By Owei Lakemfa
I FIRST met Yahya Hashim when he came visiting the University of Ife (Now, OAU) Hashim lived in Kano. When I was posted to Kano for the National Youth Youth Service Corps NYSC, the Orientation Camp was in Wudil, outside the city, and I came late to camp. There was no mobile phone in those days and I told myself I would go search for his house after Camp and my posting to a primary assignment. I was posted to the Nigeria Television Authority, Kano and was rejected. I went searching for his house off Zoo Road before returning to camp.
I was not sure he would recognize me, but he did! I also met an old friend, Issa Aremu, staying with him. We discussed my posting and he told Aremu, who was then a journalist with the “Triumph” Newspapers to take me next day to one or two places. We ate and I was getting uncomfortable that it was getting late to get back to Wudil. But after food, Hashim took me to a room and said “Owei, this is your room” That was how I ended residing with him. Next morning, Aremu took me to the first place; the Civil Service Technical Workers Union of Nigeria , CSTWUN, now Amalgamated Union. I was immediately accepted.
Hashim introduced me to Kano, including the old city. One morning we drove into some shooting near Gidan Murtala; the Police engaged some protesting youths. He ensured I made no financial contribution to our upkeep in the house. I protested I was being paid as a Corper, besides my employer pays me extra allowances. He would not hear of it. He insisted I should save my money as I may need it before getting a job.
A few weeks later, he informed me he had to relocate to Lagos where the Hassan Sunmonu-led Nigeria Labour Congress NLC, had offered him a job. He was giving up the house within weeks, but I should not bother myself about that as he would find me suitable accommodation. I protested that I was well paid and can take care of my accommodation, the soft spoken Hashim who has a musical voice said firmly, that I was his responsibility in Kano and he has a duty to ensure I was comfortable. A few weeks later, he took me to a friend two streets away and I was given a comfortable room in in a three bedroom flat. I ended up living in Kano for over one year.
It was in Kano I was introduced to the rudiments of trade unionism under the tutelage of Comrade Ibrahim Yusuf. Despite the fact that I was a Corper, barely 22, and did not speak Hausa, the Joint Action Committee of Trade Unions in Kano, appointed me their Assistant Secretary and we organised a successful strike on Minimum Wage against the populist Alhaji Abubakar Rimi government.
I returned to Lagos and worked with the newly emergent GUARDIAN Newspapers. Given my experience in Kano and the fact that Hashim was a Principal Officer of the NLC, I decided to be a Labour Reporter. Some months later, I had an unexpected accommodation problem and turned to Hashim. He discussed with his then flat mate, Salisu Nuhu Mohammed, then Head of NLC Information. With that, I moved into their flat off Kogberegbe Street, Isolo. That was how I ended up being offered free accommodation by Hashim, first in Kano, and then Lagos. I never experienced such brotherly and comradely love.
When I wanted to get married, my fiancée worried that her family in her hometown in the North Central may not be comfortable with her marrying somebody from the Niger Delta. We decided that she should take a trip and test the waters. The strategy was to see if she could first win over her grandmother whom she so dearly loved before approaching other relatives in the town.
The grandma was elated her granddaughter was getting married and asked the inevitable question; “Where is he from?” My wife hesitated.” Is he Okun?””No” “Yoruba?” “No” “Ebira?” “No” Hausa?” “No” “Ibo?” “No” “Where is he from?” “ Ehen, he is from the riverine areas” “Is he Ijaw?” My wife was shocked; she didn’t realise her quite old grandmother knew such a nationality. Then grandma’s next enquiry knocked her off her feet; “Is he from Patani or any of its nearby towns?”
When my wife recovered from the shock, she asked “Do you know Patani?” “Of course” “Yes, he is from Patani” “Then marry him, he must be a good man” My wife who never thought her grandmother had set foot on any part of the Niger Delta asked how she came to know Patani. “When I was a young woman, I traded along the River Niger from Lokoja to the creeks. On one those journeys, I fell quite sick, and as you know there were no medical facilities on the boats. So the crew decided that rather than me dying in the boat, they would berth at the next port and so I can seek possible medical help. So when they got to the next town which happened to be Patani, I was placed at the waterside, and the boat continued its journey. I crawled to the first house and knocked, they saw I was very sick, took me in and nursed me over the weeks. When I recovered fully, I returned home. Unfortunately, I cannot remember the name of the family that saved my life but I can never forget Patani”
Some years ago, I went for a programme in Enugu. I phoned the noted Pan Africanist and Pro-Democracy champion, Dr. Arthur Nwankwo informing him that I was in the city and would like to visit him. Author of twenty seven books, he has made invaluable contributions to knowledge in the country with his publishing house; The Fourth Dimension. He had responded that rather than me taking his home address, he would pick me up at the hotel. At the appointed time, he arrived. As I came out of my room to go receive him, I saw people, especially staff of the hotel trooping towards the entrance; as I found out, to catch a glimpse of Dr. Nwankwo. I knew he was an influential figure, but I had not realised he commanded so much respect. As I approached his car, he came down, embraced me, and we drove off. I was touched by his humility. Need I say that for the rest of my stay in the hotel, I was treated with utmost respect.
I have known, and been shown love and respect across the country; I cannot but be grateful to a country that defines my being.