Remembering Veteran Broadcaster And Nationalist, Magaji Dambatta
THE late Mallam (Dr.) Magaji Dambatta OFR, FNGE, was not only a friend, brother and mentor but also a role model to his acquaintance that one must be proud of. He gave up the ghost after a brief illness on August 27, 2014 at the age of 83 years.
A true symbol of nationalism and a meeting point between the young and old, rich and the poor, Oga Magaji was a renowned peasant politician of Talakawa breed, journalist and public administrator with many years of Foreign Service experience. He was among the first set of permanent secretaries in Kano State when it was created in 1967.
Like a thief in the night, the wicked hand of death snatched him away from this planet. His existence impacted on humanity till point of death. He was a serving nationalist as a delegate to the 2014 National Conference representing Kano State.
My first encounter with the late Magaji was when I arrived Kaduna by late 1965 as a reporter of Nigerian Tribune newspaper from the wild, wild, West (Operation Wetie) of the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo’s Action Group crisis and the late Chief S. L. A. Akintola, then Premier of Western Region. I was introduced to Magaji by a brother, the late Chief J. K. Bodunde, a top official of the same Northern Region Ministry of Information from Ijumu in Kogi State who later retired as Federal Director of Information.
Magaji had just returned from overseas posting and was made the Chief Information Officer to replace Alhaji Ahmed Joda, promoted from the position to a permanent secretary of the ministry. He immediately invited me to join the ministry but I declined as a newspaperman of four years standing who had no liking for the type of journalism being practiced by the Ministry of Information. He then introduced me to Charles Sharp, a Briton who was then the Managing Director of New Nigerian Newspaper (NNN), which was to start publishing on January 1, 1966, with a web offset press – first of its type in Nigeria.
Before January, I was freelancing for the Nigerian Citizen newspaper being printed by the NNN on its new machines as test run. There and then again, the acting editor of the Citizen, the late Mustapha Dambatta, nephew of Oga Magaji, took a great interest in me. That was when I knew that Magaji was one of the eight founders of the radical Northern Elements Progressive Union (NEPU) with an uncle of mine, the late Bello Ijumu, who was the first General Secretary of the party and its number one card carrying member.
However, there was a short break between Magaji and myself when I left for a journalism study in East Africa at the same time working as a Foreign Correspondent for the New Nigerian newspaper. I moved to Kano after my sojourn in East Africa to establish a Media and Public Relations firm while Magaji continued as my mentor.
I was very close to him particularly as a detribalised Nigerian whose great personality and contribution to the Nigerian project could not be under estimated. Magaji was a true symbol of humanity who lived a great simple life in spite of the fact that he interacted with people across the social rung of the ladder. He knew his friends, no wonder after his autobiography, Pull of Fate, came out of the press, my Oga sent me a copy for press review with his signature writing: “To the best of friends, Prince Ajayi Memaiyetan, with my best compliments.”
Magaji’s life was intertwined with his politics, nationalism, worldview and his dedication to a cause of fighting all sorts of class domination. A dedicated family man to the core, a wife and five children survive him. He would also be remembered as an altruist dedicated to the abolition of tyranny of all kinds because of his deep involvement in politics with high level of honesty beginning from the mass movement of Talakawa in NEPU.
Better still, Oga Magaji was a thorough-bred journalist and broadcaster both in Nigeria and overseas with the nickname — Bako Daya — which he got while announcing the 1959 pre-independence federal elections on the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation (NBC) in Hausa. He would add “Bako Daya” meaning a nil score to those political parties that had won no vote as the tables were added up at intervals. It also became a political vocabulary when it was incorporated in a lyric of one of the high life songs by Victor Olaiya, a high life musical exponent.
Magaji had many public service appointments in the media after retirement from service. A Fellow of Guild of Nigerian Editors, he had roles of honour including the Nigerian National Honour of the Order of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (OFR); Certificate of Honour by Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ) and Nigeria Institute of Public Relations; and Doctors of Letters (D.Litt), Honouris Causa, by Bayero University, Kano.
The exciting unique life of a man who remained true to himself, principled, modest and honest has left an indelible mark on the sands of time. Oga Magaji Dambatta, aka ‘Bako Daya’, an Arewa colossus, veteran journalist and broadcaster cannot die because he lives in our hearts.