By Sen. Ibrahim M. Ida
If it is painful to lose a friend. It is surely a million times more staggering, bewildering, shattering and confusing to lose a friend, a companion, a non-blood brother, a confidant and someone you have known most of your life. That was what happened to me in the late hours of Monday 17th August, 2020. That was when Malam Wada Abdullahi Maida, OON, former Chief Press Secretary to Head of State Maj. Gen. Muhammadu Buhari (as he then was); former staff and ultimately the Managing Director of News Agency of Nigeria (NAN); and until his death, the Chairman of the Agency.
Mal. Wada Maida (as was fondly called) and I were together at his house in the evening of Monday, 10th August. 2020 (exactly one week to his demise) and it was then that we decided to travel to Katsina by air through Kano the following Thursday. When we arrived Kano, we were to visit Mal Abba Dabo to condole him on the recent death of his father. I was to arrange the flight tickets, and even though we were both nervous about the trip on account of the Covid-19 threat, especially since both of us fell within the high-risk age group. we were worried of the possible devastating consequences, if we were to contract the disease.
We were together again at my office on Wednesday 12th August, 2020, which was a place we shared for upward of seven years. It was then that we each got our flight tickets to Kano. We agreed to meet at the airport the following day Thursday 13th August, 2020. Contrary to our usual practice whenever we were to travel anywhere together (something very often), one would pass through the other’s house to pick him to the airport. We decided not this time but meet at the airport because of Covid 19 induced physical distancing, you may say! He met me at the Airport Lounge, where we chatted freely with the friends we met there, many of whom Wada confessed to me he had not seen for a long time.
During the Max Air flight to Kano, we sat side by side – Wada on seat 2D and I was on 2F. Neither of us realised when we reached Kano until the aircraft was about to land. As usual we were both talking throughout the flight. When we reached Kano, we visited Mal Abba Dabo to condole him and afterwards moved to my house in Kano where we had lunch. Immediately after, Wada proceeded to Katsina, and because I had some things to do in Kano, I was to travel to Katsina two days later, on Saturday. We had agreed on some things to do together in Katsina. When I reached Katsina that Saturday, I passed through his house (which was quite close to mine), to see some renovation work he was carrying out. He conducted me round and after, we stood by idly talking. It was then that he looked into the sky and made a casual remark that people spend time and resources renovating their houses as if they were going to remain in this world forever. It was a casual passing remark, but with hindsight, it appears as it now seems to me he had a premonition that his time on earth was coming to an end. But that never crossed my mind at the time. We both laughed and before I left him, we agreed that he would come to my house and together we would go and condole Alh Hassan Kurfi on the death of his wife. I left his house at around 1.15 pm on that Saturday August 15th, 2020, and, alas, that was to be our last face to face meeting on this earth. Although we spoke on the phone later that evening and the following morning, we never saw each other again.
As we had different schedules – Wada wishing to return to Abuja and I proceeding to Kaduna for an Arewa Consultative Forum meeting in Kaduna on Tuesday 18th August 2020 , we could not return to Abuja together. We, however, agreed to meet in my office on Thursday 20th August, 2020 to conclude arrangements for an event we were planning to hold.
I was in my hotel room in Kaduna on Monday 17th August, 2020, preparing for the ACF meeting the following day when, at exactly 10.12 p.m., I received a phone call from Alhaji Abdulmunin Bello. I thought it strange that he should call me at that time. When I answered, he gave me the shattering news that Wada had died suddenly, and quietly at home that evening, after he had said his Ishaa prayer and had even had his usual evening walk. So while shattered by the news, I was consoled by the fact that the true and believing Muslim that he was, he died in his purity. He died with ablution, after he had said his obligatory prayer to his Creator, Allah SWT.
Now tell me, how should I start talking about a person that has been my friend since our adolescence? Incidentally, very few people know that his real name was MUNTARI, (or MOUKTAR as people would say it these days). Mai Wada is a nickname given to children whose birth ushered in good fortune to the family, and in his case, it was shortened to WADA. The name Wada stuck, and completely displaced his real name (sunan yanka). Incidentally, at the cemetery when I asked some of his close friends if they knew his real name. They all confessed that they did not, and they begged me to tell them. I told them to wait and find out from this piece.
Wada came from Katsina Town, and from a relatively large family even by the northern standard. He was the fourth of his mother’s six all male children and his father being polygamous, as all our fathers were at the time, had many other children. Wada’s father was a prosperous artisan, who also engaged in farming. Therefore, the family was well provided for. In politics, the father, though not a radical in the present sense of the term, was also not strictly pro establishment. My father’s elder brother (who was Wada’s father’s best friend) once told me that when they were in their teens and twenties, he and Wada’s father were members of a group that went round to ensure that justice was meted out to the weak members of the society and that the environment remained safe. They were politically soft-liners, though more inclined towards NEPU Ideology. That may explain the origin of the fact that throughout his life, Wada remained slightly on the left side of the political divide. His politics started and ended with the interest of President Muhammadu Buhari. Although Wada was evidently an APC sympathiser (indeed one of its committed sympathisers), to the best of my knowledge, he was never a card carrying member of that party. Or any other political party for that matter.
Wada was said to be an inquisitive and highly accident prone child. This explains a lot of the challenges he later faced in life. He was said to have had chilly pepper in his eyes, something that almost turned him blind. At another time, he fell off a donkey and broke his arm, which explains why he lost the ability to stretch one of his arms. Another time, he fell from a stationary truck and broke his nose. Yet another time, he was hit by a car as he was riding a bicycle, and had to be retrieved from under the car. And so many other incidents, all of which had one side effect or the other on his life.
At school, Wada was an intelligent and committed student. He passed through primary school without hindrance ( skipped class seven of Senior Primary School), and at Katsina Secondary School ( as the present Dikko College was then called). It was then he started to manifest what he later became in life, a journalist. He was a member of the Literary Society, Drama Club, and was the Editor of the School Newspaper. He also showed great interest in carpentry, something those in the know will not find strange. He passed out of secondary school in December 1968 with a good West African School Certificate (WASC) result, and that was why he was able to pursue further education at the various tertiary institutions he attended.
I cannot say exactly when Wada and I knew each other. We were childhood friends, but we were in different Junior and Senior Primary Schools. But we were brought together at Secondary School, Katsina, though I was a class ahead. For the four years we spent together, we were in the same Magaji House, and were always in the same room.
After our sojourn at secondary, I went to Kano to continue schooling, while he went to Kaduna after finishing a year later. Although in different towns/Cities, we never completely lost touch with each other. Our relationship was further cemented with him taking Amina as his wife – she is a distant relation. Her father and mine were schoolmates, and distant relations.
We came closer when we both moved to Lagos. We became inseparable. We were always together in the evenings and on weekends. And we were always traveling to Katsina, UK, Saudi Arabia and many other places together. Incidentally, his dad was my father’s elder brother’s best friend. They grew up together, so our friendship could be said to have had long standing family connections.
The level of our friendship and the extent to which we confided in each other on various aspects of our secrets knew no bounds. Such was how we were that after both of us had retired from service, we had our offices at the same place for many years. It was with difficulty that Wada convinced me to let him move to his own premises.
Wada was careful, cautious, intelligent, thrifty, and a quiet person, who would not involve himself in things that did not concern him. He was a man of few and well chosen words. He was a prolific writer, always to the point. The good journalist that he was, he never wasted words.
At a personal level, Wada was very good to the family, both immediate and extended and to people generally. Unknown to many people, he was doing a lot of charitable work.
As a family man, he was a caring husband to his beloved Amina, and an excellent father to his children – Pharn. Farida, Arch. Fadila, Dr. Aminu, Eng. Nabila and surely soon to be Dr. Abdullahi. He lost his precious Nusaiba to a protracted illness in 2006. He did not spare any expense to see that they all got solid moral upbringing, and the very best education possible. One thing that was always been in his mind was the fond memory of his beloved daughter NUSAIBA. She was the youngest child.. To his friends, especially to me, he was precious. He had the simplicity and ability to make you think that you were the only friend he had in the world. Every friend was special to him, and always believed that when people come together, especially childhood friends, they could achieve a lot and provide each other with companionship and protection. Which explains how he, and some of us, childhood friends resident in Abuja, came to form an association in the early 90s, which we have since formalised in ABOKAN AMANA FOUNDATION. We took turns holding monthly dinners in our homes and each member went with his spouse/s. Oh, it has been a wonderful forum for us, as we use the meetings to discuss issues of interest and also contribute money to do some charitable works. We have since got our spouses to do likewise.
Wada was the Chairman and I his ‘troublesome’ deputy, always urging him to vacate the chair so that I could step in. I never knew that vacation of the chair was going to be in the manner it has now turned out to be. Oh, Wada, I wish there was a way you could come back to continue to be the chairman forever. I do not mind being the deputy forever!
It has not been an easy thing to start to write this, but having started, it has become difficult to stop. There are so many things I want to say about my friend, our friend, Malam Muntari (Wada) Abdullahi Maida, (mostly known as Malam Wada Maida) of blessed memory.
As I force myself to stop writing, I want to end with a simple prayer to Allah SWT that in the same way as Wada left this world peacefully in his house among his wife, children and grandchildren; having first gone home to Katsina to (even if unknowingly) bid farewell to his place of birth, relations and friends there; and with purity with ablution having performed that evening’s obligatory Magrib and Ishaa prayers, may his entry into heaven be smoother and more peaceful. May Allah SWT make Aljannah Firdaus his final abode, along with our parents who had gone before him.
To the members of the immediate and extended families he left behind; to my friends and fellow members of the Abokan Amana Foundation; to his teeming friends, professional and business associates; and to journalism profession in all its forms and ramifications, I join you all in mourning the irreparable loss of Malam Wada Maida. The vacuum his death has created will take a very long time to fill, if it will ever be. He was a beautiful soul, a true inspiration to everyone around him and a great loss to all the people who knew him. I know he will be terribly missed and his memory will be cherished forever.
Adieu brother and a true friend!
––Sen. Ibrahim M. Ida, CON, (Sardaunan Katsina)