Today, I pay tribute to an extraordinarily special man – who is fazed neither by criticism nor by praise; unperturbed by fortune or loss; content with little and unimpressed by wealth, power or position; averse to publicity and showmanship; self-effacing; austere and always simply dressed – customarily in white; far from the garish and the gaudy, with disdain for ostentation but neither sanctimonious nor judgmental – Malam Mamman Daura, Baba – whom I am so proud to call my father.
This tribute is about my father – Baba, my Baba – the real Malam Mamman Daura – son, husband, father, grandfather; not the ill-motivated, sponsored social media created version – preposterous and larger than life. As Baba himself would say when we would express concern about the persistent and unjustified character assassination of his person: “Do not worry. If Allah knows the truth; that is all that matters.” I would want to provide another perspective from those closest to him – a true portrayal of the man my father is, from what my siblings and I, and our mother know him to be.
Baba is a simple yet complex man – a man of few words (which sometimes makes him come across as standoffish) but highly engaging when in his comfort zone – with family and a few close friends. With his late younger brother Baba Sani, I recall with such fondness their daily raucous and wheezy-asthmatic laughing sessions as they shared insider jokes only they understood.
Baba is conservative, yet liberal – conservative in political leanings and in gender roles at the home front – Baba barely knows the way to the kitchen – I doubt he is capable of boiling water if it is not in an electric kettle! He, however, is the perfect gentleman; chivalrous, personally serving us food before he served himself. He would also often tell us (his daughters) not to carry heavy objects because he did not want us to develop hernias. Conservative is Baba as he does not openly show physical affection to his children just like the typical northern man of his age group, but we had no doubt that he loved us. If you made the mistake of telling Baba you had a headache, he would keep asking you (even after 3 days) how you were faring. When we were younger, there was no limit to how he would play and engage us when he was in the mood – he would play ‘riyo-riyo’ with us – a game where we would all hold hands and form a circle and sing ‘riyo-riyo, o ririyo gib’ and then put our right feet forward into the circle with a thump. This was done continuously and when he sings ‘riyo riyo o ririyo kwangarya’ then we were all supposed to stamp our right feet out of the circle. The person who forgets and thumps inside the circle is laughed at – but there was no winner or loser in this game. The game is played in two sets of 3, 2 and 1 and Baba would stop the game out of exhaustion as he couldn’t keep up with our energy.
During Sallah (Eid) celebrations we would have lalle (Henna) applied on our hands and feet – and oh did Baba despise the smell of lalle! With such irreverence, we would shove our lalle dyed feet unto Baba’s nose and face and he would struggle to push us away. When we would not stop, he would grab us and rub the stubs on his freshly shaven chin on our faces and foreheads; prickling our fresh cherubic faces, and we would scream and that was how he would finally get rid of us. However, when he was not in the mood, as you entered his living room, one piercing glare was enough, or without saying a word, he would point to the door and we would immediately leave. When we did not get the message, or when he was expecting visitors, he would say to us “make yourselves scarce!” and we would take flight.
Once we started to grow up, Baba’s conservatism set in. He no longer used to hug us when he returned from trips. We no longer used to rush to say ‘Baba oyoyo’ (informal welcome). It became a more measured ‘Baba sannu da zuwa’ (formal welcome), sometimes with a handshake. By the time I was 17 years, I had gotten used to not hugging Baba. For the first time in my life, I had not seen my father in 8 months at a stretch when I went to college after secondary school. When Baba came in, instinctively I rushed to hug him (forgetting that I had stopped that habit many years earlier). Baba held me by the shoulders and said to me “you are much too large for this!” stopping me in my tracks. We both laughed over it.
Baba is also liberal – in the sense that he married only our mother (when polygamy was the norm for his demographic group), together they had six of us – five females, and a male but there was equality in rights, privileges and disciplinary actions; but especially in the educational opportunities afforded to all of us. In fact, my brother often mentioned when we were growing up that once his friends or acquaintances realised that he was the only male child, they assumed that he was treated more specially – which he always countered with much conviction that it was indeed the reverse case. Baba also extended educational support to numerous relatives, friends, acquaintances and even strangers. During our weekly special family lunches at home (usually on Fridays or Saturdays) with food from The Arewa Chinese restaurant, he would always be the last to take food – after our mother and all the girls had been served by Baba – and then he would have to serve himself! He was also allowed to carry heavy weights! Baba never once talked or pressured me about marriage (nor any of my 4 sisters) – allowing me to get married by my choice and on my own terms – just before I turned 26 years and after completing a master’s degree, national service and working for nearly two years.
Baba has lived and continues to live the exemplary life of sabr (patience), shukr (thankfulness) and tawakkul (trust in God) – core virtues of the Islamic faith. Baba is also of impeccable rectitude – honest and decisively upright but is neither sanctimonious nor judgmental. Mama has told me how one of his childhood friends frequently re-iterated to her “Mamman duk ya fi mu” (Mamman is better than all of us). In the 1980s and 1990s he was honoured several times by the Kaduna State Government for consistency in remitting the rightful amount of corporate taxes as well as personal income taxes. Because he declared and paid the correct amount of personal income taxes in amounts much more than people of known stupendous wealth did – he was generally thought to be much wealthier than he really was. He served as Chairman of a Committee during the 1994 Constitutional Conference – which lasted almost 1 year; and when the conference ended, committee members and chairpersons were allocated choice residential plots in Abuja by the then Federal Government. Baba rejected the plot given to him – citing that he had served his country and that he was adequately remunerated with accommodation and sitting allowances and therefore did not deserve the plot. He also indicated that he did not actually need the plot. Until today, this is the essential character of my father – not bothered much about assets’ acquisition, or the things that he does not ‘need’. In conversations I have had with him over the years, he has hinted to me that if one makes the pursuit of money and material things one’s focus, then one would never have peace. Baba’s motivation was always on setting up industries – to create jobs and accelerate development; but not primarily to create personal wealth.
Not one given to socialising, Baba is almost always at home with his family, either reading in his study or sitting alone in his living room in deep thought or with his television tuned to the news, sports, documentaries or nature channels. Occasionally he would watch classic movies – he especially enjoys watching British Classics like Laurel and Hardy, Charlie Chaplin, Mind Your Language and the Carry On series. In the afternoons, you would usually find him and to use his words “watching an enthralling game of cricket and sipping on a spiffing cup of English tea!” He calls Darjeeling ‘the Rolls Royce of Teas.’
Growing up, we had the best of times – Baba worked extremely hard and for long hours and was a prosperous industrialist with major stakes in textiles, manufacturing and banking – so we lacked nothing. While he himself did not care so much for material things, he gave us the best of everything. As little kids, we would often fly First Class to London on the then British Caledonian Airways and lodge at The Churchill Hotel. So these days, when I have to plan to purchase an economy ticket to London, I think back and I am grateful for what I had as a child. In the mid-80s, we would vacation in Nice (the south of France) and Amsterdam. Perhaps because Baba grew up with so little, often going days without much food, he spared nothing to ensure our utmost comfort. If not for our mother’s corrective spankings and strictness, I think we would have turned out utterly spoilt brats! Thankfully and for our own good, Mama did not give in to his pleads to stop spanking us when we were naughty. We really did have the best of everything; but most importantly, we had love! Baba did all this to please us, but for him personally, he was and is still not one to be affected or controlled by worldly things.
A minimalist, Baba’s choice of clothing has always been modest. Since mobile phones came into existence, he stopped wearing watches. When he used to wear watches – he wore a simple, leather bracelet watch. Most of Baba’s personal staff have been with him for 20, 30 and even up to 40 plus years – some only separated by old age and death – a confirmation of his kindness, generosity and magnanimity.
The quintessential stoic, Baba is unruffled by provocation – I doubt that in my 40 plus years of existence, I have heard him raise his voice or blurt out invectives or harsh reprimands even if justified. Baba never shouts at anyone at all – his aides or domestic workers inclusive. I remember when I got married and Baba was giving me final words of advice before my departure from home and as I sobbed he said to me “ki yi haƙuri, ki yi kamar Maman ki. Shekaru talatin da muke tare bamu taɓa faɗa ba” (Be patient like your mother, we have never fought in the 30 years (then) that we have been together). I was actually shocked! When I was younger, I truly believed that they never used to fight or disagree at all (and I cannot thank them enough for that – for that is a great gift to give your children). As I grew older, I understood that there was no way a marriage would have no conflict, and that they just did a good job at hiding theirs from us. A few weeks later, I asked my mother if they really had never fought before – and she said that he was telling the truth but not because there was no avenue for quarrels but because he would just not let that happen. She said that there were of course conflicts and disagreements, but he had never raised his voice at her or engaged her in a squabble. She also said that she would sometimes intentionally provoke him just to get a reaction, but the dignified gentleman would just not budge! Ka ji Maza!
Baba’s sense of humour is legendary – and his use of adjectives unparalleled. He is at his best when he playfully dishes out abuses at us – when you put on weight he would whisper not to you but to another sibling “X ta yi monumental ƙiba” (X has put on monumental weight) or say with much gender insensitivity “you are growing in all directions.” In reference to an extremely corrupt figure, he would say, “dedicated thief”, when you irritate him, he would call you a “confounded nuisance.” One of Baba’s favourite sayings is: “if you pay peanuts, you get monkeys to work for you” – to stress that if a job pays very little, it attracts the least competent hands. I remember many years ago, I was reading a poorly written article – almost unintelligible due to the numerous grammatical, spelling and every conceivable error inherent, and he said to me – “Fatima, if you read that article to the end, it would un-educate you!”
Baba once told me that sometime in the early 1970s, when he was the Editor of the New Nigerian newspaper, he conducted what he described as a highly engaging interview with the late Alhaji Mamman Shata – arguably the most renowned and most prolific Hausa singer and griot. He then wrote what he said was one of the best articles of his writing career – full of praise for Mamman Shata as he was mesmerised by the singer’s personality – his quick wit, talent, humour and general take on issues. At the last minute, he said that he stopped the article’s publication because (in his words) “bani so ya yi mani waƙa!’’ (I do not want him to sing [a panegyric] for me)
As a son, Baba adored his late father – Alhaji Dauda Daura (Alhaji Babba), the first Durvin Daura (The Durvi of Daura). Alhaji Babba was of Kanuri ancestry; after an infamous family feud, his great grandparents and other family members migrated from Kukawa in northern Borno to Mirriah in Niger Republic with some of them finally settling in Daura. Baba used to call his father ‘Alhaji nawa’ (my Alhaji) as if he was his alone. He would call Alhaji Babba every single day or night without fail when landlines were finally operational in Daura. As one of us (children) entered his living room, he would blurt out with much emphasis – zero (pronounced zee-ye-ro in an exaggerated Queen’s English manner) six-five, and then whoever it was would complete with ‘five-seven-zero-zero-six (065-57006) – also mimicking the zee-ye-ro pronunciation. It was an instruction to go to the telephone and keep dialing until the line went through to Daura and to ‘his Alhaji’. Those under 35 years may not remember those telephones where dialing required ringing the numbers round and round and the difficulty with which getting connected to other states and especially rural areas we endured in those days. When Alhaji Babba’s health failed, and after an unsuccessful medical trip to the UK, Baba brought him back to Kaduna to our home where he was nursed until he passed away in October 1993. His death took a toll on Baba – he lost considerable weight and bore a sad countenance for many months. After the Durvi’s passing, the then Sarkin Daura (Emir of Daura), late Alhaji Muhammadu Bashar conferred Baba with the title of Durvi – much to his chagrin as he despises anything that brings attention to himself and most especially the pomp that accompanies royal titles. Up until today, over 25 years since the title was conferred upon him – the official turbaning has not been done; due to Baba’s reluctance. When my mother wants to provoke him, albeit jokingly, she would call him Durvi, and he would give her the side glare, and she would laugh aloud while he would maintain a straight face!
With his mother – Hajjá Sa’a, being her first surviving child and her being a Fulani woman, she was not expected to show him much affection and she did not. He spent more time with his paternal grandmother than he did with his own mother and therefore was not very attached to her as his other siblings were. I observed their relationship to be very formal, but it was obvious how proud of her son she was. Just like Alhaji Babba, Baba would also do anything for his mother – never going against her will. I believe that I made up for the closeness lacking in their relationship, as I was the apple of her eye – the warmth and affection that she was unable to show to her son; she showered on me. I think Baba inherited her sharp intellect. Hajja Sa’a was also a woman of few words but when she did speak; she demonstrated incredible wordsmithery and the ease and speed at which she would add and subtract large numbers indicated what a mathematical genius she would have been had she gone to formal school. Hajja Sa’a died in September 1996 in Daura after a brief illness.
Growing up, while Baba was not one to play music (although he told me that he once had an enviable collection of classical music records and classic Hausa music tapes); without realizing, we made a lot of good acapella music with him as the composer and lead singer and us as the background choristers, the ’yan amshi. When things did not go the way we expected them to, Baba would often sing the words of Narambaɗa to us:
“Wata rana a sha zuma,
wata rana a sha maɗaci,
haka duniya ta ke…”
(Sometimes life offers us honey, sometimes life gives us bitters, that is how life is….).
These words have made an indelible mark on my psyche and as I grew older, I understood more the weight of those words. Whenever things do not go my way, or when they do go my way, I find myself singing “wata rana a sha zuma, wata rana a sha maɗaci….’’ and I feel so much better or I restrain my joy as the case may be. Baba would also often make us chant after him “may I never rest, until my good is better and my better best” – subtly, without us realising that he was instilling the spirit of excellence and strong work ethic in each and everyone of us (his children). Baba taught us contentment – he would habitually say and make us repeat after him “If you can’t have what you want; want what you have.” When it was time for prayers, he would sing “haramar sallah” (prepare to pray) and we would all chorus “alwala” (ablution) – repeatedly as we all marched in different directions (to perform the ablution) only stopping the chants when we were out of sight of each other. Up to this day, Baba still sings haramar sallah to announce that it is time for prayers.
The most important lesson that I have learnt from my father is patience. Patience in adversity, patience in moments of lack and patience with the vicissitudes of life. In the early 2000s, Baba demonstrated uncommon patience. With the new government reforms, industries collapsed and all of Baba’s business interests suffered a major blow. He went from having so much to having very little or atimes even nothing at all – but he persevered. Year in, year out, things got only but worse; but Baba accepted this fate with utmost grace – showing not an ounce of bitterness; and for this, he has my eternal reverence. Allah tells us that “Verily, with hardship comes ease’’ (Qur’an 94:5) and indeed; with hardship came ease.
Finally, as the saying goes – “the best gift a father can give his children is to love their mother” and Baba has indeed shown Mama true love in words and in deeds. My parents do have an enviable relationship and their favourite past time is writing palindromes – Baba would write the first sentence in capitals and underline and Mama would complete the palindrome and you would find the piece of paper casually lying around on a table or stool in Baba’s living room. Baba would come back from an unusual trip to the grocery store and buy Mama a pack of Kellogg’s Special K cereal which she loves and he would say to her “here is some Special K for a special K” (in reference to her second name Kulthum). It would make her happy to no end – basking in the euphoria of a woman who knew her husband absolutely adored her.
They say nobody is perfect, but how perfect you are to me Baba! Happy 80th to a distinguished gentleman. Babarbare mai halin Fulani! Durvin Daura! Papi! The estimable, the inestimable Baba! It is an incredible honour to be your daughter.
Ni ce, Fatima tim tim.