By; ARMIYAU UMARU BABA
‘Every soul will taste of death. And you will only receive your full reward on the Day of Judgement….’ Qur’an 3:185.
Our father, Umaru Muhammad Baba, tasted death on Thursday 25th March 2021, at the age of Eighty-One.
That day will forever be etched in our memory. It seems like yesterday, but it is already a year now.
I remember vividly, I was at work in Abuja that afternoon, when I got a call from Aisha, my wife and I heard her crying. I asked her what was wrong, and she ended the call. Before I could call her back, my sister Zainab’s call came through and as soon as I picked the call, I heard her crying as well. My heart sank and I knew without being told, that my loving dad was no more. As the thought was going through my mind, I still asked Zainab what was wrong, and she said “wai Bappa ya rasu”, informing me of his passing on.
It came as a devastating shock to me, more so as I had called my elder brother, Munir, who was with him at the hospital, a few hours before then to enquire about his condition. Even though he was not in a particularly good condition, we had no inkling that he had just a few hours left to live. Death was not on my mind.
I had visited him two days earlier, on Tuesday 23rd. I was quite alarmed when I saw him lying on the hospital bed; as I have never in my life seen my dad on a hospital bed! He was blessed with good health, and he always downplayed any ailment he had (typical Fulani pulaku).
The Doctor we spoke to on Tuesday was optimistic that he would pull through, and I really thought he would, so I took the evening train back to Abuja. If only I knew he had less than two days to live, I would not have left his side! But Allah knows best. Innalillahi Wainna Ilaihirraji’un (From Allah we come and to him we shall return).Our father was an honest, God fearing and upright man. He was blessed by Allah in so many ways.
He was endowed with material wealth, but it never made him pompous. He gave it out and touched others with it.
He was always caring, always giving and never hesitant when it comes to a worthy cause. He was blessed with Forty-four (44) children (one was a stillborn, and two died before him, Nafisa and Amina -May Allah have mercy on their souls), but despite that, he never looked down on those without children.
He was blessed with intelligence, quick thinking, and the ability to analyse and respond to issues on the spur, but it never made him proud. He was very decisive in taking decisions. He gave out freely to solve other people’s problems without worrying about the future, and despite that, he never lacked! Yes, Bappa never lacked!
He so much believed that Education empowers you to rise to limitless levels. To emphasise the value of Education, he once told me that even if a person is a firewood seller, with an education, the way he would tie his firewood bunch would be different and better than the way a non-educated wood seller would tie his.
He trained us so well. Growing up, he always told us that he would spend his last kobo to educate us to any level we want and anywhere we wanted – and he did. I remember when I graduated from ABU and was doing my NYSC, our discussions were mostly on me furthering my studies.
He personally sponsored me (as he did with many other siblings) to do my Masters degree at the University of Wales in the UK. After my MBA, he again sponsored me to do the ACCA in England.
I remember the day I called him on the phone from London and told him I had qualified as a Chartered Accountant, he started crying on the phone and kept saying ‘Allah Yayi maka albarka Armiyau, Allah Yayi maka albarka.’ He kept saying that while crying and I cried on the phone as well, as I am shedding tears now, remembering and writing this. I am yet to meet anyone who takes pride in other people’s successes and achievements the way my dad did.Alhamdulillah, thanks to the training he gave us, 37 of his Children have first degrees (2 younger ones are on their way to obtaining theirs), 20 have Masters Degrees, 3 have PhDs, and 2 others are rounding up their PhDs, in addition, one is a Chartered Accountant Fellow, and another is in the making.
He had personally sponsored over 50 other relations and non-relations to at least first-degree level. He encouraged the quest for Islamic knowledge. Not surprising, coming from a family of Islamic Scholars and Judges.
His father, Grandfather and Great Grandfather were all Judges/Islamic Scholars (Alkalis). He made us all attend Qur’anic school after school hours and at weekends, without exception. Under his encouragement, two of our mothers memorised the holy Qur’an and are Hafizs.
The other two have gone far in their Qur’anic memorisations as well. He loved his family and always provided protection and a listening ear to all that were under his wings. He loved travelling (I must have gotten that from him) and he had visited practically all African countries, all OPEC countries, and so many countries in Europe, the Americas, Middle East, and the far East. But despite his busy schedule, he always found time for and gave attention to his family. He was an incredibly good listener and would never interrupt you but will patiently listen to whatever you were telling him.
He analyses issues deeply and always seemed to have a solution for everything and everyone! The moment you come to him with a problem, it immediately becomes his and he would do all within his power to solve it for you.
He led by showing good examples. So many people that he worked with at one time or the other came to condole us and said so many glorious things about him.
He touched so many lives positively. He was a quiet philanthropist that had helped so many people. We never knew he had built as many schools, mosques, and boreholes/wells in so many locations, until when he died and people from those communities came to condole us and told us about his efforts. We only knew of a few. May Allah reward his efforts with Jannah, amin.
Late Alhaji Umaru Baba had served Nigeria in many capacities. He was an elected member of the 49 Member Constituent Assembly (CA) in 1977 that gave birth to the 1979 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
He was at two separate times a member of the highest ruling bodies in Nigeria. First as Secretary of State for Defence and Member Transitional Council, between 1992 -1993, during the Shonekan led Transitional Council at the tail end of the IBB regime and secondly, as Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, from 1993 -1995, at the beginning of the Sani Abacha regime.
During his time as Petroleum Minister of State, He worked hard for, and saw to the creation of the Ministry of Solid Minerals Development from the then Ministry of Petroleum Resources. He also led the Federal Government Team that lobbied other OPEC countries and campaigned for the successful emergence of Late Dr. Rilwanu Lukman as Secretary General of OPEC.
In 2006, he was honoured with the National Merit award of Officer, Order of the Federal Republic (OFR).
Late Alhaji Umaru Baba started his early education at Mutum-biyu Elementary School in 1947 and then Yola Middle School in 1952. He then proceeded to Barewa College Zaria in 1955 (B1101) and Ahmadu Bello University in 1961, where he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Public Administration.
He was among the First set of ABU Graduates.
He started his working career as a Clerk with the Muri Native Authority. He later worked with UAC Nigeria Ltd, and then, Mobil Oil Nigeria Ltd, where he was the Northern Region Supervisor.
He also worked with the Nigeria Livestock and Meat Authority as Head of Marketing and Industrial Division. He later moved to Stirling Astaldi (later Stirling Civil Engineering Nig Ltd), as Industrial Adviser and Financial Controller. During the regime of General Yakubu Gowon, Umaru Baba served as Commissioner for Trade and Industry from 1973-1975, in the then North-eastern State governed by Late Brigadier Musa Usman.
During that period, he pioneered the setting up of Ashaka Cement Co. Nig Ltd, Gombe Oil Seed Nigeria Ltd, Nguru Oil Mills Nig Ltd, North east Tannery Ltd (NETAL), Nigerian Beverages Production Ltd (Makers of Highland Tea), Lau Tomato Canning Ltd, and Savannah Sugar Co. Ltd. He was Chairman of all the above Companies during that period.
He was known to be very dedicated to whatever cause he set for himself, especially if it would benefit others. He was at various times Chairman, Gongola State Water Board, Chairman Governing Council of the Federal Polytechnic Idah, Chairman, National Water Resources Institute Kaduna, Chairman Board of Trustees, Taraba State family Support Programme, Chairman, Taraba Savings and Loans Limited and Chairman Governing Board, Nigerian Agricultural Credit Guarantee Scheme.
He was a pioneer Member of the Board of Trustees of the Education Trust Fund (ETF), now TETFUND. He was a Member, Governing Council, Federal University of Technology Yola (FUTY), Member, Governing Council, Taraba State University, Member, Taraba Tourism and Development Board, He participated actively on the Political front.
He was a Member of the NPN Presidential Campaign Committee between 1982 -1983. He was the Vice Chairman of the NPN in Gongola State in 1983, and he later contested the primaries for Governorship of the then Gongola State under the National Party of Nigeria (NPN).
He lost to Alhaji Bamanga Tukur, who went on to become the Governor of Gongola State in 1983. He was a Member, Board of Trustees of the PDP from 1999, but voluntarily took a step back from that position years back, when he decided to keep away from active politics.
He was at the forefront of the movement for the creation of Taraba State, from the old Gongola State. He told us that he suggested the name ‘Taraba,’ for the proposed state and it was adopted. He actively lobbied and supported the move financially and saw it to fruition.
I can vividly recall in the late seventies or early eighties, when he bought and donated quite a number of vehicles (Buses) that were inscribed with ‘Movement for the creation of Taraba State’ that were transported down to Jalingo and used for the actualization of that objective.
Alhaji Umaru Baba was turbaned as the ‘Magajin Gari, Muri’ in 1973, in recognition of his selfless service to the Muri community. He was also awarded an Honorary Doctor of Public Administration by the Federal University of Technology, Akure in 1998.
He had privately owned companies that he was running up until he passed on. He was the Chairman/Chief Executive of; Gassoel Oil Nigeria Ltd, Umbaba Holdings Ltd and Kainuwa Farms Ltd. He was before his death, a Member, Board of Directors, Bouygues Construction Nigeria Ltd.
He ran a successful private road transport business, freighting Bitumen to different parts of the country and to neighbouring African countries. He had also served for Eight years, from the late nineties, as National President of the Nigerian Association of Road Transport Owners (NARTO), the umbrella association of all commercial vehicle owners in Nigeria.
Alhamdulillah, he attained and served in all the aforementioned positions, gave his utmost best and left without any blemish or stain on his character or person, despite the pitfalls!
He loved farming and had always combined farming with whatever business, role or position he held. At various times he had engaged in poultry farming, animal fattening, cattle rearing, perishables farming, ostrich farming, ginger, wheat, cotton, moringa, corn, rice, pepper, millet, yam, cassava etc. You name it and Magajin Gari had tried it! Bappa – as we call him – loved cars and had ‘one in town’ cars in Kaduna in the seventies, eighties, and nineties.
Our relations in Adamawa/Taraba call him ‘Bappa mai Mota.’ I remember we used to be taken to School in Kaduna in a ‘Mercury Monarch’ an American wide-bodied Limousine with a vehicle number ‘GG 1 A’ when we were in primary school then.
He also had 2 Mercedes Benz Limousines that we used to call ‘three-seater’.
But no matter how expensive the car was, he always goes to the farm at Mando or Kaduna airport road with it, driving through untarred roads, or sometimes creating a new trail with his car and transporting firewood from the farm to his home when the need arose.
That is Bappa for you! He owned and rode so many other cars at various times, Peugeots, Toyotas, Mazda, Datsun, BMWs and practically all brands of Mercedes Benz cars then. (I must have inherited that affinity from him too).
Bappa oozed knowledge and wisdom, whenever he spoke, or gave advise. He seemed to know a bit of everything you throw at him and he knew so many people spread round the country. Whenever I introduced my friends to him and he got to know where they hailed from, he would start asking about so and so friend of his that came from the same area.
He had that kind of reach! Bappa imbibed the culture of honesty, uprightness, and contentment in us. He disliked laziness and made us know the value of working hard.
He taught us tolerance and the ability to accommodate others. He had a heart of Gold that accommodated everyone. He taught us to value others and never look down on the less privileged, and to assist where we can, without limits.
This has shaped how we interact with others and has personally impacted on my everyday relationships.
He was a brave Man and would never flinch or show any sign of weakness. He demonstrated that even on his hospital bed, days before he died. He was asking after other people’s welfare and how they were, not minding his own plight.
Bappa, you have left shoes that have proved impossible to fill by any member of the family or indeed members of the family put together. We can only try to emulate a tad of what you achieved, a pinch of your generosity, a fraction of your selflessness, a modicum of your large heartedness, and aspire to touch a few of the kind of lives you transformed. You were indeed a Colossus, a Legend, and a Titan of your time! We will forever be proud of you and the Umaru Baba name you gifted us.
We are consoled with the fact that our father lived a full and fulfilled life. He left behind four wives, forty-one Children, sixty-nine Grand Children and five Great grand Children. His 70th Grand child was born a week after he passed on, and was aptly named ‘Umar’, after him.
Bappa, for all that you have done, for the lives that you have touched, for the good that you did, for the smiles that you brought to distraught faces, for the training that you gave us, for shaping us the way you did, may Allah forgive your shortcomings and May He grant you the highest rank of Jannah.
May He continue to guide and bless the family you left behind, amin.Gone you may be, but in our hearts, ever you will remain!
Armiyau Umaru Baba can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org