I had travelled to Sokoto state, Seat of the Caliphate, on an official assignment around October, 2016. On arriving Sokoto, I put a call through to Malam Imam Imam, being that I had earlier informed him of my scheduled visit. He told me to remain where I was as he had dispatched one of his office assistants to convey me to his office located within the Sokoto State Government House.
With hugs, handshake and pleasantries over, he offered me a seat right in front of his desk and discussion began. He said, “Profwills, I read through all you wrote about your late mother when she passed on. I often prayed for you guys. It was a huge loss I must confess. Those who would one day break the news of my own mother’s death to me will have much work to do. I truly love my mother and I wouldn’t want to even think about her death for a second. She means everything to me. Once more, accept my condolences”. Realising that I was becoming somewhat emotional and unsually quiet, he quickly switched to another issue.
Quite naturally, we shared perspectives on media practice in Nigeria as a whole and northern Nigeria in particular, looking at the challenges, threats, trends and opportunities that abound in the region’s media firmament. Having begun his enviable media practice in the north where he had his tertiary education, Imam was in his own right a strong and reliable media voice in the region. He was eminently qualified to do a complete diagnosis of what ails media practice in the region.
We also analysed the media exploits of a few young and very professionally-minded northern pen-pushers who are doing very well. Names like Yushau Shuaibu, Danladi Ndayebo, Jaafar Jaafar, Abdulaziz Abdulaziz, Mohammed Isa, Habeeb Pindiga, among others, featured prominently. Then I said, “haba Oga, we’ve left out a big name ai”, looking lost, he asked, “who is the big name?, I said, “Imam Imam”, he screamed and uttered “nooooooòo. I’m no where close to the guys we highlighted above fa. I learn from them daily.”
Challenges facing media practice in the north such as poor remuneration, lack of genuine investors, absence of government support and low patronage and absence of an enabling environment for 21st century media practice were a few germane issues we reflected on. He also identified mental laziness as one factor responsible for why some journalists from the north limit their practice to the region. He decried the poor reading and research culture in the north, especially among young journalists, and challenged them to be serious and innovative in their engagements. For the older practitioners, he enjoined them to groom younger practitioners that would take over from them in the nearest future.
Realising that he never wanted to talk about his rare meteoric rise professionally, he constantly made effort to dwell longer than necessary on issues brought forward for deliberation. I talked about his days and rise to becoming the Politics Editor at THISDAY newspaper. I reminded him of the professionalism he brought to bear in his capacity as spokesman to Speaker Aminu Waziri Tambuwal. That perhaps was the most trying period for him all through his public service experience. He did his best to burnish his principal’s image at a time the former President Jonathan led government did everything, including withdrawing Tambuwal’s security aides, just to punish him.
Imam had all the reasons to be combative, brash, harsh and disrespectful in his response to coordinated media onslaught against his boss, rather he was mature, measured and very professional in his submissions. I told him of how much I loved to read his articles and media statements. The simple-and-easy-to-read approach he adopted in his writing was his selling point. I told him he wrote like Mr. Simon Kolawole, publisher of the Cable online newspaper and former Editor of THISDAY. Any average reader has no problem reading and comprehending Mr. Kolawole’s thoughts.
Intermittent calls from my team members to join them at the Giginya Hotel, venue of our meeting saw me signalling to go. “ProfWills, please sit down. I’ve asked someone to check you into one of our guest houses here fa. The guy should be on his way here now”. I was speechless! How do I deliver this message to my fellow team mates? Won’t they feel betrayed by my action? In the final analysis, Imam had his way. The hospitablity was something else. Imam made my stay in Sokoto a memorable one.
I maintained a very cordial relationship with Imam. He never failed to acknowledge text or Whatsapp messages. He was a big brother who always cared about me and was interested in all my engagements.
The news of Imam’s death was quite devastating. It left me numbed and confused. I thought about his kids, family, literary skills, pristine PR talent, beautiful dreams and an assured future ahead of him! All gone as he breath his last in the early hours of yesterday.
May the Lord console and comfort his aged mother. May Allah grant him eternal rest. May we, his friends, not abandon his young family. Rest in peace, Mr. Humility.
Mr Abdullahi writes from Abuja.