Garba Aliyu Zaria – A Tribute

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By Bashir Ibrahim Idris

‘Garba Aliyu Zaria, Rediyo Najeriya Kaduna daga Maiduguri’, ‘Garba Aliyu Zaria, Rediyo Najeriya Kaduna daga Minna’, ‘Garba Aliyu Zaria, Rediyo Najeriya Kaduna daga Abeokuta’, ‘Garba Aliyu Zaria, Rediyo Najeriya Kaduna daga Ibadan’ and ‘Garba Aliyu Zaria, Rediyo Najeriya Kaduna daga Lagos’.

These were the signatures of Late Garba Aliyu Zaria, my humbled Deputy Editor in Chief at Radio France International, where he held sway for over a decade sharing office space with me and leading a small team of professional journalists from other West African countries.

As an ardent radio listener in my teen years in the 80s, the signature of Garba Aliyu Zaria is among the many others that hit the airwaves every morning at 7am and 10pm in the night during Barka da Yau, a news program produced by the Radio Nigeria Kaduna station and sometimes political programs such as Alkawari Kaya, Dandalin Siyasa, A fada a cika and many more.

I still remember some of his contemporaries such as Muhammed Yelwa Gavi, Mohammed Ibrahim, John Adukwu, Musa Aliyu Keffi, Lawal Abu Galadanchi, Abubakar Abdurrahman, Bashir Ahmed, Onyekachi Kelechi, Yahaya Maiyaki, Musa Usman, Sahabi Aliyu, Mahmoon Baba Ahmed, Buhari Awwalu and many others who were supervised by the likes of Gambo Ibrahim, Halilu Ahmed Getso, Bashir Mustapha, Rabiu Isa Keita and others.

It was in 2007 when I joined RFI Hausa as an Editor in Chief, that I met Malam Garba as I always called him through our colleagues, Late Ladan Ibrahim Ayawa of the VOA and Umar Shehu Elleman of the BBC.
Garba was reporting for FRCN Kaduna from Lagos and when opportunity came, he joined us first as a freelancer and later as a staff where he rose and became the Deputy Editor in Chief.

During the years that we shared office together, I found him a very confidant and resourceful person, always determined to succeed.
His style of presentation was unique as he always carried his colleagues and listeners along through his jokes and tales that would sustain the duo throughout his presentations.
He was disciplined, committed and loyal staff who went extra mile to cover the lapses of others. He was a bundled of humility in short. Never complain or seek favours at work.

Garba never called me by my name, he simply said ‘Allah Saini’ in deference of the kind of respect he had for me, as I always replied him back with ‘Malam Garba’. I am used to calling him Malam Garba that sometimes even when we were anchoring live programs together I used to be carried away saying same, forgetting that we were on air.

We never quarrel throughout these 13 years that we shared the same office and work together as Editor-in-Chief and Deputy Editor-in-Chief, even though sometimes we used to disagree on policies and presentations.

When he noticed some demeanours at work, he asked me to caution all of them including him. “Allah Saini ya kamata ka dinga mana fada. Kai ne babba, idan ka ga kuskure ka ja mana kunne’’, (Allah Saini, you should caution us when we go wrong, including me. You know you are the head, alert us when we go wrong).

The deceased was one of our staff who lived far away from the office. To those who understand Lagos traffic and Mallam Garba’s daily journey from Agege to Ikoyi would understand the kind of stress he went through. His usual terms when he couldn’t beat the traffic; when he came late was, ‘Allah Saini a mana hakuri’ and I would say ‘Babu damuwa Malam Garba’.

Last week Friday was the last time we shared office together. He normally produced his weekly magazine ‘Mu Zagaya Duniya’ that focused on the major stories of the week late. On that fateful day, I supervised the news production and also presented the 9 pm news because the person assigned to do the presentation was sick. We worked together until after the news presentation at 9.30pm when I left him working without an inkling that that would be the last day we will work together.

On Saturday morning, he presented the news at 7am, but I wasn’t opportuned to listen to him. One of our ardent listeners, a former Senator in Nigeria sent a text message asking me what was wrong with Garba today? In the message, he said he wasn’t coherent in his news presentation, but he was fluent in the magazine he produced which was also aired at the same time. As usual I forwarded the message to him.

Later around 10 am, our driver put a call to me and informed me that Baba Garba was sick and he offered to take him to the hospital but he declined. I directed him to inform Michael Kuduson so that they can take him to a doctor. Kuduson said that he approached Garba on the need to see a doctor, but he declined insisting that he has taken his medication. We allowed the matter to rest.

When I arrived office at 2pm, I met him lying down on a chair and he told me that it was HBP but he is recovering.
I insisted that we either take him to the hospital or home, since his family are here. He later agreed to go home and we asked the driver to accompany him. That was our last encounter with Malam Garba.

Early on Sunday morning, around 4 am to be precise, I saw a missed call and text message by our driver who called to inform me that Malam Garba was no more. I immediately put a call to his eldest daughter and heard her crying, before she confirmed her father’s demise.

That was the last straw. I was confused and didn’t know what to do for some moment, before I started informing our Head and colleagues in order to prepare for the burial which was slated for that morning.

We later mobilized our people and we were among the first set of people that visited his Agege residence and prepared him for the funeral prayer at Abbasiyya Mosque and his interment at Agege Cemetery.

We certainly miss a colleague, a very confidant, hard working and above all courageous journalist and would continue to do so.
Since his demise, every day at work, I am expecting to hear him come, saying ‘Allah Saini ayi hakuri da mu’, but that was never going to happen again.

For the last one week, the kind of eulogies we had about him from colleagues, community leaders, emirs, politicians and many more confirmed to us that Malam Garba lived a peaceful and rewarding live. With your absence, RFI Hausa would never be the same again.

May Allah in His infinite mercy grant Malam Garba Aliyu Zaria Aljannah Firdaus and take charge of his family. Amin. Adieu my diligent colleague.

Idris writes from Lagos.