Murtala Daba and I entered the Nigerian Military School as Form 1 students in January 1988. Despite the fact that we entered the same secondary school nearly 25 years ago and had not seen each other for nearly two decades, Murtala was one of those characters that was impossible to forget; in his case because of his size. Murtala was the smallest boy in our set (think really, really tiny) and because of this was instantly recognisable and therefore popular with classmates and seniors alike. In addition, I recall that despite his size he seemed to have an opinion on most things and wasn’t shy in voicing this opinion. All these made certain that he was definitely a character that would be difficult to forget.
Despite the rigours of military training and the very often difficult and tough school environment at (Nigerian Military School) NMS, his size was never a disadvantage for him. He participated actively in every exercise and “served every job” with his classmates. I still remember a situation that occurred in 1990 in Bauchi during our “bush camp”, somewhere in the most remote part of Bauchi. This period happened to coincide with the Muslim fasting period, which devout Muslims consider a duty to observe.
Bauchi was a particularly tough environment, the heat was intense, but this did not mean that the obligatory bush camp exercises would not be carried out. Of course, this would have been even more difficult for Muslim boys as they were observing their fast and therefore would not have eaten or drank anything during this period. Murtala was one of those fasting but still participated in bush camp exercises like every other Form Three boy attending bush camp for the first time. Now, although the actual circumstances of this episode have become hazy with time, I seem to recall the Commandant, Col. Fakulujo, having recognised the difficulty these boys including Murtala were facing, addressing us and explaining why it was not necessary to observe the fast during this period.
Again, the rest of this episode remains blurred, but just serves as an illustration of the strength of Murtala’s character that despite the obvious difficulty in observing the fast, he considered it his duty to do so. I was therefore not surprised when I heard he went on to the Nigerian Defence Academy (NDA) after NMS and was later commissioned as an officer in the Nigerian Navy and promoted a few weeks ago to the rank of Commander in Navy.
Although I had spoken to him on the odd occasion since leaving NMS many years earlier, I only saw him for the first time in March 2012 at the Lagos Polo tournament, which we were both attending as spectators. We sat together and caught up like old times, he also introduced me to his sister who was taking pictures at the tournament, which is why he came. In later life it seemed his size caught up with his personality making him distinctly different from the tiny Murtala that we all teased in NMS; this time I teased him for other aspects of his appearance, notably his fuller figure. However he never lost his sense of humour and charming personality characterised by his ever present smile, which seemed a permanent fixture during our last meeting. It was nice to see him again and catch up on old times, our families and careers and although we parted and promised to keep in touch, we didn’t really keep in touch apart from the odd phone call, but our meeting that day was a pleasant reminder of why Murtala was universally liked by all.
His passing serves as a reminder of some of life’s many lessons, the most obvious being the futility of our existence and that only God knows the beginning and end of man and he alone holds the key to our existence. The other lesson for me is that you may not get a second chance to appreciate those that you value. About a week ago I said to another of our classmates who was also promoted to the rank of Commander in the Navy that we ought to celebrate this promotion. This wasn’t just one of those “we go wash am” greetings, it was something I meant and I agreed to get back to him with suggested dates. I even mentioned this plan to my wife and we spent some time discussing this. She, of course, reminded me about this discussion when I told her about this tragic event.
As at the time of Murtala’s passing, I still hadn’t got back to this classmate; neither did I, nor Murtala keep to our promise to keep in touch. In life, sometimes you don’t get second chances. Unfortunately in Murtala’s case we will not get a second chance with him on earth. We can therefore only pray that God will be merciful on him and comfort all those who mourn him, particularly his family and give them the grace and strength to bear the loss.
It is obviously difficult not to focus on the nature of his passing, but my prayer is that even as we remember the memories of the tiny boy with the large personality that started a journey with me and others on January 8, 1988, in Zaria, that we heed the lessons of his life and passing. May God continue to keep us all under the shadow of His protection, may the grace and mercy of God surround Murtala’s family especially now and always and finally, that when we are called by God, that we are able to give a good account of our time on earth. May God grant you eternal rest Murtala.
A deluge of accolades has greeted the conferment of Dr Ngozi Olejeme, the Chairman of Nigerian Social Insurance Trust Fund, with the award of Fellow of National Institute of Labour Studies (FNILS). The honour which was conferred by the Michael Imoudu Institute for Labour Studies, Ilorin, occurred recently during the 8th National Labour Summit and Fellowship Award, in recognition of Olejeme’s contributions to the labour administration process in the country with emphasis on the implementation of social security policies.
Olejeme, an alumnus of top tier universities in both America and the United Kingdom was appointed by late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua as the chairman of the Governing Board of Nigeria Social Insurance Trust Fund (NSITF), with concurrent appointment as Chairman of Trustfund Pensions Plc, appointments that has made her the overseer of social security insurance in Nigeria.
According to the Institute, Olejeme was one of the few Nigerians chosen on the basis of veritable service and accomplishments in the area of industrial relations. Laudable achievements such as her contributions towards the signing into law of the Employees Compensation Act (ECA) by President Goodluck Jonathan in 2010 which was enacted to address all issues relating to workers’ safety, insecurity and anxiety were listed as factors that led to her conferment with the award.
The ECA which is managed by the NSITF replaced the former Workman Compensation Act and made provision for adequate and timely compensation of employees in both public and private sectors who suffer from any form of accidents in the course of carrying out their official duties.
Speaking at the event, the President General of the Trade Union Congress of Nigeria (TUC) said the conferment of the award was a well-deserved honour on Dr Olejeme in view of her identification with the Nigerian workers. “She felt our collective pains and the need to alleviate the workplace injury burdens that the Nigerian workers have shouldered all these years. We are happy that today any worker that sustains an injury will not be abandoned to his fate.
Acting Managing Director of Trustfund Pensions Plc, Mrs. Helen Da-Souza, also commended Dr Olejeme for her achievements in the administration of pensions fund in the country. She attributed the growth recorded by in Trustfund in recent years to the leadership style of Dr Olejeme who she said always emphasised the safety of pensions funds under the management of the company. “The way she protects the interests of the workers in the implementation of Employee Compensation Act is the same way she ensures that we serve the workers that patronise us at Trustfund”.
As a result of her unwavering leadership, she was elected president of Igbo Women Forum, a non-governmental organization that empowers women in national political affairs. To prove her point, she challenged the established candidates to a political duel in the 2007, when she contested the governorship election in her home state of Delta. Though she lost the fight gamely, she has continued to inspire many Nigerian women with her achievements over the years.