The many wisdoms of the late Bashir Tofa, by Ali Abubakar Sadiq
A tribute to the politician, businessman and author who died on January 3, 2022
POLITICS DIGEST- The cold hands of death in the early hours of Monday, January 3, 2022 took away for good the gentle soul of Alhaji Bashir Othman Tofa, after 74 fruitful years of his sojourn on this planet. Like many people, I came to know about his personality in the 1993 general elections as the presidential candidate of the defunct NRC. But my close contact with him was to come a decade later.
One thing I know for sure is, no one in Kano will fill the shoes he left behind. It is an irreplaceable loss we have to bear with.
After the publication of my first book, ‘Asalin Halitta da Rayuwa’ in 2005, I went to Bashir Tofa’s residence and dropped him a copy without even attempting to see him since he didn’t know me personally. A few days later I got a call. “Am I with Ali Abubakar Sadiq?” the voice on the other end inquired.
“Yes, sir. Who am I speaking with?” I inquired.
“My name is Bashir Tofa…”
And that began a fruitful relationship that lasted until his death. He invited me to his office in Sharada and I went to meet him. I waited for close to an hour before I was summoned in.
Beaming with smiles, he quickly apologised for keeping me waiting, saying he was traveling to Kaduna that day and had many things to clear, so he decided to save me for last as he wanted to have enough time to discuss my interesting book.
He was highly impressed with my book but lamented our society would not get the best out of it due to our low reading culture and lack of profitable distribution network for books. He asked what I intended to do about the book and I said I wanted to launch it.
“I wish you luck, but prepare yourself for disappointment,” he told me point blank.
After our chat, Bashir Tofa asked me the price tag of the book and I told him it was N500 but he gave me twenty thousand naira (and two copies of his own books), saying, “This is what I consider the worthiness of the book”.
Soon I was to learn what he meant about disappointment with regard to the launch. Despite being a programme host on the newly opened Freedom Radio, which was actually the material that I collated and turned into a book, the management didn’t support me in collaborating to launch the book. In the end I abandoned the idea despite constituting the organising committee.
Whoever interacted with Bashir Tofa on the personal level will readily agree with me of two great qualities in him, so rare in our society: punctuality and forthrightness. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration if I say I have never met anyone who possessed those qualities as he did.
One day we were supposed to have a meeting with him at his residence by 11:00 a.m. with one NIRSAL official and a leading business mogul in Kano. Knowing his nature, I and my other colleagues in the meeting were at his residence a few minutes to 11 a.m. but the businessman was almost 30 minutes late.
By 11 a.m. Tofa was at the door to usher is in and we started the meeting. Later when the businessman arrived with all kinds of excuses, Bashir Tofa berated him and finally advised him: “If you have an excuse then you should have called in and gave it.”
He demonstrated the two qualities at the same time. I wish all our elites were like him but unfortunately most are not. They could tell you in private all kinds of reasons why things are bad and ways to remedy them, but they don’t have the nerve to voice it, let alone live it.
Bashir Tofa had as second nature, punctuality and forthrightness.
At the meeting, he proffered solution to the dilemma of the NIRSAL official who complained that as the year approached its end, they had about N3 billion meant for disbursement to Kano citizens but they needed a deposit of N250 million in the account to facilitate that, which they didn’t have. Bashir Tofa said he didn’t have that kind of money but suggested talking to either Dangote or Abdussamad to deposit the said amount, earn deposit interest and facilitate the disbursement. I don’t know if the arrangement was eventually successful.
One day, an idea occurred to me and I picked my phone and called Tofa, and throughout my interaction with him he always picked my calls and if he was unavailable he always called back and he never denied me an appointment. I asked for an appointment and he gave me one. When we met I told him that considering the insecurity situation escalating daily in the country, even though Kano was relatively secure than most states, we in Kano should intensify our efforts in managing the security. My idea was, considering the populace no longer trusted the politicians or the traditional institutions, our hope lay in the clerics who still had a platform in the Jummu’at mosques, besides in early Islam the mosque was the secretariat, university and city hall.
Tofa agreed to chair the meeting and asked me to go ahead and organise it. Among my list were three leading clerics in the metropolitan area and I reached out to them. One said outright he could not attend a meeting at Bashir Tofa residence considering he was very close to government and the governor wasn’t in good terms with Tofa. The other one said he would attend but he knew only government could put them up to such an endeavour, and eventually didn’t attend.
*As a human being, like everyone else, Bashir Tofa had his shortcomings but I am sure his goodness far outweighed any shortcomings he might have*
The last one, who happened to be with the largest follower base among them, accepted the invitation. Unfortunately, he only arrived when we were about to close the meeting. He said the closing prayers.
After the meeting, Bashir Tofa said to me, “Ali, I admire your energy and love your passion but let me tell you something: the clerics are the reason why our society has become so rotten. They are materialistic and sectarianism has clouded their sense of unity, thus they can never come under one umbrella. I want you to have firsthand experience, that is why I didn’t discourage you. I interacted with them for over 50 years.”
Bashir Tofa was key in mounting local security for his neighbourhood, Gandun Albasa in Kano. The man even had a manual published on how they did it and it was one of the securest areas in metropolitan Kano. I wish all ward heads could have the template and apply it in their neighbourhood.
They conducted a census of the inhabitants of the neighbourhood, knew about any newcomers, control who got rent, assist widows and orphans, synergize with police to trace and root out drug peddlers and users, collectively work on sanitising gutters and dump and also manage a vigilante group that patrolled the area throughout the night and mounted metal gates to all points of entry to the neighbourhood.
His religious views were also radical enough for me because he didn’t seem to be keen on sectarian differences. One day he narrated to me a story about his encounter with a taxi driver in Medina. The man drove him from Mecca and as he was about to disembark the driver asked if he was Shi’ite. He turned to the driver and asked him, “Where did you bring me?”
The“ Prophet’s mosque,” replied the driver.
“Was the Prophet Shi’ite or Sunni?” Bashir Tofa asked him and the man was dumbfounded and couldn’t answer.
He always projected himself as someone who loved the truth and he certainly said it.
We shared an intellectual pursuit, especially in the field of astronomy and used to discuss a lot about it. Early last year I sent him a two-minute trailer of an Astronomy documentary I was working on. He immediately called and asked me to bring the full episode for him the following day. I did, and we watched the video together. I had never seen him so animated and intellectually excited in all our interaction like that day.
He said I needed to make as many episodes as I could on the subject because despite being a scholar in astronomy and had written about it, he had never seen something as exciting and it should be an international project. I told him I didn’t have the financial capacity to produce several episodes and he came up with three possibilities and right there and then he called someone, who happened to be a senior Nigerian diplomat in Dubai, and connected me with him. The man asked for the pilot copy and budget to be sent to him. The man eventually said the budget was too meager for him to be looking for such funding because his contacts fund project 10-20 times more.
At the annual general meeting of Kanoleads two years ago, Bashir Tofa, as the special guest, told the congregation a simple and valid truth we all failed to grasp. He said instead of Kanoleads and other developmental organisations in the state to continue biting what they could not chew in terms of their terms of reference with regard to areas they needed to influence, we should narrow our goals to a specific challenge and marshal our energies therein. But we continued to be jacks-of-all-trade and masters of none. In the various developmental organisations for Kano I had been participating over the past decade, none had really made profound impact to the society, simply by failing to identify a single problem and focusing energy toward solving that particular problem as Bashir Tofa had advised.
Finally, in my final meeting with Bashir Tofa last year and for the first time I noticed he wasn’t as punctual as he used to be. When he came out to usher me in, he looked frail and weak and I quickly asked that if he was sick we could postpone the meeting. He said, “No, let us get on with it. You know when you reach my age – I am 73 now – you are living on bonus time.”
I said, “What is bonus time, sir?”
He smiled and asked, “When did the Prophet die?”
“At 63,” I answered, and he asked again, “When did Abubakar die?”
“At 63 also?” He explained to me that six decades are the years in which anyone can achieve whatever one set to achieve in life. Beyond that, any minute is a kind of bonus God bestows on you. He said that was why he was in retirement.
He also told me he no longer invested in any new business because God had blessed him with what to eat and support his family for the rest of his life. The only thing left for him now was to give back to society in whatever capacity he could. Give he did, as anyone in Kano and beyond can testify.
As a human being, like everyone else, Bashir Tofa had his shortcomings but I am sure his goodness far outweighed any shortcomings he might have. Besides, even God has promised to raise the scale on judgment day to measure our good against our evil.
O Mentor! I am sure your goodness will live on in us in this world and I fervently hope that goodness will be your passport to salvation on the day of reckoning. Continue to rest in peace.