By Aliyu Abubakar
While working at Daily Trust in 2006, I was privileged to have served in the Federal Government Press Delegation embedded with the National Hajj Commission to cover that year’s Hajj Exercise in Saudi Arabia.
“Your task is simple”, said Mallam Muhammadu Musa Bello, then head of the Commission and currently, the FCT Minister: just go to the Holy land and send down reports on that year’s Hajj exercise, especially as it affects Nigerian pilgrims, who count as one of the largest contingents at the annual Islamic ritual. For me personally, it was an opportunity to also perform the Hajj rites for the first time in my life.
Malam Musa Ahmad Tijjani, then Editor of Kano-based Triumph Newspaper, alongside Alhaji Femi Abbas (of The Nation), Adamu Abdullahi (of NTA Headquarters) and Haruna Aliyu Hadejia (of FRCN), were already in their fifties and by far the most experienced members of the Team. In the journalism profession, these quartet were your true definition of veterans.
Of course, there were other experienced hands such as Salisu Ibrahim (of New Nigerian), Tunde Mahmud Hassan (then of AIT), Fatima Abbas Hassan (of NTA Headquarters), Garba Ubale Danbatta (then Abuja Correspondent of Germany-based DW Hausa), Abdullahi Musa Suleja (of NTA Headquarters), Tunde Sanni (of ThisDay), Baffa Jakusko (of VON’s Fulfulde Service), Muhammad Sa’idu Bobi of Radio Niger and Musa Mohammed, a photojournalist from the Presidency.
Without anyone being told, yours sincerely, who was just in his late twenties then, was the youngest in the team, and definitely, the only rookie.
Despite Mallam Musa Tijjani’s truck-load of experience and exposure in the journalism profession, there was never an air of arrogance about him. He was for many years Editor of Triumph’s many titles in between a stint with Leadership on Sunday as Editor. He was your quintessential gentleman of the press: cool, calm and collected.
Though proudly old-school on the job, Mallam Musa was brilliant. And being of Print Journalism orientation myself, I became very close to him and his good friend, Salisu Ibrahim of New Nigerian during our sojourn to Saudi Arabia. At our Hotel in Jeddah, our rooms were equally next to each other.
As a budding journo, I always marvel at the role creativity plays in headline casting. Musa Tijjani was so creative he can cast any headline perfectly, even when he happens to wake up from sleep that moment. All he needed then was a minute or two of silence. Yes, absolute silence.
Musa Tijjani was equally a wordsmith, armed with readily-available cache of vocabulary (or was it journalese?). Whenever myself and Salisu got stuck somewhere while trying to put finishing touches to our stories and file them home, he was ever ready to bail us out. He always has the right word or the perfect phrase for the right place.
It is often said that as a Reporter, your durability on the job partly lies on how you adhere to and respect your deadlines. But I have never seen a journalist who remains as calm (as a rag soaked in water) as Mallam Musa Tijjani. Even when everyone within the team keeps worrying about deadline pressure, he will just lie there in our Hotel’s Internet Café in Jeddah, waiting for us to send our stories.
We had no laptops then, and were only using the Hotel’s desktop computers. But Mallam Musa will patiently wait for all of us to file our stories home first. Just when you think he will miss out, he will just take his turn on the Computer and spend just about fifteen minutes or so there. And blimey, the story is done and dusted.
It never cease to amaze me how he was doing it, but over the years, experience has probably taught him that the best stories are those written in a reporter’s head: when he is at the event centre, in the middle of the highly impatient pilgrims, or when, in our own case, we were on our way back to Jeddah from our daily news hunting in Makkah.
Long and short of the answer to the Mallam Musa wonder during our six to seven weeks coverage of the 2006 Hajj exercise in Saudi Arabia was this: the veteran always writes his story in his head even before his hand gets to touch the keyboard!
As an old-breed then, he was, unfortunately not so proficient with computer. So, I did most of his typing (while he does the dictation) during our stay there. Of course, I was very willing to help because first, he was elderly and I felt it was charitable assisting a senior person and second, only God knows what I have learnt while typing out his stories and even sometimes filing them straight to Triumph through his email.
Mallam Musa was old enough to be my father, but he was an embodiment of humility and simplicity. Having realized I speak a smattering of the Arabic Language; he would always call on me to join their many strolls into the City Centre to interprete any business transaction (and also beat down the prices) for him to avoid getting cheated. His response after our numerous market outings was always this: “Young man, you have saved us some Riyals. God bless you.”
Something happened during the Hajj proper. One day, we embarked on a long walk by foot, considering that when the Hajj crowd gets too swelled, you are better off being a trekker than playing a big man inside an air-conditioned car that is rather stuck for hours neck-deep in traffic. So, we all set out on foot, clad in our white Ihraam (Hajj garment) and of course armed with our gadgets. Sadly, we missed our road and encountered an Askar (Hajj Police).
The burly Askar, in his twenties, doesn’t speak a word of English. He immediately turned us back and muttered some words in Arabic. I quickly interpreted to the team that we have missed our road and according to him, we would have to go back about seven kilometers to take our bearing from another route that will lead us to our destination.
Our team asked me to request for directions from the young Askar. He fiercely looked at all of us, pointed his wide wrist towards a long signpost and said in a broken Arabic: “Shuf Guddaam? Amshi shuwayya yasaar! Amshi, barrah, alaa tooool! Yallah Hajji, Amshi!!!…”, meaning “Have you seen your front? Move slightly to the left. Then, keep going straight down that long route. Come on pilgrims, move now!!!” And the Askar left us there, confused.
As we helplessly move to figure out the long route to our destination, we laughed profusely and kept discussing the Askar’s response. Ever since that encounter, that extremely blunt phrase remained one of the most memorable highlights of our Hajj experience. It kept coming up as the top banter in our discussions: during news hunting, on the flight back home and even, unsurprisingly, when we returned back to Nigeria.
Before his death on Saturday, 25th April 2020, Mallam Musa Tijjani, like the rest of the team members, always recall that unfortunate encounter with the Askar with nostalgia. In most cases when we call each other, we would always begin our calls with “Ala toooool…, amshi, barrah….ala tooool!!! Yalla Hajji, amshi!!!…” and we will laugh as if our phones will explode from within.
Mallam Musa once told me he particularly loved that phrase “Ala tooool!!!”, because once he hears it again, it reminds him of how a boy who is young enough to be his son, turned him back several kilometers behind. It can only be Hajj, when patience is always top of the ingredients.
Mallam Musa Tijjani, the Editors’ Editor, was a good man who loves to hear the phrase ‘ala tooooool’ again, again and again. May Allah admit him ‘Ala toooool’ (straight down) into Aljannatul Firdaus.
Mr. Abubakar writes from Kaduna.