It is useless to be afraid of death – An African proverb
With their lives encapsulated in journalism and journalism entrenched in the lives, I had to foreground the second to my last meeting with Wada Maida three weeks ago by commiserating with him over the demise of Alhaji Ismaila Isa Funtua on July 20, 2020. (We called him ‘Malam’ because he detested the superfluity of the title ‘Alhaji’). Though both hailed from Katsina State, they had a stronger affinity than state of origin; they shared a common indulgence that was enabled by their glaring passion for the pen (or today’s keyboard). A flowering enthusiasm saw them holding a baton at one end of the media in spite of their stake in other ventures, until their final breath.
“You know the late Ismaila Isa Funtua drove himself to the hospital,” Malam Wada Maida remarked after appreciating my concern.
His statement was heavily pregnant, and I noticed its bulging effect on me from the way Wada Maida raised his eyebrows, looked straight into my eyes, his forehead squeezed in multiple dark lines. The unspoken meaning of that statement at that solemn moment was ‘anyone could die at any time,’ though both of us avoided this eerie truth like a sacred and forbidden room.
Yes, no one ever prepares for death, the oppressor of mankind whose merciless lot could drop on the crown of any person’s head anywhere, anytime, anyhow and by any means. On Monday evening, at about 5.00 pm, I had put a call through to Malam Wada Maida requesting for an appointment to discuss Daily Trust Foundation’s board meeting and Data Journalism workshop, both of which were in the offing for next week.
“Theo, meet me at 1.00 pm tomorrow (yesterday) in my office,” Malam told me. His voice was radiant, like that of a man in high spirit, a sign that he was in good health. From our brief discussion, I perceived that he was in his elements, perhaps, because the impending board meeting would discuss a breakthrough in a project which he was very, very passionate about.
I had to tidy up all necessary documents for both events in preparation for that meeting, only to learn that he had passed on at about 10.00 pm on Monday night. Like it did to the late Ismaila Isa Funtua, death took Wada Maida without the courtesy of notice, in the form of a long or even a short battle on a sickbed.
The late Wada Maida was in the bracket of few journalists who did not lose their head in the luxury and glamour of having served in the lucrative executive wing of the government. Though he occupied the enviable position of Chief Press Secretary to President Muhammadu Buhari when the president was military Head of State in the mid-1980s, and later held chief executive positions in subsequent administrations, Wada Maida did not step out of the borders of media and journalism.
As many would readily testify, his tenure as Managing Director of the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) was the golden era for that organisation, in terms of tenure, stability, service delivery, and professionalism. Several former staff members of NAN were at his graveside at Gudu Cemetery, Abuja, not because of a recent relationship with Wada Maida, but in memory of the succour, soft touch and mentoring they savoured from him over a decade ago.
He was a distant name to me until 2016 when I began to wear the mantle of programme director of Daily Trust Foundation, specifically to execute a rare journalism grant from MacArthur Foundation.
Initially, I felt unease when the former Chief Executive Officer/Editor-in-Chief of Media Trust Limited, Malam Mannir Dan-Ali, would refer every memorandum about the programme to Malam Wada Maida because he was the chairman of the Foundation. Suffering from what is called anthropophobia, the fear of meeting and talking to persons for the first time, I was destabilized at the necessity of receiving the final approval for every programme at Wada Maida’s desk.
But my anxiety was unfounded, as I discovered Wada Maida to be down-to-earth, considerate, democratic in manner, but thorough. Before he would append his signature of approval to any document, he would ensure all the dots on ‘I’s and crosses on ‘t’s were as clear as daylight to him.
When he insisted on using his calculator to cross-check my arithmetic about expenditure, I wondered why he doubted me so much, but he taught me a lesson about the danger of being all-believing, all-accepting, and all-trusting, especially when it had to do with financial transactions.
The late Wada Maida was very passionate about investigative reporting, and, on several occasions, he gave me story ideas. At every training activity, he would drum it into the ears of journalists the need to confidently investigate those in authority, pointing out the provisions of Section 22 of the 1999 Constitution, as amended.
Speaking to participants at Investigative Photography workshop in October 2019, Wada Maida said, “We know that this is a country of very poor masses and, unusually, very wealthy few; mainly the few who have access to the national purse. But that is illegal. Government has set up the EFCC, ICPC, CCB, and other agencies to fight corruption, but the war has not been won. As journalists, you must play your own part in the fight to enthrone transparency and accountability in Nigeria, using various approaches.”
He was no longer in the newsroom to carry out investigations, but his association with the media through entrepreneurship and membership of journalism bodies told us more about where Wada Maida poured much of his love.
A shareholder in Daily Trust, the late Wada Maida, until his demise, was the Chairman and Editor-in-Chief of Peoples Daily newspaper, and board member of the International Press Institute (IPI), a global journalism body. He was not a man who left his life and health to chance. At every meeting since the outbreak of COVID-19, Wada Maida would not be caught without his nose mask and strict adherence to social distancing.
Before stepping into the one-storey building that was his office, it was mandatory for us to wash our hands with soap and water. At his reception, we cleaned our hands with hand sanitizer. And before entering his presence, we properly wore our nose masks. I could bet with my most precious possession that COVID-19 would never find a route through which to penetrate into Wada Maida’s lungs, no matter the virus’ schemes and strategies.
Until his death, one remarkable thing about Wada Maida was that he was hard working. On every workday, he reported at his desk at Wuse 2, attending to his businesses, and he returned to his house only at the close business hours.
He was unlike many Nigerians who retired to boredom when they quit government job. Again, though close to the corridors of power, Wada Maida’s name was never stained with corruption or controversy. He went to the unknown world with his integrity intact.
As a Nigerian proverb says, at the funeral, one cries for the living not for the dead. So, as Wada Maida’s death, we actually weep for ourselves, not for him. Wada Maida (1950-2020) was a man of peace.
May his soul rest in peace.
Dr Abbah is Programme Director at Daily Trust Foundation.