By Charles Agwam
It is not uncommon in Nigeria to forget the sacrificial labour of heroes who gave all they had, and in some cases, even paid the supreme price.
History is replete with examples of patriots who after giving the best parts of their lives to serve the nation lived in squalor and total neglect by the very country they gave their all for.
For a country whose leaders harp on the selfless service of Nigeria’s only Prime Minister, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, one of the few people who fought for Nigeria’s Independence, at the slightest opportunity to promote its agenda, you would expect that, at least, a little commitment from Nigeria and her government would be directed towards tending to the needs of the family. It appears, though, that, Tafawa Balewa’s family was not spared from the cold treatment Nigeria gives to families of fallen heroes.
An old house
Last Sunday, the only wife among other wives of the late Prime Minister, who stayed with the family after his passing, Hajiya Aishatu Balewa passed on after a protracted illness.
The 85-year- old widow had travelled to India on a self-sponsored trip for treatment but died in Lagos on her way back to Bauchi after she suffered a relapse.
According to Tafawa Balewa’s last-child, Zainab Tafawa Balewa who was born two weeks after her father’s death, the widow of the former Prime Minister, strove and raised her children alone after her husband’s death with her frugal income.
Hajiyya lived the last 53 years in an old house built by her husband along Ran Road, in Bauchi metropolis, an area that would easily pass for a ghetto in many Nigerian cities. Sunday Vanguard observed that the house barely has space which could be used for receiving and entertaining visitors.
She said: I was born two weeks after my father died. My mother stood with us throughout when everybody left us. She gave my siblings and I everything including good education, morals, and all types of support. Although we got little interventions from time to time, it was not easy for her because we paid our way through, for anything we wanted. Sometimes, she would have to ask. But by my mama’s nature, she didn’t like to bother anyone. Mama was kind, religious and prayerful. There is hardly anyone who would tell you something bad about mama. We are grateful for the exemplary life she led.”
One of the grandsons of Tafawa Balewa, Bili Tafawa Balewa while extolling the virtues of the widow of the late Prime Minister, recounted how she struggled with everything after the passing of her husband while fighting to preserve her husband’s legacies.
He said: “53 years after the death of my grandfather, Hajiyya had been the pillar that held the family together. When other wives left, she stood by the family. As you already know, she was the closest to my grandfather. It wasn’t easy because she barely got support from the government, except donations from individuals, like former Speaker of House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara who also visited the family to see how we fared anytime he was in town.
“Even with the hardship, we tried to keep the legacy. If my grandfather had wanted to be the richest man in the country, he would have been, because he was the first leader, in whose administration, oil was first discovered in Nigeria. You can see how his house is. It is not so befitting. This country does not reward patriotism. Patriotism is now at its lowest ebb because we neglect the contributions of patriots in this country. Isn’t that the reason our young ones are eager to make quick money because we don’t reward patriotism anymore? People are now trying to rewrite history but that is impossible.
‘’If you don’t respect those who have come before you, nobody will remember you. The government must do all it can to preserve this family. They should do more to preserve his legacy. It is beyond naming stadiums after him and all that. They should do more, like building libraries to enable people to read and get into the mind of my grandfather, to share in his vision of the nation he co-founded with other patriots.’’
Hajiyya’s great-grandson, Muhammed Mansur Bello, said what he would miss about her are the folktales she told him and other great-grandchildren every time they gathered to have special family time.
“I will miss Hajiyya so much. She always had time for us. She would tell us folktales about different things and we would laugh until our stomach hurt. We have missed a special person. I pray she rests in peace,” he said.
Prime Minister’s premises
Notwithstanding, a large number of people, visited the house of the late sage, to condole with the family over the loss of Hajiyya. Many sympathisers told Sunday Vanguard how she had impacted their lives positively and served as a mother to the people of Bauchi State and beyond.
As this reporter walked out of the late Prime Minister’s premises, this thought ran through his mind: “If Nigeria could work towards assuring its citizens that their families would not be abandoned if they die serving their fatherland, maybe the need to amass stupendous wealth would be reduced and that could be the first step in tackling corruption and restoring patriotism in the hearts of the citizens.’’