Semiu Okanlawon pays tribute to a journalist, Waheed Bakare, who passed on recently
At exactly 9:35pm, on Sunday, May 24, I got a call from Osogbo. Deolu Adeyemo, the State Correspondent of New Telegraph was on the line. “Good evening,” Deolu greeted and even before I responded went straight to the reason for his call. “What happened to Waheed?” The caller had his reason for his call knowing the relationship between the subject of his inquiry and I.
I just threw back his question at him “What happened to him?” Then, I answered him “Nothing happened to him.”
“Please, find out, something has happened to him, there is a message on our platform that one of the editors is dead.” The voice at the other end went dead.
Then, something in my heart began to pound hard. There was a kind of whirlwind around my head as I made to drop the cup of tea in my hand since Deolu’s call came in.
Within seconds, a wave of possible actions ran through my head. I picked Waheed’s number, made to dial but stopped the idea. Before the call announcing the sad news came, Waheed was one of the three people I had planned to call that night before going to bed.
I was supposed to have been updated by him on an issue, which had happened some two weeks before. So, trying to call him this time around to be sure of this was just a bad joke sent some jitters down my spines. I dropped the call idea. Then, I went to his Facebook page.
There and then, something like a confirmation of the worst that had happened stared me in the face. One of his contacts on Facebook had posted “Waheed Bakare, why? Why? And then, other posts by other persons. I just closed the page. I had my confirmation already that the curtains had been drawn on his 51 years sojourn.
At that moment, my wife, who had risen in full attention of what was breaking, anxiously asked “Which Waheed? Mr. Waheed Bakare? She left me on the couch and went to the bed; laying her head face down. Waheed and my wife also shared a special relationship you will get to read later here.
For one full week, all I had were something like apparitions as I struggled to make sense of life and its own worth and essence. I read press statements as they came from those who knew Waheed either directly or remotely. I saw comments and tributes on the social media.
Each time I struggled to add my comments, something held my hands and my mind back. I could not do it. On Sunday, exactly a week after, I summoned the courage to spend time with his family; a truly humbling and somber moment for me and my wife.
Who was Waheed Bakare to me?
I had met Waheed when he joined our team at the defunct Comet Newspaper where I was Assistant Editor (News). Waheed graduated from the same department where I left some four years before him.
However, he was quickly drawn to me after our path crossed in 1999, regaling me with stories of his admirations for some of my works in the Department of Modern European Languages especially my records as the Editor of the Departmental Journal called The Phoenix, which was a resource material for many students in the Faculty of Arts then at the University of Ilorin. I had left The Comet for the PUNCH in 2001 and Waheed also left to join the PUNCH later.
In 2002, I was posted to Oyo State and the Head of the Bureau with my office in Ibadan. Waheed had been posted to Delta state as a correspondent. In 2002, he was on his annual leave and came to Ibadan. He had planned to visit Ilorin, the Kwara State capital and a day before that he was with me throughout in my Ibadan Bureau office.
On his way to Ilorin, he was involved in a road accident in Iwo, my own town. As a matter of fact, the accident happened right in front of the same clinic -KLM Clinic- which had served as my family clinic for about 30 years. So, the first medical aid he got was at this medical facility (as I was informed) after which he was transferred to the General Hospital, Iwo.
At about 11 pm of the same night, I got a call from an unknown number. “Good evening Sir,” the voice at the other greeted.
“Am I speaking with Mr. Semiu Okanlawon?” to which I said yes, guessing who was at the other end.
“Sir, your number was given to me by one man who said his name is Waheed Bakare. He asked me to inform you that he was involved in an accident and he is at the General Hospital, Iwo.” Without waiting for further inquiries, the caller hung up.
I tried Waheed’s number. It was switched off. I contemplated leaving for Iwo that night. The thoughts of armed robbers scared the thought off my head.
Early the following morning, I asked one of the staff in my office to join me in the almost one hour drive to Iwo.
As we entered into the Accident and Emergency ward where he was being kept, I was not prepared for the shock that I got. There on the bed, Waheed was lying down. He lifted what remained of one of his hands up for me to see. A stump! It was wrapped neatly in white bandage still stained with some blood.
Momentarily, I lost the man in me. I ran out of the ward and it was at the gate of the hospital that an elderly man grabbed me and said, “If you break down, what do you want him to do?”
I went back to the ward. I was told that medical personnel had concluded the only option they had, under the circumstances, was to amputate him. Tears rolled down his cheeks as I struggled to control mine.
He was fasting the very day this happened to him. Right there, he asked God “What fate is this?” I felt the pains of his unanswerable question. This, I agreed with him, was too much for a man who had a challenge with one of his legs already.
I tried to be manly enough at that moment; realising all I needed at that moment was to give him courage. “We must face this fate, Waheed. Allah knows best.” I remember he responded “Egbon, kini mo fese (What can I do?).
I communicated the head office of The PUNCH the sad news. Arrangements were made to evacuate him to Lagos and so began the journey for his full treatment at the Holy Trinity Hospital, Ikeja, Lagos.
And this was where the relationship between my wife, Waheed and his then fiancé (Now Mrs. Bakare) formed. Since I was still in Ibadan as Bureau Head, it fell on my wife to visit him at the hospital everyday and provide for his major needs until his family members were to show up. It was a great relief when much later, an arrangement was put together for him to get prosthetic hand in Europe to make life more comfortable for him.
Waheed would later tell me that the counseling by my wife went a long way to prepare his mind and that of his fiancé to face the future regardless of his new physical challenges. They went on with their relationship and got married to the joy of all of us. Mama AbdulSalam, as I always call her, formed in my mind as a typical loving woman, who, in spite of all challenges, would stand by a man till the very end.
As I entered into the family living room on Sunday in company with my wife, she lifted herself with some energy. She was on her prayer mat, holding firmly in her hands, a prayer rosary. Rather than wait for us to offer the prayers, she was the one full of prayers for us; apparently recalling some of the tales her late husband had told her about our various engagements in the years past. I was moved by her courage. She had no tears in her eyes again; though I recognized her heart carried heavy burdens.
Waheed had built a good, modest home, with cultured children nurtured by a devoted wife and mother. Of course, this is a reflection of the Waheed I knew for more than two decades.
Waheed knew his job well. From being a state correspondent to a metro editor, to desk head and eventually a title editor, he had a good, steady rise in a noble career he built with no stains. By the time he started appearing on the popular Journalists Hangout of the Television Continental, it was another facet of his expanded frontiers in journalistic adventure. I was proud of his contributions.
Waheed was humble. He was prayerful. He was hardworking. He was a brilliant writer. Waheed’s love for Literature was another source of bond for us. We shared books especially in the early days of our encounter.
How would I have known the final parting would be so soon? But death, Shakespeare said, is a necessary death. It would come when it would come. For Waheed, it has come and the curtain is drawn. But the roles he acted on the stage of life would remain etched in the psyche of the millions who encountered him either in person or through his works. Sleep Well brother!
––Okanlawon, former Chief Press Secretary to former Governor Rauf Aaregbesola of Osun State, wrote from Lagos.