40 days after: What UST meant to me
By Badamasi S. Burji
So much has been written on Malam Umar Sa’id Tudun Wada’s personality on social media.
But whenever I try writing on the same, tears would start rolling down my cheeks because I don’t know how to begin.
It has continued this way till my colleague, Abdulazeez Abdulazeez sent a message informing me that my Mass Communication teacher needed a short write-up entitled: “What Umar meant to me” to be published in his Daily Trust Sunday column.
That encouraged me to write, even if it was a three-paragraph tribute, knowing full-well that it would eventually increase in content and detail; since the prolific columnist knew how closely tied I was to Umar.
And to say the least, the death of Umar Sa’id Tudun Wada left me in hours-long daze that tremored with confusing dejection.
I was on my farm in Kano with Engr. Suleiman Sulkan, Dr. Ismaila and my brother Alhussein Burji when my editor, Nana Asma’u Gwadabe called to confirm the death of Umar Sa’id Tudun Wada. She told me that the Nigerian Guild of Editors Kano/Jigawa Forum leader’s post in the group requested that we immediately assemble at Tudun Wada’s house.
That moment, I saw a pile of several strange missed calls on my phone’s screen and got more and more confused about who, to call first. I had seen one of his cars thrice along Zoo Road and even tried to reach him before all these happenings that fateful day.
In the end, I decided to call Malam Sule Yau Sule and when he picked up the phone, he couldn’t talk but cried like a baby. It was an instance that exactly reminded of my mother’s death, confirming our friend’s death.
It was in his house that I was told that one of his wives, Aisha Sule, another colleague, was involved with him in the accident. Then, I first recalled his comments the day I presented T-shirts and face-caps to him and Aisha for his campaign as Deputy President of the Nigerian Guild of Editors in Lagos.
No wonder the Vice-Chancellor of National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN), Prof. Abdallah Uba Adamu observed my mood when I saw the vehicle conveying his corpse pass to the cemetery for Jana’iza (funeral prayer). He consoled me at that point and advised that I remained in Tudun Wada’s house, implying that there was no need for me to follow them to the cemetery. I heeded and remained behind with Usman Usman and other colleagues who were also traumatised by Tudun Wada’s death.
It happened that many didn’t know my strong relationship with the late Umar Sa’id Tudun Wada till after his death, more especially when they saw me with his two elder brothers and nephews, who would quickly call my attention each time guests came to express their condolences.
Some thought UST, as he was fondly called, was just editor of my publication, CONCERN Magazine, because he always addressed me as Chairman; others thought that he was just my senior colleague, while others as well thought that our closeness was just because he hailed from the same Tudun Wada/Doguwa federal constituency with me.
But my relationship with UST went beyond all these thoughts. He was like an elder brother to me. Aside from writing the Common Entrance Examination from his father’s house, his elder brother married our elder sister, which makes me an appendage of his extended family.
UST had always supported and encouraged me since the very day I chose writing as my profession in the ’80s. Much more, he was behind the publishing and launching of my first Hausa novel “In so ya yi so,” meaning if love reaches its peak; a novel which sold over 60,000 copies in Northern Nigeria. It was for this book project he sacrificed his electric typewriter, which is like Apple laptop today. He also offered his full support when I was handling the General Hassan Usman Katsina biography project, which included two books, a documentary and memoirs. In fact, he did the documentary’s voice-over.
When the idea of establishing CONCERN came, he supported me again. And after the founding editor Malam Suleiman Uba left with the promise of assisting whenever the need arose, the late Umar became the editor. I was uncomfortable when he offered to serve as editor, wondering how I could mete out instructions to my mentor and superior.
This I told him, adding that I was prepared to step aside and appoint him to a higher post. But quite typical of him, he insisted that he was okay as editor. He also urged me to feel free to give him instructions while in the office, and expect same from him while we were at home. I still have no doubt that it was love that made him accept to serve under me in the company, even though he was far ahead of me academically, professionally and age-wise.
Umar turned CONCERN into a masterpiece overnight, giving sound professional training to all the staff and setting new standard and structure. He also invited some seasoned professionals to serve on the editorial board.
I can recall the day Malam Usman Sule Riruwai called me to watch CNN Live where CONCERN was broadcast as a reference for its report on the Trovan drugs scandal that killed many innocent children and disabled others. It was a highly insightful and investigative report, entitled: “A Trovan trouble.”
Remarkably, it was under his editorship that we were invited by the late King Fahd bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques to cover the 2002 Hajj. And that was why I insisted on having two slots for UST and I. And I got them in the end.
He was the publication’s editor when former Governor of Kano State Dr. Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso appointed him Press Secretary. This made him request Malam Salisu Alhassan Bichi, his close friend who served as secretary when he was Kano State Chairman of the Nigeria Union of Journalists, to replace him as the magazine’s editor.
When he informed us that Bichi would take over from him I became confused, but accepted Malam Bichi as editor with Malam Adamu Dada as deputy editor. These men handed me over to Malam Halilu Baba Dantiye, former President of the Nigerian Guild of Editors for more professional mentoring, which he did beyond my expectations. As a matter of fact, UST and Baba Dantiye were the ones who drew CONCERN Magazine closer to the governor and the government. UST also introduced me to his friends, particullarly Abdulhameed Majia, a thoroughbred writer who also reached the peak of the journalism profession.
When I started packaging kuli-kuli and kilishi, Umar did about the strangest of things at the Nigerian Guild of Editors Conference held in Rivers State in 2017. I said what UST did during my factory’s commissioning by Mr. Femi Adesina, Special Adviser to President Muhammadu Buhari on Media and Publicity; an event for which UST came before everyone else to receive guests.
Back to what happened in Rivers State, UST met my Deputy Editor Benjamin Tochi and I very pressed in front of the hotel with four cartons of our products before we got accommodation. He asked why we were waiting there. And I told him that we were looking for a trolley and room to keep the products before we could get accommodation. UST just smiled and requested us to take them to his room on the fifth floor.
And not just that, he took off his cap and placed one of the cartons on his head like a hawker and another on his shoulder, asking Benjamin and I to follow him with two other cartons. He did not mind that some of the who-is-who in the Nigerian journalism industry were watching and laughing. Unworried by the fact that he was chairing a committee at the conference, UST handled the scenario with impressive ease like an act in a movie.
In short, UST was a man of his words, and one could hardly change whatever he believed in. Yet I was one lucky fellow he couldn’t say no to. Even his wives would attest to this.
It was owing to the love UST had for me that I named my first son after him in 1993. Now, Umar Farouk B. Burji is on mandatory National Youth Service Corps duty in Dutse, Jigawa State.
This is to say that UST virtually impacted every project I embarked on and made sure I succeeded. Unfortunately, what Malam Umar couldn’t witness is the successful completion of our company’s educational books project which he cherished so much. With most of the books meant for primary school subjects and library readers and written by processionals, I regard them as topmost priority. They have taken me about 10 years, 90 per cent done and not yet commissioned; even as I have been praying to make their completion and commissioning a reality.
Indeed, Nigeria has lost a great patriot and professional journalist who died with terrific concern about the condition of the common man. I can recall the day he spent over three hours discussing Nigeria and the common man with our Lagos-based staff, Isa Ahmed Jimeta and Zainab Lami Shehu, when they came to congratulate him on winning a union election.
Umar never fed fat on public funds, even though he had many opportunities to do so. His integrity now speaks for him, as he can be rated amongst 10 great Kano people that died and the living came in large numbers from all walks of life to condole with their families.
A fearless and honest journalist, he was as well a dedicated, easy-going and selfless philanthropist. Whatever event you invited him, he would do all that was possible to attend. And he was such that would instantly fall asleep whenever pressure became too much.
Among his family, close friends, colleagues and associates, one cannot say who lost and still miss him most, because he endeared himself to all.
This world and its luxuries meant nothing to UST. We therefore pray that you have your luxury where you have gone till we meet you there insha Allah.
Dear UST, Bilkhair.
Kullu nafsin za ikatul maut; Allah Ya jikansa Ya bashi Aljannar Fiddausi.
Burji is the publisher/CEO Concern Magazine and proprietor of First Class Refreshments Ltd.