Hajiya Bilkisu Yusuf - A heart of gold
It was 24th September 2015. The time was about 8pm and I was in the bathroom when I received a phone-call from one of my sons. His voice was distressed as he tried to explain to me that there was an unpleasant news making the round! What was it, I queried. “It had to do with Hajiya Bilkisu--it is being reported that she was an unfortunate victim of the stampede that occurred at Mecca that led to the death of many Pilgrims!” I did not want to believe it! I asked him to confirm and call me back later. 9:20pm and he called back to nail the news into my bewildered heart that it was TRUE! Tears welled up in my heart-broken and sobbing, I took the unfortunate information to my Wife. “What is it, she asked anxiously. “It is Bilkisu-oo! Bilkisu Yusuf, the darling friend of the family! She is gone”! Gone to where?” My Wife fired her question at me as she adjusted herself on our family bed. “Bilkisu died along with others at the stampede that took place at Mina in Mecca”! The shock! The silence! The emptiness! The sobbings! The far-away looks on our faces spoke volumes!
Why Bilkisu of all people? Our Love for her multiplied itself a thousand fold! Earlier that day at 10:32am, we had sent Sallah Greetings to her through my G.S.M. It read, “This is wishing you and the entire family a good Barka Da Sallah. Continue to be a good and exemplary Lady. Love from 1st Lady and Injinika!... But I honestly don’t want you missing in Heaven. Congratulations.”!!! By the time I sent that text message she was probably gone! Sad! Sad! Sad! And very Sad!
It had not occurred to us that Bilkisu had made such a DEEP IMPACT in our family’s life! She was fond of calling my Wife “1st Lady” and me she jokingly called “Injinika” for “engineer”
Bilkisu’s path and mine crossed in the early 90’s, during the SDP days, when I was one of the band of contestants for the Presidency of Nigeria during Babangida’s Political experimentations! She came to my office to interview me concerning my aspirations. By the time she was done, she gave me her honest VERDICT. “You will never become the President of this country”! she slammed! “And why not”- I queried! Her answer. “This country will not be ready for your type until at least another hundred (100) years! You are too BLUNT, too TRUE and too UNCOMPROMISING to your values! Nigerians will never give you a chance. So my brother, go and rest!” She took her folder and was departing. I marveled at her candour, her boldness, her courage and surprisingly I fell in Love with her BLUNTNESS, TRUTH and COMMITMENT to her judgment as a journalist. That was the beginning of a genuine, clean and PHILIO Love for almost 25years! Before we both knew, Bilkisu was my SISTER and I became her BROTHER, our religious differences not withstanding! Of course my wife noticed it and before long, she too fell in Love with her when she observed her golden qualities!
Bilkisu was humanly good. She was kind, she was Truthful. Her commitment to her convictions and DUTIES were unquestionable. She invariably attended the wedding of all my children (six of them for now) and where and when she was not available, she sent a representative. She knew all she could about the family, my family-the names of almost all of my children. I was not that much endowed. It was after her death that I knew her two children Moshood and Fatima and her second husband. And pleasantly, her children and husband knew so much about me from what she would have told them! She actually had nothing to hide.
As the first General Secretary of C.A.N and also as a Co-member of NIREC (Nigerian Inter-religious Council) an interfaith body that came together under the auspices of C.A.N and SCIA to advise Government on all and sundry issues, Bilkisu’s advises were outstanding, mature, thorough, balanced and without prejudice. When I exited from C.A.N in 2011, Hajiya Bilkisu shocked me when she wanted to know what else I was planning to do to support my large family. I replied that I was going to take some time to rest and probably get involved in doing some business. Characteristically, she bluntly said, “you cannot do business in the present environment. They are corrupt and you will be badly frustrated. Your values mean nothing to the present day Government (that was 2011).” I refused to listen and where I tried my hands within the realms of about three Federal Ministries where I thought I had people who will treat me with respect, based on my earlier interaction with them, Bilkisu was again proved right. I then decided to discuss with her again. She came up with a suggestion - she was expecting some good money from the consultancy services she had rendered. She wanted me to look for a suitable SITE where I can be distributing Dangote Cement Products. She was willing to plough in N10million…..” so that Injinika can have a clean source of clean money to take good care of your good family” - she mused pleasantly. I told her “My sister, your Injinika does not belong to money bags……oo.” She said, “Don’t worry - it is for free”! What ran through my mind instantly was that this girl, (Bilkisu) left my Mothers womb to the womb of another woman, who eventually became her Mother!” but she was first and foremost my SISTER! The project did not take off because these “bad” Nigerians did it again! Her money did not arrive - it was truncated! I could not understand how a Woman who had no DEFINITE reason to show kindness and understanding to somebody else across the so-called DIVIDE, would even CONTEMPLATE on such a step!! But that was Hajiya Bilkisu Yusuf for youPlain, genuine, kind, generous, selfless, principled! She lived above the values of ordinary people and certainly beyond the Nigerian values.
As PMB became the President of Nigeria - the last discussion I had with her was to encourage her to find usage in this Government as I personally perceived Buhari to be genuine, honest and corruption-resistant! She again declared she would rather be an adviser or consultant through any of her NGO’s!
But Bilkisu is gone! My Sister is gone! I am pained, I am injured. The Muslim Umma has lost a genius. Nigeria has lost one of her finest. I appeal to the Federal Government (in consideration of her many National and International achievements and the positive image she carved for Nigeria through her numerous activities, home and abroad…..) to please name a street in Abuja after this Woman of Inestimable value! Good bye my sister and genuine friend.
Engr Salifu is former General Secretary, Christian Association of Nigeria (C.A.N.)