Hajiya Jummai was the second wife of my late maternal grandfather, the first and only Prime Minister, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa. While growing up, I always took refuge in Hajiya’s room who would just smile and laugh at my truancies and childhood mischief before drilling me later with sharp impelling words on the wrongs of what I did to the extent that I often times felt worthless and embarrassed. Unlike Inni’s no nonsense and intolerance of any of my childhood mischief and truancies which were promptly rewarded with dragging me to the lalle plant, plucking from the stem and giving me instant justice, Hajiya would rather scold you with her cold searing eyes which tore into your soul and impale you with audacious ferocity
Our childhood friends always told us stories of how they were loved and being spoilt by their grandmothers but in our case, while we ran away from our young mothers to their mothers for succor, the difference was hardly noticeable except that our grandmothers chose where to beat in your body unlike our mothers’ indiscriminate indulgence. However, unlike Inni, I cannot remember Hajiya ever beating me but her emotional blackmail was worse than the beatings because she made me felt utterly worthless for doing something wrong. As a family man, I often reminded her of her subtle blackmail. She always laughed throatily and said I was a rascal that was impervious to beatings and the best way to get me back on line was by hurting my pride and ego. I knew that her blackmail worked and was undoubtedly effective.
I remember with nostalgia the Potiskum years when she was married to the late Emir of Fika, Alhaji Mohammed Idris Abali. That time, whenever we were going to Maiduguri during the North Eastern State years, I preferred to be left with her in Potiskum during our stop over and later be sent over to either Bauchi or Maiduguri, depending on where the pendulum swung. From 2010, she remained the only surviving wife of the late Prime Minister, our only grandmother, a lovely elderly female friend with an infectious smile and throaty laughter. Hajiya was the only bulwark between us and our parents’ dictatorship and the matriarch of the family who protected and led everybody with a magisterial and majestic gait. I often called her “the last woman standing” which evoked a throaty laughter either because she understood what it meant or she was intrigued by the simple complexity of the four words. I never got the opportunity to ask her the reason for the laughter because I might have in my foolery thought I still had ample time to do so.
Alas, I was wrong. They came back from India the same Sunday I returned from the United States. I went to meet her in Lekki, Lagos looking radiant, fresh and wearing that effervescent smile I have known all my life. I told her she looked good and as beautiful as a new bride. She laughed and nearly choked, with my aunts and uncles warning me not to cause some grief. After that bout of laughter died down, I challenged her to go jogging with me since she claimed to be hale and hearty. One of my aunts quipped that at over 80, they would easily charge me with attempted murder if I ever contemplated taking their mother out for jogging. On Wednesday, I went to Lekki well suited, on my way back home from an event. I met her alone, sitting on the edge of the bed with a cup of tea in her hand and freshly peeled oranges in a saucer beside her. She was as usual elated to see me but she was the only one in the house. I knew she was lonely and needed company. Her son in law and daughter travelled to Kano because someone suddenly died.
Since I know she enjoyed my company and banters, I removed my jacket and sat down. We discussed all things and laughed about everything, including her dream that she saw the Prime Minister with her co-wives in a car waiting for her. Sadly, that was the last time I talked to and saw Hajiya alive. I was grateful to Allah that we parted on a very good note. On my way to the airport on Friday, one of my uncles (her son) called and informed me that Hajiya was on admission at a private hospital in Victoria Island since Thursday morning and that she was on observation responding well to treatment. Upon reaching Abuja, I called again to find out how she was doing and was told that she was sleeping. I was relieved but it was short lived.
I called on Saturday afternoon and was told that she had a cardiac arrest but was on oxygen in a stable condition. In the evening of the same day, I was told that Hajiya needed our prayers. I instantly knew that she was closer to where she was going than where she was coming from. Her condition continued deteriorating on Sunday to the extent that I decided to drive to Bauchi, in preparation for the inevitable. As I was driving into Jos, I switched on my phone and called my wife. From her tone, I knew that a part of me was gone. And she confirmed my worst fears. Hajiya left us on Sunday, October 27,, 2019. She was close to 90 and lived very well. With her death, another chapter closed in my grandfather’s house as all our grandmothers had gone. We are now in the period we dreaded most, at the mercy of our parents, without a dam and bulwark from the torrents of their anger. We now have to be more careful and cautious, lest we incur their wraths and be damned. Hajiya left behind seven children, six the Prime Minister’s while the last one was the late Emir of Fika’s and all of us, the ninety something grand children of Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa (her grandchildren), aged brothers and sisters and numerous other relatives. May Allah have mercy on her soul, forgive her shortcomings and admit her in Jannatul Firdausi.
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