By Inuwa Bwala
One of the thoughts I dreaded as the eleventh anniversary of the death of my father, mentor friend and leader, Mala Kachallah approached was the possibility of being in prison and not being able to write a tribute to him. Thank God that I have yet another opportunity to fulfill my vow to the late sage by reflecting upon his life and times, albeit in very excruciating circumstances.
It is a pleasant opportunity for me, at this very challenging time to emerge the winner of the Nigeria Union of Journalist, NUJ, national award of “PRESS FREEDOM FIGHTER OF THE YEAR 2017”, which I am billed to receive during the World Press Freedom Day Celebrations. One person I will miss as my special guest when I am eventually conferred with the honor is Mala Kachallah, who prepared my mind long ago for the challenges I am facing.
While I seize this opportunity to thank my colleagues across Nigeria for making me their choice, let me state for the records that I feel spurred and I dedicate the award to Nigerian Journalists, who have suffered any form of ill treatment, imprisonment or even death. I hope I will remain free to receive the award, but if for any reason I am not, I hasten to say that I feel proud to be a journalist, the profession that gave me all the breaks in my life.
Journalism gave me the opportunity to work under four different State Governors, and each one of them have left an experience I will cherish or loath for quite some time. My experiences under Mala Kachallah, being my very first exposure to public office was most memorable, against the background that our relationship stretched beyond boss/boy to that of a father/son. This perhaps explains why eleven years after his death, I could not still come to terms with the fact that we are parted forever.
Each of my former bosses, including Senators Abdullahi Adamu of Nasarawa State, Ali Modu Sheriff of Borno State and Hon, Kashim Shettima, also of Borno State, have their own special places in my heart and if I live long enough, perhaps, I may have the opportunity to reflect on each one of them at the appropriate time. However, I must not fail to mention that, while each one of them have their individual expectations from me, I have chosen to pick Mala Kachallah: the only one that is not physically around today to venerate my sentiments and emotions.
Although one cannot say my relationship with Governor Kashim Shettima of Borno State has been cozy, he has often encouraged me to continue writing tributes each year to the late Mala Kachallah. Long before Kashim Shettima became governor and subsequently my boss, he often called me to thank me for my fidelity to my late former boss. I believe those calls were his own measure of respect to the late man of peace.
It was not out of mere political fashion that Mala Kachallah was nick named “MAN OF PEACE”, neither was it an accident of history that Borno was christened “HOME OF PEACE”, it was not a mere coincidence either that both coinages came at almost the same time, but it is rather sad, that the “PEACE”: the value Mala Kachallah advocated, and the attribute the people of Borno have been identified with for long, seem to have taken leave.
It may not be charitable to accuse subsequent leaders of jettisoning the peace enjoyed during the time of Mala Kacahallah, as no one single man can be said to be capable of enthroning peace in a society, neither endanger it, but it remains a fact that Mala seem to have in many ways galvanized the people towards peaceful resolution to all disagreements. He died with the tranquility we enjoyed, and that explains why we remember him with nostalgia.
Mala Kachallah’s time was an era no one goes to the market, the Mosque or the Church with fears of the possibility of attacks from Boko Haram, or some criminal elements. It was an era one seldom revert to ethnic, religious or geo political alliances to make headway. It was an era when the Governor does not have to always be on the edge of his seat, attending to several crises at the same time. It was an era when Borno was a family.
I look back at his life, his politics and his style of leadership, and my heart bleeds against the background that most of his disciples have either lost touch with his philosophies, or deliberately abandoned them for personal reasons. The environment is getting more sophisticated for his type of politics. His legacies are fast disappearing, save for the monuments the government of the day graciously named after him.
I imagine the number of times Mala Kachallah could have turned in his grave seeing the violence that now mock our core values of peace and tolerance. I feel guilty that the best I could do is to only write tributes every year and not mobilizing the residuals of his men to immortalize him in our deeds and in our politics. But above all, I thank God that he took his exit early enough, so as not to be a witness to the carnage that have often visited Borno.
I recall with nostalgia how Mala Kachallah will mobilize his entire cabinet to a funeral, a marriage ceremony or even to a naming ceremony. I recall how he moves around very easily without the fear of any harm coming to him or any of his cabinet members. I recall how he will seek the inputs of everybody into any situation that may arise. I look back at how his lieutenants revere him to a point of worship, and I wish today’s leaders could enjoy the reverence of those older days, without nursing any fear of betrayal.
I recall in the frenzy of the elections of 2003, which he eventually conceded to his successor even as a sitting governor, when Mala Kachallah told electorate during the campaigns that nobody should attempt to manipulate in the elections in his favor. Even when it became obvious that he was at the receiving end, Mala Kachallah called us together and admonished us to respect the wish of the people and eschew any form of violence on account of the outcome of the elections.
To me personally, before his death he admonished me to respect and work with his rivals in the interest of Borno. He told me never to give up but to strive to give my best in any job I may be given as I did with him. He told me to always study the handwriting and body language of my leaders and know when to take an excuse. He taught me the virtues of tolerance of people with divergent or opposing opinions, and to stick to my guns when I am convinced that the path I tow is truthful and just.
I have not paid homage to the Gwange cemetery this year. I hope I will still find my way when next I visit as the population at the popular cemetery keeps growing and it is becoming increasingly difficult to locate the specific tombstone signifying the resting place of most people. I have kept faith with the particular point whenever I follow people to the cemetery during the burials of others and I am sure to find my way again next time.
If I never get the opportunity again, by this time next year, wherever I may be I will continue to pray for the repose of his soul. I have this strong feeling that, although I am no longer in very close touch with all members of his family, his spirit shall never desert them. With a newt cheek I draw the curtains, behind which I continue to mourn this man of peace: a father, leader, friend, mentor and role model.
Bwala was the Senior Special Assistant to the late Mala Kachallah, former Governor of Borno State.