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Thursday morning, the 6th of May, found me at Zaranda Hotel, Bauchi, attending a Retreat of top level public servants from Kano State. As by…

Thursday morning, the 6th of May, found me at Zaranda Hotel, Bauchi, attending a Retreat of top level public servants from Kano State. As by then everyone had got the news of the death of President Umaru Musa ‘Yar’Adua, all of us wore mournful miens as we prepared for the Closing Ceremony of the Retreat so we could head home to Kano and perhaps to Katsina for the President’s funeral.

 At about 9.00 am, a hotel staffer came into the Zaranda Hotel Banquet Hall, mounted a ladder and, before everyone’s eyes, wallahi tallahi brought down the portrait of the late President. Inna lillahi wa inna ilaihi raji’un! We were so numbed with shock that we just looked on. Just then, one of the Retreat delegates who had been monitoring Abuja events on the radio, came in and announced that a new President, Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, had just been sworn in by the Chief Justice of Nigeria. Allahu Akbar!

Zaranda Hotel Bauchi did not want to be caught on a wrong footing; there was a new President, and an old one’s portrait would have to give way. They did not even wait for the expiry of the announced seven-day mourning period before they would bring down Mallam Umaru’s picture. Poignantly, it is in Bauchi that the late Mallam Umaru has a grandson bearing the same name: Umaru. But the portrait of Bauchi State Governor Isa Yuguda was left untouched. Yuguda, it is to be remembered, is son-in-law of the late President and father of the new Umaru. No other example to illustrate dead and alive; past tense and present tense. Allahu Akbar!

 Death is, of course, inevitable. In fact, in the Qur’an Allah the Exalted had said “Kullu nafsin za’iqatil maut…” (Every soul shall taste of death). One thing that we must remember is that death is inevitable, and everything except the Almighty of course, will perish. Signs of death can be seen all around us. At funerals we see people who were once walking among us being buried in their graves. In the fall we see the leaves turn from green to yellow and fall one at a time, and in the winter we see trees, lifeless. In this way, all things in this world will wither away and die. Allah Ya sa mu cika da imani.

 In the Bible, it is said in Ecclesiastes 3:1-2:

“For everything there is a season,

And a time for every matter under heaven:

A time to be born, and a time to die”

 It is reported that that once the great scholar Imam Malik Ibn Anas saw the Angel of Death (in Islam: Azara’il, upon whom be peace) in his sleep and the Imam asked him: “How much time is left for me to live?” The Angel pointed to his five fingers. Then the Imam asked him: “Does that mean five years, or five months, or five days?” Before the Imam had a chance to get an answer, he woke up. So the Imam went to someone who could interpret the dream.

 The man told him: “Imam Malik, when the Angel pointed to his five fingers, he didn’t mean five years or five months or five days. The Angel meant that your question ‘how much time left for me to live’ is among the five matters that only Allah (exalted be His Name) knows about’. The man recited the following verse from the Qur’an: “Verily, with Allah alone is the knowledge of the Hour. And He sends down the rain, and He knows what is in the wombs. And no soul knows what it will earn tomorrow, and no soul knows in what land it will die. Surely, Allah is All-Knowing, All-Aware.”

 In his poem For Whom the Bell Tolls, the poet John Donne reminds us thus:

Each man’s death diminishes me,

For I am involved in mankind.

Therefore, send not to know

For whom the bell tolls,

It tolls for thee.

 In her Joy in Death, another famous poet Emily Dickinson, adds:

If tolling bell I ask the cause.

‘A soul has gone to God,’

I’m answered in a lonesome tone;

Is heaven then so sad?

That bells should joyful ring to tell

A soul had gone to heaven,

Would seem to me the proper way

A good news should be given.

It is reported that when the famous Caliph Haroon Al-Rashid got very ill, the illness that caused his death, he told his staff to go ahead and dig his grave so he can see it before he dies. After the grave was prepared, he asked to be carried to it. Upon arrival, Caliph Haroon looked down into the grave and then looked up toward the sky and said: “O [Allah] Whose rule never ends, have mercy on [Haroon] whose rule has ended.”

 Allah and His Messenger (upon whom be peace), encourage us to contemplate death and be ready for it with good deeds. This is regarded as a sign of goodness. Ibn Umar reports: “A man from among the Ansar [people of Medina] got up and asked: ‘O Prophet of Allah, who is the most sagacious and the most prudent among the people?’ The Prophet replied: ‘Those who are most aware of death and prepare themselves for it. They are the wisest of people and will have honor in this world and a generous reward in the Hereafter.” Ibn Umar continues to report that Allah’s Messenger has also said: “You should remember the reality that brings an end to all worldly joys and pleasures, namely, death.”

 President Umaru Musa Yar’adua was a good man. No one could take that basic goodness from him. It is the reason why such a mammoth crowd congregated in Katsina on Thursday to bid him farewell. Allahu Akbar!

 Now that a good man has died in Mallam Umaru, don’t you wonder, then, why so many people, especially Nigerian leaders, behave as if time has stood still for them and that they will be around forever? Many have relegated to the farthest recesses of their minds the inevitability of time passing them by. Many think that it is only the unfortunate people that meet with calamities. Many think that nemesis is a myth.

 But a contemporary poet says these days funerals are really Fun-for-Alls

The town supposedly came to mourn

but merely socialised on the lawn

Fancy dressed to the occasion came

with tongues difficult to tame

Never were they concerned over death

when the very next second could be their last breath

Dua’s were made as the deceased was laid down

only to be by the call of the cellphone drowned

 We hasten to condole the closest to Mallam Umaru, and to chastise those who prolonged his suffering in this thankless world. He left children and grandchildren. Allah Sarki! Wail of wails, whom will his grandchildren hug and call granddad? Such as lament was detailed by Thomas Gray (1716-71) in his “ELEGY WRITTEN IN A COUNTRY CHURCHYARD,” parts of which read:

“The curfew tolls the knell of parting day,

The lowing herd winds slowly o’er the lea,

The ploughman homeward plods his weary way,

And leaves the world to darkness and to me.

“Beneath those rugged elms, that yew-tree’s shade,

Where heaves the turf in many a mouldering heap,

Each in his narrow cell for ever laid,

The rude Forefathers of the hamlet sleep.

“The breezy call of incense-breathing morn,

The swallow twittering from the straw-built shed,

The cock’s shrill clarion, or the echoing horn,

No more shall rouse them from their lowly bed.

“For them no more the blazing hearth shall burn,

Or busy housewife ply her evening care:

No children run to lisp their sire’s return,

Or climb his knees the envied kiss to share,

“The boast of heraldry, the pomp of power,

And all that beauty, all that wealth e’er gave,

Awaits alike th’ inevitable hour:-

The paths of glory lead but to the grave.”

 Indeed, the paths of glory indeed lead to the grave. Very soon, we will do the late President a two minute silence at every occasion; we may rename some monuments after him; we may pay his gratuities and pensions and in-lieus; but will Zaranda Hotel in Bauchi ever put up his portrait back?

 May Allah forgive President Yar’adua. Allah Ya jikan Umaru.



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