By Ali M. Ali
“Every soul will taste death” Quran (3:185)
If you love and care for me, tell me while I’m alive. Don’t send me flowers and write a poem when I’m dead. -Allen Lazar
Late Malam Wada Abdullahi Maida seemed to live all his life mindful of this Quranic verse-that “Every soul will taste death” Quran (3:185)
And he chose his flavour very well. He chose the flavour of tolerance and patient. In surah Al Baqarah, Allah (SWT) said “O you who have believed seek help through patience and prayer. Indeed, Allah is with the patient.” [2:153]
In words and in deeds, late Maida was a man of patience and prayer.
In the nearly thirty years I have known him, he came across as a man with an inelastic tolerance and patience. Supremely mild mannered, he lived, for the years I have known him,mindful that one day he will exit and so chose to be a man of peace and mild disposition. He was an unusual media leader.His exit is a personal loss. He wasn’t just the chairman of the Board of Peoples Media Limited publishers of Peoples Daily where I headed management for half a dozen years; he was a mentor and a father figure. My go to genie each time I ran into a brick wall. Never a day he failed to mentor or nudge me in the right direction. A profoundly decent human being. A dye-in-the-wool journalist and media manager. He made a rebuke or a reprimand looked so tender, you would be ashamed to go before him again. Mild mannered, soft-spoken, incapable of mouthing an unkind word that would disparage your self worth. I have worked with several highflying media leaders across five newsrooms nationwide, none came close to Maida in putting a leash on his emotion no matter the provocation or disappointment. In temperament and in disposition, it was impossible to picture the deceased hurting a fly. If ever there was an “ice king”, late Wada Maida was it!
I will regret, forever, not penning a tribute when late Maida turned 70 last March. I merely sent him a text and wished more years in good health to which he characteristically replied almost immediately. I did however; tell him that I was going to write one when I became more collected, to which he was neither excited nor indifferent.
At the time Covid-19 was becoming a global pandemic. At home,there was a near national hysteria. So I deferred writing a tribute wrongly assuming we both had time. I assumed wrongly.
By April, I had become gravely ill .My home state was assailed by mysterious deaths. In one fell swoop; I lost long time colleagues, childhood friends, associates and a stepfather. Composing a tribute therefore, took a backseat as I battled to survive myself. At the back of my mind, I knew that a tribute to Maida was a self-assigned task that must be accomplished. Days turned to weeks and weeks turned to months without delivering. Now he is gone. I am doubly pained by procrastinating the tribute and by his sudden exit.
And here I am, paying homage to man who was the very definition of “tolerance” and “mentorship”. I am sad that he is not alive to read my tribute to his 70-year life trajectory and what he represented to me and a host of others in Peoples Daily and elsewhere in the media world where he impacted profundly.
When I was hired to lead the management, there wasn’t really a “formal” interview. Garba Shehu, my other mentor, who persuaded me to join People Media merely, asked me to see the late Septuagenarian who I first met in 1991 at a workshop organized by the Centre of Democratic Studies (CDS) in Bwari, in conjunction with the Nigeria Guild of Editors (NGE). Wada had just been elected president after Onyeama Ugochukwu of Daily Times. He was about 41.He was also the editor-in-chief of the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN). I was among a dozen handpicked reporters drawn from several media outlets nationwide. Garba Shehu nominated me from the Kano based Triumph.Wada’s lanky frame decked in a suit flawlessly delivered opening address that arrested my attention. That marked the beginning of being his ‘mentee’ even without his knowledge.
I used to go pay occasional visits to his office as Managing Director without any appointment and would be welcomed warmly. Our discussions invariably centered around the media with occasional mention of Shehu who was then Managing Director of the Triumph while I was editor of the broadsheet SUNDAY TRIUMPH.
The Board of Peoples Daily was peopled by the likes of late Abba Kyari, late Halita Aliyu, late veteran journalist Rufai Ibrahim, Garba Shehu, Bilya Bala, Abdulmumuni Bello, Ibrahim Ismail and the late Isma’ila Isa FUNTUA. Maida chaired this group of eminent persons. Abba Kyari and Garba Shehu had to resign when they got into government in 2015.
It was this Board that hired me not just an employee but also one with stake, a condition i set before I took the job and one which Maida agreed to gladly.
I reported only to the late patriarch. Board meetings can be stormy. Peoples Daily wasn’t different. Most times, management would be whipped silly; Maida was ever sympathetic and understanding to the chagrin of some of the members. His approach to dealing with Management was patriarchal. One year, the ever-censorious Board was so impressed that a formal commendation letter signed by the chairman was given to Management.
Late Maida was a teacher in the Boardroom as he was in the newsroom. Effortlessly scholarly without being gaudy, he was the sort that would nudge you in the right direction imperceptibly without claiming credit. With his death, the tribe of media vets is further depleted. With the passage of late Isma’ila Isa Funtua, Maida was the natural choice to fill in the vacuum of a bridge builder and peacemaker. That was not to be. Exactly four weeks after Funtua sudden passage, Maida followed in almost identical situation. Both died on a Monday in the night and were buried on Tuesday afternoon in same cemetery and prayers held in the same mosque. At 70,he had lived life to the full. May Allah grant him eternal rest and Aljannah Firdausi, his final abode. Adieu my chairman, till we meet again.