bad news, but I never thought it would be about the passing away of my dear uncle. It was Jaafar on the phone, and the words he uttered still reverberate in my ears. “Yaya Mustapha, Baba ya tafi ya bar mu” (“Yaya Mustapha, Baba has gone, leaving us behind”). It was a euphemism, but the meaning slowly sank in. I cannot remember how the call ended. Kawu (uncle) Jamilu could not be dead! Jafaar must be wrong!
So, I grabbed my keys and went towards the door. My wife heard me fumbling with the front door and asked where I was going and I mumbled something about leaving the car headlights on. I am sure she did not believe me, but I could not tell her. She was very close to Kawu Jamilu and I knew she could not handle it. His house is not far from ours, so I walked towards the house, fervently praying that Jaafar had made some mistakes. It was 2am, but I was not even aware of my surroundings. I just kept walking.
The sequence of activities that night is permanently engraved in my mind. It was the longest and most dreadful night in my life: the ambulance driving in, his body taken into the house, and the seven hours we spent with his body, praying and crying. Kawu is really dead. There was I, touching his lifeless body, the reality dawning on me. Innalillahi wa innalillahirrajiun (from Allah we are, and to Him, we return), Kawu is dead! We will never see him again or talk to him.
Jamil, my second child who was named after him, will never grow to fully know his grandpa! Muhammad, the elder one, asked his mother where Baba was, and she told him that he had gone to Jannah (paradise). He then asked “When will I go there to meet Baba” and she told him “When you grow white hair and become a grandpa like him.” It was touching.
Whilst I try to control my emotions, my wife is in greater shock as she was closer to Kawu Jamilu. She was very close to Kawu since childhood, and when he got married, Sweetie (as he called her) went to live with him and his wife. She was then in primary school. She grew up as the first child in the house, taking care of the younger ones.
Kawu Jamilu was a constant figure in my life, shaping it significantly. Kawu’s presence in my life became more prominent during my transition from secondary school to university. He was then working as an administrative staff at Bayero University Kano (BUK). I would go to his office, almost every other day. He was very caring and would ask me about my studies and whether I was facing any problems. I would always come out with something from his office: fatherly advice or some cash, mostly both. On Fridays, we would go to the Juma’at prayer together at the Old Campus of the University. After the prayers, we would go to his house to have lunch and then return to the New Campus. That was the routine for the six years I spent as an undergraduate student at the Faculty of Engineering.
At home, there was equally a routine. His house was a second home to me. I would frequently go to the house and spend time with the family. Yaya’s (his mother’s) house was another constant meeting point in the evening. We would meet, spend time there, and often went home together as we lived in the same neighborhood. Kawu was simply part of my life.
His death revealed so many good things about him. His funeral drew a crowd larger than the Eid-ul- Fitr we just had. Thousands of people thronged to the New Campus Juma’at Mosque to attend the funeral. A security man told me that he had never seen a gathering as large as the funeral in all his years in BUK. And then, we began to hear testimonies about the good deeds of Kawu. From those he assisted in getting admission and during their studies, to those he assisted in getting employed in the university and beyond. Others were touched by his benevolence and mentorship in their careers. I saw men crying during the funeral.
On Friday, two days after his death, the Imam of the University’s Jumu’at Mosque dedicated a good part of his sermon extolling his good deeds. He praised his patience and humility, commitment to work, and how he treated everyone very well. He prayed for Allah to have mercy on him and admit him to Jannah (paradise). The sermon was comforting.
That was how Kawu spent his life: helping others. You just need to knock on his door, explain your problems and he would be there to help. If it is something he could not do, he would tell you nice and comforting words. You would definitely leave his office happier. Many people had attested to this even before his death. But his death brought out many of these stories.
Kawu was a patient and down-to-earth person who was kind to a fault. He remained humble even as he rose through the ranks to become the registrar of BUK. His colleagues attested to this. He maintained his aura of friendliness and simplicity even as the registrar of the university. His approach to life has always impressed me. He was content and I never heard him complaining of either wealth or health. He accepted things the way they were and he did not pursue worldly materials. His colleagues described him as a frank and incorruptible person who detested injustice. He was a devoted Muslim who leaned towards the spiritual rather than the temporal world.
His devotion to his mother was unique. Unless he is out of town, he would visit his mother every day and spend most part of the evening with her. That was the routine as far as I can remember. It does not matter whether he left the office at 5pm or 9pm. He would go to see Yaya. He was with her that night, about 3 hours before his death. He held her hand and bade her goodnight. It was the routine, but unknown to them, that was to be their last meeting.
As if he knew he was going to die, Kawu increased his good deeds in the weeks before his death. During the last Ramadan period, he gave out a lot of food items to the needy. He would fill the trunk of his car with food items and drive out. He used to give two sets of new clothes to Muhammad and Jamil every Eid but gave them four sets last Eid-ul-Fitr. He did not miss a single Tarawih prayer during Ramadan.
In retrospect, our interaction with Kawu was deeper and stronger in the days before his death. A few days before his death, he came to our house and spent more than two hours with Fatima and the children. Unfortunately, I was not around to enjoy that opportunity. A day before his death, Fatima and his grandchildren visited him. She told me that he spent a long time playing with them. They were jumping all over him, and when she tried to stop them, he asked her to let them be. I will have difficulty explaining to them where Baba (as they called him) has gone. Muhammad may understand, though not fully, but I am sure that Jamil will keep asking about Baba.
We have been trying to control the emotions that kept flooding. I have refused to fully process what his death means to our lives. However, one thing is clear to us: a great wall has fallen. Our lives will never be the same. The kids cannot understand death, but will surely miss walking down to see Baba, play with him, and come back with goodies. They would understand these aspects. Fatima will surely miss Kawu who had been part of her life since her birth. He was simply her dad.
Kawu’s departure has left a huge gap in our lives. From Yaya (his mother), his wife and children, his brothers and sister, uncles and aunts, cousins, nephews and nieces, friends, and colleagues at work…to the multitude of people whose lives were touched by him. We are all terribly shaken by his death.
The enormity of the loss hit me hard as I sat with his corpse in the ambulance towards the graveyard, and again, as we lowered him into his grave. I cried. Kawu is indeed gone!
We love Kawu Jamilu, but Allah, His Creator, loves him more. May He have mercy on him and admit him to Jannatul Firdaus.
Mustapha Bello PhD sent in this tribute from Kano
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