Five en­coun­ters with Ha­jiya Bilk­isu Yusuf

Daily Trust - - BUSINESS -

Jour­nal­ism has lost another icon, not an or­di­nary one, but a heavy­weight in a pro­fes­sion we hold dear to our hearts. As tributes con­tinue to pour in, the loss of Bilk­isu Yusuf, who died in the stam­pede on the way to the Jam­rat in Makkah dur­ing the 2015 Hajj, I can­not help but take my pen to nar­rate my ex­pe­ri­ence with this hum­ble woman.

Of course I knew Bilk­isu Yusuf through her writ­ings in var­i­ous news­pa­pers in Nige­ria. But the first time I saw her was in 2001. It was dur­ing a sym­po­sium or­ga­nized by the Cen­tre for Demo­cratic Re­search and Train­ing, Mam­bayya House, un­der the lead­er­ship of Pro­fes­sor At­tahiru Jega, the im­me­di­ate-past chair­man of the In­de­pen­dent Na­tional Elec­toral Com­mis­sion (INEC).

As un­der­grad­u­ates, we had al­ways been on the watch for ac­tiv­i­ties or­ga­nized by Mam­bayya House. You can rest as­sured that they will bring high qual­ity speak­ers, and at the end of the event, you would leave more ed­u­cated, more re­freshed and more mo­ti­vated than you en­vis­aged.

This time around, the event was the an­nual lec­ture in mem­ory of the late Malam Aminu Kano, the leader of the Talakawa (the masses), and a rev­o­lu­tion­ary who greatly con­trib­uted in re­defin­ing pol­i­tics in the African con­ti­nent.

The theme of that year’s lec­ture was “The Lead­er­ship Ques­tion and the Quest for Unity in Nige­ria”. The sym­po­sium took place at the peak of the Obasanjo ad­min­is­tra­tion, when is­sues of eth­nic­ity were heat­ing the po­lit­i­cal tem­per­a­ture of the coun­try, par­tic­u­larly the height­ened ac­tiv­i­ties of the Oduwa Peo­ples’ Congress (OPC).

Ha­jiya Bilk­isu was the only fe­male speaker at the event. It was the first time I saw her, and when she was in­tro­duced to de­liver her pa­per, ti­tled ‘Democ­racy and Na­tional Unity’, she did not dis­ap­point. Her pre­sen­ta­tion was, to say the least, one of the best. She was elo­quent, fear­less and to the point. Few ex­cerpts from her speech could prove my point.

“The cur­rent pre­oc­cu­pa­tion of all the elected of­fi­cials is how to en­sure their re-elec­tion and ev­ery ac­tion is geared to­wards that aim. The pol­i­tics of Tazarce [suc­ces­sion] has clouded their sense of judg­ment and dis­torted their pri­or­i­ties,” she said.

“The con­cept of sep­a­ra­tion of pow­ers has been jet­ti­soned and state leg­is­la­tors and coun­cilors also called ‘CASHil­lors’ who are work­ing hand in gloves with the gover­nors and chair­men also known as ‘SHARE­men’ to feather their nests. Cor­rup­tion, vi­o­lence and dis­re­spect for the rule of law are threat­en­ing to erode any suc­cess made in forg­ing unity and pro­mot­ing democ­racy,” she added.

Ha­jiya Bilk­isu was also crit­i­cal of her pro­fes­sion, jour­nal­ism. She told the par­tic­i­pants at the sym­po­sium that “the press is older than the var­i­ous arms of gov­ern­ment and sev­eral civil so­ci­ety or­gan­i­sa­tions”, but “as de­fend­ers of democ­racy and hu­man rights, the media have quite of­ten turned their role up­side down to be­come per­pe­tra­tors of in­iq­ui­ties and pro­tec­tors of vi­o­la­tors of hu­man rights. They have through the ages, eroded the con­fi­dence they should have com­manded from the public by their wan­ton dis­re­gard for ethics”.

This is just a small por­tion of her pa­per which re­viewed the en­tire po­lit­i­cal history of Nige­ria. Gladly, Pro­fes­sors At­tahiru Jega and Haruna Wak­ili have com­piled and edited the pre­sen­ta­tions made dur­ing the sym­po­sium, and pro­duced a book bear­ing the theme of the an­nual lec­ture.

The sec­ond time I met Ha­jiya Bilk­isu Yusuf was in Au­gust 2007. It was dur­ing the field­work of my doc­toral dis­ser­ta­tion. My re­search was com­par­ing the cov­er­age of cor­rup­tion scan­dals in the Nige­rian press, and I was in­ter­ested in find­ing out whether re­gional and cul­tural bi­ases of jour­nal­ists in­flu­ence their re­port­ing of cor­rup­tion. As part of the re­search, I needed to con­duct in­ter­views with jour­nal­ists from north­ern and south­ern Nige­ria.

It was also an op­por­tu­nity to meet face to face with some of the house­hold names in the field of jour­nal­ism. I got her num­ber from one of the vet­er­ans of jour­nal­ism in Nige­ria.

I called her and ex­plained my mis­sion, and she asked me to visit her of­fice at Cit­i­zens Com­mu­ni­ca­tion in Kaduna, which I did a few days later. On ar­rival at the of­fice, Ha­jiya Bilk­isu was busy do­ing an ad­vo­cacy train­ing for some youths. I waited briefly, and we started the in­ter­view.

This en­counter says a lot about her per­son­al­ity. In­stead of con­duct­ing the in­ter­view in an of­fice, we sat on a mat in the premises of Cit­i­zens Com­mu­ni­ca­tions. While the in­ter­view was go­ing on, her at­ten­tion was partly on those youths who came for her men­tor­ing in civil so­ci­ety ac­tiv­i­ties.

As we fin­ished the in­ter­view, I asked her whether she planned to re­turn to jour­nal­ism on full-time ba­sis, or even es­tab­lish a new media out­fit. “I will only start a news­pa­per if there is two bil­lion naira avail­able,” she said. “I have to be sure I can pay salaries for one to two years even if we don’t make profit, oth­er­wise, I will not get in­volved. I knew our ex­pe­ri­ence in Cit­i­zens mag­a­zine,” she con­cluded as I packed my bag and said good­bye to her.

The op­por­tu­nity to meet her once again came in 2011. I was plan­ning to go on hol­i­day, when my se­nior col­league and the cur­rent editor of the Hausa Ser­vice, Dr Mansur Li­man, asked me to write a pro­posal to the BBC World Ser­vice Trust, now called BBC Media Ac­tion, for a grant to con­duct some de­bates on World Press Free­dom Day in Nige­ria.

I drafted the pro­posal, sub­mit­ted it and left for the hol­i­day. On my re­turn, Mansur told me that my pro­posal was suc­cess­ful and had been ex­panded to cover as­pects of the 2011 elec­tions. Our then editor, Mrs Jami­lah Tangaza, was to con­duct the po­lit­i­cal de­bates in Kano dur­ing the elec­tion pe­riod, which she did at Mam­bayya House, while I was to or­ga­nize the de­bate on World Press Free­dom in Abuja later.

I or­ga­nized three dif­fer­ent de­bates at the Shehu Musa Yar’Adua Cen­tre on three dif­fer­ent top­ics, press free­dom, media ac­count­abil­ity, and the use of media for poverty alle­vi­a­tion.

On the first seg­ment of the de­bate, I con­tacted Ha­jiya Bilk­isu Yusuf in or­der to serve as a pan­elist along­side Malam Muham­mad Haruna, for­mer Man­ag­ing Di­rec­tor of New Nige­rian News­pa­pers, Hon. Musa Sarkin Ader of the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives and Dr Abubakar Al­has­san of Bayero Univer­sity, Kano. Once more she was at her best. Ha­jiya Bilk­isu seized the op­por­tu­nity to an­a­lyze the fail­ure of lead­er­ship in Nige­ria, and as usual en­cour­aged women to ac­tively en­gage in the media.

The fourth time I met Ha­jiya Bilk­isu was in Jan­uary 2014 at King Fa­had Palace Ho­tel in Dakar, Sene­gal. It was dur­ing a stake­hold­ers’ meet­ing of the Is­lamic De­vel­op­ment Bank (IDB) for its mem­ber coun­tries in sub-Sa­ha­ran Africa. The bank was work­ing on pro­duc­ing a 10year strate­gic frame­work, and also to as­sess its 40 years as a de­vel­op­ment in­sti­tu­tion. Ha­jiya Bilk­isu has been ac­tive stake­holder of the NGO sec­tion of the IDB, and was also in­vited to par­tic­i­pate in the meet­ing, which as usual she did with ev­ery com­mit­ment. The last time I saw her was in Jeddah at the IDB head­quar­ters, we only ex­changed quick greet­ings as she was busy with her meet­ings, and that was it.

In the five times that I met her, what was un­mis­tak­able was her sim­plic­ity, ded­i­ca­tion, and most im­por­tantly, she never lost her essence as a woman and a mother. May Al­lah (SWT) for­give her short­com­ings, grant her eter­nal peace, and pro­tect those she left be­hind with His guid­ance.

Yusha’u can be reached through mjyushau@ya­

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