By Kabiru Abdulsalam
Sunday, 12th July, 2020 started just like any other day. I woke up at about Fifteen minutes to the hour of Five. As it had rained all night, I managed to join a congregational prayer in a mosque close to my place of abode. I immediately came back home and recited my morning Azkar. I went back to bed hoping to get the most out of the weekend. Fell into a deep sleep and dreamt of my late father Alhaji Abdulsalam Magaji Dambatta or Baba as we fondly called him.
In the dream, I saw a gentleman who is my very senior colleague in the medical profession in person of Professor Andy Uloko of the Department of Medicine at the Aminu Kano Teaching Hospital and a professor of Endocrinology of international repute. He came to me and mentioned that he was requested by another very senior colleague and father in the profession, Prof Abdulhamid Isah Dutse to review Baba at home. He had just been discharged from the Hospital on account of an ongoing strike action by one of the Unions in the Health sector. The setting was looking more reminiscent of March of 2002, when the Health sector witnessed several industrial actions by various cadres of Hospital staff. Several patients with various Medical and Surgical ailments paid a very heavy price. Prof Uloko came to our house with the instruction to review my father and being a seasoned endocrinologist, to offer the much needed care that was lost due to a premature discharge from same Hospital. I later dreamt of my late father praying and admonishing me on the need to live a decent, humble and productive life without having to venture into unethical practices , as the norm was when he was alive.
Honestly, I could not make out any head or tail of the dream. I later discussed with Dr Mustapha Sa’id, an ENT Surgeon and long time friend, associate and confidant. When I narrated the dream to him, he was silent, pondered for few a seconds and said “Kai Malam this your dream seems to be instructive”. He then asked me of my initial thought and I said Baba Abdulsalam returned to his creator exactly about sixteen years ago. It may be the Almighty Allah’s way of telling me to try and scribble a short tribute which will serve as a documented evidence of the life and times of this remarkable gentleman, diligent and seasoned civil servant. To be honest, I have not been able to pen down anything on his life and by extension the story of my own early life. Whenever I attempted, I burst into tears and cried my eyes out. Please forgive my weak heart and emotion-laden language and style of the piece.
Alh Abdulsalam Magaji Dambatta was born in 1952 in the ancient town of Danbatta, in Kano State, North-western Nigeria. He was born into a family of palace courtiers who lived a modest and frugal life style. However, they were among the first to understand and appreciate the value of Western education. After a few years of early Qur’anic and Islamic education, Baba was enrolled into the Danbatta elementary school. From there, he proceeded to Rumfa college, located within the city of Kano. He graduated in 1972 with flying colours. Among his classmates were notable personalities which included the late Dr Habibu Sani Babura, Alh Garba Bello Kankarofi, Balarabe Yusuf Danbatta and Alh Hafizu Ringim, a former IGP of the Nigerian Police Force..
Immediately after secondary school, Baba gained employment with the Kano state Ministry of Health and Social Services as a social welfare assistant and was posted to Kano City Hospital, now Murtala Muhammad Specialist Hospital. He once told me that he was a newly deployed staff when Dr Sadiq Suleiman Wali was posted to the hospital as the first Nigerian exalted position of consultant physician. As it later turned out, that early encounter with Dr SS wali had a huge influence on his thinking, perception and attitude towards life. He continued to beseech the Almighty Allah that his only Child in this World, Kabiru, becomes a doctor, just like Dr SS Wali. Later on, Baba was posted to Social welfare stations outside Kano to enable him gain rural experience. He was moved to Hadejia, Gwarzo and later Wudil in 1980. It was while at Wudil that he decided to transfer his service to the Kano state ministry of Local Government and Chieftaincy affairs.
At the Ministry for local government, he was deployed to Bebeji Local Government Area with Headquarters in Kiru town. He was made the pioneer Head of Department of Community development, youth, information, culture and sports. It was in this town that I got enrolled into primary school in 1983. He worked in Hadejia, Dambatta, Gaya, Ringim, Kura, Dawakin kudu, Dawakin Tofa, Dala, Gwale, Bebeji, Tsanyawa and Finally Warawa Local Government Areas. Warawa was to be the place where he would fall terminally ill and ultimately depart to the great beyond.
Baba was a very strict disciplinarian and moralist; He was not bothered with material acquisitions and held the view that one should be contented with the little one has. He understood and foresaw the value of quality education. He was therefore very happy and elated when in 1996, I broke the news that I had just been admitted to the prestigious Bayero University, for a Bachelors’ degree in Medicine and Surgery. In 1997, when I made it to level 200, he used the entire proceeds from the sale of Soya beans and maize that he cultivated to purchase medical textbooks for me. These books still adorn my bookshelf. I will, insha Allah, continue to cherish his sacrifice and selflessness towards me becoming a better person.
During the 1990s, Nigeria was passing through one of the most turbulent and difficult times. Life was very tough for an average Nigerian. Baba was advised by friends and relatives to secure some government work or ‘offer’ as they usually refer to it for his nephew, Mustapha and myself. His answer was a capital NO. He said and I quote “ I found myself in the service of the state and indeed the local government and I will continue to pray to serve meritoriously without any blemish. As for my Children, I prefer that they receive sound education, moral guidance and home training to enable them excel in their chosen careers”. In the mid 1990s Baba was spending more than a third of his income on our educational pursuits.
Baba had a passion for record keeping and had a superb retentive memory that specialized in storing and fast retrieval of dates and circumstances of important events at family level, state, national and international affairs. I still keep several files containing his handing and takeover notes in the numerous places he worked during his life time. I fervently hope and pray the Almighty Allah gives me the strength, wisdom, health and time to write a detailed Biography of this beloved mentor, friend and confidant. Perhaps the world will know more about this unsung Hero, his sacrifices and silent contributions toward the development of our Country.
Baba lived a relatively simple and quiet life, devoid of ostentation. He enjoyed a very stable and healthy life for decades except for mild indispositions such as flu and the occasional fever. He usually resumed office only two days after a very hectic activity. After r just coming back from Hajj in 1984, 1985 and 1986, he reported back to his office after only a day’s rest.
The sickness that eventually took Baba began insidiously with deteriorating eye sight, severe weight loss and recurrent fever. He took himself to the famous ECWA eye hospital in Kano, where he was diagnosed with advanced glaucoma. He was subsequently referred to Aminu Kano Teaching Hospital for a more comprehensive medical evaluation. He was later found to have diabetes to which he would later succumb.
In a span of three (3) years, Baba was in and out of several Hospitals for various complications of Diabetes. Even though I was living in the Medical students’ Hostel in Aminu Kano Teaching Hospital Campus of Bayero University, Kano, I ensured that I visited and checked on his health every day. This was because I was his only child and i was by then in my Final year in Medical school. When it was about a week to the beginning of my final exams, I came on the usual daily routine check and was about leaving for Hostel when he requested that I come closer to him, He said: “I will tell you something, do not be worried for it will only make you stronger in life and benefits you hereafter”. His voice was becoming weaker and my heart was literally bursting out of my chest. He said “Kabiru”, I replied “Baba”. He then raised his face and his eyes looked straight into my mine. He said “you know that throughout my life, I have always been a very honest and hardworking civil servant. I am likely going to succumb to this illness. My days are numbered and I am afraid that I am not going to leave anything for you and indeed the whole family”. He pointed to the floor and continued, “Three bedroom Bungalow in Dorayi, Unguwar Bello is the most important property I have. I have worked very hard to ensure that I completed it. please, I know you are likely going to qualify to be a Medical Doctor in the next few days. Please use your education wisely, live a decent life, work hard, be prudent, help your relatives especially the less privileged ones”. He finally said I should concentrate on my final exam which was due to start on Monday, and that I should not come home for the next two weeks.
On the fateful day, Wednesday, 4th August, 2004, I had just come out from a Viva voce examination in Surgery and went to buy an item rom the then only Shop in Aminu Kano Teaching Hospital and met Al Mustapha, a cousin with whom we grew up together under the care of Baba. I asked “how is Baba? He responded by informing me that Baba’s condition had deteriorated the previous night , which necessitated him being brought back to the Hospital. He however mentioned that Baba had issued a stern warning that I should not be informed, for he did not want me to be distracted from the final examination. I said but it will be good for me to see him. I summoned courage and went to the accident and emergency unit of the Hospital. When I entered there he asked as to why they informed me? He then asked about several of my classmates whom he knew by their first and last names: Mustapha Said, Musa Takai, Usman Bashir, Abubakar Baguda, Jameel Ismail, Abbass Bello, Auwalu Kabuga, Aleemat, Binta, Sharfuddeen, Abdullahi Kabir, Sakina Ilu, Atiku Ringim and Anas Ismail. I replied they were all fine and he said Alhamdulillah. Before he could close his mouth, about a dozen of my classmates entered the cubicle and greeted him to which answered and wished all of them the best in their examinations.
Baba finally breathed his last breath at around 5:15 pm. The managing medical team under then Drs Mahmud Sani Babura, Musa Babashani and Nasiru Abdullahi did their best to resuscitate him. However, the almighty Allah had decreed that his short sojourn on this earth had indeed, come to an end. He was taken back to his hometown of Dambatta and buried according to Muslim rites. I sincerely pray to the almighty Allah to grant the souls of Baba and that of my Mother, Maryam who passed on much earlier in 1988 in Ringim, eternal rest. May He in His infinite mercy accept all their good deeds and forgive their shortcomings. May He reward them with Aljannatul Firdaus.
Also, May the Almighty Allah make our continued stay on earth a blessing to ourselves, our families and the entire muslim Ummah. Allah ya kyautata karshen mu. Ameen.
Dr Kabiru Abdulsalam, Faculty of Clinical Sciences, Bayero University, Kano.