The Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) held its fifteen-year anniversary of the Ramadan daily programme Sahur Live On NTA. The venue of the event was the Shehu Musa Yar’Adua Centre, Abuja with the theme: ISLAM AND PEACE.
The event was also a quasi-Waleematul Qur’an as Malama Hauwa is to complete reciting the entire Qur’an to Suratun Naas (with the translation given by yours sincerely) which she started from al-Faatihah fifteen years ago.
If I remember what happened correctly, it started roughly fifteen years ago after a meeting in the month of Ramadan with the then Director General of the NTA, Dr Tony Iredia. I was invited to the meeting where I also met Mr Wole Coker, the then GM of NTA Plus, and Aunty Bola Oyeyemi. I later understood that the whole idea was brought up by the duo of Aunty Bola and Mr Coker.
Dr Iredia said to me: ‘Ustaz, I called you concerning a proposition that came to my mind yesterday.’
‘I’m listening to you, sir.’ I said.
‘Yes, Ustaz.’ He continued, ‘I saw that Abuja hook up with Lagos for a Ramadan programme, and I said why can’t Abuja have its own independent programme rather than rely on Lagos? What is it in a Ramadan programme that Abuja Muslim scholars cannot do that our stations have to join Lagos in order to relate one?’
‘You are right sir;’ I said, ‘once the avenue is created, we’ll take up the gauntlet.’
Dr Iredia said, ‘Fine, Ustaz. That avenue is now available. Please come up with a Ramadan programme for Abuja in liaison with Mr Coker and Madam Bola.’
‘That I will certainly do sir.’ I said.
And so it was that this Ramadan programme which Imam Fuad Adeyemi of Al-Habibiyyah christened Sahur Live on NTA commenced to the present day. Also, Imam Fuad was the first anchor for the programme, because as a local merchant-scholar who must travel to Saudi Arabia every Ramadan, it was inconceivable that I would be the one to present Sahur Live as originally proposed by Dr Iredia. So, Imam Fuad came to the rescue.
For the purposes of peaceful coexistence and religious harmony, we must keep in mind that the birthing of Suhur was the idea of a non-Muslim, Dr Tony Iredia, the former DG of the NTA. That was significant in affirming his sagacity and conscientiousness in discharging his duties as a leader.
Mr Wale Coker became part of the team of Sahur with endless meetings in his office as if his main preoccupation was to ensure that the programme did not fail. He never uttered the word ‘no’ to our incessant requests towards fine-tuning the various segments at the initial stage of the programme.
Malam Sani Muhammad, the first producer of Sahur has shown a lot of commitment and diligence in making sure that recordings were done as and when due, and that the entire programme was sustained through sponsorship and donations from individuals and corporate entities.
Doubtless, NTA is the most watched station around the world in Ramadan because of Sahur. I have been to several countries where Nigerians living there spoke about Sahur. The calls that viewers make during the quiz segment show the level of the impact the programme is having on the people.
The spirit with which the programme was created continued to surface in the presentation of scholars in all segments of Sahur – peaceful coexistence, mutual respect, and religious harmony. People behind the scene at the studios are Muslims as well as Christians. Sahur has afforded many the chance to learn about Islam from its scholars who handle and expound very informative topics.
Everyone is trying to read the Qur’an as they don’t know what Surah of the Qur’an will Sheikh Tajuddeen Adigun request them to recite during the quiz. Everyone is trying to learn more about the history of Islam so as not to give a wrong answer to a simple question and thus be subject to the pleasant jest of Sheikh Abdul Fattah Adeyemi, the Islamo-comedian presenter of Sahur.
Sahur has made us as Allah, our Maker wants us to be – human beings, whether we are Muslims or Christians, men or women, adult or children – we are all Nigerians trying to understand the other, accommodate them and respect their beliefs. That is the impact of Sahur.
When the government issued an edict some years ago against relating live any religious programme, I had to meet the then DG, Alhaji Usman Magawata to plead for Sahur. One of the most important aspects of the programme is the Quiz Segment where viewers call in, answer questions and win prizes. If the ‘LIVE’ aspect was taken away from Sahur, the programme was doomed.
After listening to me and asking few questions, Alhaji Usman Magawata said: ‘Ustaz, Sahur will be LIVE. We can grant that exception.’
Whatever I said concerning the names I mentioned could be said about many other Christians, working behind the scene to the success of Sahur. Let me start with Immaculata Eta, the Manager Programmes of NTA Abuja at a time. This is a very committed Christian, a devotee of Deeper Life Church. When she assumed her duties as Manager Programmes there was this subtle scepticism in everyone’s demeanour as to whether Immaculata will embrace Suhur and give it the desired commitment.
Interestingly, she taught us a lesson in work ethics; the name of a programme or its religion should not be a barrier to giving your best and exerting your utmost in discharging your duty. Play your role, and do your best.
Every night Immaculata would leave the comfort of her home to arrive at the studios around 2:30 am. This was a thirty-day routine.
Sheikh Abdullah Hakim Quick was in Abuja for a series of lectures. We invited him to feature in Sahur, taking advantage of his presence in the country.
For those who do not know, Sheikh Abdullah Hakim Quick received his Bachelor’s Degree from the famous Islamic University of Madeenah. His Master’s Degree and PhD were from the University of Toronto, and his thesis was an analysis of the life and writings of Sheikh ‘Uthman Dan Fodio.
Immaculata Eta came earlier on that day. We didn’t know what she was up to until the early morning meal was served – Sahur, from where the programme took its appellation. Immaculata decorated the table and rearranged the entire dining room with things she brought from her home in honour of our august visitor, Sheikh Abdullah Hakim Quick. She rightly felt that the setting of the place, how we used to serve our meals was not befitting a foreign Muslim scholar and a guest on Sahur.
We take the Sahur meal as a family. No one has a right over another because this person is fasting and the other person is not. In this open buffet, a Muslim is careful not to take too much of anything so as not to deprive a Christian of an equal chance of having beef, chicken or fish, even though it is a meal that prepares a Muslim for the next day’s fast.
Whatever I said in relation to Immaculata, I can as well say more concerning Polycap Saga, or Abel Kure, or Akpauso Akpauso, or Ita Ikpang, and many more. One of our Christian brothers was nicknamed Baba Sahur because of his passion and diligence to the programme.
This spirit of religious harmony is exhibited even by callers to Sahur. Someone could call for instance and say: ‘Hi, my name is Micheal. I just called to thank you very much for this programme. I’m not a Muslim but I’m a regular viewer. Please continue with the enlightenment. I have learnt quite a lot about the true teachings of Islam.’
We have received calls from many non-Muslims with words of similar import.
Even outside the programme, people relate to us in the spirit of Sahur. One of us took his car to the mechanic for repairs. When the bill was ready, someone behind him said: ‘Mechanic, please give me the bill; I’ll pay. This is my boss. You don’t know him. He is part of the team that produces an Islamic programme Sahur.’
One of the presenters of Sahur was still in this shock when the man who paid for the bill said: ‘Sir, please don’t distress yourself about the bill. Just go. My name is Uche; I’m a Christian, but I love your programme.’
‘Thank you very much.’ Was what the imam could utter; and Uche said: ‘You are welcome sir.’
The time of transmission especially of a live programme is like a war. The producer literally assumes the garb of a madman, shouting, barking orders to the people in the studios, and whatnot – Nooooo! Camera 2, I don’t like that image. Zoom! Give me a wide shot.
If the programme fails; everybody has failed. It is natural that in the process the producer may hurt people. None of us is perfect. So, the producer has to tread carefully. Be that as it may, nobody has ever complained of being marginalised, victimised on the basis of their faith. Nobody has ever said for instance: ‘I’m not part of you anymore. I’m ill-treated here because I’m not a Muslim.’
What we have instead is someone calling after leaving the Station on transfer or due to retirement and saying: ‘I’ve just called to say hi. How is Sahur? I’m missing everybody there.’
The announcement of Iftar and Sahur times around the country by Imam Fuad Adeyemi is another way of emphasizing inclusion and national integration. The announcement is not confined to Katsina, Gusau, Yobe or Abuja. Imam Fuad will mention Benue, Enugu, and Ikot Epene, to the extent that Samual Johnson will call his family in Ikot Abasi and say: ‘Are you watching us now from Abuja? We are also fasting oooooo.’
Would that Nigeria was like Sahur.
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