11th year remembrance: dear Babatalba

By Tahir Ibrahim Tahir Talban Bauchi.

Every year I pen down a tribute in December, to mark your demise, which was on the 8th of December 2009. I did not write for two of the years in-between because I was on a very busy schedule, as I had delved into poltics – you know, I’m assiduously albeit slowly and surely, trying to round up all you’ve ever been engaged in, during your lifetime. I noticed that tonnes of people missed you and lost a father, a benefactor, a teacher and a role model. I felt a deep sense of responsibility to fill the void, as seemingly, most of these people, including dependants; simply cannot go on without you. When you left, you left with their souls and they were indeed lost. I started by assuming the role of Talban Bauchi, as that was your most popular mnemonic, especially in the later years of your lifetime. Almost everyone roared that once you were gone, there was no replicating you, and you were absolutely a once in a lifetime affair. I would have non of it and I beckoned upon myself to serve the Talbaship, just to sustain your legacy of nurturing and celebrating Northern Nigerian culture, and it’s emiral system. To get people off my back, I squealed that “my dad’s shoes are too big for me” in my first interview after your death. It did the trick! And the sound was that, “ah! The boy has confessed so let’s let him be.” As soon as I was ‘let to be’, I set to work and Alhamdulillah, in Bauchi today, our sallah durbar participation is more than above par. Infact our contingent was adjudged to have had the finest outing the last time. We have participated every year since you left, aside the Covid year. Hmm… Babatalba, next year I will ‘gist’ you comprehensively about it – when Fauci and co. must have been done with it!

Lord Dennis Stevenson wrote us after your death, describing how you were colleagues at Cambridge University. He recalled how Gowon used to ring up your cottage everyday to consult you about matters of the state, and how you would be on the phone for hours, helping Gowon out, to resolve certain knotty issues as they affected his government. There is something called fake news now Babatalba and all of a sudden, your friend Gowon is being smeared with a calumnious accusation that he stashed away billions of ill-gotten dollars from the Nigerian treasury while he was Head of state. Meanwhile, everyone (well aside the gullible new generation) knows how Gowon was sent out of office unceremoniously. Which billions for crying out loud Babatalba? If only you were here to debunk this huge fallacy! Anyway, dereis God!

Jonathan did become President as you predicted when you visited Yenagoa as the Nigeria Red Cross President; at the time President Jonathan was Governor of Bayelsa state. He lost out to Buhari, to whom you were one of the campaign spokespersons; when he first ran in 2003. You remember Uncle Abba Kyari had come to visit you, just as they had begun the Buhari campaigns? You gave him a verbal message to deliver to Buhari which was to be relayed at the coming South Eastern campaign rally. He was sent back again by Buhari to invite you to the campaign because your message was too loaded to be carried by anyone aside the author! In the end, you were always at the podium, selling the man GMB, as a civilian President. Hmm su Babatalba manya! Do you remember when Yayale Ahmed had booked you an appointment to see Mr. President, and we went to visit President Yar’adua in the Villa; and immediately he sighted you, he came over to the sitting room where you were seated and he knelt down to greet you? A whole C-in-C! Babatalba kenan! Babatalba the colossus! 

Anyway, enough of the memory lanes, and going forward: our Vice President is now referred to as starboy; and that is not a derogatory name! Infact, it is to show sterling qualities of a performer and a producer of results. I know you had so many friends all over the world but I tell you Babatalba, the ‘starboy’ amongst all of your friends is non other than IBB. He has been a second father after your demise and has stood tall by me, giving me the fatherly support that you would have been the one to give, had you been here. I was right about him Baba. He relates with me almost exactly the way he related with you and he calls me Talba! I used to be scared, looking out for you to appear from the other sittingroom and save the day. Over time I have grown more confident in those huge shoes Babatalba and now – when I receive mail and other invitations, addressed to Talban Bauchi, my own name is legibly scribbled beneath the title; and I am once again reassured that I am indeed Talba, and that you are not springing up from anywhere close. Some even call me Babatalba! Can you imagine? Anyway, it is also a morale booster! 

Those memory lanes keep reflecting on the top of my mind as I remember how close our family was with that of PMB. All I can show for it now, is a picture of Buhari holding your hand, speaking to you, while you were looking at something else that probably intrigued you. I remember Anti Aisha’s daily visits to the National Hospital as you lay sick, in your last year on this earth. Today I can only hope that when PMB retires back to Daura, we can visit him as a family along with my mum and siblings. Should I see him before then, I would definitely give him those advices that I know from the bottom of my heart is what you would give him. Mine may just be a little more youthful sha! But nevertheless it would carry the same meaning. 

Babatalba, I wish to inform you that I have finally become a writer and a columnist for Blueprint and Leadership Newspapers, and occasionally an opinion columnist for Dailytrust. I know you ran the editorial column of The New Nigerian Newspapers from London back in the day. Now I run my own blog: tahirtalba.com where I publish my articles online and share on social media. Wallahi kuwa… social media fa, where there is a whole new world of Instagram, Twitter and Facebook amongst numerous others that are springing up everyday. Thank goodness my background as a computer scientist has made it a walk in the park for me while learning and navigating those applications and terrains. Babatalba ‘gist’ full my mouth as Nigerians say in pidgin. Alas there is such limited space – roughly 1,400 words a week. So I have to go. Soon I shall finally settle to earning a real doctorate, and mimmick your oratory skills, as I strive to walk in your footprints in the sands of time. I pray that your prayers for my success continue to shower me even from beyond – where I pray, you are resting in perfect peace, with the blessings of the Almighty Allah. Amen.

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