Our hearts are burning with gloominess; it is indeed a period of mourning to the family, Bauchi State and nation at large. We have lost not just a father but a friend, Bauchi State has lost a rare gem, his staff has lost the best boss ever and Nigeria as a whole has lost one of the finest medical practitioners to have ever lived. Baba died a hero; being at the forefront of fighting this pandemic that has ripped the heart of the world. Perhaps, if Baba was not selfless, he would still be here with us but being the man, we have known him to be, he died fulfilled, knowing that he has contributed immensely to his country.
I have read so many headlines about his death. The world knows him as a brave medical doctor but my siblings and relatives know him as a father, friend, uncle and brother. I pride in the fact that he was my father and he lived a good life.
Baba, Dr Bello Katagum, our father, who was born on 5th day of December, 1947 has fourteen of us; seven are medical doctors and has left behind his two adorable wives. Now that I think about his favourite food, I am forced to smile a little; he loved everything as long as it had lots of vegetables and not too sweet. He was careful of what to eat, well, that was him being a doctor. Someone asked me what his hobby was, unconsciously I said, “being a doctor”. He enjoyed being a doctor – anyone close to him will attest to this. Baba in his lifetime had achieved things some humans could only dream of; he was a man of affluence but never did he ever allow this to get into his way of humility and humanity. He had so much empathy.
Dr Best, as we fondly call him, obtained his MBBS from the prestigious ABU Zaria between 1968 and 1973. He was a Member, Royal College of Physician. MRCP, DTM&H. Also, he served as Commissioner in these ministries; Health, Education and Works where he performed to the best of his ability. Baba was a member of the Constituent Assembly and later a senator in the defunct NRC. He, also, worked as a consultant for PTF in health-related interventions. Something he loved doing. Baba became Deputy Chairman ABU Governing Council, the same school he had obtained his MBBS from. He’s a seasoned Physician, a non-practicing politician and a philanthropist.
Baba’s demise is a tragic loss to not just his immediate and extended family but to thousands of his patients, staff and those that crossed path with him, medically and/or otherwise. Throughout his life, Allah blessed and favored him unimaginably. He put these blessings to good use by catering for his family, friends, relatives and even strangers. His philanthropic gestures knew no sentiments, be it tribe or religion, it did cut across all of these. It was always a case of as long as you’re willing to study and “You don’t smoke”, you can always count on Baba to cover your tuition and monthly stipend throughout your study session. Count yourself so lucky if you happen to be a medical student, your allowance will be doubled and, be sure, to always count on him to enroll you in a paid internship in the Family Hospital during breaks and holidays.
A wise man said, one way to know a man is good at heart is by looking at how well his immediate family is fairing. Judging by this, I can boldly say that, Baba was a good man. He took good care of fourteen of us, with seven of us being medical doctors in different fields. He was a responsible family man to the core and always available for us. He sacrificed his comfort for his family, made sure we lacked absolutely nothing,
Baba trained and mentored so many medical doctors, of which a number of them are professors, consultants and seniors in the medical field.
If Baba were to be here with us and you ask him the number of patients he has catered for, he won’t be able to give account. I don’t think anyone can do that. He worked round the clock, 7 days a week tending to an average of fifty (50) patients per day at his prime and later, it dropped to thirty patients per day. He did this for over forty (40) years.
After serving in various capacities in government, he returned back to his first love, medical practice establishing the renowned Ni’ima Consultant Hospital, Bauchi. Baba is an expert in Tropical medicine and hygiene. He had patients coming from home and abroad, neihghbouring countries in particular. So many people flocked into Bauchi in droves just to see Dr Bello. A lot of old people that were ill would prefer visiting him than going abroad, especially those that had the means. Baba treated everyone equally, he wouldn’t treat a rich person better than a poor person. So long you are ill and needed his attention, he would attend to you even if you do not have money to foot your bill. Baba would never deny you treatment nor reduce the number of medications he planned for your treatment, categorizing such gestures as Sadaqah.
As a family physician to many people, Baba “served” numerous traditional rulers, government officials, their families, most importantly, Baba served humanity.
Baba received numerous job offers to serve in higher capacities in government, including ES in an agency under Ministry of health and was also penned by one of the former governors of Bauchi as a non-career ambassador from Bauchi State, but he simply declined and instead suggested some friends and colleagues. His argument was: “I can’t abandon my patients”.
There were times that we would confront him on why he won’t accept offers or seek “upgrades” from his very close friends up there, he would simply say, “I’m too comfortable to beg when I have all that I needed to take care of myself and family.” Regardless of how close he was with the corridors of power; he never leaned nor sought favors from anyone and that is one of his most coveted triads that he made sure his children never miss.
Baba was a big employer of labour in Bauchi State. He paid a monthly salary of over six million naira and his staff are doctors, nurses, other medical and non- medical staff and also, low-income earners. If you come looking for a job and was lucky to meet Baba, he would never turn you down; he would rather suggest you seek admission to study while covering your full tuition and monthly allowance until you graduate. He always found a way of drafting people according to their qualification and age. This is the reason why it was never surprising to find four (4) Generator operators, four (4) receptionists, and five (5) gardeners on the payment voucher list. As a way of supporting young folks, Baba gave out part-time jobs to students so they will be able to pay their tuition and save extra.
Till his death, his house has been home to thousands of students, those coming for interviews, workers, recruits, etc. that have no place to stay while in Bauchi and you always get a monthly disbursement of toiletries and a three-square meal non-stop irrespective of your number.
Dr ‘Best’ was not just a renowned medical doctor but the best father, teacher, mentor and dad to his ‘cubs’; children. He lived an exemplary and simple life and as his children, we are taking after his footsteps. Until his death, he held on to his Creator and served Allah Almighty to his fullest capacity. He lived peacefully with his neighbors, friends, colleagues, patients and strangers.
He always had time for his patients, irrespective of how tired he was; there’s no day or time he’ll receive a call from his patients without him responding.
To the Katagum Emirate; his second home, he tendered for the 10th, 11th & 12th Emirs of Katagum. Besides being the Family’s physician, he was a bridge-builder, a problem solver whose wise counsel led to a peaceful succession after the demise of the 11th. The immediate family referred to him as the institution’s protector and the only Kingmaker in Katagum of his time despite having no title whatsoever.
Baba passed away in the early hours of Wednesday 10th June, 2020 after contracting the dreaded COVID19 while tendering to his friend and patient. We pray Allah forgives his shortcomings, grants him Jannatul Firdaus and gives “US’ the fortitude to bear his horrendous loss.
Adieu Dr Best, you died doing what you do best; serving your patients & humanity.
We are Allah’s and onto him, we shall return.
See you on the other side, Salam Alaikum!
Dr Bello Bello Katagum. can be reached via: [email protected], 07025525525