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-By Aliyu Abubakar

Isn’t it strange that within the last twenty-four hours, I found myself writing two tributes? It is indeed strange, because tributes are not poetry which comes to you spontaneously. I cannot remember the number of tributes I abandoned half-way. Most times, you need to be extremely motivated to pen down some reflections about a lost friend, a relative or an associate. It is that difficult.

But these are not normal times. These are strange times. These are mysterious times. These are weird moments when the dreaded Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) pandemic is shaking every nation to its very foundations. Today, COVID-19 has led to untold consequences of anxiety and anguish, of doom and darkness, and of death and despair.

The grim realities of death and despair have both visited Kano – my home town and where I had my journalism training – and the duo are having a field day there. People, prominent and not so prominent, are dropping dead by the minute, mysteriously and in their dozens! Strange still, all this desolation, all this ensuing doom and gloom in the ancient city, is not connected to COVID-19, or so we are made to believe!

On Saturday, we lost Musa Ahmad Tijjani, former Editor of Triumph Newspaper, the humble, simple and gentle soul from whose vast cup of experience in the journalism profession I drank. On Sunday, 26th April, 2020, it was the turn of my journalism teacher and mentor, Professor Balarabe Maikaba of the Department of Mass Communications in my alma mater, Bayero University, Kano. The late Professor breathed his last after a brief illness.

Prof. Maikaba’s path and mine crossed many times in BUK. From the very first days of my undergraduate days in 2000, we just got along. First, I found him as someone who knows his onions. His mastery of Mass Media research methods, an area dreaded by many scholars, was legendary we quietly attach aliases to him such as Kerlinger, Wimmer and Dominick, Severin and Tankard or even Dennis McQuail, all renowned Communications researchers and theorists.

I realized the depth of his research knowledge first-hand in 2003/4 when he supervised my undergraduate research project. I chose to study a very topical subject and selected a much simpler methodology of survey. But after some eagle-eyed review, Maikaba said heck no! “The best methodology for this project is content analysis”, he suggested, adding, “it is tougher, but you’ll be glad you choose it at the end.”

It turned out that because of the rigorous demands of the content analysis methodology, I was among the last students to conclude their projects. Most of my colleagues had all gone home and left us on Campus. At the end, it was worth the stress, because I did not only make a good grade in the project, I also learnt a lot more about mass media research.

Maikaba was a core disciplinarian. In his office, he was like a lion guarding a territory. You mess up in Maikaba’s class, you get a piece of his mind. He was very strict to assignment deadlines and would rebuke any defaulter there and then. For you to survive in Maikaba’s course, you must be on top of your game. Little wonder that whenever he announces dates for tests, it was like a rat-race. You must read, read and read because Maikaba takes no prisoners.

His courses could be tough, but there were no dull moments in them. ‘Maikabs’, as we often stylishly call him, would sometimes laugh mischievously after sharing a joke in the class. He will sometimes explain his lectures with the funniest of examples or anecdotes, evoking laughter in the process. He also has unique names for his friends. My course mates often laugh at how he addresses me whenever we meet: “MACOSA People, how are you?” he would say, in veiled reference to my position then as President of the Department’s Mass Communications Students Association (MACOSA).

Maikaba was confidence personified. And he always encouraged us to trust in our abilities. He never got tired of telling the story of how, as a Masters student at the University of Ibadan in 1992, he shook powerful academic tables, courtesy what he had upstairs. Maikaba, the “brilliant Mallam coming all the way from Kano to Ibadan” literally shattered some long-held stereotypes about northerners, at least in his Department. And, according to him, that earned him respect, because in the academia, you are what you have upstairs.

Openness could have fit in perfectly as Maikaba’s second name, because he was brutally frank. Back in the days, there was the gist within and around BUK’s Mass Communications Department that with Maikaba, a secret is as good in the open. You discuss somebody’s antics, Maikaba will wait until the person is next to you and he will spill the beans. People are always wary of their comments about others once Maikaba was in the room, He was that blunt.

One good example was when the four of us were interviewed for the Graduate Assistant positions by the Mass Communications Department in 2006. Maikaba was on the panel. Shortly after coming out of the HOD’s Department where the interview was held, Maikaba met all the four of us waiting outside. There and then, he openly announced our individual scores and even dropped the very classified hint that “eventually, only two people may be selected.” That got the three of us who were (and still are) close friends, very uncomfortable. Vintage Maikaba.

Maikaba valued friendships and had absolute belief in the potentials of his friends. I left BUK over sixteen years ago, but I still meet Mass Communications undergraduate students that came after me, who say Maikaba often mentions my name and some of my many classmates in the course of his lectures, citing us among his longtime favourite students. In all sense of modesty, that was very pleasing to hear.

One incident I will never forget was how Maikaba saved me and my good friend, Segun Ojumu (currently of Silverbird Television) from the wrath of another late professor, Mike Egbon. Better still, how Maikaba ensured we graduated. It was our graduation dinner and we decided to do something creative, entertaining and memorable for all attendees. At the occasion, we agreed to do a short performance, mimicking our lecturers, majority of whom were seated right there at the dinner. Risky behaviour, you might say.

As we took turns to imitate how our respected teachers gesticulate while teaching in the class, most of the lecturers, notably Maikaba, were having a good laugh, and almost rolling on the floor. Unknown to everyone in the room, one man was feeling insulted and very uncomfortable. That was the late Prof. Mike Egbon, one of the finest of his generation of mass communication scholars.

Shortly after resuming for work the following week, an angry Prof. Egbon called for us, the MACOSA Executives who were the Chief Organisers of the dinner where he was mimicked. As the President, I was the ring leader and number one culprit. Next in crime was of course Segun Ojumu, the creative ‘artist’ who flawlessly mimicked Prof by performing the unusual manner in which he moves his neck back and forth while teaching in class. But Prof. Egbon was late, because a certain Maikaba had already hinted us of how we have bruised the Prof’s ego, and ruined his evening, that fateful day.

As we got into Prof. Egbon’s office, like murderers just convicted, he went ballistic. “Where were you small rats in 1977? Answer me, where you even born then? Of course, none of us was even conceived in 1977. But as was expected, there will never be a response. All we could utter were torrents of “we are very sorry, Sir”. We knew he was not keen on knowing that it was all a joke -albeit an expensive one.

So, as his rage subsided and the tongue-lashing stopped, Prof. Egbon educated us on how he had a near fatal accident in 1977 while studying for his Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D) at the University of Wisconsin in the United States of America. “I almost lost my life in that crash. That was where I got that neck injury which you disgracefully mimicked,” Prof barked, almost getting back into his fury, and causing us to, once again, drop our heads in guilt.

At the end of it the bashing, Prof. Egbon ordered us out of his office, leaving us with the impression that we must pay for our “disgusting behaviour”. I personally translated that to mean that we may not graduate that year, for as long as Prof remains in BUK! Perish the thought, I said to myself. Therefore, alongside other MACOSA EXCO, we quickly dashed to see Maikaba, our friend, secret adviser and protector, all rolled into one.

After hearing the ‘threat’ from Prof. Egbon, Maikaba smiled, then laughed his heart out and asked us never to worry. There, he gave us a simple tip on how to atone for our sins. “Just go and select Prof. Egbon’s best pictures from the dinner, enlarge and package a few of them in the best frame you can have. Also, come as EXCO and present it to him,” Maikaba said, and wished us good luck.

That was exactly what happened. The next day, Myself and Sa’adu Wada Taura, then MACOSA PRO, took a few of the finest, nicely-framed images of Prof. Egbon and presented them to him as MACOSA EXCO. There he stood, grinning ear to ear, forgiving us our ‘sins’. That was how we won back Prof Egbon, and crucially too, that was how we won back our Undergraduate certificates.

Sixteen years ago, Prof. Mike Egbon overlooked our transgressions as young, overzealous students, and we happily graduated on time. Unknown to many, it was all down to some undercover counsel by our teacher, our mentor, our friend and our protector, Prof. Balarabe Maikaba. May Allah overlook Prof. Balarabe Maikaba’s shortcomings and admit him in Aljannatul Firdaus.

Aliyu Abubakar writes from Kaduna