Probably, many Nigerians have not, because of their current grief and broken-heartedness, noticed the striking similarities between the late Emir of Kano, Alhaji Ado Bayero and Prof. Dora Akunyili. But I have taken time out to study their lives and pinpoint the things in their lives that made them thick. What I have done here also is present a double-tribute to two icons of our current socio-political life whose passage into eternal glory has elicited global melancholy. And it is painful to do so at the same time!
I would never have imagined that the these great man and woman would die as easily and as they did, especially when one considers the humaneness, vivacity, grandeur and panache they brought to bear on all they did, while their earthly odysseys lasted. I am lost in deep thought why Dora should die the way she did, without even a chance to bid us a proper goodbye. The doctors and those close to her sickbed had given us hope she would live. The latest news from India last week was that she was recovering at an impressive rate. They asked us to pray that she would be back on her feet in a short time. And so, we prayed and fasted for God to prolong her life and grant her quick recovery from her debilitating condition.
All we kept getting was hope, hope and hope. Because of the assurances we received, none of us was ready for the shock of the news that was to come from India in the early hours of last Saturday. Initially, they told us she had relapsed into coma. At another time, we were told she had died. Nobody summoned the courage to believe either sides of the story. All we believed was that our Dora was just sick and would soon return to our warm embrace. Amid the whole confusion, we continued to hope for her return, even when the news of her demise had been confirmed. How could our Dora have died, we all had asked? No way, Dora cannot die, she is too beautiful and alluring to die, we had chorused. Deep inside us Dora would not die.
For those who had known her closely, Dora was too good to die. She was an uncommon Amazon, with an amazing gait and refinement. I refused to believe it initially when the news of Dora’s sudden death was relayed to me that early Saturday morning. I was waiting for further confirmation. It was too true to be true. I made a few calls to sources that would know, and all I kept getting was the same news: Dora dead. I squeaked instantaneously. The pain that came closer to the one I felt for Dora was when the picture of the Chibok girls was shown on national television. I could not bear the pitiful sight of innocent girls held hostage by their fellow citizens for a sin they did not commit.
My wife and children are yet to come to reality that Dora is no more. They have been inconsolable. Dora was everything to my family. She dotted on my children with such maternal femininity that I wonder how they would cope emotionally with her loss. She visited my children regularly – at times straight from the weekly cabinet meeting at Aso Rock. Each time she travelled she sent her Personal Assistant to see my children and shower them with gifts. Now, see what death has done to a blossoming relationship!
As I wept, I reached for the album of my mother’s ‘Igbotonma’ (retirement from Age Grade) containing photographs she took with Dora. Dora was visibly present on the occasion at Igbere in 2008. She travelled all the way from Abuja to grace the occasion. That was vintage Dora. She was a good PR person and carried herself with dignity and respect. In fact, she was conscious of the enormity of the responsibilities placed on her delicate shoulders by fate.
As she transited from the lecture hall to NAFDAC she shone like a million stars. At NAFDAC she left a pair of shoes too big for even her successor to fill. Dr. Orhi – the man who took over the saddle from her at NAFDAC – confirmed this much in his tribute.
Her stellar performance at NAFDAC earned her global recognition, not just for being a woman but for the fact that she outclassed even her male counterparts. She brought out the hidden potentialities of NAFDAC, making many people strive today to head it. Her courage was exemplary, while her vision was cast on iron.
How did Dora come to garner such love and support from the wide spectrum of Nigerians, some may ask? The answer is simple: Dora had the kind of charm and panache that singled her out of the crowd. Of greater importance was her commitment to work. At both NAFDAC and Federal Ministry of Information she excelled.
It was therefore surprising when she resigned her office to seek election into the Senate. It was a rugged fight between her and former Anambra State Governor, Chris Ngige. How many women would have withstood the firepower of Ngige as Dora did? Only a handful! Undeterred she took the battle to the tribunals and lost. Unfazed she started another round of re-strategizing towards 2015, which the brutal hand of death had cut short.
Many would not have known that Dora had been sick for some time before it came to the public domain. She tried to manage herself as carefully and discretely as she could, bearing in mind the immense love she enjoyed among the masses. She did not want to evoke unnecessary public empathy over her condition. That was why she bore her cross with fortitude and equanimity.
It was for this reason that her appearance at the National Conference in her bad state aroused national sympathy. On a few occasions I called her before she was flown abroad she exuded courage and optimism. Nothing in her voice betrayed her sudden demise. She told me confidently that she was strong inside and was ready to ride out the storm. She was that kind of woman: determined, steely committed and focused.
On the day she was flown to India she was in high spirits, though physically weak. Her mind was fixed on going to India and coming back within a few weeks. We, her admirers, prayed fervently for her safe return. There was one particular man – in his early 60’s – who worked closely with Dora, especially during her unsuccessful bid for the Senate. This man was crestfallen and saddened by Dora’s dwindling health. He told me on a few occasions me spoke that he wished nothing would happen to Dora because, according to him, she was too human, kindhearted and brave to suffer any undue affliction. He confirmed to have worked for her, though on a private arrangement, vowing to stand by her no – matter which direction the tide went. When I called this man on Sunday – a day after Dora’s death – he could barely speak. His voice smacked of despondency and sorrow. I feel exactly like him, and so do many Nigerians and non-Nigerians.
In Dora many found the light, hope and a reason to live. She was a mother ever ready to suckle her children. What she had as earthly possessions she shared with the poor and needy. Her philanthropy was exceptional, but she did it with passion, altruism and recollection. That was why many did not see her in the garb of a philanthropist. A strong Catholic faithful, Dora was a Marian child – deeply committed to devotions to Our Lady, the Blessed Virgin Mary.
In spite of her visible presence, she was still virtuous, humble and modest, yet quintessential in her attires and general disposition. This she exemplified in quantum in all the places she worked.
As indicated in the beginning of this article Dora and Bayero were two of a kind. All Dora’s positive attributes could also be found in Bayero. He was well read and conducted himself with candour and royalty long before he became the Emir of Kano. At the places he worked, before ascending the throne, he exhibited unparalleled respectability and moral rectitude. He had an excellent personality signposted by warmth and amiability. These made it possible for him to worm himself into the hearts of the kingmakers, making him one of the most successful and peaceable emirs Kano had ever produced.
For 53 years, he reigned over the Metropolitan Emirate of Kano, superintending over its complex socio-political machinery. He was able to combine his temporal duties with demanding political exigencies of the Emirate, producing an unusual blend of majesty and aristocracy in proportionate rates.
His public service life was without blemish as Dora’s. The period leading to his installation as the Emir of Kano was quite eventful. Despite initial opposition to his choice he was able to galvanize sufficient support to enable him to stabilize. His style of leadership coupled with his suave and unassuming mien drew him closer to his people whose latter support became unshakable and manifold. He was a good listener and deferred willingly to the wishes of his people. That was why for the 51 years he presided over the coveted throne he was held in high esteem by both the government and people of Kano.
On a number of occasions I met Emir Bayero he was always calm, and exuded such charisma and class as could only be seen in a few traditional rulers in Nigeria. As governor, I visited him on a few occasions to seek his wise counselling and pay him homage. He was such a meek and humble man, yet full of wisecracks.
I recall his visit to Abia State in 2004, while I was still governor. He came in company with the Emir of Zamfara, some serving governors then – including Attahiru Bafarawa of Sokoto, Muhammadu Adamu Aliero of Kebbi, Ahmad Sani of Zamfara, Ibrahim Shekarau of Kano, Kure of Niger, and other dignitaries. It was in the aftermath of the crisis between Christians and Muslims in parts of the South East occasioned by the killing of some Igbo in the North. He was very eager to broker peace and maintain the mutual relationship between Muslims and Christians. While in the state he commissioned the new mosque I built to replace the old one that was torched during the crisis. He confessed that never in his reign as Emir had he seen such open-mindedness and magnanimity by a non-Muslim. He acknowledged that it was only Abiola who had done such a thing. In appreciation of this gesture he turbaned me as the Galadima of Abia since there was already a Galadima of Kano. He noted that he personally performed the turban as a way of showing his depth of appreciation – something he had never done since he was sworn in as Emir.
I wish also to place on record that Emir Bayero fought with us (Atiku, Kure, Tinubu and others) against the third agenda. His support for the campaign was total.
What about his leadership qualities? He was firm and stoically principled. I saw these qualities in Dora as well. He was also a man given to few words, which made him an action man. He made public comments only when inevitable, and on each of these occasions his message was received with awe and respect. Unlike some traditional rulers that meddled in politics, to the extent that they were dethroned by the government, Bayero was completely apolitical. Though he was constantly visited by politicians, seeking his blessing, he never for once betrayed any sentiments. And this is how it should be. Our traditional institution has some lessons to learn from the life of this great man.
It is worth mentioning here that Bayero was a faithful and uncompromising bridge-builder and a strong link between the north and the south east. In fact, during the war, he was acclaimed to have stood solidly behind Igbo, not allowing them to be killed or their properties destroyed. He was also very popular among the poor masses who almost revered him inapologetically.
So, in Bayero I have lost a father and counsellor, and in Dora, a sister and martinet. All put together, Nigeria has lost two of its brightest and most exemplary personalities whose reputation and attainments will forever stand as a testament to their excellent lives.
My heart goes out to members of their immediate and extended families. I remember in particular Bayero’s sons – many of whom are very close to me. Surely, they will be deeply burdened by their sudden departure. The outpouring of sympathy since both tragic incidents occurred has demonstrated how much they are loved, even in death. The spontaneity and emotionality of the condolences of a mourning nation show how appreciative Nigerians can be to those who have made positive impact on their lives.
Though they are gone to join their Maker in heaven their memories will linger for a long time. Time and space cannot erase that which they stood for and died. Their passage (both were sick before they passed on) was not volatile neither was it controversial. They transmuted peacefully the same way they led their lives – quietly, majestically and queenly. In life, both seemed immortal, having escaped the perils that came their way. Dora, for instance, escaped the assassin’s bullet on two occasions. The first was just miraculous as the bullet only brushed one side of her headgear.
Altruists and humanists hardly ever die. They live in our hearts eternally. Bayero and Dora cannot die. They have only flown away to heavenly bliss where their good works will be rewarded, as no immortalization by man can compensate for the prodigious sacrifices they made for others.
The only contrast I see in the two nationalists is in their ages. One was 83 and the other 59. How long one lived does not really matter. What matters is how well. The life that awaits them hereafter has no time limit – it is for eternity.
Some hearts may be broken by grief over their death, some tears will never end, but do we really have to mourn? It is we that are alive and yet to pay the supreme price that deserve pity. Who knows what forms our own deaths will take? We mourn because we are human. That is understandable. For them, a new life has just begun under the bossom of the Most High. They no longer have any communion with mortality. The strife and vanities of this life will no longer assail them. They have found peace with their Maker.
We must be challenged by the feats they achieved and turn away from unproductive enterprises. The bickering, bad blood and wastefulness that characterize our national life should give way to peace, brotherly love and selflessness. We should place nation above our selfish, parochial ends, which the lives of Dora and Bayero exemplified. This is the only way we can demonstrate to the whole world that we truly loved them.
Continue to rest in the peace of God, until we meet to part no more.