Wada Maida: Mentorship as a Mantra

Garba Shehu

In his life, the late Malam Wada Maida was synonymous with brilliance, humility, patience, kindness and courage. His thoughts, ideals, views on journalism and in life motivated many of us who came close to him and will continue to inspire us.

Here are my remarks as the tributes flow in praise of a good man that he was.

In my early days as an Editor at the Triumph Publishing Company in Kano, the late Chairman of the Peoples Daily and the News Agency of Nigeria, Malam Wada was in the forefront, along with a handful of other senior journalists in the country to revive the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE) that had been moribund for 20 years.

He found me a worthy foot soldier in the mobilisation of the younger generation of editors to support the aspiration of a ticket on which he and the then editor of the Daily Times, Onyeama Ugochukwu ran as Deputy President and President. They were supported by the more conservative and older membership. Running against them was a band of radicals led by the enterprising, younger, louder even if brash and calculating owner/publisher of THISDAY Newspapers, Nduka Obaigbena.

Having myself been listed as candidate for an ex-officio post in the “National List,” I won along Onyeama, Wada and all the names on that list.

Mr. Obaigbena embraced the new team and offered his full support which he gave. Today, Mr Obaigbena presides over one of the largest media empires and as President of the Nigerian Press Organisation (NPO), he is the official head of the country’s media establishment.

From then until his death, Malam Wada did to me what the late Sardauna of Sokoto, Sir Ahmadu Bello charged leaders “on top of the ladder” to do: extend your hand to those at the bottom and pull them up.

From that innocuous position in the Guild executive, I rose to become Vice President (North), Deputy President and eventually, President with a gentle push by the late Malam Wada.

The digital newspaper, The Cable, recalled an interview I gave 17 years ago in which I described Malam Wada as my older brother and mentor, and mentioned the fact that he was my link to former Vice President Atiku Abubakar.

As Political Adviser to the then Vice President, Dr Usman Bugaje ran a quasi-government organization full of professionals and intellectuals called the National Development Project (NDP). Among its many departments, there was a media arm named the “Just Cause Advisory Committee,” which was chaired by the late Malam Wada.

He co-opted me at a critical juncture when the Vice President ran into trouble with his primary constituency, Northern Nigeria. In making the provision of Federal Character, the 1999 constitution had given the political parties a hint of sorts that when a political party picked a candidate for presidency from any of the southern states, the Vice Presidential Candidate will be chosen from any of the northern states, and vice-versa.

Atiku faced problems at that time because many in the north misperceived him as not being fully representative of their culture and aspirations. They made issue, for instance of the fact that his loyalty to President Obasanjo went beyond the call of duty.

He was criticized for wearing the Yoruba cap, called at that time “power shift,” and the fact that he didn’t regularly speak Hausa, the language of the majority in the region on popular radio channels such the BBC Hausa, issues which many might dismiss as being nothing but political attacks.

But the biggest of the problems of the Vice President was the remark he made, that states in the North that had adopted the Shari’ah legal system for criminal matters should “revert to status quo.” This put him on the firing line of the Islamic religious leaders and the Imams preached against him in all their mosques.

As rightly reported by The Cable, Malam Wada brought the Vice President, a very powerful number-two leader at that time, sat him down with us where he made the confession that he had a problem and asked that we help him. That truly had an effect on me.

What I then did was to commission a scientific study, and I found an excellent friend and scholar, Dr. Nu’uman Habib from the Bayero University, Kano to lead it.

First, we needed to know the Vice President’s communications problems and then find commutations solutions to them. We literally held a mirror to the face of the Vice President in which he saw himself and it was clear that he didn’t like what he saw. In my presentation of that report to him, we informed him that in addition to the changes he needed to make for his own part, he also needed a “Spin Doctor.”When they took office for the Second Term in office, I was named in television news as a Special Assistant (Media) in the office of the Vice President. Six months thereafter, the TV news announced that the President had accepted my resignation.

For Malam Wada Maida, an unrepentant Buharist, his journey on the side of his good friend, Dr. Bugaje in pursuit of the Atiku Presidential ambition ended the very moment the then General Muhammadu Buhari decided in 2003 to throw his hat in the ring.

I recall that in those early days, Muhammadu Buhari made those infamous remarks in Hausa “Kare jini, Biri jini,” meaning “an eye for an eye” or “do me I do you,” in Nigerian parlance but was badly translated by a poor Hausa speaker reporting for ThisDay from Sokoto as a proclamation of bloodshed and it took the political space by storm.

When the attacks persisted, I called Malam Wada who then had just returned from a foreign trip. The late Wada loved to travel and did so much of it in his lifetime. He accepted my suggestion and went to Kaduna. Over lunch, he raised the issue of the raging controversy with the General who, as the late Wada reported to me, didn’t see anything to it but described it as mischief.

He said that the controversy was unnecessary and should be ignored but told his former Press Secretary if he felt strongly about the need to do something about, he should go and meet Malam Mamman Daura, his nephew and a former media guru.

What followed is now history. Christian leaders including the now Bishop of Sokoto, the Most Reverend Dr Mathew Hassan Kukah were the ones in the frontlines of those defending General Buhari against the unfair and unfounded allegations of violence. In the Nigerian Press Council under the late Alhaji Alade Odunewu, AllahDe, in which the late Wada and I were members, an investigation was carried out and as an outcome, the reporter was indicted for unprofessional conduct.

In the contest for the ticket of the All Progressives Congress (APC), for the presidential election, the several candidates who ran against Muhammadu Buhari and lost, congratulated the winner and donated all their campaign assets including media teams to the official party candidate.

I, having worked with Atiku as the Director of Media and Publicity, was released to the Buhari campaign and here was I, back with Malam Wada. Thankfully, we ran very respectful and responsible campaigns without the slightest mudslinging. While we waited for the Candidate to decide on what to do with us, both Wada and I made separate decisions to go for Umrah in Saudi Arabia, so as to thank the Almighty for seeing us through the primaries.

Just as I was ready to go, Dele Alake, a friend and fellow editor called me to say that he had a meeting with the candidate and a good chance was that he was going to lead the media campaign. Dele said he wanted me to work with him and suggested that I delay my departure in case something would come up.

A week and two came with nothing heard from upstairs so I told Dele I was proceeding with my journey.
Two things of interest happened in the course of the trip. At the King Abdulaziz International Airport, Jeddah I saw a group of ladies at the lounge, including an ex-wife of the former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar.

She said let me introduce you to someone you need to know, meet Hajiya Aisha Muhammadu Buhari, the wife of the presidential candidate. The would-be First Lady received me warmly and said words to this effect, “are you the Garba Shehu whose name has been written as the Director of Media Campaign, then removed, back again and then removed, three times?”
I said ‘‘Your Excellency, as you can see, I’m just finishing from Umrah, totally unaware of all that is happening’’. She wished me best of luck. When we got to Addis Ababa, Mrs Buhari and her group continued to Dubai while those of us continuing to Abuja were joined by passengers from Dubai and Malam Wada was one of them.

It was from him that I learned of the details of the intrigues as well as the struggles by him, Governor Amaechi, the now Governor El-Rufa’i and Honourable Farouk Adamu Aliyu to have me lead the media arm of the Presidential campaign.

In the end, with the support of especially Malam Wada, the running mate, Prof Yemi Osinbajo, SAN, Senator Mamora as Deputy Director General, Boss Mustapha in Operations and Hadiza Bala Usman as campaign Secretary, enjoying the support of millions of volunteers, we ran a damn good campaign which resisted all attempts to drag us into the gutter by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and we won.

The late Wada Maida was equally supportive of me on matters outside the realm of the media profession.
Because he was never selfish or greedy, he invited me and others that I know to participate in the lucrative consultancies he ran for his never-ending list of clients.

No doubt, this helped me and those others to build economic security for ourselves and as a consequence, you did not enter government as a political appointee a hungry man or on an empty stomach.

In the eighties when the late Malam Wada and Kabiru Yusuf with some of their friends came up with the idea of starting their newspaper, the now Daily Trust, they made an offer for me to join which I declined on the fear that I did not want to empty the little savings that was on my bank account.

It is one of those decisions one regrets taking in one’s entire lifetime, especially when you see the success of that venture, with the Trust today as one of the leading newspapers in Africa, printing simultaneously in four or five Nigerian cities and a multi-storey headquarters building serving as operational base.

When four of them, as a core team set out to found the new newspaper called the Peoples Daily, the late Chairman of the paper called to offer me the same percentage of shares as allotted to himself, the late Rufa’i Ibrahim, the late Hajiya Halita Aliyu and Bilya Bala.

The fact that the paper was launched in the “mushroom season,” that is the season of the 2015 elections and is still up and about is owed largely to the late Malam Wada.

We came together to found a newspaper, then we ran back to our jobs and businesses and left him all by himself and the support of Bilya Bala to carry the burden of the expectations of shareholders and its survival, which must have added further weight to his already overburdened shoulders.

But what even mattered most was that he bore the responsibility without complaints of whatever nature. The Peoples Daily is blessed with a crop of dynamic and tireless managers and editors who it is hoped, will not let the paper follow our late Chairman to the grave.

Finally, is to say that the Almighty gave Malam Wada two things any many (A) man or woman would envy.

He had the largest reservoir of patience on account of which I never saw him get angry. No matter to what extent he was provoked, Malam Wada would shake his head or both legs when seated, smile and then move on. Second, he had a faithful and dutiful wife who cared for him and the family. May Allah increase her health, keep her for a longer lifetime for the family and the nation.

On Malam Wada’s life, many great things can be said and none can be greater or lesser than the other. The media and the nation will always remember his efforts and outstanding contributions to the lives of individuals and communities. May Allah forgive his sins and grant him Aljannah.

•Garba Shehu is Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity

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