Barr. Danjuma Maina: A boss turned disciple

On Monday, January 11, 2021, I saw a notification posted by the Facebook about the birthday of my former boss at the Plateau Publishing Company (PPC) Ltd., publishers of The Nigeria Standard, Sunday Standard and the Hausa title, Yanchin Dan Adam, Barr. Danjuma Maina. I was quick to send him a message. I was actually expecting an acknowledgment the next day. None came. Then, while surfing through the social media the next day, I saw a post announcing his death. It was so shocking but I quickly dismissed it as one of those wicked rumours, milled by death wishers. But 48 hours later, my fellow ex-PPCian and close buddy, Nde Jonathan Ishaku, posted an obituary announcement on the Facebook confirming the sad tidings. The irony of Barr. Maina’s demise was that he entered this world on January 11, 1952 and exited it on January 11, 2021.

Barr. Maina joined the bubbling PPC family at the turn of the 80s or thereabouts as the Company Secretary/Legal Adviser. He instantly registered his support for the company-run football club, the Nigeria Standard, better known as Pen Power. As the pioneer chairman of the club, I had constant interactions with him… in fact, almost on daily basis. The Managing Director of the company, Chief. S. D. Makama, had given him a standing order that everything the club needed to excel must be provided through his office.

The fearsome club was already in Division One of the nation’s football league when Barr. Maina came on board and the management was very proud of its exploits, which made it become a nightmare to all well-established clubs all over the country. The frequently asked question on the lips of the victims of the club’s ruthlessness at the time was: “Where did this demolition squad come from?”

Besides football matters, Barr. Maina was very fond of my humour column named “The Man From PPC” published in the Sunday Standard. Every Monday, he would call me through the intercom to mention one or two things about my column.

There was this experience he had at home one Sunday morning while having his breakfast. He was reading a piece I wrote, entitled, “How I was stopped from becoming a millionaire overnight”. At a point, he was so consumed with laughter that he lost his balance, fell from the chair and his massive frame hit the ground with a heavy thud. The sound and commotion at the dining table attracted his wife who was busy at the kitchen. Mrs. Maina panicked and rushed to the dining room and found her man reeling on the floor, consumed with laughter. When the madam asked what the matter was, all he could do was to wave the copy of the paper to her.

The story that caused him to lose his balance and crash to the floor was about my encounter with a magician in Kumasi, Ghana, during my childhood. I was sent on an errand and midway to my destination, I saw a crowd that surrounded a magician and they were chanting “Come and see America wonda! Come and see America wonda!! Come and see America wondaaaa!!! America wonda!

I froze on my lane and wondered aloud: “America wonda in Ghana?” I aborted the errand and meandered my little frame through the crowd to the front row, apologising profusely as I stepped on toes. The magician performed some acts that fascinated every onlooker. He caused steaming rice and chicken thighs to surface in an empty bowl, disgorged raw eggs, chewed up pieces of paper like a rodent and emitted fresh currency notes. The ultimate one was the killing of a volunteer amongst us and bringing him back to life. “Wooondafuuuul!” We all chorused. As for me, the chewing of paper and emitting of currency notes was the session that mesmerised me most and I was determined to acquire the magical power. As for the paper to chew, there would be no problem with raw material supplies, because the Kumasi Paper Mill was just two or so kilometres away from our house! Looking back now, the Kumasi “wonda” was nothing compared to the January 6, 2021 “America Wonder” instigated by the rambunctious ex-US President, Donald Trump, at the Capitol Hill in Washington.

After the end of the show, I engaged the magician and persuaded him to enroll me as an acolyte so that he could turn me into a minting machine! He warned that I was too young to face the tests… one of which was that I had to spend seven nights in a cemetery, communing with ghosts, and if I expressed any modicum of fear, I would go mad and risk spending the rest of my life at the Kumasi Lunatic Asylum which I avoided on my way back home. I assured him I had no problems with that. So, we fixed an appointment for the next day and I hoped that my eventual sojourn at the cemetery would be arranged.

It was too late to continue with the errand. But did I even care? All that mattered to me was that I was about to become the first kid millionaire under the sun! As I made a U-turn, I cooked up a believable story to tell my dad. However, unknown to me, a whistle-blower in the neighbourhood had sighted me while chatting with the magician, and he simply put two and two together, knowing me as an adventurous kid. It was when my dad pounced on me like a cat on a rat that I realised that the alarm had blown. I struggled to free my little frame from his grip and wondered why he would attempt to assassinate a would-be millionaire in his kidhood. To shorten a long story, the old man, helped by my persuasive mom, succeeded in aborting that ambition in its infancy. The pummeling alone could not have stopped me. I tell you.

What got Barr. Maina reeling with laughter was that he too had had a similar encounter with a magician in his childhood at Barkin Ladi. He shared his own experience with me and we both had a good laugh that drew a lot of tears from our eyes.

Funnily enough, I later became a laughing stock, so to speak, in Jos wherever I went. For instance, one morning, I went to see the Branch Manager of the defunct Bank of the North situated along Ahmadu Bello Way, Jos, a Tiv man. And Tiv folks love bushmeat! A story is constantly told of how an arsenal of Tiv hunters nearly razed down the Makurdi Airport while attempting to smoke out bush meat in the vicinity.  The moment my Tiv friend sighted me, he roared into laughter. I swung around to see what was so funny. Then, he told the branch accountant who was with him in his office: “You see this man and his bush meat stories…”

Barr. Danjuma and I were later to become Abuja folks and always in constant touch. He would be quick to contact me if there was any information or clarification he needed about football, constantly acknowledging that I am an authority on Plateau sports. The last time we spoke, I promised to see him with a copy of my book, a collection of my column write-ups, entitled “Saturday Commentary: Analyses of Nigerian, African and Global Sports” published in 2003. It was a promise I could not keep! His demise is a personal loss to me. Indeed, I have lost a boss, a disciple and a friend.

Looking back now, the America wonda in Ghana melts into insignificance when compared to the four years of Trump’s adventure (or was it misadventure?) in the White House, culminating in the botched insurrection of January 6, 2021 at the Capitol Hill in the twilight of his tempestuous administration. That was more woooondafuuuul!!!

May God grant Barr. Danjuma’s kind soul eternal rest and his family, friends and the PPC confraternity the fortitude to bear his huge loss.

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