63rd Post-humous Birthday: Bilkisu Bintube As A Friend Indeed By Mohammed Haruna

imageIf she were alive Hajiya Bilkisu Bintube, mni, who was among the hundreds of casualties in this year’s Hajj stampede on September 25 at Muna, would have been 63 today. In remembrance of her immense contribution to Journalism, her advocacy of social justice, gender equity and interfaith dialogue, Advocacy Nigeria, one of the many civil society organizations to which she belonged, is organizing a public lecture today at the ECOWAS Parliament, Abuja.
As part of the event, ten of her friends and colleagues were invited to give five-minute testimonials of her character and work. As her friend of over 40 years, I was invited to speak on her virtues as a friend. This is my testimony:
Friendship is a relationship of mutual affection between two or more persons. Along with mutual affection, it is also characterised by mutual trust, honesty, understanding and altruism, among other virtues. Hajiya Bilkisu Bintube possessed each and every one of these virtues in abundance.
I first met her in our undergraduate days. As a student in the second set of School of Basic Studies, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, in 1971, I got admitted in 1973 for a degree in Government, now Political Science, in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, since split in two. Bilkisu got admitted for the same course in the same year from the Higher School Certificate class of her alma mater, Government Girls College, Dala, Kano.
Some of us who regarded ourselves as studious types formed study groups to help each other in our courses beyond the classroom and tutorials. Bilkisu and I belonged to several of such groups.
By sheer coincidence both of us were also in love with the same profession – Journalism – even as undergraduates. Unlike me, however, she was too serious a student and too decorous a person to indulge in the kind of junk journalism practiced on university campuses in those good old days. Instead she waited till after her graduation in 1975 and national service the following year to engage in the real thing. Thus began one of the most illustrious careers in Journalism in post colonial Nigeria.
The climax of that career was her editorship of New Nigerian, arguably the country’s most literate and authoritative newspaper in its heydays in the sixties and seventies. She became the Editor in 1987 after she had, among other things, worked as information officer in Kano State’s Ministry of Information and had served as pioneer Editor of Sunday Triumph, its newspaper.
By the time she became New Nigerian’s editor I had been its managing director for over a year. During that period I had a rather acrimonious relationship with her predecessor, Mr Innocent Oparadike. In the end I was able to persuade the Federal authorities to replace him and was given the privilege of picking his successor. I didn’t have to think twice about recommending Bilkisu.
First, she had already made her mark as a fearless journalist, columnist and editor. Second, for some rather personal reasons the authorities at Triumph had made her life miserable by removing her as editor and getting her sent back to the Ministry of Information with no particular job to do. I felt obliged as a friend to help end her misery. Third, again as a friend, I knew she was honest, trustworthy, compassionate and, above all, a person of the highest integrity. Last, I felt she deserved to make history as the first Northern female editor of a truly national newspaper.
Fortunately, the Federal authorities agreed with me. However, not surprisingly, the same people who did not want her at Triumph in the first place attempted also to stop her move to New Nigerian by trying to convince the state authorities that her services were still very much needed in her state after all. Military president, General Ibrahim Babangida, had to personally intercede at my request with the Kano State Governor, Group Captain Umaru Ndatsu, to secure her release to New Nigerian.
As managing director and editor, the two us got on very well like a house on fire, as the saying goes. However, my tenure as her “boss” – as she always introduced me to strangers – came to an abrupt end on February 13, 1989, when I was sacked. Unfortunately, she got on very badly with her new boss, the late Alhaji Sidi Ali Sirajo, whose idea of journalism was totally at variance with hers and with those of some of her colleagues, notably Adamu Adamu, the deputy editor, and Mohammed Suleiman Bomoi, the News Editor.
It was then only a question of time before the new managing director moved against them, accusing them of being loyal to me. Adamu jumped before he was pushed and all three of them, along with Kabiru Yusuf, joined me in 1990 to found Citizen, the first weekly newsmagazine in the North. Bilkisu was my second in command.
The magazine lasted all of only four years, but during that short period it made its mark and, at a personal level, our bond of friendship as a team became ever stronger. Indeed we became like one family.
If, as they, a friend is someone who knows you very well and still loves you, then Bilkisu must be one of best friends anyone can have, as, I am sure, virtually all of us gathered here today to honour her will testify. I, for one, can testify to how she stood by me as a friend from our university days through thick and thin.
She stood by me when I was sacked from New Nigerian, without, of course, being unfaithful to the ethics of her profession. She stood by me when our magazine collapsed and on more than one occasion she was approached with irresistible offers to start a new one. On each occasion she insisted her potential benefactors invested in reviving Citizen if they sincerely meant well for the public interest the magazine served.
And when some people tried to come between the two of us by reminding her I’d built my own comfortable house while she’d been only a tenant all those years in spite of all her labours, she simply told them she was the one who encouraged me to do so instead of investing everything I had in Citizen, as its single biggest owner. That shut them up. Not least of all, she was always there to share what little she had with me and my wife, to whom she became very close, any time we were broke, which was rather often.
I can go on and on with examples of how faithful a friend she was, but the ones I’ve mentioned above are more than sufficient proof that Bilkisu is a friend indeed.
Ladies and gentlemen, my invitation letter to this event asked me to talk about Bilkisu not just as a friend but also talk about her capacity to network. While I can write a book about her qualities as a friend, I am afraid I don’t have as much to say about the latter. Suffice it, however, to observe that the variety of this gathering alone is enough evidence of her immense capacity to reach out to all, regardless of their religion, region, race and tongue.
In that remarkable lady I lost a dear friend, someone I regarded as my twin sister, on September 24, as she performed the last rites of this year’s Hajj. My consolation, however, was that she could not have wished for a better way to depart this world. May Allah grant her Aljanna Firdaus. Amen.

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