...Redifining Journalism for Development

The Isa Gusau I know, by Hamza Idris


The Isa Gusau I know, by Hamza Idris

Death is inevitable! The legendary Malam Isa Gusau is no longer with us. Inna lillahi wa inna ilaihi rajiun (Indeed, to Allah we belong, and to Allah we shall return).

The exit of this gentleman and that of many others very dear to us, including those we don’t know, is a reminder to all of us to always be mindful of the fact that our lives are transient and finite.

READ ALSO: Late Isa Gusau’s last message on Gov. Zulum

We will all die one day, hence the urgent need to fear Allah, our Creator, live by the day, discharge our religious responsibilities, be fair to those we come across in the course of our daily activities, and most importantly, touch the lives of as many people as we can while we can.

Malam Isa Gusau has done what he can, and he is gone! Inna lillahi wa inna ilaihi rajiun (indeed, to Allah we belong and to Allah we shall return).

He was an enigma; he was indeed the proverbial elephant – the verdict that someone who touched the trunk will give is different from what the one who touched the thigh, or the stomach, or the tail, the ear or the stomach will give. But one thing is certain: It is very unlikely for anyone whose path crossed that of Isa to say that this gentleman did not impact his life, undoubtedly positively.

This has been attested to by the torrent of tributes and testimonies by the high, the mighty and those who are not even known, in the aftermath of his departure.

Of course, some of us were somehow aware of his health challenges. He had been in and out of hospitals in India, the UK and Egypt but he kept moving.

In one of his write–ups titled ‘My life or his publicity? When Zulum made a call’, shortly after his return from India where he had undergone surgery in 2022, which he sent to us for publication in the Daily Trust, Malam Isa had said, “Well, I even kept the surgery away from my children. I made sure they did not know what I was going through. I also kept it away from my brothers and sisters.

“Sometimes, the best way to protect your loved ones and friends is by making them think everything is okay. You may torture and potentially harm some if they know precisely what you might be going through!” That was Isa for you, a harmless soul and a perfect gentleman. He bore his pain somehow alone in order to protect others until it became obvious. Inna lillahi wa inna ilaihi rajiun (indeed, to Allah we belong and to Allah we shall return).

Malam Isa Gusau was highly secretive when it came to his personal life. And even though a professional journalist and public relations person, his propensity to always work from the background and deliver was mythical.

He might be out of the country for months, but apart from his immediate family, his boss(es) and maybe one or two people, it is very unlikely for anyone to know.

His dedication to his job of protecting and projecting the image of his principal (governor) and the state where he worked (Borno) has never been questioned. He was a man with uncontested loyalty.

Take it or leave it, if there were to be any scientific rating today, or a public opinion on what transpired in terms of perception or image management of public office holders from 2011 to the day he died (January 11, 2024), Isa must be among the three most viable spokespersons in Nigeria who delivered on their mandate.

It was Isa, who at the height of the Boko Haram insurgency in the North East, worked in tandem with his principal, the then Governor of Borno State, Kashim Shettima, now the vice president, to checkmate the unfriendly disposition of the federal government.

The abduction of the Chibok schoolgirls on April 14, 2014 was a case in point. Despite the deployment of federal might at the centre to put the blame of the inglorious act of the Abubakar Shekau-led Boko Haram on the table of Shettima, Isa, alongside his team and with the support of his principal, sustained an alternative narrative on what really happened.

I have no doubt they carried the day because the world later got to know of the humanitarian disaster going on in Borno, at a time when the available public airport in Maiduguri was shut, a state of emergency imposed, GSM and internet services seized and empathy from Abuja nowhere to be found.

As a spokesman, here was a man who never told reporters in Maiduguri and beyond not to do their work (report issues and events as they unfolded), or told a lie in order to protect his principal!

This might sound strange or exaggerated to many but that was what transpired. It was very unlikely for Isa to call editors in Abuja or Lagos to drop a story. But Isa had his tentacles everywhere which ensured that their own side of every contentious story was heard, and writers with potential for mischief did not have the upper hand.

Here was a man, who worked behind the scenes endlessly day and night, in good health or under the weather to discharge his responsibilities but rarely shouted to be heard or took the credit. His own was to support his bosses to take the credit.

This hidden attribute came to the fore after his death when both editors in legacy media, and social media warriors scrambled to get to know more about Isa; where he came from (despite the word Gusau) in his name, his age, educational accomplishments, family, among others, in order to write his obituary, but got little from the social media.

On his Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn pages, among others, you only see the accomplishments of the two principals he served (VP Shettima when he was governor and Professor Babagana Zulum, the incumbent governor), and not much about himself. He laid low but ensured that his principals travelled far and wide.

I was appalled when I stumbled on a piece on social media which said Isa Gusau was from Borno State and that he obtained a diploma and a higher national diploma from the University of Maiduguri. This is far from the truth.

My predecessor in office, Malam Nasiru L. Abubakar who is Isa’s close friend, a classmate at the Kaduna Polytechnic and a colleague in Taraba during their NYSC days, told me that the misinformation might have been generated using artificial intelligence which tabulated some of his feats while alive.

On a personal note, I am missing Isa and I am yet to come to terms with the reality.

To prove my level of devastation, something strange happened a few days after he died! I was to travel by air out of Abuja for an official engagement and considering that I was to return the same day, I decided to drive myself to the airport, keep the car there and drive myself back home later in the day when I returned.

The flight was scheduled for 7am. I therefore left my house around 5am. It should take me roughly 30 minutes to get to the airport because I only needed to take one slope from where I live through the Life Camp roundabout in the city and head to the airport.

Sadly, maybe because I was absent-minded, I lost my track shortly after passing the headquarters of the National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN). And when I realized that something was wrong. I packed the car in order to regain my bearing but when it proved difficult, I then put on the Google map which also misled me, because I just found myself in front of the Federal Secretariat in Abuja. This was around 6.15am after going round and round the capital. It was the first time I heard of such an unpleasant experience. Inna lillahi wa inna ilaihi rajiun.

I called my colleague, with whom I was to travel to Lagos and told him to proceed with the journey. I told him I wanted to go back home because I wasn’t myself but he insisted I should summon courage and start the journey to the airport all over.

I got there around 6.50am, almost two hours after leaving home. It is indeed heartrending to lose someone close to you, someone you respect.

Isa was pivotal in my life; like in the lives of countless other people. He was my colleague, a prime confidant, and a close associate.

Both of us worked under Malam Abdullahi Bego, the commissioner of information in Yobe State who served as North East bureau chief of Media Trust, publishers of Daily Trust titles until 2007 when he became the spokesman of the late Governor Mamman Ali.

I and Isa did the NYSC the same year (2003-2004); he was in Taraba and I was in Akwa Ibom.

He joined Media Trust in 2004 and was posted to Maiduguri. I also joined Media Trust a few months later in 2005, and was posted to Yola, Adamawa State (this was 19 years ago).

He was thereafter posted to Damaturu while I was redeployed to Maiduguri from Yola in 2006. And in 2007, I took over from him in Damaturu as state correspondent when he was appointed Bureau Chief, North East, to take over from Malam Bego.

While moving to Maiduguri, apart from his clothes, Isa left everything in his apartment for me in Damaturu – the bed, rug, curtains, air conditioner and cutleries, among others. Most importantly, he linked me up with most of his contacts, the rare asset every journalist would love to have in order to succeed. It was therefore a seamless transition for me.

I also took over from him as Bureau Chief, North East in 2010, when he was moved to Port Harcourt, Rivers State as Regional Manager/Bureau, South. Again, he bequeathed me his rich contacts in Maiduguri in addition to many other things that I will Iive to remember.

Isa was an embodiment of selflessness. Allah has protected him from envy and it pleased him when others excel.

In 2011, he became the spokesman of Governor Shettima and therefore resigned from the Media Trust and returned to Maiduguri. This was shortly after he was appointed deputy editor, Sunday Trust and was about to report in Abuja. I continued to work with him in Maiduguri until 2015, when I was moved to Abuja as Group Politics Editor and our professional and family relationships continued.

The late Isa was bookish; he loved reading whatever would embellish his intellectual capacity. Maybe this was partly what took him much closer to his bosses, VP Shettima and HE Prof. Zulum.

He had a diploma and HND in Mass Communication from Kaduna Polytechnic when he joined the Daily Trust but in between the period he lived in this world and the time he died, he bagged a postgraduate diploma from the University of Maiduguri, BA First Class from a university in London, United Kingdom and MA with Distinction from Leicester, also in the UK.

He was a member of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations, UK; Public Relations and Communications Association, PRCA, UK; International Public Relations Association, African Public Relations Association, Nigerian Institute of Public Relations and Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ).

A native of Zamfara State, Isa gave his all in supporting political leaders to take Borno to where it is today.

May Allah forgive his shortcomings, enlarge and brighten his grave, strengthen his wives, children, brothers, sisters and acquaintances to bear this irreparable loss and make Aljannatil Firdausi his final abode.

Hamza Idris is the Editor of Daily Trust.

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